She let out a soft but audible ugh when the Florida humidity hit her on the jet bridge. Even in May, the thick southern climate stuck to Grace’s skin.
“Your first time in Jacksonville, honey?” asked the woman who had sat silently next to her on the five-hour flight.
“Yeah,” Grace responded. “I’m visiting a friend.”
“Hope you like it,” she said as she shoved past Grace at a surprising speed. By the time Grace reached the gate, all traces of the woman were gone.
The Jacksonville airport felt like cool relief after her short walk from the plane; she was tempted to grab a beer at the airport bar, an impulse she rationalized as a way to keep out of the heat, but really it was to calm her nerves. She’d flown over two thousand miles to meet a man from the Internet and now that she was there she just needed a few more minutes, an hour tops, to get herself together.
Her phone buzzed in her hand and a text from Max appeared on the screen: I’m here! Can’t wait to finally hold you. Text me when you land <3. She rushed into a bathroom and locked herself in a stall. Scrolling through three months of text messages, she looked for a reason to not go back up to the counter and buy a plane ticket home. They had met on a dating app when he was visiting Los Angeles. They never met in person, but exchanged numbers. A month later, he had consumed her. She was distracted, and her phone was always dying. Text messages, phone calls, video chats, a variety of technological intimacies were at their fingertips. The first time they fucked was when he described bending her over the arm of a couch and taking her from behind. After that, every vibration of her phone made her fingers drift down to the waistband of her jeans. There were three short bangs on the stall. “Are you okay in there?” a dismembered voice asked through the door. The voice’s familiarity startled her.
“Just a minute,” Grace responded.
“Come on out, honey. A line is forming.”
Grace swung the door open, but the bathroom was empty: no line and no body to hold the voice she thought she heard. There was only her reflection and an overflowing sink. It was an automated faucet that turned on when it sensed a hand beneath it, but Grace was too distracted to try and figure out how it had stayed on in the empty bathroom. Her hands were still damp when she texted Max back: Just landed! Meet you at baggage claim 🙂.
Grace was not surprised when she finally saw him in person. She noticed that he’d gotten a haircut, the sides of his light blonde hair had recently been buzzed. Everything else was just intensified: the lightness of his hair, the blueness of his eyes. His whole body was louder when it wasn’t mediated by miles, satellites, and backlit screens. He opened his arms when he spotted her and drew her into his chest. He smelled comfortable. She closed her eyes, ready for reassurance to flush through her. “You’re finally here,” he said. She nodded her head. She thought about the bag she had checked, the pain in her neck, her increasing hunger.
“How does it feel to be down South?” he asked her with a laugh. He grabbed her duffle bag and strapped it to his back.
“Hot,” she said. She unbuttoned the top button of her shirt.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take you to the springs and the beach while you’re out here. The trick is to submerge yourself in water.” He smiled. “I’m really excited you’re here.”
He led them to his car, their hands not touching. Grace brushed her bangs back once, twice, five times. She pushed strands behind her ears then pulled them back over again. Sweat pooled at her hairline, under her nose, at the bottom of her back. Max told her that a girl had never flown across the country for him before. He had so many things he wanted to show her. “I’m hungry,” she said. “Any of those places have good food?”
He took her to a multi-colored restaurant with a candy shop on top. Bright plastic flowers covered the lime green porch and oversized butterflies hung from the ceiling. Inside, large black and white striped wallpaper covered the dining room. “Cool, don’t you think?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. “What’s good here?”
When the waiter came up to the table and saw Grace she dropped her notepad and knocked over Max’s water glass. “Holy shit,” she let out, her hand gripped to her collar and her face quickly losing its color.
“What the hell, Sarah.” His pants were soaked.
“I’m sorry, Max.” She pulled a napkin out of her back pocket and pushed it onto his lap. “I just thought—” She looked back at Grace and faltered. Sarah looked overheated, she grabbed a piece of ice out of Grace’s water glass — “Sorry”— and put it to the place where her jaw, neck and ear met. “Y’all just surprised me that’s all.”
