by Devan Collins Del Conte
Having graduated, Gage, Fletcher, and I, we felt at once very old and very young, and like we’d stay that way forever. Before we left Charleston, we’d visited the grimy apartment in Mt. Pleasant where we stocked up with a half ounce of medical-grade weed and an eight ball of coke. Gage and Fletcher had drained their meager savings, and I’d extended the credit line on my Amex and hoarded my graduation money in a secret wad of cash for incidentals. None of us had real jobs lined up, and we felt the urgent need to spend our money before it was gone. We got our shit together and hit the road to clear our heads.
I was thinking a lot about suicide—an extension cord hung from a ceiling fan, perhaps or the metal pole of a closet. What’s the tensile strength for a cord like that? You have to judge the drop right, and then it’s nothing but a moment of weightlessness, a snap and a flicker. These thoughts gave me comfort and a sense of opportunity. I held those images and calculations close, like a secret hand in cards. And this is what I was thinking about as we headed to St. George, as silence fell in the truck and left me to consider the future.
When I had thought enough about these things, I flipped down the visor to apply more Wine With Everything to my lips. Fletcher’s truck lacked frills, no power windows or locks, but I had installed the visor’s clip-on mirror back in our freshman year, and he had left it as one of many concessions to my vanity. Fletcher and I didn’t sleep together in the euphemistic sense, but we often shared a bed, a couch, a floor, glimpses into each other’s thoughts.
Who’s the lipstick for? Gage asked from the driver’s seat.
Did you know, I said, Greta Garbo had about a million surgeries on her mouth, trying to get the right pout. I pursed my lips and checked the outline and the corners.
Wrong, Fletcher said. He leaned up from the backseat and rested his forearms on the console. That was Gloria Grahame.
That’s who you’re thinking of. Gloria Grahame. Greta Garbo never had any surgery.
Whatever. I stuck my finger in between my lips and pulled it out with a pop so the excess lipstick wouldn’t stain my teeth. I had recently decided to cultivate an interest in old movies — an interest to match Fletcher’s own — but I was having a hard time making it stick.
Not whatever, Fletcher said. It’s the difference between one of the greatest women of the century, and some flake with a mouth full of tissues.
I shrugged. It’s what I meant, I said.
The truck rumbled down the highway, and I watched Gage’s leg shift back and forth, back and forth. He covered the break every time we neared one of the cut throughs in the tree-lined median where cops liked to hide, smoking cigarettes and clocking radar. Gage drove because me and Fletcher made him nervous. He liked keeping us safe.
I prefer Gloria Graham, I said after a while. At least she was trying to improve herself.
Fletcher made a noncommittal noise and cracked open a lukewarm beer. He passed it up to me where I sheathed it in a McDonald’s cup and stuck a straw in. I rolled down my window and breathed in the briny air. This was coastal Carolina in spring: The roadside blushed a deep pink with blooming azaleas, and Spanish moss draped the trees, all vivid color against the stormy sky, like a photograph. It was meant to rain all week.
Gage flicked his turn signal and merged onto an exit ramp. Familiar? he said.
I nodded. St. George is a crescent-shaped island off the coast of South Carolina. It’s been worn sharp by the crushing Atlantic — none of the marshy softness of Kiawah or Isle of Palms. You reach it over a long bridge that stretches from the tip of a modest peninsula. The best properties on St. George face the open ocean. In St. George my parents own a modern house that has aged out of modernity. Four, high-ceilinged stories pierced by a spiral staircase like a twisted spine. Glass walls and nondescript gray tile. Black leather furniture with white sand ground into the seams. I hadn’t been there in years on account of eschewing my parents’ help in whatever ways possible, while still maintaining my lifestyle, so to speak, my tuition and cell-phone bills and the five hundred dollars a month that slid from their bank account and into mine.
