Chapter two.

We're at the beach, our flip-flops dangling from our fingertips, hoping we don't step on glass or used condoms. I try not to think about my ingrown toenail, knowing if I complain Darla will break out a pair of nail scissors and tell me to sit still. Her mother babied her, Darla told me once, cooed in her ears and bathed her feet in expensive salts and let her take days off school for little things. Now efficiency is more important to Darla than worrying if I have tender skin.

In a rare moment of release—probably because the beach is cold and empty, with no one to watch us—we link arms and walk by crossing our legs over legs, laughing. I look at our feet—Anderson's, impossibly long and skinny, Darla's, fat, resembling infants', Charles', hammer-toed, dark on top and pink underneath, Ochuwa's, black, dusty, skeletal. I notice something written in her insole. Charles and I stop to untangle my long, curly hair from his glasses, causing the rest of the line to topple over into a knot. I watch Anderson twist himself so he falls on top of Darla, traps her under his body with his arms beside her face. She appears happy, so I stop looking.

"What's tattooed on your foot?" I ask Ochuwa, who stares out at the sea like she can see the next continent.

She turns her protruding, yellow-tinged eyes to me, and again I feel like she knows something she shouldn't. "The last line of a book. 'Ta san ta ba su juyo.'" She recites it from heart. "It's Hausa. Means, 'She knew she would never turn back.'"

"How does she know?"


"How does she know she won't turn back?"

"You don't even know what she's turning from," Ochuwa says, a smile in her voice.

"Even still." I dig my toes in the hard sand. "It's presumptuous, thinking you're strong enough."

"You should read the book. I'll give it to you; I have an English translation in my apartment."

I nod. None of us ever say 'Thank you.' We both stare out at the ocean now and I try to see what Ochuwa sees. Her eyes rest on something. But my eyes tire of scanning the bare grey sky and fall to my buried toes.

After a few moments, Ochuwa asks, "How old are you?"

"Eighteen," I say.

"So young."

"I get by. And you?"

"Oh, twenty-four."

"Why are you hanging out with us? Anderson's oldest, and he's twenty."

"You all used to run with a friend of mine, McKenna Rasmussen. You know him?"

I shake my head. "Never heard of him, and I've been with these guys since the end of my sophomore year in high school."

The wind blows and Ochuwa and I cross our arms against our chests. "You must've showed up right after he hopped town."

"Why did he leave? Who was he?"

"I guess you could call him a fugitive. Really, I don't know what you call a guy who the police wrongly shoot in the face."


She nods, purses her dusky, purple lips. "Anyway, kept him in intensive care instead of jail, and once he woke up, I guess he ran. Great guy. Wrong place, wrong time, you know?"

"It's been two years though, hasn't it? Why look for him now?"

"Called me. I missed it, and it was from a payphone, so I couldn't call him back. He said he was in the area. That I should hang by his old haunts if I wanted to see him. I figured that included your group, so…" Her smile feels strange to me. "Here I am."

"What're you two lovebirds talking about?" Darla laughs as she approaches, her feet digging sideways in the sand.

"Do you know a guy named McKenna Rasmussen?" Darla ignores me, and Ochuwa, too, acts as if I haven't spoken. I pull out a wrinkled cigarette from the soft pack in my pocket and light it.

"Anderson found a horseshoe crab, you've got to see it," Darla says. "It looks like it has giant centipede legs all curling towards its middle, and they're still kicking."

"Make sure he doesn't tear one off. I can't stand to see animals in pain," says Ochuwa.

"What makes you think he'd do that?"

"He seems like that kind of boy."

Darla snorts, talks as she walks away. "Well, crustaceans are just walking brain stems anyway. It's not like they'd feel it." Ochuwa trails after her, doesn't look at me, won't catch my eye for the rest of the day.

Charles drops me off at home, promising he'll pick me up at six for dinner as I slam the car door. Ochuwa invited us—said she could make some mean Nigerian stew. I make sure to bang around as I enter my house, stumble into the wall a bit, throw my purse on the table. My dad doesn't come out of his office. I knock on the door, enter—he's asleep, his forehead resting on his gel wrist pad, snoring.

"Dad," I whisper, shaking his shoulder. "Dad."

"Hm, what?" he says mid-snore, raising his head. "Oh. Hi, sugar. How are you? I was just getting some work done…" His bleary eyes watch the screensaver, dolphins jumping out of bad CG water, before he jostles the mouse and an Excel spreadsheet appears.

"You should go lay down," I tell him. "Your work will still be here in a couple hours."

