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There is blood on her hands.

Wet, slippery, thick – settling into the grooves of her skin, the lines of her palm, the wrinkles where she bends her wrist, the crook of her elbow. It crawls up her arms in thin, spidery trails that lose the strength to go on before they reach her shoulders.

When it dries, it’ll itch. It will sink in and dye her skin. The red on her hands and her arms will color the vision of all who approach her. You will not see the dark grey of her eyes, the loose curls of dark hair. You will not see the splash of freckles across her nose.

You will see red. You will see blood. You will wonder if it’s yours.  

- – -

A pale expanse of skin stretches thin over stark white bones and throbbing, bloody veins. One step forward, two steps backwards in a spectral dance. No eyes peer gracefully from holes in the skull. No fingers tap irregular beats in the air. No lips curve in a pink smile – not a smirk, not a grin, not a soft expression of pleasure.

Just feet that move forward, then backwards, than forward again. Just a long, thin neck straining in the dark. Just a spine curved over, its ridges forming a much too regular topography.

Mountains in nature demand more attention, have more prejudices and sympathies expressed in their positions.  There is no plan, just petty nature gossiping.

- – -

When you’re sixteen, you don’t know up from down let alone right from wrong.

- – -

From the shattered pieces of a heart, bright red and glistening shards on the floor, come words. They crawl towards each other, grasping hands and pulling each other along towards sentences. When they make a paragraph they’ll have the posterior vena cava, or the aorta, or the atrioventricular valve. Their hands will fuse together and semi-colons and periods, the dashes and commas will become scar tissue.

- – -

Fresh green grass tickles your skin and makes it itch. The blue sky stretches over your head like a cage swathed in velvet. There is nowhere to go and you never want to leave. The air smells like clean laundry and lavender and when a butterfly lands on your eyelashes, it breaks apart.

A storm gathers in the distance and a streak of lightning splits a tree and lights a fire. The fire burns blue, too hot to see and merging with the bright blue of the sky. It’s easy to miss. It’s easy to walk right into. It’s easy to burn to a crisp.

Out of the charred wreckage comes clean ash, comes new life and the hope of a green shoot that breaks out of dead earth. The earth waits. The earth burns. The earth hopes. The earth aches. The earth demands.

And we answer.

- – -

Wake up.

Wake. Up. 

You.

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This is the room. This room you’re sitting in with pictures of places you’ve never been on the walls. Don’t worry. You’ve been other places, but your pictures just weren’t as good.

This is the place bright with color. The bookshelf has more than just rows after rows of black Penguin classics and the beige similarity that masks the intricacies of life-changing classics. You acknowledge the shifting foundations of more brightly colored works, masking their depth in eye-catching neon. It’s a different kind of search.

There’s a vase of fake flowers, and a real plant that is always half dead by the time you wake it up again. Outside are the noises of the suburbs populated by desperate students – pulsing rap music and trains and cars, and the occasional shout as someone waits for someone else to catch up.

Somewhere in your head you’re in a Parisian café, drinking coffee and writing great works. Or you’re in a tiny studio apartment in New York City, coming home too late from an exhausting job you love. Sometimes you’re on a motorcycle in South East Asia, eating things you’ll never be able to pronounce no matter how much you practice. And sometimes you’re just here. Reading and writing and talking about books. Sometimes you’re in fucking Narnia.

But the ache is still there. The one that strives sometimes for certainty, sometimes for passion, sometimes for skin on skin. The one that wants, just once, to feel like it is better than the stories you read.

You remind yourself again that you’re trying, that you have plenty of time, that there’s no such thing as stuck. You write one more word, drink one more glass of wine, get on one more plane. 

I’ve Got That Summertime Sadness

The low slung, haphazard houses seem like afterthoughts to the roof the wave makes when it curls over your head. Sand gets in everything – your jewelry box, the hems of your dress, behind your knees and ears, clinging to your skin like scales. It hardly makes sense to wear shoes, even sandals but you do anyway because you like the look of the moonlight trapped in the jewel toned plastic stones on the straps.  You own a bra or two, but you never wear them. Bikini tops in bright colors and chaotic patterns litter the floor of your bedroom, the drawers of your friends. Occasionally they hang precariously from a lampshade or two in his room.

The tourists don’t stop coming even in the awful dog days of summer when you’d sleep on your surfboard if you could. So two or three times a week you drive down to the south end of the island to fill in for one of the hula dancers at the luaus. You know the girls, occasionally even enjoy coming to the busier side of the island on hot nights, knowing you can probably get away with drinking something pink and sweet. The colors of the skirts are too bright to have been found in nature and the swish and scratch of plastic hula skirts sounds grating and wrong. Still, even you can’t help feeling the tightening in your belly as sweat settles in the small of your back and slides down your legs. You too are mesmerized by the swinging hips of the girls in front of you, knowing he’s watching from the back of the crowd with a few of his friends.

