Tag Archives: attraction

Stitches

stitches

 

I wake up to him kissing my neck and running his hand between my thighs. I sigh and turn my head to kiss him. He needs a shave, but I’m too distracted to tell him that. And besides, I like the stubble. I’m tempted to tell him to let me sleep another hour, but he runs his fingernails along my stomach, and I come alive against him.

Eventually I turn over and pull him close, careful to keep the injured finger clear of his writhing back. Kissing his shoulder, I can see the bruised, stitched flesh, torn and marred, in heavy contrast to his smooth tan skin.

***

I would have really appreciated it if she’d told me sooner I was losing her. I knew we were going to break up, but I couldn’t have gauged how vicious she was going to be about it.

We’d been getting along lately, though, so I guess I misinterpreted that as a reconciliation. In hindsight it was pretty clearly just a cease-fire.

She was doing her makeup in the bathroom. She was naked, her hair fresh and dry, and before I jumped in the shower I came up behind her and kissed her neck. My hands slid along the curve of her hip.

“Get the fuck off me!” She jabbed me sharply with her elbow. Not enough to hurt, not in the body, anyway. But enough to startle me back.

“Jesus! What was that?”

“Are you trying to make me put out my goddamn eye?” she snarled. Even curled back across her teeth, her pink lips looked remarkably kissable. Eyeliner gave her a stare like sharp wire.

“Alright! I’m sorry.” I put my hands up in surrender and stepped into the shower.

“Oh, don’t sound so fuckin’ wounded.”

I didn’t answer, just started my shower. After a minute or so I heard her groan. “Turn it down! The steam is gonna fuck up my hair!”

I ignored her. I let the heat scald away my irritation with her. By the time I stepped out, she’d already left for work.

***

When he and I are finished we hold each other, our chests pressed together, me breathing heavily just behind his ear. His hair is sweaty, but when he sweats it’s with a clean, almost sterile odor. I run my fingertips against his scalp, ignoring the slight sting of my injured finger. We both need a shower. We’re clearly not done fooling around just yet.

Every so often he gives me a lazy kiss to my temple. We both doze off a few minutes. When I wake up I can feel him getting ready to go again. When Brittany got her stuff, she stripped the linens straight from the bed and threw them in the car. Soon Bobby and I are tangled in the act of consecrating the bare mattress anew.

***

“Christ, all I’m trying to do is talk to you-…”

“That’s all you fucking do. You talk about things but you never fucking do them. Goddamn, you’re boring.”

“Babe, just…”

“Just get the fuck back, alright?”

“Goddamnit,” I caught the door to the bathroom before she could close it. “Do you want us to break up or what?”

“No! I just want…”

“You don’t even fucking know what you want! All you do is endlessly bitch at me…”

She pulled the door. I tightened my grip, holding in place. Before I could say anything else, she threw her entire body into pulling it closed, grunting in anger and effort.

My finger made a dull, wet sound as it was smashed against the frame.

I remember yelling so loudly it felt like a roar. Brittany covered her mouth against the drips of blood spotting the carpet. She kissed me over and over on the forehead and told me she was taking me to the emergency room. She ran off to get dressed and grab her keys. While she was getting ready, I climbed into my own car and drove away.

I heard her come home from work around nine. I’d locked myself in my room. On the table in the kitchen, I left a note, telling her she had a day to get her stuff out. That’s all it said. Now that I think of it, I haven’t laid eyes on her since seeing her disappear into her room. This room, where Bobby and I are now.

***

When Bobby gets out of the shower I’ve set up a tray with toast and eggs. A carafe of coffee is on the desk I moved in here yesterday.

Bobby dries his hair. “God, I love you.”

He says it lightly, and I pretend not to notice him gauging me with his eyes. Seeing how I’ll react.

Oh, no.

His phone vibrates again. Text from Mark: “Hey babe. Flying back in tomorrow.”

Bobby tosses the towel over the curtain rod. He pours coffee without getting dressed. I take in the sight of him, and run my thumb along the stitches in my finger.

Maybe he’s sincere, but two days into this I’d prefer it if he wasn’t. I never touched him before Brittany left. Never thought of it.

While he stands there I contemplate going to him, kissing his body, going further and further until he’s against the wall and shuddering above me. I think about him trying to do that with Mark, a man almost twenty years older. Always tired, always busy, always out of the house when Bobby gets home. Maybe Bobby does love me. But he also can’t.