He stretches his arms behind his back, pops his joints. "Naps are for old people." He chuckles. Frowns. "I smell cigarettes."

"Sorry. My friends…"

"I'm not worried. I taught you well, right, kiddo? You know they kill. Can't help it if your friends want to die!" He laughs. "What're you up to?"

I let out a deep breath of air as I speak. "Wanted to check in with you. Charles is picking me up at six for dinner."

"Charles…is that your boyfriend?"

"Charles is like, asexual."

"Sounds like a good boyfriend to me," he says.

I smile. "So, uh, I'll make sure to be home before ten, 'cause I have work in the morning."

"Ten? You can't have enough fun in four hours. How about eleven?"

"Dad," I groan, "I'm trying to be responsible here."

"I know, sugar, but you work so hard. The number of shifts you take, you've gotta have enough money for a semester by now." I give him a look. "Not that I'm pressing."

"I'm going to catch a shower. 'Night."


I stop by the door. "You know, Dad, you work hard too. Maybe you should stay out 'til eleven some night."

He laughs, stretches his arms behind his back again. "I'm old, sugar—not old enough for naps, but too old to be going out. You know me—I've never been one to get drinks with the guys."

I think, have you ever had guys? but say nothing, shut the door.

I'm chain smoking on my doorstep, ashing into the misshapen, finger-painted vase I made in second grade. It says "I Heart Mom" all over—I never understood why Dad kept the key under it. I made him arts and crafts, too.

Anderson pulls up—I recognize his elbow hanging from the window, not his car. "Get in," he says.

"Where's Charles?" I ask as I lumber inside. The car is like the Batmobile, wide, black, low to the ground, and with minimal legroom. "Or Darla? And what's with this car?"

"It's Dad's. He's salivating over his new Jag so I was able to take this out. Nice, huh?"

"Real nice."

"Charles is in bed with mommy dearest. Apparently she started throwing up the moment he got home—now my question is, is the cancer really back or did she swallow some ipecac?" He gives me a meaningful look and puts the car into drive, presses too much gas so we squeal down my quiet, well-lit road.

"And Darla?"

Anderson glances at me, shifts gears with too much force. "Went home with Ochuwa from the beach. They…uh." He pauses. "I'm sorry."

Breath doesn't come easily. I feel Anderson's eyes on me again and again, like he's twitching, like he's the little red alarm that's blinked in my head for the last year Darla and I have been together saying, You're not in love. Don't let yourself think you're in love. It's just loneliness. It's just desperation.

It is just loneliness, I think, my eyes open but blind to the dark roads and blurred fluorescent lights we pass. But scared and alone hurts just as much as heartbroken.

"Look, I know how you feel. Darla dumped me too, you know."

Heat flashes across my face, chest, and arms like someone lit a flare. "It's not the same. You cheated on her."

"You cheat on her all the time!"

"You loved her," I tell him, still staring ahead.

"I—" He falters.

"And I never cheated. Not once." The lie slips past my lips like a knee-jerk reaction. "So don't fucking talk shit about me, Anderson."

"We all thought—"

"Well I didn't."

I think of my favorite night of the last year. Jack had texted me to meet him at 378 Wellbore—a house party. I'd met up with him enough to know that it didn't matter if I dressed up, he never looked, so I wore a shirt with muffin batter down the front. I chose "scenic route" instead of "shortest time" on my GPS and it took me into 25-speed neighborhoods, past algae-coated ponds and wooden playgrounds. I spotted the house—cars packed into the driveway, lining the streets, even up on the lawn.

Jack leaned against the mailbox smoking a joint, ignoring a drunken chick who pushed her cleavage against his arm. As I parked and walked closer, he straightened, pushed off the mailbox post with his foot, looked at me with pale eyes like he'd never really seen me. He's just high, I reminded myself.

He took my hand, looked at our interlocking fingers as he said, "Hello."


"Hope I didn't catch you at a bad time."

I smiled. "You've never asked me that before."

"You've never showed up looking like you survived the baker's holocaust," he deadpanned.

I laughed. Hard. Apologized.

"Not like I care."

Frowned again.

People dotted the walls and couches, talking, drinking, making out. I weaved in and out of them, feeling like a separate species, like fate would lead me in the opposite direction of all of these people after I left the house. In a world where I was faithful, I would never touch the people I knocked into as I followed Jack. These people were sea anemone—Jack coated my entire body so I barely felt their existence, hardly noticed their tentacles trying to paralyze me.

