short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
She Rides the Unicorn
“Oh-my-God,” I said to my date, John. “Who is that?”
John glanced through the crowd, not needing to ask who was who. He chuckled. “Just a freak show.”
She wore a black strapless tube dress with a princess cut, wide-ribboned high at the waist, the dress dropping halfway down her thigh. The hem waved around her, complimenting the motion of her dark hair as she walked effortlessly on four-inch heel black Mary Janes. She was white, and I don’t mean that as a race. Her skin was like a sun-washed beach midday, midsummer. “Really, John.”
“How about I introduce you?”
As we approached, I watched the woman, a triangular cut crystal wine flute balanced in her right hand, golden fluid set off by her fire engine red fingernails, the glass often moving toward her mouth, yet she never sipped. People coming past her didn’t stay long, her nodding a greeting, sometimes a word or two. She seemed comfortable in her flesh yet distracted, as if she wanted to be any place other than where she was.
As we fell into orbit, her all-iris olive green to raw umber orbs, the hue shifting with the light, caught and held my eyes. I felt at once the snake and prey.
“John,” she said without emotion.
John nodded sharply, like a soldier with a report. “Janet. How you been?”
She slid to her right, away from John, toward me, still holding my eyes. “Been okay. You? Who’s your friend?”
“Oh, I’ve been cool.” He glanced to the room. “Good turn out, huh?”
“Who’s your friend?”
“Randi Klinger,” I offered, along with my right hand.
“Ah.” Her cadmium red lips curled softly. “Randi-candy. Sweet.” With her rosé blush in her right hand, she took my hand with her left and didn’t let go. “Nice to meet you. Spooky Long.”
“Nice to be met, eh, Spooky.”
She gave me a leisurely up-down. “What are you doing here?”
I had no illusion I’d pass for anything other than an interloper. I couldn’t afford the $200.00 a plate charity dinner. “What gave me away? My $29.99 sundress from Walmart? My Payless shoes?”
She kept my hand, smiling softly. “You’d make a potato sack sexy. That’s not how I meant the question.”
“Do potatoes even come in sacks anymore?”
“She’s a photog for Ashland News. That’s a weekly –”
“I know what that is, John.” With a wave across me, she presented her flute to John. “Would you be a dear?”
Like a third-grader eager to please, John scurried off.
“Men.” She rolled her eyes.
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
I gave her my copyrighted narrowed eyes. “Just how do you know?”
“We went to high school together. John has terrible taste in women. Have you gotten your pictures?”
“How about we take a walk, then.”
“I came with John. It’s only fair that –”
“John just hit on me with you standing there. Let me guess: his father asked him to bring you.”
I nodded. I didn’t feel I needed to explain my editor knew John’s father.
“He’ll troll and try to trade up the first chance he gets. I watched him do it at our prom and more than once at these events.”
Her right eyebrow waved like a caterpillar’s walk. “Which role do you think I played in that drama?”
Again, I narrowed my eyes. “Neither.”
“The powers-that-be require me to appear at these events. I have.”
I glanced behind me. John, with Janet’s wine, didn’t make it halfway back, him close-talking a girl way younger than me.
“Exit, stage right.”
Janet, aka Spooky, was a damaged soul. A blind guy driving by fast could see that, a thousand miles of bad road leaking from her dark eyes. I was drawn to her, my soul having its inventory of un-healable pus festering scars. Spooky – her self-assigned nickname since a time shortly before she slammed headlong into puberty – had three inches and maybe ten pounds on me, still drawn and gaunt, her hair blacker than hair was allowed to be, her flesh pulled pale with harsh makeup from a dark palette generously applied. People, in whispers, said she was a witch. She didn’t offer denials. The belief hung out there with just enough power, people granted Spooky her space. The downside, which she saw as an upside, was she didn’t have many friends.
Too often the smartest person in the room, which intimidated many, Spooky was an embalmer at the Hailey and Smith funeral home adding yet another layer of mystique, the adjective evil dropped before witch in soft whispers.