“How?” Max continued to dab his crotch with napkins from theirs and the surrounding tables. Sarah looked back at Grace, her mouth slightly open.
“It’s just been a long day. I’ll get y’all an appetizer on me. What else can I get you?”
Grace watched the whole scene with numbed amusement, like an episode of a sitcom she didn’t like very much. She could hear a muted laugh track in the back of her head. For a minute she searched Sarah’s face, curious if she would recognize her in the same abrupt way that Sarah had recognized her. When no one came to mind, Sarah’s pretty face unknown to her, Grace let it roll off her back like ice water. It had happened before. It would happen again. Grace was just one of those people who looked like other people.
After she finished her burger and most of Max’s shrimp and grits, Grace felt human again. It all felt heavy in her stomach, and Max’s smile made each individual shrimp flip.
“Have I told you how excited I am that you’re here?” he asked. She let him touch her hand. The tips of his fingertips lightly touched her open palm, tracing her life and love lines — she couldn’t remember which was which.
“I’m excited too,” she said.
Max lived in a little house with a large rosemary bush in the side yard. “Danny takes care of it,” Max explained as Grace fingered the plant in her hands. She picked a sprig and held it up to her nose, breathed it in.
“Rebecca planted it,” said a voice behind her.
Grace had heard about Danny during her long phone calls with Max: how they were Rebecca’s best friend, how they had moved in after she died, how they cooked grilled cheese sandwiches at three in the morning while Max slept. They were short, no taller than Grace, and their hair fell in a messy mop of dark brown curls on top of their head. Their button-up shirt slightly pulled around their breasts and their legs were covered with tattoos. The shrimp in Grace’s stomach flipped again. She pulled at the hem of her shorts with one hand and pushed her bangs back with the other.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m Grace.”
“Welcome,” they said.
The house was cool and dark. The living room was large but cramped with two couches and books stacked on the floor. Shelves on the wall held plants and ceramic bowls and figurines. Grace picked up a ceramic fox, only slightly larger than her thumb, painted blue. She felt an overwhelming urge to put it in her pocket. Its whiskers and the tips of its ears were gold.
“You like Rebecca’s stuff,” she heard Danny say behind her. They walked over to her and took the fox. “She got it from an antique store in town,” they explained as they pet the back of the fox’s head with their thumb.
“Sorry,” Grace said. “I didn’t realize.”
“It’s okay.” Their eyes stayed on the blue fox, and Grace wasn’t sure who they were reassuring.
“He told you about her, right?” they asked.
Grace nodded her head slowly even though they still weren’t meeting her gaze. “He told me a little bit.”
“Have you seen pictures of her?”
Grace shook her head, surprised by both her reluctance to speak and her impulse to lie. She had seen many photos of Rebecca. Despite what Grace suspected were his best efforts, Max could not completely scrub the Internet’s memory clean of her.
Danny took their phone out of their back pocket and swiped through a few pictures. Danny and Rebecca had their arms around each other and their heads touched. They were both smiling, but Rebecca didn’t show her teeth. Rebecca’s straight black hair fell to her chin; she wore red lipstick, her black eyeliner winged upward.
“You look good together,” she told them.
“We’re both mutts,” Danny said, maybe as an explanation. “Her mom’s Vietnamese and her dad’s white. My pop’s Dominican and my mom’s white. It’s what got us to be friends. We wrote poems about it in college and shit.” They smiled, a sadder version of the one in the photo. Their gaze finally met hers. “Max told me you’re Korean?”
“Yeah,” she said.
They nodded at each other for a moment, neither breaking eye contact. Grace almost reached for the fox still in Danny’s hand because maybe something important would happen if they held it together. Before she could, Max broke the spell by walking into the house. He put Grace’s bag on the floor, came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Her flinch was barely visible, easily ignored. Danny put the fox back in its original place and turned to go back in the kitchen.