We entered an occupied bedroom. The girl was on top, her shirt still wrapped around her hand; she appeared not to notice. They bobbed up and down, their hips pressing together and then breathing outwards, like slow, delicious hyperventilation. Jack spun me against the wall, looked down at me, his breathing even. Traced a finger from my eyebrow to the right corner of my lips. Sharp fingernails. Rough fingerprints. We didn't kiss that night. We listened to the springs on the bed laugh as the couple's lips made suction-cup noises and their teeth clicked together—the girl kept giggling, apologizing, the boy grunting. Like it matters, I knew he was thinking. Like I'll remember you in the morning.

"She'll remember this night forever," Jack whispered in my ear, the sound tearing from deep in his throat, making me flinch. He held my face still, his forefinger and thumb pressing into my cheeks. "She might even remember us, blame us for not stopping it."

He would have prevented me from moving, if I had tried. But I didn't. I stayed under his hands, warmed from my skin, and pretended he was mine.

"I'm already thinking about her in past tense."

"I know, but look, this doesn't change anything." Anderson pulls in the small, dingy lot outside Ochuwa's apartment, circles for a parking spot. "I mean, of course it changes a lot of things, but—you don't need to start a scene. If you confront her she'll twist it into your fault and she won't come back."

I feel reckless, diving into my purse for a cigarette with words rushing through my teeth. "Of course she'll come back. She only got with me to hurt you."

"What are you talking about? You guys were all over each other."

I place two Camel Crushes between my lips, suck in as I light them. "Yeah, Anderson. In front of you," I mumble.

"I don't understand."

"You cheated on her. With some girl at some party. And—oh, Jesus, you know how you are."

"Enlighten me. How am I?"

I hand him a cigarette, the one with a brighter cherry. "Think about after. You confessed it to her like she shouldn't care, like you could go on the same way. I remember. You said—"

"'The girl was no one, Darla. I don't even remember her name.'"

"She told you her name was Stacy. She already knew."

"'I don't even remember her lips,'" Anderson said, as if he were telling her now.

"Darla said she didn't remember yours."

"I tried to kiss her."

"She pushed you away."

"She kissed you instead. You kissed her back."

"We kissed."

"And she never came back to me."

"You stuck around, though."

"I had to. Stacy really was nothing."

"Why, Anderson?" I have to ask. "Why'd you cheat on her? Cheat on Stacy with Darla, for god's sake, but don't cheat on Darla herself. You knew her so well."

"I guess I had to know."

"Know what?"

"If I did something so bad, whether she'd still have me."

"Well she didn't."

"That's true. But it was still worth it, knowing."

Darla only kissed me in front of Anderson. I'm not sure she even realized the exclusivity—she just never thought about doing it until she saw his smirk or heard his breath quicken as she pressed her ear against the bathroom door or watched his eyes trail after a woman on the street. Then Darla would grab my wrists and press flush against me, push me against a wall. Once we even lay on the ground, my elbows bent behind me, bracing against the onslaught of her lips and teeth and tongue. She licked the outside of my mouth as if she didn't want to taste me, like she just wanted Anderson to imagine how I taste.

I kissed her once. We were in her bedroom, packed onto her small bed. I imagined her and Anderson having sex on it, like I often did, just the impossibility of it. I barely fit on the bed with her, and I was a foot shorter than him. He must have lay on top of her the entire time. They must've been militant about it. No switching positions, no turning over, no erratic limbs—controlled, deep, passionate. I rolled on top of Darla and turned her so she looked up at me, her face curious but unsurprised. I held her arms pinned by her sides, my elbows locked and shaking as I kissed her, wouldn't let her hands tangle in my hair or grip my thighs or shiver up and down my arms. I tasted her, cigarettes and coffee and cheap oil, but didn't let her taste me back.

Anderson and I sit in the car turned towards our windows. I stare at the bags of trash sitting on the side of the full dumpster. A homeless person had taken a box cutter to the bags so their insides spilled out on the street. I wonder which bag was from Ochuwa's apartment—the one with several cartons of organic milk, the one with an endless number of wax cheese wrappings, the one with eggshells and empty bags of refined sugar and flour—but realize I don't know Ochuwa well enough to guess.

"Well," I say. "Are we going up?"

"You want to go up? But—Darla and Ochuwa—"

"My dad doesn't expect me until eleven, and I'm not spending the next four hours sitting in this car with you. Let's go." I open the car door and manage to put both of my feet on the ground before Anderson presses on my shoulder.