But I had, in the name of history and friendship, swallowed my pride and, over a white linen tablecloth and a round of Bloody Marys, on the very same morning I walked across the rotunda at College of Charleston in an elaborate wedding to higher education, asked my parents for the code to their beach house door. My dad, luckily enough, had the gate opener in his briefcase, which was unexpected as they used it mostly as a rental now, something to do with taxes. He handed it over with a tight-lipped smile. While you’re there, he said, check on the bathroom renovations. Send pictures. Make sure those people didn’t fuck it up. The next day they flew back to Aspen where they live on what they call a ranch.
When we reached the edge of the bridge to St. George, a drizzle blew in off the water, sprinkling my face and arm. The island materialized out of the hazy sky. Palm trees and beachfront mansions, a Food Lion firming up as we cruised over the lip of the bridge. The speed limit dropped and time slowed just a touch.
The last time I was here, I was eleven, and my parents brought me on a trip with my dad’s business partner, throwing me out the door each morning with his partner’s awful daughter who picked her wedgies in plain view and whose stringy hair was always getting caught in the corner of her mouth. She followed me. She wanted to play so I buried her in sand to her neck and walked away. When she got back to the house, weepy and covered in a pimply rash, my parents and I had what would be the first of several blowups that led to the present gulf between us — a space where time really fucked itself muddy and everything that was going to happen, already had. It was a chilled and featureless distance across which we alternately stared, shouted, or sent emails.
At the grocery store we bought lobster tails and steak and shrimp cocktail, cheese balls and foie gras and specialty crackers for $5.99 a pack, craft beer that none of us liked much. We sent Fletcher into the liquor store next door, and he came back with a case of champagne and sleek bottles of rum and vodka whose labels spoke of the understated affluence Fletcher strived toward, having grown up poor in Rhode Island, surrounded by money he couldn’t touch. He’d filled a cart to overflowing with booze and rolled toward the car grinning like an idiot. I felt magnanimous and on the cusp of something.
We cruised the beachfront road, a newly paved seam between the sand and a stretch of condominiums. We stopped to let a family cross, two parents pulling babies in a wagon. The sky was still spitting, and a red flag flapped in the wind, but these brave souls seemed unaffected; they went on as if it wasn’t happening. Gradually, the landscape changed, the road veered inland, and the condos gave way to monstrous single-family homes, the greenery thickened, and a brick sign rose from it that read “Barefoot Dreamers.”
That’s embarrassing, Gage said.
This whole place is embarrassing, I said.
What are y’all talking about? It’s amazing here. Fletcher stared out the window at a display of boogie boards and a herd of inflatable animal floats.
It’s terrible, I said. I turned down a narrow road and then into the driveway where a wrought iron gate swung open toward us. The yard was carefully landscaped, a tropical oasis with a bean-shaped saltwater pool nested among the foliage. Sliding glass doors led into the kitchen.
We unpacked the groceries, dumped our bags in a heap by the stairs, mixed a round of drinks and headed to the beach.
Aside from the few restaurant workers milling around the bar of Pompano Joe’s, the beach was deserted. Off in the distance, I saw the wagon family who’d crossed the street in front of us, the condo-dwellers. They scuttled like ants around their umbrella. Their curly headed babies ran in mincing steps with their arms stiff at their sides and their stomachs sticking out indecently against their suits. The rain had subsided and the gray sky met the water in a nearly indiscernible line. Gage and Fletcher ran down to the water’s edge, while I trailed behind. Gulls weaved and banked overhead, coasting on cushions of air above the water.
When we got back to Charleston, the boys would return to their shared apartment on Queen Street and their jobs at a French bistro around the corner, where they plated slices of cheese and crusty bread and gourmet hotdogs. I’d go back to the carriage house off Market that my parents had rented for me for the duration of my studies, and I’d start to pack. Time then to think of boxes and trucks and next steps, of what one does, exactly, with a sociology degree and half a work ethic.