There were more books stacked underneath the only window in Max’s room—books on Marx and punk and an unworn copy of The Wretched of the Earth. Show fliers and screen-printed posters covered his walls; her eyes fell on a single framed cross stich that proclaimed: NO GODS NO MASTERS. Grace felt like she had been in this bedroom before, or that she would always walk into this bedroom, this bedroom of these boys who liked to sleep with her.
Max reached for her waist and she held herself still. His hand went up to cup her face, their foreheads touched, he breathed her in, and she knew that her skin smelled like butter and garlic and rosemary. She moved her head to kiss him first, to beat him to the punch. She could feel his excitement in his lips, his tongue, and his hands, and she waited for her own body to respond to his. When he reached for the waistband of her jeans, Grace wished it were her own hand instead. She pulled away.
“I’m sorry, “ she said. She was tired. She asked if she could take a shower. “I think I’m just nervous,” she told him with clean clothes and a towel bundled in her arms.
She walked past Danny’s room on her way to the bathroom. The door was open. Shelves grew behind the bed and were covered with ferns and succulents. A metal clothes rack neatly contained button up shirts, jeans and sweaters. A patchwork quilt lay on the slightly unmade bed.
Danny’s voice was behind her, “Looking for the bathroom?”
“Yes,” she said, embarrassed. “I feel gross from the plane.”
“It’s right down the hall,” they told her.
“Right,” she said. “Thanks.”
“I can show you my room later. If you want.”
The water was cold, and she squealed when it first hit her skin. Her body temperature lowered, and the stickiness of the climate was washed down the drain for a moment. She felt for a bar of soap that smelled like oranges, her eyes still closed underneath the rushing water. She washed her face and then made her way down the rest of her body. First her neck, her armpits, the soft curve of her belly, down to the bottom of her feet. She moved quicker across her chest, between her legs. Everything felt electric, and she was afraid of what touching these parts of her body would mean. All she could think about was Rebecca and the way the red lipstick emphasized the slight part of her lips. She wondered why she didn’t show her teeth.
He’d first told her about Rebecca during hour three of a four-hour phone call. They had finally gotten to their exes, and Grace had just finished her story about leaving her boyfriend of four years when she got into graduate school across the country from the apartment they shared. “I didn’t think twice about it,” she said. “I told him that I was leaving and he wasn’t coming with me.” It wasn’t until she had gotten her acceptance letter that she realized she needed a way out. They had moved in together her junior year of college. One of his cats peed on her clothes and their bed. He refused to give it away. He was nice and treated her well. When she yelled he just listened and nodded. “I’m an asshole,” she said.
“I don’t have cats,” he told her and they laughed.
“Your turn,” she said. “Are you the asshole or is she?”
Rebecca had died a year before. They were living together when she came home from work and announced to him that she was pregnant. “I was pissed,” he said.
“We hadn’t had sex in months,” he told her. “It couldn’t have been mine.” But Rebecca had made it by herself. Her body had collected and multiplied cells all on its own.
“I asked her to marry me when we found out it was actually cancer,” he whispered. “I thought it would be romantic, like a shitty high school movie.” He told her about lighting up their living room with candles, about his grandmother’s wedding ring that he resized to fit Rebecca’s finger.
“She said no?”
“She told me I was a fucking idiot,” he said.
That night, Grace dreamt about Rebecca for the first time.
Grace and Max slept side-by-side. She could feel him press against her back. His breath was on her neck and his nose was in her hair. She let him stay there; let him wrap his arm around her middle. Rebecca used to let him stay there; let him wrap his arm around her middle. They both hated his breath on their necks, his warm sweet breath that made the hair on the back of their necks stand up.
In the morning he was fully dressed, sitting on Rebecca’s side of the bed, and pushing Grace’s bangs behind her ear. “I woke up and couldn’t believe that you’re really here,” he said. “It’s almost too good to be true.” She grabbed his hand and inspected it; she pressed her lips against his palm.
“There are a few bikes in the shed out back that you can use while I’m at work,” he said. “Take whichever fits you best.”
