, and it's been a long time since i've just lain on the dry yellow grass of my lawn squinting at old light and feeling very small picturing all the galaxies and and satellites and jet-planes and ships and forgotten red balloons seeping helium over the sea, and thinking in a very angsty-teenager sort of way about how far away i was from a lot of things
He can imagine her shivering as she crawls into bed with a phone, ragged blanket pulled up to her nose as if she could somehow retain all the warmth of her exhalations.
She was always cold.
like this railroad track on the edge of town that that i secretly would like to walk down with my arms stretched out like a tightrope walker's because you see, i want to lie down next to it and close my eyes and feel the low rumble clackclackclack of the train passing by, and i know it's silly but i used to like pretending that all the hobos onboard are going off to happier, warmer places like
He remembers the time they fell asleep watching some television segment about the Amazon. It had been raining that day. ("Autumn thunderstorm," the weatherman had said, swiping his index finger over a patch of gray, but Corey had squinted at the sky, shrugged a rainjacket on, and made the trek to her house anyway.)
The television had been on in the living room. The curtains were closed, but the gloom somehow managed to seep in and cast everything in a greyish tone.
"Evie," he said, untying his shoes. The laces had gotten drenched in the downpour, and he wiped his hands on his jeans. Placed the sneakers in a closet with only a few pairs of men's dress shoes and low-heeled pumps for middle-aged women. "Eveline," he repeated.
She turned toward him. Slow, as if she had just woken up. She blinked. The tips of her eyelashes were bluish in the glow of the television, and the shadows under her eyes were dark. Quietly: "Hey."
He'd brought her a maple leaf—damp, nutmeg-smelling, almost twice the size of his palm; it had been plastered against the concrete of her doorstep. He twirled the stem and extended the leaf toward her.
A tired smile flickered over her features. She ran her fingertips over the yellow veins, bold against the red. "Thanks."
He sat on the side of the couch where the paisley print had been stained with grape juice that he'd spilled in third grade, and she flicked the edge of her blanket over his lap. He tossed it back at her. Settled against the pillows.
A travel guide was gesticulating at the tropical plants. "Wow." The guide's mouth formed an O at the sight of a particularly large flower. Against the greenness of the foliage surrounding it, the salmon color was neon. It almost hurt to look at the television, Corey remembers thinking. The colors blaring out of the screen emphasized the greyness of the day.
He glanced at Evie. She was resting her chin on her knee, the blanket pooling around her small figure. Her shoulderblades curved inwards through the thin cotton of her shirt.
"Hm?" She looked back at him.
Nothing. He shrugged. Fixed his eyes on the screen again.
More flowers. More trees. Pink dolphins. A brief segment on Aechmea leonard-kentiana. Montages of mud and sand slapping against the side of a boat. Overhead shots that panned in so fast he felt like he was plummeting in his seat. Bright green feathers. Waterfalls.
When he woke up, the television was off, and she was curled up next to him, her small ankles crossed with his. Her breaths came out light and cool. He realized he was close enough to see the thin purple veins through the translucent skin of her eyelids, the goosebumps on her arm, the very faint peach fuzz on her left earlobe.
He closed his eyes again. For a moment, he allowed himself to inhale the powdery scent of her neck and listen to the rain as it slapped against the glass of the windowpane. Then he lifted her foot gently, thumb and forefinger encircling her ankle, and slipped through the door.
california haven't you ever wanted to go to california with the spindly palm-trees and the cotton-candy cloud-wisps and headlights glowing pink in the dry desert air. i'll go with you because i dream of the ocean sometimes i dream of deep blue waters cool and quiet and calm they make me feel weightless but they cradle me, they compress my bones with the security of a heavy coverlet, and i dream of footprints, i dream of sandy heels and wet footprints fading on the sidewalk, of moon-colored jellyfish that leave swishing noises as they pulse by, of ending the day sun-tired and hungry, of sea-smell, of transparent crabs and birds—white birds circling freely over the ocean—, and there is no sloshing of kiddie-pools or chlorine smell there is just a pale coolness, froth tickling my ankles, salt-and-sand crusts in the crooks of my elbows. and sometimes it is the pacific that i dream of and other times it is the atlantic all grey and muted and sad-beautiful, but always, there is heat there is light, there is laughter and wakefulness and horizons and the sting of salt on my cracked lips when i wake up
Corey is still not sure he'll ever fully understand, either.