I had tried, on and off, to cultivate interests, passions even. I volunteered at a rape crisis center for nearly a month. I met with a kid from one of those Little Sister programs once. I went to bars and watched how people approached each other; I tried to read the silences between them where something sparked and flared. Whatever anyone might tell you, it’s shit like that gets you ahead, that keeps your head above the water. Things I never quite grasped.
I watched as Gage ran up behind Fletcher and leprechaun-kicked his heels, flailed his arms over his head. Gage and Fletcher were thin and rangy, similar enough in coloring and features to pass for brothers. I felt suddenly exposed and singular up on the beach and lengthened my stride, hurrying toward them.
Let’s go get drinks, I said when I caught up to them, holding out my empty cup. I led the way down the beach to the walk-up bar at Pompano Joe’s. Teal picnic tables in the sand and a cheesy band in Hawaiian shirts playing covers on a raw wood stage. We ordered fifteen-dollar Piña Coladas and drank them one after the other, until my stomach stuck out with bloat and the sand rolled beneath my feet.
This is life, Fletcher said. If you’re not afraid to live it. This is as good as it gets.
Gage grunted, and I probed the bottom of my glass with my straw, slurping up the last of the whipped cream. A group of kids about our age, two girls and a tall blond guy with crooked front teeth, came down the steps from the main restaurant and out onto the beach bar, shedding their Pompano Joe’s uniforms as they came.
Hey, Fletcher said, waving. Join us? We’re just watching the show. He gestured to an assortment of clouds and the tangerine sunset above the steely water. They obliged, seating themselves on the creaky picnic bench and offering their names, which I immediately forgot. We ordered another round.
We stayed until the pinprick stars dotted the sky like perfect jewels, suspended over a purple mountain range of cumulus. Time passed without my noticing, the voices of the others in the background reduced to a hum.
What about you, someone said to me out of the darkness, tapping my shoulder.
I crushed out my cigarette on the underside of table and turned to find the source of the voice.
You’re awfully quiet, aren’t you? You having fun? It was the guy, the tall blond guy with the crossed teeth. Don’t ya ever smile? he said.
I’m having fun, I said and took another cigarette from the pack on the table, lit it. Who is he? I said to Gage.
This is Carl, said Gage, and there was a warning in his voice. He liked Carl. He wanted me to play nice.
What was it you asked me, I said, taking in Carl’s face more closely. It was long and thin and smiley. Perhaps a little stupid. His accent told me he probably grew up less than an hour from here, maybe even on the island itself. He’d folded his work shirt neatly and set it at the end of the bench.
Where you from? he said. He smiled uncertainly, and his eyes flicked to the girls at his side. I could tell he regretted engaging me, and even though I didn’t want to talk to him, I resented that. I was, to be fair, very drunk.
I was born in Memphis, I said. Moved to Austin for a while around middle school, and then my parents decided to relocate to Aspen and send me to boarding school in central Tennessee, middle of nowhere. The three of us — I waved proprietarily at Gage and Fletcher — just finished college in Charleston. I guess you could say I’m from all over.
Well, said Carl good-naturedly, not all over. Sounds like you’re mostly from Tennessee.
I raised my eyebrows and took a drag and turned my back to him, returned to my view of the water and the stars and the moon, shattered across the waves. The girls laughed.
I’m going back to the house, I said. I stood and walked away and didn’t look back.
The streets were empty and the stars stayed with me, and then there were footsteps behind me and a voice.
Hey! said the voice. It was one of the girls, one of Carl’s friends. Are you okay? She was out of breath from running after me. She’d taken off her work shirt and wore a sweat-stained sports bra and jean shorts. Her hair hung ropily at her shoulders, coiled by the salty air.
Yeah, I said. Fine. I stopped and waited for her to close the distance between us, lit another cigarette even though they were beginning to make me nauseous.
Mind if I join you?