She slept for a few more hours, until the heat’s incessant hug pulled her out of bed. She opened all the windows in the house, but the thick air refused to budge. Grace stripped off her shirt and opened her arms to embrace a lonely fan in the living room.
“How’d you sleep?” Danny’s voice jumped out at her and cold air rushed up her spine. She felt her bareness, but didn’t cover it up. They didn’t seem to notice.
“I hope the heat didn’t wake you up this morning,” they said. “Our A/C stopped working sometime last night.”
“I slept fine,” she said. Grace had actually woken up at four in the morning, drenched in sweat and stifling a scream. She had kicked the sheets off her legs in her sleep, but it still felt as if something was covering or maybe holding onto her feet. “What are you doing today?”
“It’s my day off,” they said. “You need a tour guide?”
Danny and Grace each rode a bike to a small coffee shop that sold toast with miso butter in the morning and beer cocktails in the afternoon. When she ordered an iced lavender latte, Danny looked surprised, maybe even sad. “Is something wrong?” she asked them, but they shook their head no. The baristas, Ashley and Jen, were friends of Danny’s, and the three of them chatted about a party at Ashley’s the next week. After they sat down, Grace could hear Ashley and Jen giggle with one another about a date the night before. Grace enjoyed eavesdropping, listening to the private conversation about Jen’s date’s tongue and the way she cleverly moved it. Flushed, Grace slurped the rest of her cool drink to compensate for her full body blush. From her cheeks to between her legs, her whole body had a pulse.
“What do you think?” they asked her.
“It’s cute,” she said and then paused. “Is everyone queer here?”
“In Jacksonville?” they asked amused. When they saw her face was pained, they added, “No, not everyone, but we try to carve out space where we can.” They ran their hand through their hair, each curl quickly moving back into its original place. “I guess a lot of the folks I know around here are queer though,” they said, one of their eyebrows raised.
The air conditioning felt good, and for the first time in twenty-four hours Grace felt relaxed. She told Danny about her life back in Los Angeles, her job at an overpriced boutique in Santa Monica, the constant folding of cashmere and soft wool, the white women who threw hundreds of dollars’ worth of clothing on the floor of the dressing room and tried to return forty-dollar underwear. “I think the worst part is that my mind feels numb every night,” she admitted. It was hard for her to stay awake on her long drive back to the San Gabriel Valley, red taillights blurring her vision at a slow thirty miles per hour pace. She was living with her parents again, had moved back in after finishing her Masters in English without any job prospects, and hadn’t figured out how to leave. The nights she made it home in time for dinner, they asked her about her future plans, what she wanted to do next. She didn’t have the heart to tell them, she told Danny, that the only other job she had applied for was fulfilling online orders at a sex shop in West Hollywood. They hadn’t called her back.
Danny barely touched their coffee because they were too busy talking with their hands. They propped their elbows on the tabletop and made shapes like a shadow puppeteer. When they talked about their dad and their visits to the Dominican Republic, their movements were slow and big, trying to hold a whole other world, a language that made them feel shy, the movement between oceans and time. Their fingers became pointed and accusing when they mentioned their brother and how he stopped talking to them when they came out. Grace imagined a wolf projected on the wall, howling, snarling, and then a slight whimper. When the conversation landed back on Rebecca, their hands moved to their arms in a slight hug around their body. They fingered the cuffs of their short sleeve shirt, their hands never quite still.
Rebecca and Danny had met their first year at the University of North Florida at a Mixed Student Union club meeting. “There were like five or six of us,” they said. Rebecca’s hair was short, like a pixie, and framed her face. She had just moved from Orlando, barely escaping Mickey Mouse and Prince Charming. “Everybody loved her,” they said. “She would plan parties and meetings and art shows. Most of the time you just felt lucky to be in her gravitational pull, to orbit around her from afar.” Grace nodded her head; she had always wanted to be one of those people, one of those sticky honey people who made everyone want to stay.
They went their separate ways after Danny showed Grace a bookstore downtown. The store resembled a small maze and Grace missed Danny as soon as they were gone. She had promised them she could make it back to their house alone, but she wanted more of them, more of their stories, more of Rebecca. She wandered through the stacks, running her fingers along the books’ spines for support. Eventually she found her way back outside and then back to the house.