Bobby types something into his phone while he drinks his coffee. He winks at me while he sips from the mug. The tip of my left middle finger is deep blue and purple. Between the stitches I can see the skin beginning to heal. The flesh is smashed and shredded, but still it comes together.

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Seal

lips

 

Tori looked so picturesque that Zach cursed himself for not bringing his camera. She’d called at two in the morning, needing a ride, and then begging off and telling him he could go back to sleep. But she was downtown, and it was a two mile hike uphill to her dorm at Vandy. He was pulling up beside her three minutes after leaving his trashy-chic studio loft near Five Points.

Her black skirt swished a half-beat before the rest of her body followed. Her red hair seemed to absorb the glow of the bar front neon. He would have honked, but the familiar rattle of his old Wagoneer gave him away, and she waved to make sure he could see her. Of course he could see her.

“Tell me again why we’re not dating?” she sighed, climbing in and leaning back in her seat.

“Your giant, giant boyfriend, mainly,” he told her. He pushed in the cigarette lighter below the dash. He didn’t smoke, it was just something he did. Some folks touched their nose. Others tugged their collars. He played with the cigarette lighter in his truck. “Also,” he added, curling his fist and lowering his voice, “my art is my true love.”

“Oh, Jesus. What do you call it when someone cliches a cliche? Hypercliche? Megacliche?”

“I’m a barista and a photographer, living in a studio apartment above a pizza joint. I am the Voltron of cliches.”

“You’re not too cliched! Didn’t you sell something recently?”

“Sure did. From that gallery there.” They passed by a tiny storefront, the picture window covered in white blinds. In huge Veranda font the numbers “465” were stenciled in black. “Dude bought a picture of mine for a grand.”

What? Hell yeah!” She punched him on the arm, and he added to his cliche gestalt by pretending the punch hadn’t hurt. “How are you not more excited about that?”

“Well, it might not happen again.”

“Oh, Jesus.” She shook her head. “If you’re gonna be broody I think I’d rather walk.”

“I’m not broody. I just don’t wanna get too comfortable with the idea I can live off my photos.” He’s in a good space now, but when he worked two grueling jobs just to survive, he’d sometimes wake in the middle of the night unable to breathe. But things evened out for him. He starves now, making coffee and hustling photos, but at the price of finally living.

Ben Folds was playing in his stereo.

And all this wanderin’…

Got you nothin’…

“So I guess I’d be the chipper one.”

“What?”

“When we’re together. I’ll clearly have to be the optimistic one.”

“Yeah.” The lighter popped back out, and after a beat he pushed it back in. “But we won’t be together.”

“Yeah,” she nodded.

You were ready to…

But never could…

“So was it a bad fight?”

“Not really. Just…” she sighed, “a stupid one.”

“So you’ll call him tomorrow.”

“Guess I gotta.”

“Yep,” and in the flash of a street light he could see her smile at him, “now that I’m gonna hold ya accountable and all.”

He pulled up to her building. The campus police call box by the door flashed blue and red in the still night. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You’re a lifesaver, man.”

“Cherry flavored and everything.” And he smiled after her as she climbed out. He caught himself a little too late watching the swish of her skirt against her thighs as she went in.

“Come on. Get your head on straight.”

At a light, he caught his reflection in the rear view mirror, saw the faint pink imprint on his cheek where she’d kissed him. He snapped a quick pic with his phone, and back at home he toyed with filters and exposure until her lipstick was a steel-gray print, framed by flecks of stubble along the slate white board of his cheek. He printed a copy, then scribbled along the gloss with a permanent marker. Once the words had soaked in he made two more prints, one to hang, one to hustle. He could easily get thirty bucks a copy for this print. He was gonna try for three hundred.

Are…

You…

Happy…

Wanderin’?

He texted a woman he knew, but she never responded before he fell asleep. Beside his whirring laptop, the corner of the print hung over the edge of his desk. It wafted in the eddy of his ceiling fan. Across the gloss, beneath Tori’s steel kiss, was the title, scrawled in black ink.

“Seal.”

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Layer

layer

 

She stayed the night, and because we both fell asleep so early we’re up before sunrise. We drink coffee on the porch of my apartment, both of us wrapped in an afghan. We’re very cliche.