Later you go dancing. It’s harder to move your hips the same way in shorts but his hands on your waist makes you want to try. The dry, hot burn of gin slides down your throat, tempered by a splash of tonic and lime. You never bothered sliding a shirt on over your bikini too (black and gold this time) so your sweat dries on your skin and you shiver in the cool breeze that comes in through the windows of the car. It’s beat up and covered in sand. You slide your feet out of your shoes and scrunch your toes in the towel on the floor. Everything smells faintly of saltwater and sunshine. The driver is sober and you’d feel sorry for her but you’d much rather sleep in the North Shore than down in Honolulu where the lights are too bright and sharp.

You wake up the next morning naked, your legs tangled with his, his arm resting on your stomach and his fingers resting on your hip. The sunlight pours through the open window and warms your breasts and collar bone. It’s early yet. You eat toast and peanut butter as you head to the beach, surfboard under one arm and the other guiding the bicycle. You head over with him this morning, but you’d have seen him there anyway. It’s summer and you know everyone paddling out beyond the first breakers. But you don’t speak. You just ride the waves under the still pink sky until the right crest comes along. Your heart drops into your stomach in a fantastic rush. You might as well be flying. It begins again.

Beneath the Curse of My Lover’s Eyes

He can’t look at her. They are standing at opposite ends of the living room and the silence is oppressive and heated. They are standing at opposite ends of the living in room in the house they so carefully picked out, so slowly furnished, amongst the mingling minutiae of their lives and he can hardly bear to be in the same room as that blanket. He can’t remember if it came from her apartment or his.

“I thought I…” could love you forever, could stay here, could make this work could stop wanting to leave. She shatters the silence, the words getting caught in the spider web of cracks branching out from that place where she used past instead of present tense. He thought she gave up weeks ago, but now he’s not so sure. Maybe it was just a few seconds ago that this thing between them grew bigger than their house and their shared toothbrushes.

He’s half tempted to walk out right now and never look back. There is something raggedly offensive about her red rimmed eyes and the way she’s wrapped herself up in some oversized sweater that probably was never his although they both liked to pretend it was. She’s holding a mug filled with peppermint tea. He could hear her making it, hear the whistle of the kettle as he slammed around upstairs trying not to tell her that he hates her for doing this to him.

He does. He hates her. He hates her for falling in love with him. He hates her for the perfect tiny outdoor wedding she designed for them, for the cold winter nights spent curled on the couch watching old episodes of MASH, for building up these sweet quiet spaces between them when she knew – she had to have known even then that she couldn’t stay.

Mostly he hates her because he loves her and she’s going to leave tomorrow and she’s going to let him keep the house.

“I thought we could too.” Is all he says after a few minutes of dull quiet. He’d spent the past few days (weeks? months?) wondering when this became work, wondering if he could pinpoint the exact moment he had to work at being near her, had to work at being home in this place where every movement felt like it rubbed up against something, pushed something out of the way to make room.

There are a million conversations that they will have after this. A million questions about their bank accounts and telling their friends. Her sister will come sit with him sometime tomorrow. They were friends first. His sister will probably yell at him out of some misplaced affection. They will divide out their CDs and she will take her books and probably that blanket. They’ll need to get separate email addresses.

But just then, in that moment it felt like he had said all the words he was ever going to say. She didn’t love him enough to stay. He didn’t love her enough to go.

All Black and All Blue

It starts when the professor you’re seeing leaves a grip shaped bruise on your wrist two weeks after you told him you wouldn’t be coming around anymore. It ends when you get married in Texas in November, autumn like fire burning through the night and the taste of Manhattans scorching the back of your throat.

In between, he takes you to his parents’ house. There’s a big group of you, all with jobs and lives, but you have this weekend in the middle of a southern summer. It’s just you in his car, sitting in the front passenger’s seat, deep in your book, ignoring the back country roads. When you finally get where you’re going, you’re soothed by the dark water, the slippery rocks and the rope swing. You’re soothed by that moment of weightlessness and the sensation of free falling and that brief sting of pain as you hit the water.

His mama doesn’t ask questions, which you like. She does bring out lemonade and chicken salad sandwiches for lunch. It doesn’t occur to you for weeks that maybe she brought your favorite on purpose. The day is long and the sunlight stretches across the horizon, bending and twisting into pink and purple stripes as the sun sets. After dinner you’re boneless and tired, piled in the backyard with everyone else, sipping scotch while his hand wanders up and down your spine.

You’re pretty sure he doesn’t even notice he’s doing it.

The heat burns something like ice from beneath your skin, coming away in the red of the sunburn, the sweetness of summer rain and mudslides and fried chicken. The softness in the way your friends curl around you, the pulled taut look in his eyes when his fingers smooth over the bone of your wrist. There’s no one else for miles and miles and for 48 hours you have an island of peace. You’re too tired to think, and you slept well with your best friend’s hand curled around the hem of your shirt.

At the end of the weekend, his car is the last to leave, just the two of you left to pack up leftovers and say goodbye. You watch him kiss his mother goodbye. It doesn’t make him look younger. On the drive back, along the dark, empty country roads, the rain has settled the dust enough that you can stare out the open window at the stars. You never had time for more than fleeting glances back when you were driving yourself home along winding roads in college.