When it first started, he remembers asking her why she couldn't just try. He was pleading at this point. There wasn't even any room left to feel frustrated anymore.
Her eyes were cast downward as she chewed her thumbnail—a nervous habit that he cannot remember her not having. "It's not like that, Corey," she said, twisting away, and the weariness in her voice matched his.
But it is, he wanted to tell her. Standing in the doorway, he said, "You're missing a lot of things. Isn't that enough for you? Hey, look at me." The uncharacteristic harshness of his tone shocked even him, briefly.
She shook her head. It was time for him to go.
"Evie, please. Just—" He took a thin wrist and tried to tug her out onto the porch.
That had been the one and only time she'd slapped him. They'd stared at each other for a long moment afterward, both breathing hard. (Survival instinct, he realized later on when he examined his reddened jaw in the mirror.)
He'd gritted his teeth and left. These days, being around her made his bones feel water-logged and too heavy for his skin. He was better at missing. Or at least acting on it.
in the middle of the night with that stupid red mass in my chest thudding hard enough to splinter my ribcage. i wake up and all the atoms in my being are electrified and my lungs are sore and my palms are achy with yearning
He sits at the corner of her bed as she talks on the phone.
"Yes." She twirls the phone chord around her wrist, and her back is to him. "I'm sorry I can't make it." Another pause. "You too." She hangs up.
He's not sure why he took a step toward her at that moment. Or why he put his hands over her shoulders. Something about how the afternoon sun was so bright outside that even with the curtains drawn, there was a hazy yellow glow around her silhouette. Or maybe it was that she looked so weightless for a moment that he felt the need to anchor her. Hold her there.
His chapped lips grazed the small pink shell of her ear, and she froze. Closed her eyes.
I'm sorry, he said. When he pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth, she turned her head away from him, still holding her breath.
for all the things i want or wanted or am scared of wanting since
The third time she missed a dance, she told him she honestly didn't care. It had always been too much of a hassle anyway, she insisted—the dress-shopping, the manicures, the hair-curling. And the heels. They really did hurt a lot.
Let's talk about something else, he had muttered when she asked him who he planned to take.
Don't be ridiculous, she replied and sent him out for some eggs. She'd baked the cupcakes for his date herself: blue frosting with white letters that spelled out F-O-R-M-A-L-?
On the night of the dance, he showed up with roses (white, because he didn't have enough cash with him for red).
What happened to the date? she asked. And the cupcakes?
He shrugged. The cupcakes were good, he said. She laughed.
When he asked her to dance with a mocking bow, she shook her head. You're crazy, kid, she said. Get outta here. But she took his hand anyway.
They waltzed clumsily at first (awkwardly—because he was too tall for her, and because there was no music) before deciding to just sway back and forth in one spot, his chin resting on the top her head. He could feel her ribs pressed against his stomach—one, two, three, four—and everything was still.
I miss my friends, she murmured into his collarbone after awhile. She missed jumping with the crowd and screaming her throat raw. Other stupid little things too. Like snowball fights. Leaf fights, too. And yeah, okay, she sort of might miss roaming the mall. She also confessed to shredding up the road trip plan they'd made when they first got their driving permits.