It’s chilly, and I hold close to her. My right hand cups her left breast, and I can tell it’s begun to swell from the hormones. Not much, but enough it seems to satisfy her. She considered implants but decided she wanted whatever came to come from her. As much as was possible, anyway.

Eventually I have to get ready for work. She eases herself back into my bed, wincing as she sits, then carefully lying longways. After my shower I make a show of tucking her in, under layers of quilts and sheets. I kiss her nose, both of us laughing at the silly infantilizing. Then I kiss her lips, and she kisses me back, and my knuckles brush against her hair. Whatever she’s been using has made it light and feather-soft, a far cry from the chemically burned coarseness when she first bleached it.

I get dressed. We smile. We touch foreheads. We play a quick round of a private, childish game, where we bat our eyes and feel our lashes brushing against each other. We kiss each other again. I tell her I love her, then I go to work.

***

When she ordered her coffee she was in torn jeans and a man’s button-up. Her hair was still rust-red, and hung from her pork pie in curling tendrils. The button-up was halfway open, and she had a white men’s tank on underneath. While I rang her up I told her she had kind of an Arlo Guthrie vibe to her.

“I don’t know who that is,” she said. “I should look him up.”

“Well, yeah! You’re obligated now.”

“I’m obligated? You’re gonna hold me to this?”

“If I have to. Your coffee’s on the line.”

“If I don’t pass the Arlo Guthrie quiz next time I see you, I don’t get my coffee?”

“I’ll play hardball if I gotta.”

“Tough cookie,” she said, then walked with her friends to a little couch by the fire. I walked her coffee to her with my number and “Alice’s Restaurant” written on the sleeve.

***

“Hey man, how’s Emily doing?”

Scott and I are lugging carafes to the front counter. The coffee rush isn’t bad, as far as rushes go. Today it’s mostly lawyers and doctors, people who, regardless of gender, take their coffee quick and black. If we were packed with cheerleaders I’d probably have to shoot myself.

“She’s good, man. Recovering. Hospital kept her a week longer than they thought they’d have to. There was a lot of bruising from surgery.”

“Ugh. Brutal. Sorry to hear that.”

“She’s better now, though.” I take a customer’s order – black, no milk, no cream, no sugar – and I upsize it gratis because we haven’t had time to grab more small cups. “Docs say she needs to take it easy another week before she can do anything stressful.”

“Her job okay with all the time off?”

“She’s a student worker at her school. She’s off for the semester anyway.”

“How much is all this gonna cost?”

I shrug. “I don’t know, man. Insurance is handling most of that.” I grab two empty air pots and take them in back. “My guess is it woulda cost her a lot more without treatment, though.”

***

Pretty much all we did was hang out and listen to old music. Everyone claims to love folk but she was the first person I’d met who would actually sit and listen to it. We’d sit in the shop for hours after I clocked out, talking about songs she’d just discovered. On days when we were both free we’d park by the highway and listen to old Cajun songs.

I finally kissed her one rainy afternoon, sitting beside the highway. She was sitting in my lap, tracing her fingertips along the inside of my hand. My free hand had slipped into a rip at the knee of her jeans. I could feel the faint grain of stubble she’d missed when she shaved her legs. Something about that hit me as intensely intimate.

Without thinking, I put my lips to the side of her neck. She leaned into the kiss, and when my lips reached her ear, she put a hand beside my face, turned, and kissed me back.

***

When I get off work I pick up some ibuprofen for her. The doctors advised against any prescription strength stuff, considering her history. She’d been dealing with this for a while, long before she finally saw someone about it. Self-medication was the order of the day when she was in high school.

When I get home she’s tossed the blankets off. It was icy this morning but by now it’s risen over eighty degrees outside. The weather is such a fickle thing this far south.

She’s lying across the bed in the tank top and yoga pants she wears for pajamas. I can see a faint bulge from the pad of bandages between her legs. She’s tied her hair up. She’s reading the Bhagavad-Gita.

I put the ibuprofen beside her, and she smiles up at me. I bend down to kiss her. She reaches up and puts a hand behind my head, and inside I shiver at the feel of her nails against my neck. She traces her fingers down my arm. Her hands are almost as long as mine. Thinner, smoother, but nearly as long.

“You feelin’ okay today?” I ask her.