In the bright morning sunlight the old tape deck in that beaten down old truck had been playing Johnny Cash. Now it was tinny, incongruous Bach, a cello sonata that once haunted you but now settles something tingling in your fingertips.

Someday you’ll kiss this boy – this man, this knighted cowboy who cooks truffles and reductions and the best damn chili you’ve ever eaten. Tonight, you are still rubbed so raw it hurts to breathe, but something about him lets you know that this time, its okay to wait.

To Thine Own Self Be True

It started small. Like a grain of sand which roles around inside an oyster, collecting mucus and dirt until it becomes a pearl. Only without quite so pretty an end. Perhaps it would be more apt to say that it started small: like a snowball on top of a mountain which, by the time it reaches the valley, has become an avalanche.

To say she was bowled over by it would be an understatement. She was crushed beneath the realization that the person besides herself whom she knew most intimately, most keenly and sweetly, was the sworn enemy who now pressed the muzzle of a gun to her forehead. It sparked in her like longing, to take the fingers wrapped around the weapon and weave them with her own and became a swelling destruction. Mere moments later, to her mind, they were no longer enemies, but lovers.

The eyes boring into hers narrowed, as though confused. Suspicious perhaps that their usual vicious banter, the threats and assertions for the good of all mankind. The lack of violence was easily attributed to her loss, she supposed. That could not be causing the confusion. Entirely at the mercy of the other, the circumstances left no room for further action.

She wanted desperately to curl her fingers around that other’s hips, to bring her lips to that others temple and to whisper in that other’s ear – “It’s okay, I’ll love you still.”

That would be unlikely, she feared, to have the desired effect.

She wondered if this realization was unrequited, if her other’s white knuckled grip on the gun, the pressure of hot metal on her forehead was the result of some mutual understanding. She has accepted this outcome but perhaps her other hasn’t. Perhaps only she knows how this is going to end.

She smiles a little. Just a quirk of her lips to the side. She can feel something like a tear slipping down one cheek. She sees it mirrored, sees the tense lines in the face across from hers, the fear etched in the slant of those cheekbones, lingering along the remaining light blush of hate.

She does what needs to be done here. She loves more because she lost, and so she reaches up, slow and steady, to curl her hand around the one holding the gun, finger lined up just right to pull the trigger. The last thing she knows is the crack of a gunshot muffled by the sound of a sob.

Humility is a Vice

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and Eleanor is running for her life through the backwoods of upstate New York. In flip flops. And honestly, the humidity is probably the worst part of this situation. Also, the strangest. The light is getting brighter ahead of her and so she puts on a burst of speed, tripping over a root and tumbling into the clearing ahead of her with even less grace than she usually possesses.

The men chasing her do not trip and thus overshoot her by several yards. This was not part of her plan, but it ends up working in her favor because they end up between her and her ex-boyfriend and several of his mutant friends.

She wishes mutant were an insult too. Charles fucking Xavier’s got nothing on the government trained and genetically enhanced super agents she calls friends and ex-boyfriend jackasses, sometimes known by their name. Alex. It’s a stupid name.  For a moment, everyone stops. The men chasing her clearly expected to be led to a hideout of some sort, but not one populated by mutants currently amidst their training rituals. And thus holding machine guns. And swords.

Yes. Swords.

What would be the point of a gun if you can move faster than a bullet?

If she were smart, at this point, she would high tail it out of there. Let the mutant super agents take care of the assassins. But she doesn’t, because these are her friends and she may be extraordinarily average but she has phenomenal skills in the distraction department. Of course, that’s how she ends up getting a grenade tossed at her feet.

She’s got about two seconds before death when, right in the middle of “Shit, God, I’m sorry for…” she’s picked up and whisked away. Of course she’s 100% average human with no super healing skills to speak of so she still ends up bruised and cut and a little bit burned. But she’s decidedly not dead, so that’s definitely a point in the plus column.

It takes a few minutes for her to reorient herself, to really feel that she was sitting right side up and that her brain could take in and process sights and sounds. When the world finally resolved around her it was to a pair of bright blue eyes and a face tattoo. A hand reached out to brush the hair from her face.

“You’re not who I thought you were going to be,” she huffed, her voice like scratched glass.

The face above her huffed a laugh. “Sorry, your boyfriend is out there skinning alive the person who threw that grenade.”

“Ex-boyfriend. You should probably make him stop that. I think he’s probably supposed to be interrogating or getting evidence or something. There is something against – oh, ow, wow. Okay.” Suddenly she was moving, new hands gripping tightly as they pulled her against a new body. This one was intimately familiar, from the hard press of muscles to the faint outline of a scar on the left shoulder. This was a heartbeat and an ache she knew too well.

Alex’s expression is a contorted kind of misery, the line of his shoulders, the tremble in his hands all speak of guilt.

“I broke up with you,” he says, voice harsh and too quiet. “You’re supposed to be safe.”

“Your plans suck.”

He just laughs, but it’s a humorless, panicked sound. He presses his forehead to hers, eyes clenched tightly, and places his hand on the side of her neck. If she listen’s very carefully, she can hear him counting her heartbeats.