I shrugged and kept walking toward the house. I passed her the cigarette, and she took it, her fingers brushing mine. She felt familiar, walking there next to me. Reminded me of the girl I’d buried in the sand, if that girl happened to have grown up to be beautiful.
We got back to the house, and I led her around back and into the kitchen, feeling better by this time. I was tired and had the spins, but that deep down rage that sometimes struck when I drank too much, that hatred that boiled up from nowhere and spilled over my edges, that had settled down.
I dug through Fletcher’s bag until I found the sack we’d picked up before we left. I cut a few lines on the countertop for me and the girl. After that, my skin buzzed electric, and I was once more firmly at the surface of things, out of the morass of purple-black goo that overtook when I wasn’t paying attention.
I left the girl hunched over the kitchen counter with a rolled up twenty pinched between thumb and finger. I turned on the TV and the lights and the outside speakers. I flipped through the channels and found Grand Hotel playing on TCM, Joan Crawford turning to look over her shoulder at the baron, smiling wide and saying, Alright, we’ll…dance.
We’re making lobster, I called to the girl as I made my way back to the kitchen. Something nice for other people.
She said something I didn’t catch and put on a pot of water on the stove. I opened a bottle of champagne, poured us each a glass.
Come with me, I said, suddenly remembering. I’m supposed to take pictures of the bathroom. She smiled in a way that told me this was an odd thing for me to have said, but followed me happily enough.
I flipped the light switch for the bathroom at the bottom of the staircase, and we went inside. I opened my phone and snapped pictures of an imperfectly fitted sconce, the paint at the edge of the mirror, the gap in the tile. There was a discolored area in the corner where something had recently leaked.
Ridiculous, I said.
The girl laughed and nodded. It is, she said.
I caught her eye in the mirror over the sink. She leaned against the wall behind me, arms crossed over her chest and smiled.
I turned toward her, put a hand on her waist and started to pull her to me, but just then a shriek came from the street, Gage’s unmistakable laughter, and then Carl’s voice saying, What?! What did I do?! Something dark bubbled in my stomach, and then the girl and I were back in the kitchen where I had another bump and a swig of champagne, leaning on the kitchen counter, bracing myself against it. The tendons stood out in the back of my hand.
The girl came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. Come on, she said, and we took up a post by the pool just as the others rounded the corner into our driveway.
Hello there, gorgeous, said Fletcher, opening the gate into the back yard and holding it for the others. He came over and bent down to kiss me lightly on the neck. How are you feeling now? He leaned in close and spoke right into my ear and goosebumps rose in waves across my skin.
Fletcher was such a dear. Better, I said, and smiled up at him. I felt very beautiful then in the moonlight and the light from the pool, and I loved how he was looking at me, and I loved knowing that the girl was looking at me, too, and the rest of the night passed in a in a swirl of bodies and sounds that eventually went dark.
* * *
The next morning I woke, head pounding in a cocaine-hangover haze to see Fletcher sitting on the window sill, his legs dangling out of our third-floor bedroom, the louvered shutters folded on either side of him like makeshift wings.
I groaned. Close them, I said. Close the curtains. I held a hand in front of me and squinted against the light, hoping he’d come back to the bed and cuddle. He turned around to look at me, and though he was backlit and I shouldn’t have been able to see his eyes at all, there they were, black, like the dead space between the stars. He tipped forward and disappeared, quietly, easily.
I lurched from the bed to the window to see him crumpled beside the hot tub like a forgotten doll.
Fletcher! I yelled. Clutching a sheet around me with one hand, I ran out the bedroom door and down the spiral stairs.
From the sliding glass doors, I saw Fletcher’s open eyes and mouth; blood seeped into the ends of his hair. His hand twitched; my feet felt magnetically bound to the threshold. Some piece of pool machinery ticked and hummed, and nearby, children shouted on their way to the beach. It was a day of technicolor brightness, the sky a startling blue and the ocean a rhythm, a whisper in the background.