Most of the things in Danny’s room belonged to Rebecca. The closet was filled with dresses falling off their hangers and boxes with blank postcards and photographs. Necklaces and purses hung from knobs and hooks attached to the walls. A sewing machine sat in the corner surrounded by stacks of fabric and tote bags filled with scraps. The A/C was still broken, but Grace’s fingers felt cold. She opened drawers and went through coat pockets. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but felt calmed as she surrounded herself with Rebecca’s things. Grace’s mother hated clutter, and would often bring empty trash bags into her room and tell her to get rid of the things she no longer needed. She wouldn’t be satisfied until Grace had filled it with books and clothes. She was training Grace to control her sentimentality, her desire to hold objects in her hand, or read old letters, or even keep a sweater that no longer fit because of the time she wore it on a bike ride in the middle of the night and a passing car played her favorite song. Grace’s mother didn’t understand such things, so the sweater was donated and the old letters were recycled.
Underneath the bed, in a small black box, Grace found a collection of journals, and opened the one on top. The writer had left hard traces on each page, evidence of the way she held her pen, the weight of her hand, her preference for dark ink. Each page was titled with a place and its address. Some of the notes were practical—coffee is shit, A/C never works, owned by racists, guacamole is overpriced. Others were elusive references to structures without ceilings, wailing sounds, bad memories, ghost sightings. The cold traveled from her fingertips through the tops of her hands, up her arms, and landed on her lips.
She picked through the red lipsticks at a Walgreens beauty aisle around the corner from the house: Russian Red, Cherry Bomb, Hot Passion, Candy Apple, Diva, Cruella Velvet, Red Velvet, Pure Red, Blood Red, Red Hot, Hot Red, Red Passion, Candy Russian, Blood Blood Blood, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Just Like Your Mama Used to Make Red, Blood Bomb, Mulan Rouge, Crimson. Despite her diligent note taking, Rebecca didn’t record her preferred shade, but Grace wanted to know which of the reds would look best smeared on her lips and around her mouth. Which would be best to draw outside the lines of her lips. Instead, she drew thick hot candy cruel velvet blood red lines on her hands—playing with tones. No one noticed when she slipped three tubes of Mulan Rouge in her back pocket and walked over to the cash register to pay for bottles of water and sunscreen. Max was waiting in his car. As Grace walked towards him, an older woman and man walked up to the store. “Look at that pretty little Chinese girl,” the woman said to her companion. “Do you see her?” Grace looked over at Max; his windows were down and he should have been able to hear the woman’s comment. He didn’t look up from his phone, and she had no one to roll her eyes at.
They were on their way to a beach that Max promised would blow her away. “You’ve never seen a beach like this,” he said. Grace held back an urge to roll her eyes; while her childhood friends often packed themselves into parents’ cars to reach the water by any means necessary, Grace always preferred to stay on land. But when she saw the beach, its surface covered with smoothed, bleached oak tree bones, she gasped. She ran her hand over the trunks, ducked underneath a jungle gym of branches.
“What do you think?” he asked. He smiled at her obvious awe, clearly proud of himself.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
The day was slightly overcast, but still so hot that Grace felt melted. They quickly set down their things and Grace sprinted for the water, Max not too far behind her. Despite her previous aversion, Grace rushed into the waves, ducking underneath the first large set of them to fully submerge her body. She knew Max was close and felt him before he wrapped his arms around her playfully. He kissed her shoulder. “You taste salty,” he said. Grace turned her back from the waves and faced the shore. It was empty, only their two small beach chairs and cooler dispersed between the trees. She let the waves push into her back, moving her body slightly forward without ever toppling her down. Max swam like a small child in the white foam, occasionally moving towards her, grabbing her thighs or her hands or her waist. He giggled and she smiled, imagining how blissfully happy he must be with a girl who flew thousands of miles to be with him on this beautiful dead beach.