“Not too bad. I’ll need to head home in a few hours if I wanna bathe tonight.” She sits up, wincing a little at the effort. She needs a special bench to sit on for the time being whenever she wants to shower.

“You wanna eat before you go?”

“Oh, God yeah. The meds are making me feel queasy.”

I make some stir fry, and she eats the cubes of tofu separately before eating the veggies. When she’s dressed and ready to go, I help her down the stairs to my car and drive her to her parent’s place. It starts to rain before we get there, so we sit in the driveway for a spell, holding hands and leaning against each other.

Every few minutes, she lifts my hand to her mouth, and kisses each knuckle. I can’t tell which electrifies me more: the softness of her lips, or the little huff of breath that comes with every kiss.

***

The day I first kissed her had been cold, but somehow we’d worked up a sweat anyway. When we finally worked our way to the backseat, the windows were fogged, and her jacket was on the floorboard. She tossed her sweater over the back of the passenger seat. I pulled her shirt open, the snaps giving with little pops, and lifted her tank to below her arms, kissing my way from her navel to her flat chest.

In the front seat, she’d teased with small bites to the crotch of my jeans. I made shuddering moaning sounds each time I felt her nails to my stomach. She’d grinned up at me, amused, before undoing my belt buckle. Her hat had fallen away as I ran my fingers through her hair.

Now, in back, it was my turn to work her pants away. I was to eager to make a game of it, like she’d done. I just wanted to explore and see every part of her. Her jeans, always a little loose back then, slid away easily. I pulled her boxers down with my teeth.

She’d only recently started the hormones. Her cock was this delicate, quivering thing, smaller than usual but clearly still working. Her breath took on a hissing urgency as she grew against my touch.

I kissed my way down her flat chest to her hairless stomach. I could feel her muscles tightening as I ran my hands along her body. I made my way to the erect organ below her waist, this defining and alienating thing, and I kept kissing her. For hours, for days, for years.

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Familiarity

familiarity

 

When Lori walks up Dex’s drive, she sees him kneeling by the steps to his porch, gouging an old basketball with a box cutter. The box cutter is dull and the hide of the ball is thick, so he isn’t cutting so much as he’s slashing. The ball is old, and the bright orange Lori remembers from high school games of Horse has dulled into a deep, graying brown. When Dex finally punctures it the ball spews dust in a wheeze that almost sounds asthmatic.

“The shit are you doing?” she sneers as she kicks her way up his walk, her heavy boots snapping against the concrete. Dex works his fingers inside the cut and holds the ball open as he flattens it.

“Time to retire the old fella,” he tells her, and when the ball is rendered a sad, flat carcass he lifts the lid of the city trash can and flings it inside like a Frisbee. Dex crosses himself facetiously and lowers his voice: “In nomine Patris, et Spiritus Sancti.”

“I think there’s more words to that,” Lori tells him.

“Well fuck it. I ain’t even Catholic.” Dex rubs his arms. He’s wearing a thin long sleeve tee, one he always wears. The seams at the shoulders are wearing out and each threadbare elbow has a thin, short rip at its apex. “Damn. It’s colder out here than I thought it’d be.”

“Yeah, I know, right?” Lori says, making her way up the steps. “Some dumbass might even try to tell you it’s January.”

“Yeah, yeah. Get yer ass inside.” Dex opens the door and lets her in before following.

Inside it’s substantially warmer, though not as warm as it might be in other people’s houses. Dex’s parents own the place but he lives here alone now, paying utilities and generally bumming off his folks while he builds his own funds. When his mother still lived here she kept it warm enough to bake bread, but Dex starts to sweat at 70 degrees. Luckily Lori’s always wearing her ugly gray and brown sweater, so it’s never an issue for her.

“I’m hungry,” Lori tells him.

“Well then go eat,” Dex says. They’ve already made plans to head out to The Nacho Shack, however, and Dex pulls on a sweater for the walk.

Lori snuffles her chilly nose and watches him while he’s turned away and she has the chance. With his black curly hair and his rounded face he’s pretty average looking, but there are moments or angles or something that Lori doesn’t have the words for where he’s so goddamn handsome that a warm trickle drips from her chest to her gut. She can only take these moments in quick bursts before her mind goes to her greasy hair and her horse teeth and the stomach that seems flat enough so long as she wears the ratty gray and brown sweater she always wears. When she thinks of those things she feels like she’s stolen something, and she has to stop before the embarrassment can make her face red.

