Summer in a Golden Church

Sage stood at the edge of a large, paned window. The sky below simmered under the sun— a boundless, ceaseless blue. She imagined voyagers sailing through the Atlantic, with windblown hair and crumpled maps. She always felt like a voyager at heart. A star sailor. A sea crosser.

Dressed in camouflage underwear, she walked back inside. She caught a glimpse of herself naked in the mirror, and ran her hand over her own hips. She'd always had a boyish body. Her mom compared her (teasingly, though it hurt) to a washboard. The words used to get to her, but she didn't feel that way anymore.

She didn't know if that was because she'd matured. Grown into herself, much like a flower blossoming, or a sword sharpening. Or, if it was because of him.

Sage felt his stare, and turned to look at him. He lay on the bed, head propped on the pillow, only wearing half-tied sweats. They met each other's gaze. Fuck, she thought. Her stomach tinged with butterflies. They'd had…. Sex! She'd had sex with her best friend.

Avery's name had always felt holy in her mouth, and it felt holy as she said it now. "Avery. Come here. Look at the sea with me."

He whined into the bed. "I don't want to get up."

"Please. It looks beautiful." She paused. "Also, I think we should talk."

He got up when she said that. He looked concerned, brow furrowed. He'd always worried more than her, about everything. It was one of the things she loved about him — his attentiveness, and care. It bubbled over like a gentle creek, unable to hide under the leaves of cynicism.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She took his hand, and squeezed it. "Come to the sea."

They walked to the window again. Avery stared down at the sea, and ran a hand through his hair. "Okay. I'm seeing it. Now what is it?"

"We had sex," she said. She placed her free hand on the window, and spread her fingers.

He managed a laugh. "Yeah. And it was amazing."

The sex had been amazing. Sage still remembered how pretty Avery had looked on the bed. She'd naturally found her way on top of him. His hands had found her ass, and hers palmed his aching cock through his trousers. She'd loved the way he moaned her name. Loved the way he peered at her through his lashes, blushing badly. Loved teasing him relentlessly, making him hitch his hips upwards for more.

Neither of them had known how it would play out, who would take the lead. But she found herself naturally exploring every inch of his body, as if she could never get enough.

I really am a voyager, she thought wryly.

She glanced over at him. His hands were in his pockets, his gaze steady on the ocean below. Avery had been by her side since the very beginning. The Big Bang started when they had met, and had been expanding ever since. Her first kiss, at the tender age of eighteen, had marked a new galaxy.

"You know you're my forever person, right Ave?"

He looked at her. His face softened. He was summer in a golden church. "You're the love of my life."

Her heart tensed. The way he loved hurt, like alcohol on an open wound. She never thought she would get so lucky. Their hands were still intertwined. The sea, open and wide, witnessed their love. It was permanently etched into the waves.

"I just wanted to make sure that sex isn't… something that changes who we are." She scuffed her bare foot on the hardwood floor. "We've always been best friends first, and lovers second."

She couldn't look at him. A second later, she felt his gentle touch on her chin, and looked up to see that he'd moved closer, eyes warm. "We've always been undefined," he said. He kissed her hairline, tenderly. "I promise this doesn't change anything."

She closed her eyes. Warmth cruised every inch of her body. Her eyes stung. This was all she'd ever wanted.

His hand moved down and squeezed her ass firmly. "But that doesn't mean the sex can't be appreciated, right?" He quirked his eyebrow playfully. She loved the way he touched her. Nobody had ever touched her that way before.

She left his grip and spun around, ignoring his comment. "Okay then! Now that that's cleared up, shall we order some lovely dine-in food?"

He grinned. "Princess treatment is my favorite."

"Let's spoil ourselves, then."

They ended up ordering a Japanese feast, and curled up in bed. Sage held a roll of sushi in her hands. "Let me feed you," she said.

He looked at her, and swallowed hard. She knew he wasn't used to the affection. His parents had always been distant.

He closed his eyes as she fed him the sushi roll, and relaxed into the pillow. "This is the best."

"I know." She fed him another roll, and he chewed quietly. "But you know what would be even better?"

He blinked one eye open. "I don't like that look."

"I dare you to eat this wasabi."

Avery groaned. "Why do you always enjoy torturing us with these challenges?"