The newspaper gig paid in byline. Between my classes at the local community college, hours in the supermarket and elective assignments with Ashland News, hoping to get any of my photos picked up by the AP, making me famous, I had little time for anything else. Over the next two months, I did manage three long coffees at Mandy’s Books, Spooky and I squirreled away in a cliché dark corner, holding hands across a small table with a red and white checkered tablecloth, speaking of life, diversity, kittens, Disney princesses, Crayola crayons, Whitman, Blake and Dickenson. We may have touched on sealing wax and kings. I know we talked about presidents, both dead and alive with a passionate disinterest. We spoke around our damage, living and reliving life as it should have been. If other things like work or driving a car didn’t distract us, we were on the phone with each other, sometimes well into the night.
In my twenty-two years, I’d only once given myself the gift of a close friend, Suzie, her dying of childhood leukemia at the age of twelve, one of the many un-healable pus festering scars across my soul.
“What are you doing in three weeks?” Spooky asked.
Sitting on the floor in the hallway, glancing over my Western Civ notes for a test minutes away, my cell phone propped on my shoulder, I closed by eyes. “Question’s to vague. I’ll be between semesters.”
“You’re taking classes in the summer session?”
“Yeah, but I get three weeks off. I’m going to try to pick up more hours at the store.”
“Take a week off.”
She didn’t need to explain. She didn’t need to ask twice. “Okay.”
I thought to slam my birth certificate on the kitchen table, proof of my status as an adult. Instead, I stamped my foot and whined. “Mom, I’m not a child! I’m twenty-two years old!” Okay, I could have reasoned better.
“We’ve never met this person,” Dad argued.
I don’t need your approval. I blamed my busy schedule. In reality, when I was honest with myself, the reason I’d not brought Spooky home was because Mom and Dad would have a grossly negative reaction just to her appearance, imagining all sorts of wild things. “You sent me off to that summer camp went I was fourteen. Now, I’m just going away for a week. And, you can call me everyday if you wish.”
“The summer camp had adult supervision.”
“Yeah, that sad excuse for a human being, Donny something-or-other, chasing every pigtail there, cornered me once and only that I know how to scream really loud that I escaped whatever he had in mind.”
Dad nodded, shaking his head. “He did get decent jail time, finally, and it’s not like he hurt you or anything.”
Yep, an un-healable pus festering scar, Dad unable to understand the threat of, proximity of, or the immediacy of abuse or harm can cut just as deeply as an actual occurrence.
“You’ll call everyday?” Mom asked.
“And, we get to meet your little friend before you go?”
“Yeah, Mom.” She can wave to the house as she drives by. “She’s a professional, well-respected in her field. She even does work for local law enforcement, knows all the police. She’s active in charity work. I told you were we met.” I was relieved they didn’t think to ask what profession.
“But, she’s much older than you,” Dad pointed out.
“Only two years and change.”
Mom nodded, Dad shrugged.
“Not a problem,” Spooky said over the phone without hesitation. “I’ll help carry your bags when I pick you up. If they wish, we can sit and drink coffee with them.”
I rolled my eyes, not saying she’d get drilled, with much explaining to do. When not at formal charity functions, Spooky was big on short skirts, chains and ankle boots, her makeup drawn in dark hues with an angry hand. I wasn’t sure what the part was supposed to be, but she didn’t act the part she looked.
At 4AM, I stood in the quiet of the morning on the curb with my phone to my ear. “Okay. I think I see your headlights.”
“I see you. You sure you want to do this?”
“Well, Mom and Dad still have veto power.”
“That’s so cute. Didn’t you ever act out?”
“No. I get quiet and pout.”
I opened the Lexus van’s door as she pulled to a stop. “Spooky, I –” I’m sure my mouth hung open.
She laughed subtlety. “Into the nearby phone booth, you know.”
“Oh-my-God. I’m so used to your peacocking!”
“I like to give it a break twice a year.” She wore a simple peach tank top, loose shorts, unlaced sneakers, no socks. Her hair was back in a high ponytail. Her hair always danced around her face. No makeup. She appeared softer, vulnerable, younger, her eyes less dark, less foreboding. She looked like a sweet young woman, not the caustic witch bent on evil doings.
She took my hand, leaving the Lexus door open. “Let’s go get parent-approved.”
We were on the road in ten minutes.
“You’ve never been down the shore, really?”