Dex ruffles his hair and grabs his phone and wallet. He scratches at his shoulder, at a scar he got in high school. He’s so milquetoast that he mostly keeps the scar’s origin to himself. The few people he’s told who didn’t see him get it assumed he wass just making it up, trying to make himself seem less bland than he was.

A kid who grew up two doors down from Lori had taken to harassing her every chance he got. He’d follow her before, during, and after school, calling her a dyke and telling her he planned to kill her or rape her or both. Then one day Dex told him to back off. Dex had never met Lori but didn’t like how ugly things were getting between these two kids he passed in the hall. The guy had a box cutter and jammed it in Dex’s shoulder, then got shipped off to juvie. Lori heard from someone that he was dead now, beaten up in some prison upstate. Lori felt a little guilty over how relieved that news made her feel when she heard it.

Dex ruffs his hair again and checks himself in the mirror. “Will you hurry up, you pussy?” Lori groans. She really is hungry and this honestly is getting on her nerves a bit.

“Alright, alright,” and he grabs his keys and goes up to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and shaking her playfully. Then he looks down and pinches her nose. “You’re so cuuuuute!” he teases, a head taller than her, and she shoves him and punches him in the scarred shoulder.

“Oh, fuck you!” she snaps, and makes her way outside, smiling while also scowling. Dex follows her and locks the door. When he was pinching her nose there was a fleeting urge to kiss her forehead, because she’s almost like a little sister to him. Sometimes there are moments when the words are capitalized – KISS HER – and when those words grow in his mind, he sees her both again and for the first time. He sees her huge toothy smile, and the wide scattering of dark freckles on her dimpled cheeks, and the gray-blue eyes almost hidden behind messy bangs that aren’t quite brown and aren’t quite red. And in those times, with those words so huge in his head, she isn’t like a sister to him at all.

Friendship is a bond, but also, sometimes, a chain.

The Nacho Shack is down and around the block, so they walk, Lori’s baggy jeans scraping against themselves, Dex occasionally running his fingers through his hair in the cold wind. They’ll probably eat outside, warmed by fresh tacos and fueled by too much Cuban coffee. They’ll tease and kick each other, like they’ve done for nearly a decade, and they’ll ignore fleeting wishes that will pass between their ears. They walk, neither arm-in-arm nor with outstretched hands. They are bound both together and apart by placid, steadfast familiarity.

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Tupperware Lids

container

 

He was arranging the fish on the cutting board when his phone rang. He washed his hands as fast as he could, but his thumb was too wet to slide the answer button. He whipped it across with the tip of his nose just as it was about to go to voicemail.

“Hello?”

“Hola!”

“Hey, Ashe! What’s up?”

“Alright, so: if I make you swear not to breathe a word of what I’m about to tell you, can I trust you to keep your word?”

“My word is my bond. Or, I think that’s how that goes, anyway.”

“Like, for real. You swear this stays just between us?”

“Cross my heart, an’ all that. What’s up?”

“Alright, so.” There was a long dramatic pause. Jason put the phone on speaker and started chopping mushrooms. “You swear this stays between us?”

“I swear! Now spill!”

“Okay…seriously, you can’t tell anyone I told you this.”

“Woman…”

“Alright, alright! So: what’re your feelings for Jenn?”

The rhythm in Jason’s chopping hand slowed a bit before he answered. “Well, I mean, I got…you know, I have a crush on her, but you know that. But she’s my friend and I don’t want her to feel self-conscious because of it.”

“Ha! I knew it! Weeeeell Jenn’s got a crush on you too.”

“Aw, fuck!”

“What?”

“I’m making dinner and I just knocked over my mushrooms. She’s got a crush on me?”

“That’s what she just said.”

“And did she, by any chance, swear you to the level of secrecy you just swore me to?”

“You’re diverting, and I’m not gonna fall for it. Duuuuude, you need to make some kinda move!”

“Well, I mean, we tried to go out before…”

“Oh, Jesus, that was two years ago. Try again!”

“I dunno. It seems like it’d be awkward.”

“That’s just cuz you’re so spazzy! Look, y’all get on great! Just do something you both like. Like, something y’all already do when you hang. Then just, you know…get romantic about it! It’s literally that easy.”

“Ugh. That could make things really awkward between us.”