Sage wasn't actually sure. She'd always been the one to initiate weird dares, but Avery never backed down. "C'mooon. We can't just ignore this big chunk of wasabi sitting here. It's asking us to eat it!"

Avery didn't respond. Sage poked his cheek. "The wasabi is sad. It feels lonely and left out."

This time he rolled his eyes, but his mouth twitched. "Fine. Whatever. Let's just eat the stupid wasabi."

Sage gasped. "Don't call it stupid. It can hear you." She turned to the wasabi and gave it an endearing look. "Don't listen to him. He just can't handle you."

"You're so silly." Avery's voice was fond. "Pass me some."

They both plucked a teaspoon's worth of wasabi between their chopsticks. Sage's heart raced. She'd never had a mouthful of wasabi. Avery didn't look very pleased, and eyed the wasabi with a grim expression.

"If I die, I just want you to know that I was the one who killed your plant in sixth grade."

"I knew it." Sage bounced on the bed. "I'll return the favour later. But first, time for the reckoning!"

He twisted a hand around the bedsheet. "One… two…" His voice was weary, and he lifted the wasabi to his mouth. "Three."

Sage shoved her wasabi in her mouth. Heat scorched her tongue, and a sharp, whistling shock soared through her nose. She felt air blow out of her ears, and she pressed her head into her hands. Oh, fuck. This had been a bad idea. A terrible idea. Her entire face sweated. The burn overwhelmed her.

She felt Avery's gentle hand against her back. He brushed a strand of her hair. "Are you okay?"

She coughed. She knew her face must be red. "This was a mistake." Her eyes teared up. "Why the fuck are you so composed?"

Avery laughed. "Ha. I guess I'm better at handling heat than you thought."

Perfect. Just perfect. Of course Avery could handle it, after she'd been the one to initiate the dare. She glared at him through her wetting eyes. He smiled smugly at her, but his hands cradled her face tenderly.

He kissed her on her burning lips. "Here." He handed an opened bottle of water. "If this doesn't help, I'll get some salt."

She inhaled the water. The burn finally started to fade, and she collapsed backwards onto the bed. "I'm so dumb."

"You're feisty," Avery said.

"I know you're laughing at me in your head." She turned onto her stomach, and peered up at him. "I've known you for too long."

"I'm not legally obliged to say anything."

Her heart fluttered. He'd been saying that to her since they were teenagers. It was his trademark argument. God. She loved him. She loved him so much. She yearned for him, even as she had him, even as he sat next to her with his goofy smile and unruly hair. "I got so lucky," she whispered.

"What was that?"

"Nothing." She smiled, and looked up at the ceiling. The pinprick white dots swirled. "I can't believe we made it."

Avery lay down next to her. They were both full and content from the sushi. Basking in the afterglow of sex. Below them, the ocean glittered. "I know," he said. "When we were teenagers, I never thought - I really thought I might not make it. I always knew you would but —" His throat caught on his words. "I was never sure about me."

Sage's heart tensed. "I know."

"Things always felt bleak. I never expected to have this. Any of this."

"Avery."

"It's just how it was." His voice was thick. "Good things happened to other people. Not me."

He turned to look at her, and an ocean swallowed Sage whole. He looked so vulnerable. She saw the entire world in his eyes. "You were always so hopeful."

Sage let a beat pass. She tried to find her voice. "I think I needed to be hopeful, because I didn't know what else to do. It never felt like a choice."

Avery paused. "Are you still hopeful?"

"About us?" She reached over, and thumbed her hand over his knuckles. "I'm more than hopeful."

He looked over at her. She lay on her side, hair sprawled around her. The sun climbed over the window and between their sheets. Her eyes were alight. She could feel his stare, and it consumed her.

"I always knew," Sage said.

It was the only thing she had ever known. Sylvia Plath once said that all she knew was the drag of her heart, saying I am, I am, I am. Sage's heart lived in a golden church, where every particle was made of Avery. Every marble piecetop was Avery. The sunlight over stained glass was Avery. Every cylinder holding itself up toward the sky. Every breath, every passing deer, every swaying blade of grass.

She was sure of him.

As long as her heart kept beating, I am, I am, I am, she would always be sure of him.