I sat back against the passenger door, my feet on the bench seat, drinking Spooky in, trying to understand she was the person I’d gotten to know over the past three months. “Not that I didn’t have my opportunities. Groups of kids on weekends piling into cars, promises of beer flowing in the streets.”
“Two of my favorite things.”
“I’ve had responsibilities, too. Paper route until I was 14. I did get the joy and pleasure of sleep-away summer camp one year.”
“Didn’t like it, huh?”
“Like you, I don’t mix well. I brought a book to read. Ironically, Lord of the Flies.”
She laughed. “Good book, poignant social commentary.”
“I kinda rushed through it. I wanted to see what was going to happen the next night at camp.”
We laughed together.
The Sandaway, an older building, stood three blocks from the beach. Betty, who looked like Mrs. Santa Claus on vacation, greeted Spooky by name. “So good to see you, Janet!”
“Good to be seen!”
“Another year already.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a friend with me this year. Not a problem?”
“Of course not! It’s good, actually.”
“Randi Klinger,” I said past Spooky.
“Randi. Good. I’m Betty. Welcome.”
Our room was small, but not cramped, one room with bath and closet. We were on the eighth floor. A sliding door opened onto a small balcony. When Spooky first asked me to go away with her, I had a basketful of imaginings and expectations. In minutes, I shut myself up, stepping through the mirror without anticipation.
“The ocean’s big,” I whispered, standing straight, my hands on the railing.
“Yeah, it is,” Spooky whispered back in my ear, her coming against me from behind, her hands on mine.
“Janet, I –”
“Sh.” Her lips like a butterfly wing leisurely rested on my left temple.
I closed my eyes.
“How about we try the sand and the ocean?”
I wasn’t aware Spooky stepped back.
“Or are you hungry?”
“Ocean, then lunch?” I didn’t turn from the view.
“I’ve wanted to do that since the night we met.”
I turned, leaning back on the rail. “What’s stopped you?”
Eight feet away, her tank top bundled over her head, exposing her well-shaped breasts. My expression must have betrayed my surprise.
“I have no modesty. Spectators, my parents are public figures. I respect that, try to avoid giving the gossip machine any fodder.”
“Yet, you peacock.”
Rolling her eyes, she put the noose of her halter bathing suit top over her head. As she tied it, she said: “I’ve been a weird kid all my life. I was Goth and Emo in appearance before either were popular. It’s hardly news.”
“The press gives you latitude because you being weird isn’t news.”
“I knew some of it was an act.”
“All of it’s an act.”
“But with you. Everything I’ve told you is real and true.”
“I like you. A rare thing in my human experience.”
“I’ve not allowed myself to like many people, either.”
Our damage, festering up, afraid to touch, to be real, to expose ourselves.
With a twitch of her fingers, her shorts fell to her ankles. She watched my eyes watching her. “Does me exposing myself make you uncomfortable?”
I shared a sardonic smile. “We’ve yet to expose anything that counts.”
“Get dressed in a hurry?” I asked, offering a subtle nod.
With a giggle, she said: “Didn’t feel like an underwear day.” She stepped into the bathing suit bottoms. “With my coloring, you can imagine, I took a lot of hits growing up.”
“You’re beautiful au naturale. I’ve tried to imagine you with your face washed.”
“Are you flirting with me?”
She looked to the floor. “There’s another reason.”
“Not kissing you.”
“You were afraid I’d scream like a little girl and run away.”
I crossed the distance, coming under Janet, raising her face with the soft touch of fingers under her chin. Our eyes tethered. As soft and as innocent as a white kitten’s whisker, I touched my lips to hers, then stepped back. “I gotta dig out my bathing suit and towel. That’s something I wanted to do since the night we met.”
“What stopped you?”
“I didn’t want to get cadmium red all over my face.”
“Smells like the seafood section at work,” I commented as we climbed the steps onto the boards.
“I find something real and true about the beach. Something primal calls to me.”
I rolled my eyes. “The noise of so much humanity is distracting.”
“Background noise. I like this town because it’s a blue town. Most stores are closed on Sunday, and they don’t sell liquor.”
“Older crowd, not the town the car full of kids would come to.”
Nodding, Janet passed her drawstring bag to me. “Hang here, I want to pop in this store for a second.”