When the tips of her fingers were sufficiently pruned, Grace walked back to her beach chair and dug her feet into the sand. Max followed her and plopped himself down into his own chair. He picked up his phone and started gliding his finger over the screen. Grace tilted her head back and let the sun hit her face and her tired body rest.
When Max had first proposed she fly out to see him, she had just laughed. “I don’t even know you,” she said with a snort.
“What do you mean you don’t know me? We talk on the phone every night.” She had to give him that; she conceded with silence. “I think this could be something really special, Grace. I don’t want to regret not doing something just because it scared me. Do you?”
He was wrong. Grace wasn’t scared to meet him. Max was easy. He was kind and good-looking. She wasn’t putting herself in any real danger with him.
“Gracie?” Nobody really called her that. It was a nickname that was meant to pull at her heartstrings, but it just made her nauseous.
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
She texted him the next morning agreeing to the trip and had her tickets booked thirty minutes later. If someone were to ask her why she’d changed her mind so quickly, why she had been so impulsive, she would have hesitated. She would have hesitated to say that she dreamt about Rebecca and in her dreams. Rebecca always told her to see him, to come.
Grace awoke to Max’s snores. His shirt covered his face and his bare chest was turning red. She stood up to explore the small pools of water among the black rocks. She’d leave in a few days, back to Los Angeles with only a deeper emptiness in her stomach than what she had arrived with. Rebecca was everywhere, but Grace wasn’t satisfied. She rushed towards the water again, wanting to feel enveloped by its cold. She swam out until Max was a blur, a small dot blending into the white sand. He was standing now, waving his arms above his head. And what would he do if she stopped treading, stopped moving her legs? What would he do if she drowned? What would she do?
The Devil’s School was close to where the 95 and 10 converged. According to Rebecca’s notes, it had been abandoned for years and now mostly stood on stories of its dead students haunting the building. Rebecca had traced the letters of its name D E V I L S S C H O O L D E V I L S S C H O O L D E V I L S S C H O O L at least three times. The text was bolded. The paper was slightly torn. The ink bled into the next page.
Nature had reclaimed the school a long time ago. Weeds had sprung up through the concrete floor, crept up the brick walls, and slightly covered graffiti. A Popeye’s Chicken cup stood silently on a former window ledge, but everything else felt like it was moving, rustling. Empty spaces feel more alive; in the quiet you can hear them sigh.
Grace sat down on the stage of the once auditorium. The roof was torn off like the tin top of a sardine can, and the sky shone through to the grass-covered floor. In her notebook, Rebecca wrote about a cannibalistic principal who called students into his office who never came back out; she asked about eating human flesh, what do you think it tastes like? Do you think it tastes like dog? Grace’s laugh echoed and filled the space. She imagined passing children quickening their pace to tell their friends that two women were laughing inside the Devil’s School, that the ghosts had come back, that they sounded hungry.
She imagined Rebecca was there, sitting next to her, the sunlight playing with her skin until everything was golden. She linked her arm with Rebecca’s and laid her head on her shoulder. Rebecca leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. What do you think it tastes like? Do you think it tastes like dog? They laughed together.
“A guy asked me how I taste today,” Grace told her. Rebecca rolled her eyes but squeezed her hand. She nuzzled into her ear and whispered, “You taste good.” She kissed her neck, grabbed the hem of her shorts. They giggled again.
“What was it like coming out to your parents?” she asked Grace. Rebecca played with Grace’s hair, twisted its strands between her fingers.
“I told my mom I liked girls when I was fourteen,” Grace said. “But all she did was shake her head. She told me to stop talking about it.” They wrapped their arms around each other. Rebecca kissed Grace’s mouth, gently prodded her tongue with her own.
“She told me to come back when I was twenty-five and tell her again,” Grace said after their lips parted.
“So you told her at midnight on your twenty-fifth birthday?” Rebecca asked.
“No,” Grace said. “I couldn’t.”
Two women laughed inside the Devil’s School. The ghosts came back. They tasted like dog.
