A gift from Kayla’s father, who put her head through a wall when she said David Bowie was holier than Jesus Christ. He buys a twin; he doesn’t know (can never know) she’s sharing it with me.
When the box arrives, we assemble the bed together and tell each other our love will make the smallness bearable. It goes clumsily, like everything we do at nineteen.
It’s me and not the sheets Kayla spreads across the mattress first. After, she giggles heat into the crater of my navel. This isn’t what my Daddy had in mind.
I don’t say anything. She jiggles my breast because she thinks I don’t get the joke, but I can’t stop seeing her head crashing through these walls, blood slicking over the beige.
Inside a cheesecake is cooling, her late mother’s recipe. It’s the first thing I ever baked that didn’t come from a box or a tube.
We’re stoned long past midnight, crawling naked across the linoleum for a first taste. The fridge bathes Kayla in soft orange light as she scoops a handful from the center of the cake and shovels it into my laughing mouth.
We made this.Wonder in her voice, same wonder that recited the instructions, written in a dead woman’s even hand, from the yellowed index card.
The cheesecake’s consistency is uneven. Tiny pockets of unincorporated cream cheese burst tart against my tongue, but it’s rich and sweet and, hell, it’s cheesecake, and isn’t that enough? I kiss her, feeding her the taste of it, then move to taste her, too.
A thrift store find. High-backed, green crushed velvet, at least thirty years old. If it was a dog, you’d swear it had mange, but at our housewarming party she pronounces it the most elegant thing she’s ever owned.
Summer faeries surround us and call us friend, sporting haircuts and tattoos that would’ve terrified us in high school. We are kissed and cuddled while by the playlist we wasted hours fussing over fills our home with music. Soon, the bottle of Two Buck Chuck in Kayla’s hand is nearly empty and my own brain is a waterfall teeming, crashing, bubbling underneath.
When everyone’s gone, Kayla strips and stretches across the seat of her chair, legs draped over one arm. She doesn’t say a word, but I know when I’m being summoned, and what for.
Halfway through, her phone rings; she answers. Her hand twists through my hair, urging me on even as she says Hello. Wet and too meek, her little sister’s voice trickles through the speaker. I can’t make out the words, but I know who they’re about.
Kayla growls and bucks against my face. Fuck him.
I pull back, risk a glance. Her eyes are closed, but the tears push loose anyway.
Should I stop? If I were sober, I’d leave the room without asking, and if pressed I’d insist there was honor in it.
Don’t you dare.
Five feet away, my iPod queues up a song about a love that will last despite hands that might age and bodies that will change. I pretend to understand.
Screened-in, built for a southern summer Sunday, and half the reason we’d settled on this place, despite the neighborhood’s reputation. All we wanted from it was a morning like this one. Iced tea. Wicker chairs. A hummingbird feeder. Her hand working into my shorts. Small puzzle pieces of domesticity.
My mother calls this playing house. We pay the rent and try our best.
I will myself to focus on her fingers, the press of her tongue to my collarbone, but the back yard, stretch back so far you could fit another house on the lot, calls me out of the moment with its overgrowth. I’ve never mown the lawn – any lawn – before. My parents always paid some neighborhood kid to do it. We haven’t even bought a mower yet. Do we need one? Is this our job, or will the landlord see to it? What would happen if we just let it grow?
My eyes unfocus as my pleasure mounts, until the green expanse becomes a Magic Eye picture I can’t make sense of. I half-expect the image won’t resolve until she makes me come.
If it had resolved, or maybe if I’d known how to look, I could have seen so much.
At night there will be gunshots in the street, and we’ll laugh away our terror. Her bike will be stolen within the month. A week later, someone will bust the headlights out of my car and take the bulbs. In our next home, the ceiling will collapse four times, and in the home after that, our neighbor will die. No one will find his body until the building fills with horseflies and a stench that won’t have dissipated by the time I (on my own, too foolish for regret) leave the place behind.
Instead, I dig nails into the back of her arm and forget all about the image, the yard, the sun, the tea, the birds, and believe that home is the place where her body meets my own.
Sutton Strother is a writer and teacher who lives in New York. Her writing has been featured in various journals, including in Atlas and Alice, Pidgeonholes, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Pithead Chapel. You can read more of her work at suttonstrother.wordpress.com. She tweets @suttonstrother.
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