Kids screamed and squealed, seagulls answering. The birds noticed, the children did not. A crowd moved both directions on the boardwalk. I thought the streams of people existentially funny, everyone feeling they were out of place, mindlessly seeking where they were not. In the distance, an airplane hummed, rambling across the sky, dragging a banner whoring a local car dealership. “Honey,” I said aloud. “What do you want to do on vacation? Let’s go down the shore and buy a car.”
Janet appeared at my side. “I thought it would be cool to use one of them to propose to someone.” She traded a pair of flip-flops for her bag.
“You proposing to someone?” I slipped into the sandals.
“I got the idea first when I was eight! At the time, I thought I’d be sitting on a white horse on the beach, and the banner would come by!”
“From Ken or Barbie?” I eyed the boards. “Good idea. I was thinking I could get a serious splinter.”
“And, the sand gets way hot. Barbie has a car. I was a princess.”
“That would explain the horse.”
The shore was like another world. As we went down the steps onto the sand, Spooky pointed to our right. “That pier’s like the community center. At night, they have events, like bands and often dances. If you want, we can catch a dance.”
“Are you asking me out on a date?”
“Most definitely.” She took my hand.
To our left, large piled up rocks extended out into the ocean. Spooky explained the jetty prevented beach erosion. “In the morning, I’ll take you out there, so we can watch the sunrise.” Pointing to a raised chair on the sand between the pier and the jetty, Spooky explained: “That’s the lifeguard. Anytime you hear a whistle, look that way. If he waves at you, you’re in the wrong place or doing something wrong. If you have an emergency, he’s the guy to get.”
As we crossed the sand, I stooped to pick up a shell now and then. “They’re all broken.”
“Yeah, seagulls break them to get breakfast. It’s said if you find a whole shell in perfect condition, you’ll fall in love for real with the person you’re with.”
She shrugged. “That’s what they say.”
Spooky spread our towels overlapping and stretched out on her back. She explained if we didn’t get some cloud cover, we only had a couple of hours. The afternoon sun could roast us, even well-oiled as we were. I wanted to try the ocean. She sent me ahead. The water felt surprisingly cold compared with the air, and the waves pushed and pulled me. I had the odd feeling of living things rubbing against my legs. The beach was crowded, with too many people in the water for my comfort. I thought naked under the moonlight would be much more fun than daytime swimming. Wanting to try the ocean was better than actually trying, so I stayed in the advancing and retreating waves, looking for a seashell.
I returned to Spooky with a handful of shells, demanding she inspect each one for its perfection. She carefully examined each in turn, and each was rejected. I bit my lip. “I got all day.”
“Sometimes you have to dig for them.”
“In the sand.” Elevated on her elbows, she tilted her head back, put a hand flat to her forehead and moaned, finally pointing just past her feet. “Try digging right there.” She dropped on her back, looking at the sky.
I dug. “You sure?”
“Of course not. Keep digging.”
I dug. “Nothing.”
“Randi, when it comes to love, never give up easily.”
I didn’t give up, pulling at the sand. “Spooky! Look what I found!”
Spooky sat up, taking the shell. “Janet, please,” she corrected, turning the shell and narrowing her eyes, giving out a, “Hmm, hmm, hmm.” I knelt close, looking at the shell with her. Her eyes found me over the shell. “Randi-candy, this is the most perfect shell I have ever seen. I guess we’re going to fall in love for real.”
I smiled sardonically. “How would we know?”
She laughed, rolling her eyes. “I got, like, no idea!”
I fell on my towel, on my stomach. Spooky fell on her back. I propped my head on my hand. “Have you ever been in love for real?”
“Some people say we’re too young.” She watched my eyes.
“I don’t care what some people say. I’ve been in love for real twice, and I’m younger than you.”
“Twice?” She blinked at me.
I giggled. “Yeah. My first love was Bear. My teddy bear when I was a kid.”
“Randi! That doesn’t count!”
“Just saying it doesn’t count, doesn’t make it not count.”
“You did your teddy bear?”
“Love doesn’t require doing it.”
“I’ll buy that. How do you figure it was love, then?”
I didn’t hesitate. “Because, Janet, when I lost Bear, the pain was so deep, so rich and so thorough, I couldn’t touch it, and it’s never gone away.”