"But think of what they could be doing in there."

"Well, I'm sure they'll stop it when we knock on the door. And if not, I've seen you and Darla bend the human body like armature wire. They can't surprise me." I heave myself out of the car. Anderson scrambles out, stands in front of me, puts his hands on my upper arms.

"I don't want a scene," he says again. "I don't want anything bad to happen. Let's go see a movie."

"Come on. We'll have a good time." I almost question my motives. Do I want to see them together? Do I want to stop them from doing anything more? Something stops my train of thought, coaxes it into curiosity—prickling excitement in the bottom of my lungs. Discovery. Discovering them in the act. Pressing my face between their bodies and breathing in the sweat, the spit, the heartbeats. Sucking them in like cigarette smoke. "Do you think Ochuwa lets people smoke in her apartment?"

"No. What's up with you and smoking these days? I feel like we need to stage an intervention."

"Whatever," I say, lighting one, taking few long drags, and crushing the rest of it under my shoe. "You have your own vices. Leave mine alone. Now let's go."

I walk in without knocking. My first sweep of the apartment, all I see is blue. Different shades decorate the room—the curtains are dark gauze, the carpet sky blue shag, the sofa couch navy linen, the framed pictures on the wall snapshots of Bohemian Rhapsody from the movie "Fantasia," blue construction workers and blue women and blue jazz bars. I want to touch everything. I'm running my hand along the bumpy plaster walls when I hear them in the kitchen. I turn towards Anderson, who looks ashamed, like he's done something wrong.

"What's wrong with you?" I ask.

"Nothing." Brusque. He drags his toe against the carpet.

"Who's the third voice?"

He heads for the kitchen, stretching his legs so he arrives in two steps.

"Anderson?" I hear. "What the fuck—"

He replies in a hushed voice. All of them speak in whispers so it sounds like a whirring fan or humming choir trying to match a pitch.

I bend and feel the carpet as I walk, feel the couch, feel the strange, spray-painted African masks nailed on the walls. I repress the urge to put one on before I face Darla.

"Hey, baby," Darla says when I reach the doorway. She and Ochuwa sit in barstools behind the island counter. I look at Ochuwa—she's dressed up in some lacy frock with thick, white makeup. She looks striking. Tribal. Juxtaposed. Like the African men on the Discovery Channel praying to the antelope god surrounded by a [ADJ] television crew.

The kitchen is yellow. Alternated bright and pale yellow tiles, banana yellow barstools, caramel-colored counters, a yellow Kit-Cat clock. Anderson rummages in the rounded-edge refrigerator.

"Hey," I reply. I cross to the empty barstool and sit down, put my elbows on the counter. "Sorry I'm late. Anderson was PMSing in the car."

Ochuwa laughs, but Darla stares at me with raccoon eyes like I'm some experiment gone awry. She's been crying, I think.

"This is one bright room."

"You should see the bedroom," Anderson calls from the fridge. His voice sounds strange. I wonder what the girls whispered to him. Darla cuts her eyes towards the fridge like she wants him to shut the fuck up.

"The primary colors are important to me," says Ochuwa. "Plus, it limits my eccentric decorating to three colors, so I can't overspend too much."

"Or you just spray paint what doesn't fit your color scheme."

"I told you to be quiet!" Darla snaps. Ochuwa's eyes widen. My breath catches. The fridge door slams.

"Fine. Jesus." The voice isn't Anderson's. It comes from a man of triangles, pentagons, and squares. He turns before I can get a good look at anything but his faded, plaid-patched corduroys, and leaves the room.

"Who was that? Why'd he leave?"

"That was McKenna. And he left because Darla asked him to."

"Hey, baby," Darla says, hooking one of her legs around Ochuwa's thigh and wrapping her arms around her neck. "Don't give away my secrets." She kisses her cheek. "Not when I'm right here." Her neck.

I don't flinch. "I'm hungry."

"Sorry," says Ochuwa, out of breath, leaning away from Darla's onslaught. "We ate all my stew, since we didn't think you'd be coming. There are some Hot Pockets in the freezer."

"I didn't take you to be a Hot Pocket sort of girl."

"They're McKenna's. He's staying with me for a while."


I stand by the microwave, watching Darla watch me as she moves up and down Ochuwa's neck. Ochuwa crosses and uncrosses her feet. Her eyes drift shut and open. Her mouth tightens, like she's about to gasp. It's as if she's enjoying herself but doesn't want me to know. It isn't hard to keep my expression bored as I wait for the timer to sound.