Gage came up behind me and yelled a bunch of words that floated in and out of my head like smoke. He crouched at Fletcher’s side and was still talking, holding his hands a few inches away from Fletcher’s body like a Raki healer. I dialed 911 from the house phone.
In the ambulance, they brought Fletcher back to life; at the hospital they hooked him up to all sorts of machines and sliced and diced and reassembled him, while Gage and I sat in the waiting room and fought over who would call Fletcher’s parents. In the end I made the call, and I kept all the fluff out. Fletcher fell from a third story window and is gravely injured. This was my script: I practiced it before I dialed, and it was the only thing I said after Hello, and, This is Addie. His parents passed the phone back and forth. They spoke to a doctor and then to me again. They said they’d call back with their flight information. Fletcher wouldn’t be waking up or dying within the next twelve hours. That was the gist we got from his harried looking doctor.
It was dark by the time we started back to the house. We drove along the coastal highway and over the bridge in silence. The lights from the island doubled in the water and the moon hung fat and low above the horizon.
How did this happen? Gage said. It was the first time he’d asked, or the first time I’d heard him. How? Gage said again. His eyes were fixed on the road, and the truck bounced over fault lines in the pavement.
I shook my head and plucked at the coiled cord of Gage’s phone charger. I woke up and saw him standing by the window, I said. And then he was just gone.
He jumped, Gage said.
No. He fell; he was fucked up.
I should’ve paid closer attention to his mood, Gage said.
I shut my eyes and imagined I was on a boat. Imagined I was alone on a boat in the ocean with the water sloshing at the sides and a flock of birds wheeling low over the water in the distance, and then the boat was gone and so was I, and it was just the water and the birds and then nothing.
Earlier that morning, when Gage and I had fallen into Fletcher’s truck and peeled onto the road behind the ambulance, the locals from the night before were scattered around the house, still passed out in various states of undress. They slept through the sirens. When we got back from the hospital, they were sitting at the kitchen island and eating Cap’n Crunch, laughing at Carl, who stood shirtless in front of the open fridge doing something double jointed with his arms for the benefit of the room.
We mumbled hellos when we came in and Gage debriefed them on the morning’s events, which really cleared things up for them because they’d checked each other for wounds and couldn’t figure out where the bloody patch on the patio had come from.
We are just so sorry, Carl said, making eye contact with me and Gage in turn. He walked around the counter and put his arm around Gage’s shoulder. Like, you don’t even know how sorry we are to hear that, he said. He was a real good dude, you could tell that for sure.
He’s not dead, I said. I grabbed a beer from the fridge and popped it open on the counter.
Right, Carl said. It’s a really good hospital, you know.
My phone buzzed in my jean pockets, and I stepped on the patio to answer it, lighting a cigarette and staring at the crusty brown patch where Fletcher had landed. It reminded me of the drool spot he always left on pillows. I flipped my phone open. Hello, I said.
Addie, Fletcher’s mom, Martha, said. We couldn’t get a flight out tonight. I just spoke to the doctor, and they said he’s stable. We land at ten tomorrow morning, and I was wondering if you could get us from the airport.
Yeah, of course, I said. You can stay at the house.
We got a hotel. How is he?
She thought I was still there, I realized. That we had stayed with him and held his limp hand while the respirator wheezed and beeped. Goddamn.
He’s okay, Martha. He’s banged up, but he looks like he’s sleeping.
Silence and the sound of paper crinkling. Fletcher’s father, Pete, yelled things in the background.
Okay, Martha said. Okay. I’ll email you our flight information.
I love you, Martha, I said. I had been to Fletcher’s childhood home in Rhode Island before, had spent holidays with Martha, but had never said this to her before. It’s all gonna be okay, I said. It felt like the right time for lies.
How did this happen?
It’s this fucking house, I said. It’s the windows in this fucking house. They’re so clear you can’t tell whether they’re open or closed. He leaned through and couldn’t get his balance back. I’m so sorry, I said. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard my dad’s voice, warning me I was courting a lawsuit.