Spooky stared for a long time with unblinking dark eyes as if drinking me in. “Same with Suzie?”
“I thought I loved Suzie. When she died, I knew it.”
Spooky turned to the sky, once again on her back. A tear chased down her cheek. “Randi, that is so beautiful. I’d never want to do that to anyone.”
I touched my finger to the tear, and then put my finger in my mouth. “I’m not sure you have a choice. You can’t argue with a seashell.”
“I lied to you,” Spooky confessed.
“You can’t –”
Spooky turned her head, looking at me with painful eyes. “But, I –”
I waved the seashell. “I was window-shopping when you were buying flip-flops. I found the perfect shell. Does it really matter if God, a bird or you put it in the sand for me to find? Besides, I lied to you, too.”
“Wanting to kiss you the first night we met.”
She watched my eyes, calculating. “You just wanted to one-up me.”
I smiled with a shrug. “I did want to kiss you back in the room, though.”
Spooky rolled back to look at the sky again. “Randi?”
“Want to get something to eat?”
“Might keep from getting a whistle blown at me.”
I liked the feel of the shore, which could have had something to do with being away from my life. Standing alone in a crowd, I wondered, maybe I dreamed if Suzie had lived, if she and I wouldn’t spend time like Janet and me. I wanted to shower with Janet, us, naked, together, the hot, steamy water rushing over us. If she asked, I would have said yes. If she stepped in, I wouldn’t have said no.
Like my soul mate, like my other self, when I told Janet: “I need to take a walk. Alone,” she smiled with a nod.
I’m glad I didn’t have to explain, though I’m not sure I could.
In the fifteen minutes I stood on the boardwalk, leaning on the railing, watching the ocean and the stars, as if standing in line to buy tickets to a movie, four guys hit on me in turn, the next pickup line worse than the previous. I didn’t look their way, simply stating I was pondering the wonder of God, or quote any passage from the Bible. My experience has taught me that’ll send 99 out of 100 guys running, sometimes screaming.
The room sat crowded with darkness, the balcony door open, whispers of distant human activity backdropped by what sounded like the ocean, which could have been my imagination. I sat on the bed, high and firm.
“I wanted to go to sleep early,” Janet said from under the light sheet.
“I know. You mentioned the sunrise.”
“Did you want to close things up, put the air on?”
I slipped my tank top over my head, folded it, placing it on the floor. “Nah. As long as it’s below 90 degrees, I’m OK.” I kicked off my flip-flops, and then released the snap of my shorts. “Are you naked?”
“I never shared a bed with anyone.”
“But your teddy bear.”
“Yeah, he was naked, too. Bare bear.”
Standing, I removed and folded by shorts and underwear in turn, dropping each on my tank top. Illuminated by the subtle light from outside, I could feel Janet’s eyes on me. “Can you tell I blushed?”
I wrestled my way under the sheet. Janet rolled, facing away from me.
“Thanks for coming along.”
With a light brush of my hand, her hair fell away from her neck, my lips coming firmly just under her ear. “Thanks for having me,” I whispered, snuggling in, my arm over her.
She shivered, giggling.
I realized many things at once: I wasn’t in my own bed, I was awake, dawn was not far off and Janet watched me from the chair.
I stretched. “Hey.”
“Is that coffee I smell?”
“Yeah. I didn’t want to wake you too early.”
“Oh, I could fall in love with you.”
“You found the perfect shell. Sleep well?”
“Surprisingly so.” I sat, my legs over the side of the bed. With some effort, I tried to wrestle the sheet around me, failed, finally sitting naked in the dim light, accepting a Styrofoam cup, coffee black, no sugar, as I like it.
“Been a long time since I’ve slept with an arm around me. I didn’t know how much I missed it.”
I sipped. “New experience for me. I could get used to it.”
I prompted Janet with my patented narrow eyes.
“We never did anything,” she disclaimed, shifting on the chair, sitting erect, looking out the balcony door. “God, Randi, you can never repeat any of this.”
“Goes without saying.”
“My parents, the perfect public couple, used to fight all the time, a function of their strong personalities. They still do, but nothing like back then. We were terrified.”
“I just had my teddy bear.”