“Oh, put on your big boy pants and get over it. You’re both grownups. If it doesn’t work out, just don’t go for the smoochies anymore whenever y’all get coffee. You move on. It’s what we do now that we’re all adult-y.”

“Whoever entrusted us with adulthood has made a terrible, terrible error in judgment.”

“Dude, I just got off the phone with her! She’s home right now. All she’s doing is reading. Ask her if she wants to hang and then bring whatever you’re making for dinner with you! Why am I having to talk you through this?”

Jason stirred the mint sauce. Ugh, talk about date-y cuisine. If he went over now he might as well buy flowers. “Look, I’ll…I’ll call her this weekend or something.”

“Call her now! Forget it, I’ll call her. I’m putting you on three-way.”

“Ashe, no.”

“I’m dialing.”

“Woman, I will take this boning knife and I will hunt you down.”

“Haha! Boning’s the whole point, Jason!”

“Ashe…”

“Oooh, it’s ringing. Hold on, Imma put you on hold.”

“Ashe!”

She put him on hold, alright.

The bass sizzled with the mushrooms in the sauce. He heard a woman’s voice: “Hello?”

“Ashe?”

“It’s Jenn. I think Ashe hung up.”

“Because she’s awesome like that, of course.”

“Ha! So what’s up? Ashe said you wanted to talk?”

“She called you to say I wanted to talk?”

“I…guess. So what’s up?”

Jason made a mental note to, if not go through with his threat involving the boning knife, then to at least make Ashe think he would.

“Well, nothing. Cooking dinner. What’re you up to?”

“Like, the same. Doing nothing, I mean. Reading.”

“Cool.” The sizzling fish popped in the sauce. “Uh, hey, you maybe wanna hang out tonight?”

“Sure. I’m not exactly dressed for going out though. Like, I think I just barely meet the dress code for my own house.”

He had an image of her then, sitting on the couch in stained pajamas, her bare feet tucked under her. Dark blond hair tied back, but still messy. Her face greasy and shining. Sitting there, looking perfect.

“Well, I could come over there.”

“Cool! You on your way now?”

“Uhhh…” The timer went off for the fish. “In a couple minutes.”

“Sweet! See ya in a bit!”

“See ya!”

Ashe texted him about a dozen times that night. “Try to kiss her!” “Try to kiss her!” Hold her hand or something!” “Grab her ass! (Actually no, don’t do that. RESIST, JASON, RESIST.)”

He didn’t see any of them till near morning. The fish that had been still sizzling when he got there grew cold in its Tupperware, the steam wafting from where the lid had never quite sealed. Jenn marked her place in her book, but the marker was knocked loose when the paperback fell to the floor. There were awkward pauses, and hesitant kisses, then held hands and hooked arms. The nerve wasn’t in him to go far, so she pulled him close until courage was a moot point. They would wait until sunrise to see if anything had been accidentally shoved away.

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Summer Dress

summer dress 2

 

She and I have both gotten kind of drunk, and we spend most of the walk back to my place stumbling against each other. We do our best to navigate the sidewalk out of the corner of our eyes while we kiss. Her blue-green summer dress feels smooth against my hands. In the heat it makes me think of water.

We stumble through the front door, and I have to stretch out my arm to set the lock while she pushes me deeper inside. I very nearly fall on my ass as we make our way down the hall, and a couple of times she steps on my feet. She’s already undoing the buttons on my shirt, and when we fall onto the mattress I pull my arms from my sleeves and yank down the straps of her dress.

We roll over, and I peel the dress off her, kissing my way down as I go. Her pale thighs clench and shake as I make my way down her legs. The dress slips past her red flats with a whisper. I reach overhead and slide her panties down until they join the dress.

Her fingers are working their way through my hair. She runs one leg back and forth against the crotch of my pants. I tease between her legs with the tip of my nose. She gives a small moan through her heavy breathing.

The gaff is such a small, thin thing. The strings that hold it in place are so fine they’re almost invisible in the dark. The patch at the front is a slim rectangle of black satin. The garment holds tight to her, so tight it’s practically a tattoo.

When I pull it down everything stays in place. She’s turned on but she’s had practice keeping everything under control in case of arousal. Now she reaches down and works a lavender nail inside, slowly rocking her wrist until her finger is in to the middle knuckle. She hooks it and pulls it back out, and her cock and scrotum unfold from her. It’s almost like it’s blooming. I think of rosebuds, and the imagery makes me smile and give a small chuckle.