I heard her sniffing and swallowing, and we said goodbye and hung up.
Back inside, Carl was passing around a little vial; both the local girls took it and droppered a little of the liquid onto their outstretched tongues. To take the edge off, Carl said when he saw me. I reached out and took the vial and tipped my head back. Twenty minutes later we were all floating on our backs in the heated pool like warmed over corpses.
The pool, salty and black-bottomed, indulged me and became a pond. I always had wished for a superpower of a very particular kind: to see the history of where I stood played out before me like a movie in rewind, to see the land unpeopled, all the bricks and pavement pulled out one by one like baby teeth. That night my wish was granted, and the house disappeared, the lights from the living room hung disembodied for a moment then attached themselves to torches planted in dunes, flickering over a crow, an overturned canoe rutted in the sand: the night carried on without me, and I floated in the pond, marsh grass tangling itself around my feet. My heart constricted and levered itself higher in my chest.
Capillary action, I said to myself, and I dug at the empty space in my memory between swimming back to the group at the shallow end of the pool and the screech of the sliding door as I now filed into the house behind those other girls, the house so dry and sobering and dark, like ritual death. We were to swim until sunrise, I’d been told by a voice from the dark, a congo line through the water. The girls then pressed their names into my palms and closed my fists around them tight. Star and Kayla. Star, that one who’d come back with me the night before. Trash names burning bright.
Someone plucked at my hair.
Who’s doing that? I said. Star, long dark hair and long legs that scissored under the water and played through the firelight. Oh, I said, Hi. Star pulled me to the edge of the pool and held me up with one arm around my waist. My hand was under the heavy waterfall of hair on the back of her neck, the curve between neck and shoulder and both of us bobbing, then sinking like toy missiles. She let go of the edge, and we went under.
I released her, and we bobbed back up. It’s good to see you, I said. I can’t even say, I said, close to tears. She pulled me to shallower water and we stood crouched, bodies swaying, water sloshing to and fro, some sea beast lurking in the deep end out of reach of the lights. Only our heads above water, to the chin. Hands clasped, we faced each other. Her breath mingled with mine, and my leg found hers under the water like seaweed tangling with its neighbors. Our thighs pressed between each other’s and then floated away again. Lips, dry at the edges, softer than moss, opened, the heat of tongues their own living things, moving us. Fingers slipped between my thighs, inside me, and pushed a gasp from my open mouth. This, I said to myself.
* * *
In the glow of the fridge light and the open metal doors that stretched to either side, I saw Fletcher between the folded shutters, tipping forward and disappearing into the cheese drawer. My pulse jolted my veins so hard I thought it must show through the skin. It unsuited me for the indoors, for the dry quiet that rang in the spaces water used to shush across the membranes of my ears. The space between each of us stretched and died like some amphibious mass washed to shore and doomed by the sun. In the kitchen, we fossilized.
I couldn’t find where I’d set my phone and paced in the dark house until I saw it on the sofa beside Star who was talking to the dog, a black lab that had showed up at some point while we were outside and belonged to someone, and now lay under the table.
I sat beside Star and picked up my phone.
Good dog, I said, and the words fell hollow, thudded on the tile floor. I didn’t have any messages. I flipped through the photos of the bathroom I’d taken the night before, a million years ago now. I zoomed in on Star’s face in the mirror, eyes glinting green from the flash. It felt like anything at this point might be enough to shock the space between us and crack the frame, send us spilling into the sea or a waiting void beneath the house.
One by one, the others disappeared upstairs, rogue water droplets flowing against the stream. I watched Star climb the stairs, a blue-purple aura rippling off her bare arms and shoulders. That spare girl, Kayla, trailed behind her, and Gage and Carl after them. They went not to the master bedroom out of which Fletcher had flown, but into the media room at the opposite end of the hall. I heard them up there. They cranked up the music to lend the house a pulse.