“We knew, together, we could face anything.”
“You still close?”
“I don’t have the words.”
“There are none. Life hurts. A lot. Anyone tells you any differently, they’re selling something.” Sitting back in the chair, she collapsed like a ragdoll. “I was seventeen, him nineteen. I was drunk. I was driving. Dad got the story and any charges buried.” She rolled her eyes. “Get dressed. No excuses. The accident wasn’t my fault. A guy ran a red light, hit us in the passenger side. Pinned in the car, I held his hand, watched his eyes as he died.”
I bit my lip, nodding, helpless to do anything about the un-healable pus festering scar across her soul. “Good coffee, thanks.”
“The coffee sucks.”
I laughed. “Yeah, it does.”
Janet laughed with me.
We were not alone on the jetty, three people, not together, fishing. The ocean waves gently caressed the beach and the rocks. Janet and I held hands as we awkwardly danced across the jetty. I felt inept at the task, yet comfortable with that.
We sat, still holding hands, the horizon aglow, the seawater reaching up to tickle our feet.
“I come here every year, Randi, alone. Once in the week, I come sit in this spot as the sun comes up and recite a poem. It’s called: She Rides the Unicorn.”
Punishing waves like a storm-driven ocean,
De-speciate, deconstruct, disassemble.
Until she’s no longer of our world.
The sun, forever laughing,
painting her pure face.
she rides the unicorn.
White, pure, uncorrupted
as in the beginning
primordial power engorging her being.
Solid earth melts to marsh,
Reeds greeting her,
kissing her face.
Gossamer flows wave with her hair.
sand like her flesh.
The ocean mocks her beginning.
Gulls shout her name.
The unicorn rears,
dropping hoofs to sand.
She leans forward,
an embrace, patting.
“I think I'd like to go home now.”
raspberry lips caress an ear.
the unicorn shakes her primordial head.
“Why?” she asks.
The girl, her question breathed a million times
always to get the same response:
“You’re not real.”
My head dropped to Janet’s shoulder, her arm around me. I cried without restraint, the salt of my body melding with the ocean.
“De-speciate, deconstruct, disassemble,” I whispered, into my towel, the sun roasting my back.
“De-speciate, means: what I think it does?”
“That’s when we make up that a human being isn’t a human being, for the purpose of exploitation.”
“Could say objectify.”
“Could, but it doesn’t have the ‘d’ sound. And, de-speciate keeps the being a being, just not a human being.”
“I have a request.”
“Anything.” Her fingernails ran down my back.
I shivered. “I want to get naked with you again. I want to hold you as tight as I can for as long as I can, until I forget where I stop and you begin.”
“Can we get lunch first?” Her lips came firmly to under and behind my ear.
The lifeguard blew his whistle.
“That isn’t for us, is it?”
The ocean stretched out forever before me, my hands on the balcony railing. “In this moment,” I whispered: “Life makes flawless terrible sense.”
Janet curled around me from behind, her hands snaking under my tank top, palms cupping my adequate breasts, her thumbs circling my nipples, her right leg wrapping my leg. “How so?”
“Where my life didn’t make sense, was though I knew life hurt, I somehow thought it shouldn’t.”
Her lips touched just under my right ear. “Yeah. People from shrinks to women on TV to the pastor down the street or just about anyone you ask will tell you that you can heal, that you can have closure, that you, too, can be happy.”
“The people selling something.”
“Yeah, even if what they’re selling is them trying to sell themselves on the idea.”
I sighed. “Reality fades away, Janet, when you hold me. I can say I’m happy. What are you selling?”
With a soft giggle, she told me: “Just because life hurts, doesn’t mean we can’t touch moments that don’t hurt so much.”
I wormed free of her hug, twisting around, her hands still under my tank, my hands working up her shirt, holding firm to her waist, our foreheads touching, me watching up at her eyes. “You, Janet, are a moment that doesn’t hurt so much.”
She closed her eyes, sighed, her tongue wetting her lips.
My lips came to hers, gently, like a kitten’s paw on unfamiliar carpet.
Oh, man, I thought, struggling Janet’s underwear up my sweaty thighs. I’d stuck with full panty briefs over the years, Janet wearing thongs. I liked the look and the feel on myself, but that could have to do with the underwear being Janet’s. Watching Janet smile in her sleep, I put my palms to my face. Oh, man, I smell like you.