I feel her tense up. “What?” she asks.

“Oh, just,” I grin and chuckle again. “It made me think of a flower.” I laugh and imitate the motion with my hands. I lower my head to go down on her but she slides away from me, crawling backwards until she’s on the edge of the bed. Her thighs are crossed, and the gaff hangs between her knees.

Now it’s my turn to ask: “What?”

She just sits there, looking hurt. She covers her chest with one arm, and scoops up the bra she threw off with the other.

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” she tells me. She runs a hand across her face, down each cheek.

“Why not?”

“If you’re not comfortable.”

“I’m totally comfortable.”

She looks unconvinced. “No. We really don’t have to. It’s okay.” She slips the bra on and fastens it, then runs her hand across her face again.

“Hey, what is this?” I crawl across the bed to her, but she turns around. I scoop her hair off her neck and kiss her shoulder. She slides away from me a bit, tucks herself, and pulls on the gaff before getting up. The strings are so fine she looks bottomless from behind.

“You’re clearly not comfortable,” she says as she walks over to her dress.

“Of course I’m comfortable. Babe!” I get up to follow. “I wasn’t laughing at you, I swear! I was just happy. I was enjoying myself!”

She slides on her panties and picks her dress up. Earlier the feel of it made me think of water. Now, in the moonlight, it looks as though she’s dangling a small wave from her hands.

I come up to her and try to pull her close, but she squirms away from me. She flicks the dress, then slides it on overhead. She runs a quick hand across her face again, and it’s only just now occurred to me why she’s doing that. She’s checking.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you self-conscious.”

“I’ll just call you tomorrow. It’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t! You know that doesn’t actually bother me, right?”

She finishes adjusting her dress, then squints and dabs at each eye with her fingertips. Her breath hitches and she ducks her head so her black hair hides her face. She bounces on her heels in frustration, the flats making a hollow slap against the wood floor.

“I just…” She takes a moment before finishing her thought. “Can I please just have a second?”

I leave her to it, closing the door and making my way to the kitchen. It’s probably best I leave anyway. I’m boiling mad now, and feeling, as most bullies do, like I’m being treated unfairly. I need to cool off before I make things worse.

I’m halfway through a glass of ice water before she comes out. She finds her clutch by the sofa, then turns and finds me sitting in the kitchen. She’s quiet for a long moment.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and she sounds so small when she says it I just want to jump off a bridge.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” I admit.

She runs her fingers through her hair, touching her cheek each time. “Can I call you tomorrow?”

“No. I’ll call you.” Because I just can’t resist the urge to be a victimized son of a bitch. Of course the comment hurts her, worries her. I can see her eyes widen a little, her pout deepen a little. Jesus Christ, haven’t I hurt her enough already?

I let the quiet hang there until she lets herself out. I wait a few minutes before slamming down my glass and grabbing my keys. I run out after her, racing to where she’s walking, already a block away. I have this half-baked idea to offer her a ride, but it’ll probably devolve into me just begging her to come back inside. I’m still in my undershirt. I never closed my fly. I see her under a streetlight. The image of her walking alone makes me want to stop, fall down, and cry, but instead I wave my arms and I call her name. I’m desperate to catch her, and even more desperate to hold on.

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Move In

pretty hair

 

“If you’re worried about whether I have ulterior motives…”

“No, it’s not that, Jesus. I just worry…”

“Worry what?”

“It’s not just me. It’s me and Kat.”

“Kat’s three. It’s not like she’s gonna take up that much space…”

“You know what I mean.”

Jesse swigged his beer and nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean. But the room’s pretty big and we can set up an extra bed.”

“And Alexa’s fine with this?” Megan knotted her brows. She twisted her wrists about so her own beer sloshed in the bottle.

“I don’t know. Guess she’ll have to be.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

Jesse shrugged. “You’re my friend. Leaving you in the cold seems a lot less fair.”

“But maybe more appropriate?”

“You’re sweet, but Jesus, I don’t wanna be a part of any world where abandoning your friends is considered appropriate.” He guzzled the rest of his beer and set the bottle on the porch, sliding a new one out of the six-pack in the same movement. He pried the cap off with a flick of a calloused thumb, offered her the bottle but she shook her head and sipped the one she had.