I stayed downstairs with the dog and followed myself around. I washed the dishes and wiped down the counters and made ice water. I found the lobster tails from the night before floating like bloated larva in a pot on the stove.
In the living room, I did toe touches. I slid my palms under the soles of my feet then sat on the floor and cried for three minutes, which I timed by the clock on the cable box.
* * *
It was three in the morning when my phone started buzzing across the coffee table. I answered without looking at the caller ID.
Hello? I said. It sounded like boots pulled through sucking muck or the sounds of someone drowning.
Addie? a voice said. It was Pete. He’d taken the phone from Martha.
Yes, I said.
And then slowly, clinically, with the sounds of the bog and the drowning and snuffling in the background that were, of course, Martha and her grief, slowly he told me about a bleed in the spleen — they should’ve taken it out in the first surgery but they were so much more worried about the head injuries and they missed it — a blood pressure drop in the middle of the night, deprivation of oxygen, unresponsive, no brain activity, no hope. Pete began the litany of what they would take from Fletcher’s still living body: heart, kidneys, corneas, and heart, kidneys, corneas, repeat. He would outlive his own time in other people’s bodies, and that was something for which to be grateful, Pete said.
I said something automatic before I hung up; the dog sighed, and I patted the spot on the sofa beside me. The dog climbed up, moving slowly with arthritic hips, until I helped pull him the rest of the way up. I wondered if I should carry him up to his owner but decided against it.
I wondered if I should wake everyone up and tell them about Fletcher now or in the morning.
Fletcher was not a depressed person; he wasn’t a quitter. He had a concert ticket pre-ordered for the fall. He wanted to learn to make homemade sushi. I watched the clock and pet the dog absently, and at some point, for some time, I slept.
On the deck I watched the sky pale before dawn. Clouds hung low over the island like a layer of down. The dog followed me outside and collapsed with a huff beside my deck chair. He stayed with me only because the stairs were too hard on his hips. I knew that.
I heard footsteps behind me and gripped the arms of my chair, the hair rising on the back of my neck. Was it Fletcher? I sat there frozen and staring at the pool light refracting from under the water, and a moment later Star sat beside me on the poured concrete of the deck and reached out a hand to pet the dog.
Couldn’t sleep? she said.
Wanna go for a swim?
We slid out of our clothes and into the water, and I swam laps, staying under until my lungs burned. I shut my eyes so the light came through, and I was in the pond again, the firelight on the shore and Fletcher poking the logs with a stick. The warmth from the fire and his hands stretched through the cool water, electrifying: tenuous lifelines. I broke the surface and began a steady stroke, frog kicking, clearing the water from my mouth now and then in a silty, mineral rich spray. I had the sense I’d swum the perimeter of this pond a thousand thousand times. My nerves misfired wildly, defective guns.
I felt Star swimming toward me, sensed the heat of her body like a shark senses prey, and with every cell I screamed to her some scrap of truth that fizzled out in the water. I opened my eyes and shouted, a stream of bubbles that burst at the surface where fat raindrops fell.
When I woke on the couch, wrapped in a damp blanket, I heard others in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets and grunting requests at each other for more orange juice or Pop Tarts or the last good banana.
I found them in there, Gage and the Kayla and Carl. Star had left they said. Star was gone with the dog. I nodded and pulled out a stool, sat hunched over the countertop. Gage slid a glass of water in front of me, and without any prelude I told them all what had transpired in the night; told them Fletcher would be unplugged once his parents arrived and said goodbye. The clock on the oven said 11:30. I had missed their airport pickup; they must have taken a cab. I didn’t know where my phone was. The kitchen was silent. The pool filter ticked off and rain fell on the roof, dripped down the windows, and through the doorway at the base of the stairs I saw the leak in the bathroom start up again, drops plunking against the tile floor. Above all that we could hear the shouts of children outside, headed to the beach despite the weather.