The hot air of the summer afternoon and recent activities drew the primal salt from our bodies. Primal salt, like the ocean, a reminder of where we slithered from.
“Primal,” I whispered through my hands, blushing, wondering whether my primal screams disturbed the neighbors. I had sex before, such that it was. The afternoon demonstrated I’d never made love. “Moments that don’t hurt so much,” I reminded myself.
“Yeah,” Janet agreed softly from the bed. “Is that my underwear?”
“Looks good on you. I need a shower.”
“So do I, but I’m not going to take one.”
She stared for a moment, then said what only my soul mate, my other self could say: “Because we smell like each other.”
We dressed in each other’s clothes, only pausing twice to make out.
Like Karl and Gretchen’s rose bushes in The Snow Queen, our hands tethered across the small table, me drinking Janet, Janet drinking me.
I wanted to say: I’ve never been really kissed before. I never really made love before, I’d never been touched so deeply before, all the words arraigned in my head falling well short of what I was feeling.
“Moments.” Janet breathed softly. “That don’t hurt so much. Touching, out beyond where the words can walk.”
“I was looking for just those words.”
Our hands crawled over each other’s like hungry kittens jockeying for their mother’s nipples.
She bit her lip. “I need to ask you a favor. A big favor. I don’t think you’ll understand.” Her eyes held mine.
“Fire away. I am your servant.”
With a smile, she asked: “I’d like you – I need you – I want you to be my maid of honor.”
My patented and copyrighted narrowed eyes sprung into action. “Of course,” I answered, instead of asking a volley of questions. “What’s the date?”
She looked away, across the room, out the window. “I don’t even know who, yet.”
“It’s the legacy.” Her eyes returned to mine.
Again, I gave a subtle nod, my hands on hers.
“I’m sorry –”
“Don’t be. I’m not.”
Janet took a turn nodding.
“You have to be publically perfect. You have to marry a man, have a baby. Wait. You have to squeeze out babies until you get a boy? You’ll play house. Your husband won’t even know you’re playacting.” I sighed. “Maybe you’ll fight all the time in private, scaring the kids.”
Janet shrugged. “If my brother didn’t die, the responsibility wouldn’t fall to me.”
“What if you didn’t –”
“My parent’s needs, the family legacy’s requirements are more important than my personal desires.”
I rolled my eyes. “Laying next to you, smelling as much like you as you the other night, I imagined taking you home, us holding hands, me announcing that we were lovers, that we were getting married, going to spend our lives together.”
“I know how this story’s going to end.”
“Yeah, huh? My mom would fall to the floor as if shot, hands over her face crying, worried about what the old women I don’t even know at the church were going to think. Dad, though he’s never hit me, would likely make an exception, pounding the piss out of me until his arms got tired.” I shrugged. “I do understand.”
“My parents are public figures. Dad chairs a board at our church, a board that determines family values.”
I winked. “Sure, Janet. I’ll be your maid of honor. I’ll be the godmother to your children.”
A tear oozed from her right eye. “Thanks.”
Life made terrible sense. We’d pack, making out again, leading to a delay in our departure. Our corporal foils would get in the van, crossing back over the reeds and marshes. We’d never leave the beach, our souls resting on the jetty each morning, watching the sunrise, singing a Siren’s song.
We’d never leave because, as the unicorn told us, we’re not real.
The weather had been perfect. As we pulled up to the curb at my house, I said: “One, two, three, four.”
“Raindrops on the windshield. It’s been a good week.”
“I like rain. I like counting the raindrops, too.”
I shrugged. “Might as well. It’s the only thing you can really count on.”
“Raindrops and fingers. Do you ski?”
“No, but I can learn.”
“Third week of December.”
“I’ll mark my calendar.” I put my fingers to my lips, then to Janet’s mouth. “I have this very cool raised lily design with a rearing unicorn I did for an art project in my senior year, kinda wraps around the left side of the page. I’ll show you. It’ll be perfect for your wedding invitations.” I climbed out. “Call me.”
The Lexus pulled away. Halfway up my walk, my cell phone rang.