He couldn’t pretend he didn’t know what she was worried about. She and Alexa got on fine. Alexa was never worried when they hung out alone while she was at work. But having her in the back room? Out of work, so she was always there? Jesse worked mornings, Alexa worked afternoons. He and Megan would be alone together for hours, every day.

Well, not really. Kat would be there. But it wasn’t too hard to distract a three-year-old, was it?

“What are your other options?”

She shrugged. “No fuckin’ clue, man. I mean, I could head to Hawthorne where Kat’s dad is, but…” She sighed, wordlessly admitting she’d nearly prefer to be homeless. She swigged her beer. “No fuckin’ clue.”

“Alright, you’re crashin’ here then. You gotta.” He waved a hand to cut her off. “It’s out of our hands, woman. Until you can get something figured out, alright? I ain’t gonna leave ya to twist in the wind.”

She was quiet a long while. Her oak-brown hair fell over one shoulder and curled around her elbow. She had smooth skin with a tone like honey. He could never tell if her eyes were brown or green, but they were always sparkling. There was a single freckle on her nose, like a pin holding everything together. She was a looker, alright. Not that he ever looked, but others did. His buddy Dave. Alexa. His cousin Kim. And they didn’t mind bringing it up around him, either. Megan was beautiful. Looking at her now, he could easily see it.

But.

But there’d never been that instinctive recognition. That lurch in the gut that told him when someone was pretty. Megan was beautiful, but somehow she was beautiful in everyone’s eyes but Jesse’s.

And damn, but do people get imaginative when you’re alone with someone pretty.

Jesse’s friend since sixth grade finished her beer, scooted lower into the porch swing, and stuck a leg out against the railing, softly rocking herself along. She seemed to be intensely studying the satin flat she was wearing, shimmering black against the whitewashed wood. “Thank you,” she nearly whispered.

Jesse took off his ball cap and dropped it over her outstretched foot. “No biggie,” he told her, then swigged his beer.

***

Well, how could she say no?

She liked Megan, a lot, actually. They always got along. She loved it when the three of them stayed up late together, drinking beer and laughing over stories from high school.

When all three of them were together.

Jesse was always home by three. Alexa was always home by seven. And Megan, at least for now, would always be home.

Moving her in had been easy enough. Megan’s life was sparse enough she could fit it all into a car trunk. When everything was unpacked and Kat’s bed was put together, Jesse left to grab pizza. Megan and Kat played in the kitchen. Alexa had left to pee, but now she stayed behind and stared into the mirror.

She put a hand against her cheeks, pushing against them so she didn’t look so much like a chipmunk. Her nose was round and looked a little mushed. Blond hair always a little too shiny, oily looking. She ran a finger behind her jaw on either side, feeling for the goddamn whiskers that always tried to grow there. It was the first, second, and third thing she always checked for in the morning, always with a pair of tweezers gripped like a six-shooter.

No one but Alexa saw this being who only came alive in the mirror. This creature that in Alexa’s mind could only just barely be called a woman. This thing that, she felt, she’d managed to hide from Jesse.

Megan was in the kitchen, sweaty in an old tee shirt stained with grape jelly. Bandanna holding her hair back from her dirty face. Movie star beautiful. Suffering but still so goddamn beautiful. Here, in this house.

Alexa touched up her foundation, and heard Jesse come in. Kat screamed in delight. She loved Jesse. Alexa felt something jerk violently somewhere in her heart.

She grabbed paper plates and plastic cups, poured juice for Kat and grabbed beers for everyone else. She watched Jesse toss his hat by the TV and run a hand through his rust-red crew cut. Even so short, it always looked like he was fighting a case of bed head. He rubbed at eyes that always looked a little puffy, like he’d just woken up. His face alternated between pale in tone and red from a swarm of freckles. He scratched at his neck, dotted red from acne that’d held on since he was sixteen.

Kat hugged his neck and flopped backward in his arm like Katherine Hepburn. Jesse hoisted her up and sat her down in Megan’s lap. He untangled himself and moved to Alexa. The whole time, he was moving toward her. They locked eyes, and there was the smile he only ever gave her. She knew this. She’d watched him around others. He only smiled like this, with his eyes and his lips, for her.

Megan and Kat picked at a slice of pizza. Kat told her gorgeous mother about her day at preschool. Jesse held Alexa close, telling her hello with a kiss.

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