Corey didn't know what to say. He looked at her white hand in his tan one. Lifted his arm and twirled her around. And around. And around. And around.
you can never quite forget some things. things like summer, summer with mosquito bites on elbows and grass-stains on cut-offs and sunscreen on skin. or concerts. i want to go to a concert again i want to feel the air throb neon with too much sound and stand in a crowd of teenagers reeking of sweat and cheap vodka and vulnerability, kids thinking they are invincible, they are reckless and restless, they are more than a mess of blood and bones and sinew and nerves, they are indestructible and do you think i could maybe osmotically absorb that fearlessness because i miss barefoot tree-climbing in my red dress i miss picking at browned scabs that came from falling off my bike i miss scraping my knees. i don't get bruises much anymore you know i rarely even get cuts since there is no running indoors although
It was almost midnight when he headed over to her house, the smell of barbeque smoke from his going-away party clinging to his shirt. The light in her room was still on. He rang the doorbell.
Light footsteps and the click of the lock. The door stayed closed.
No response, but the metal knob twitched.
He rested his forehead against her wooden door. In the summer night, the peeling paint felt cool against his skin. "Evie, I—," he ran his hand over his face, "I wanted to say bye."
A long pause. "You're not coming back." A statement, not an accusation.
Corey shook his head though she couldn't see him. "I'll come visit during winter break. I have a week off in the spring, too, and it'll be summer before you know it…" He trailed off, and he thought he heard her let out a bitter little laugh, but the door muffled voices, and Evie didn't comment further anyway.
"I'll miss you," she finally said. It was the very same obligatory sort of comment that all his friends had scribbled in his yearbook and that his aunts and cousins at the party had told him, but there was a note of wistfulness in her voice, and he had to clench his fists to keep from swallowing too hard.
He cleared his throat. "I'll call you when I get there."
"Take lots of pictures for me." A slight smile colored her voice.
"Will do. I'll see you, Evie." He waited for a long moment before stepping off the porch.
He was halfway across the lawn when he heard "Wait," and it played out like some cliché movie scene: Evie stepping out the door bright-eyed and trembling, shaking so much it scared him. She kissed him, hard, and there were no sparks or fireworks or butterflies but when he finally pulled away, their hearts were thudding painfully and it hurt to breathe.
sometimes i think i want to ask you to run away with me the way they do in movies, and we don't need to be rick and elsa but i still want to unlatch my window and see you there leaning against your ancient volkswagon with your arms folded,
(No, that wasn't how it happened. He walked across the lawn and it was quiet. Quiet the whole way.)
and we'd sputter-speed down empty freeways toward arizona or new york or iowa cornfields, and we'd pass by gasoline stations all sad and dark and oil refineries all sad and bright and motels all sad and lonely and neon-flickering and god has it ever struck you how harsh the halogen lights in twenty-four hour supermarkets are because i don't really remember how the one on adamson street and fifteenth looks but i remember the way that old cashier's wrinkled elbows pooled on the glass and it's odd little things like that that really break my heart it's stuff like seas of red brakelights that make me feel this awful hollowness for no reason but it'll be okay because i will turn the radio up so you won't hear me sniffle and we will sit in diners with ratty red spinny-chairs and drink watery lukewarm coffee and watch the sun rise over the city through finger-smudged windows while we think
Her voice is even smaller over the phone.
Tell me how it's been so far, she says.
And he does. He tells her about tbe street-performer in the park and all the too-young girls who wobble around like newborn giraffes in their heels. How the oatmeal in the cafeteria is generally lumpy and the time he saw Darth Vader walking down the street at three in the morning.
Even after he hears her breathing even out, he keeps on talking. About sadder things, now, more to himself than to her. He talks about big city bright lights, lost little boys and lost little girls, empty street intersections and the way his throat aches when he sees laundromats at sundown.
Maybe someday she'll hop on a train and see it all for herself, he thinks. Maybe one day he will slow-dance with her beneath streetlights so bright they slam out mute star-glow. Maybe someday she will step onto the dry grass of her front yard. For now, he will let the ache in the gaps between his ribs be, and he will whisper stories into telephones. For now, she will cross her ankles under her ragged blanket and close her eyes and dream
about sunlight and the green glow at the lip of the harbor and tigers and glass ladders and skylines and peter-pan smiles and savannas and railroad tracks and white horizons and