He took her to a nice restaurant—the kind with white tablecloths and low lighting.
“Well hey there!” said the waitress, interrupting Grace’s thoughts. “I haven’t seen y’all in a really long time. Like over a year.” Max didn’t say anything to correct her. He just smiled and nodded.
“Sorry,” he said after the waitress took their drink orders. “I think people are just used to seeing me with Rebecca.”
“We don’t look alike,” Grace said.
“Of course you don’t,” he said. “You’re completely different.” He reached over to grab her hand. Does he wonder what I taste like?
“It’s weird that it even has to be said though,” she told him. She retracted her hand.
“Are you mad at me?” he asked. He looked like a three-legged puppy asking to get onto the couch. What if we taste the same?
“No,” she said. This time she grabbed his hand. “I’m just getting used to being with you in person.”
“It’s weird,” he said. I wonder what she tasted like. “But good weird?”
She smiled without showing her teeth. “Good weird.”
“I like your lipstick,” he told her.
“Do you only date white guys?” Danny asked her the next morning. They were making a huge breakfast and had enlisted Grace to chop onions and peppers.
Danny shrugged. “I’m just curious,” they said. “Rebecca dated a lot of white guys.”
“Did you ask her why?” Grace asked.
“Yeah,” they smiled. “She told me to fuck off.”
“I’ve only dated white guys,” Grace confirmed. Danny didn’t press, but pushed another onion towards Grace’s cutting board. “You never dated?”
“White guys?” Danny laughed, a hearty deep-sounding chuckle.
“No. Rebecca.” Danny dropped bacon in a pan and its sizzle filled their silence. Their backs were turned to each other, but the room was so small their bodies still almost touched. “You never dated Rebecca?” She asked again. Grace’s eyes burned as she cut open the onion; she wiped tears away with her wrist.
“No, we never dated,” they said. They put a thick slab of butter in another pan—the room was warm and the food smelled good. Rebecca and Danny would do this on weekend mornings Max had to work; Danny would crack eggs into the center of buttery toast and Rebecca would fry up potatoes. They’d sit on the porch and drink orange juice. “Never,” they said again. They cooked breakfast with her every week. They saw movies and went on walks and knew more about each other than anyone else. They never dated. “But we were constant,” Danny told her.
“Why did you move in here after she died?” Grace asked.
“Max didn’t want to live in the house alone,” they said.
“He could have found someone else. He could have moved.”
Max had asked Danny to help him go through Rebecca’s stuff and they never left. Most of her things were moved into the spare room, Danny’s room. She spilled out of the small closet, from underneath their bed, and out of a single chest of drawers. Rebecca didn’t throw anything away and neither could Danny.
“She’s everywhere,” they said.
The A/C was still broken and all the windows in the house were open. Grace was full and sleepy. She excused herself to Max’s room and dropped into the tangled bed sheets. She had let him touch her in the dark, but their sex hadn’t lived up to their textual encounters. I’m not ready yet, she told him, and he was patient, kind.
Grace stripped off her shirt and underwear, her whole body slick with sweat, her whole body wet. It was like the humidity was another person on top of her, their body pressing into her. She turned over onto her stomach and pushed one of the pillows between her legs. Her hips pressed forward and back, she moaned. Grace didn’t dare open her eyes as she reached between her legs and felt sweat and cum. What do you taste like? She touched her fingers to her lips. What do you taste like? She licked. What do you taste like? Another moan broke into the room, but Grace kept her eyes shut. You taste good.
Max’s white sheets had fallen to the floor. When Grace caught her breath, she sat up and moved off the bed. She wrapped the fallen sheets around her body and walked out of the room towards the shower.
The faint sound of falling water could be heard in the bedroom. The fitted sheet had come undone from the left corner of the bed. One pillow sat at the head and the other was in the middle. Around it you could see the impression of a body, a wet body, legs wrapped tightly around it. And if you looked even closer, another impression, another body, could be seen wrapped around the first.
Rumpus original art by Elizabeth Schmuhl.