Tourist

(Originally published in PANK.)

There's a certain kind of man who goes for damaged girls. He does the double take when he spots me from across the room. He spies the filtered grey that clouds my gaze and he doesn't look away. A man like that is a travel magazine in a hospital waiting room. You could go anywhere, see anything, but you'd never want to waste the money. Still, he stares. He smiles lightly. My chest tingles and I want to breathe in deep.

The things I'd do if I could, but I know better.

I always run.

•••

Jessa and her husband are trying to conceive a child. I hear them sometimes, the sound of the headboard hitting the wall, their voices moaning. There's a picture of a beach above my desk and when I squint my eyes I can see the frame bobbing. Hearing them makes me wonder what will happen to me.

Their condominium only has two bedrooms.

Jessa says she wants a girl. I think about a girl lying where I am now on the floor, in the room where she'll become herself. I wonder what kind of pictures she'll put up. Most girls hang pictures of boys and pretty pop stars, the things they want and things they hope to be.

I wonder if she'll be more like me.

My parents were told they were going to have a boy but when I came out female they never bothered to repaint the walls. I remember asking my dad for a white bedroom that looked like the hotel rooms in the travel magazines at the doctor's office.

“You're just going to get everything dirty,” he said.

I remember crying. I remember him putting his arms around me. He said that little girls weren't supposed to have white bedrooms and it made me feel like I'd done something wrong. He repeated it over and over while he wiped the tears on my cheeks. I wanted to fight. I wanted to kick and scream but I didn't.

My girlhood walls remained barren and slate blue.

•••

Most people appear to be absent when they fall under the spell of routine, their faces bleached with a sullen sense of sadness as their bodies drift from place to place. He walks into the coffee shop with a placid expression. He orders his coffee and he waits at the counter, his gaze distant, connecting with nothing.

Then he notices me.

I sit up in my seat. My fingers clench but there's nothing to hold onto.

The barista gives him his coffee in a disposable cup. He's a man on the go. He's older, because they always are. He approaches like they all do. His smile is a ticket to France, but I know the truth, that under the Eiffel Tower is just a bunch of homeless people.

“You were here the other day,” he says, setting his coffee down. “Same table.”

I bite my lip and raise my chin. My throat tenses and then I remember his face, his square jawline, his chin shadowed with stubble. He's going to sit but he doesn't yet. He drums his fingers over the plastic lid of his coffee cup. I meet his warm gaze. He has a real man's smile. It's first class.

I'm supposed to nod, so I do. In my head I'm frantic. I'm packing, trying to prepare.

I tug at my white blouse. The fabric's rough. It's been bleached so much it almost looks yellow. Discoloured. He unbuttons his wool coat as he sits down and I can't help but feel under-dressed.

“Do you come here every day?” he asks.

“Before work,” I say, already breathless. “It's somewhere to go. I'm supposed to have some time out, time to myself.” It's something my therapist used to say.

“You don't really look like you're enjoying it,” he says.

“My coffee's still hot,” I say.

He looks down at the ceramic mug in my hands. My fingers twitch over the handle. My chest goes tight and I draw a breath.. curling my toes. I try not to run.

“What's your name?” he asks.

“Angie.” It's starting, the turbine engine in my ears.

“Short for Angela?” he asks.

“I just go by Angie.”

“Okay,” he says. “Angie.” He pulls his chair closer, shoulders hunched as he leans in.

I want to pull away. I want to put my head between my knees. I want to kick and scream but I don't. All I can do is breathe.

Inhale, exhale. It's a routine.

•••

I always wanted to be a road map, a girl who danced on a table and then let all the men explore. Behind closed doors, opening up, they'd become a piece of land to conquer. Girls like that have the allure of Las Vegas. It's the same thing every time but men always want to go back. What happens there stays there.

I'm more like a guided tour. I give a hint, a glimpse, but then a man tries to push past the blue velvet. He runs his hand up my thigh and I grab his palm with shaking fingers.

All he gets is a chance to snap a photo that looks worse than the one in the travel guide.

•••

Jessa's been rubbing circles over her stomach ever since the test she bought came out positive. Her stomach's flat and normal, but she still comforts the hidden life inside while we sit in her doctor's waiting room. She says she's nervous and I tell her I'm nervous for her, even though I know that's not what friends are supposed to say. There's a stack of magazines on the waiting room table. The one on the top is called Destinations. There's a picture of a French vineyard on the cover.

I think about telling Jessa my big news. She holds my hand, her fingers tight, the only grasp I can trust. She flinches when she's called in.

“I'm so excited,” she says.

“I thought you were nervous,” I say.

Everybody in the waiting room looks up. They look at me and not at Jessa. They look at me like I'm lost. Jessa asks if I want to go with her, but I shake my head and stay in my cold plastic seat. I pick up the travel magazine and flip through the pages. I rub at my stomach, nothing inside but an ache that builds, as I look at all the glossy pictures—all the places I'll never visit.

•••

He calls in the night, his name darkening the picture of the vineyard on my phone:

FRANCIS

“Hey, Angie.”

The beach on my wall is shaking again. Now that Jessa and her husband aren't trying, they're making love. Their moans still sound the same. I pull the covers over my head and shield myself with the darkness and the silence, save for his voice in my ear.

“This a bad time?” he asks.

I shake my head even though he can't see me, the weight of the duvet bearing down on top of me. I clear my throat. “I'm okay,” I say.

“Do most men wait a week before they call you?”

“No,” I say before swallowing. “I don't know.”

He laughs gently. He's not mocking, but I feel mocked.

He asks me how work was. He asks, “What's your favourite kind of bread to make?”

“I don't know.”

“Sure you do,” he says.

I hesitate. “I like cinnamon buns, the kind with the raisins.”

“I should come in and buy one, right?”

“Maybe,” I say.

“How about we get one right now?”

“The bakery's closed,” I say.

“We'll go somewhere else,” he says. “Somewhere open.”

I can hear Jessa's husband, his grunts echoing. I pull the covers tighter around me. I don't ever want to leave.

“You up for that?” he asks.

I'm not, but I have to be.

•••

I walk with heavy steps, the heels of my Mary Janes hitting the pavement, sounding like the headboard against the wall.

Trying, trying, trying.

The sound becomes comforting, hard throbs filling empty streets, echoing skyward. I pull my coat around me to recreate the effect of the duvet, of my bedroom. There are no stars above, just black like the ceiling.

My steps echo louder across the parking lot. The only place open is the grocery store he wanted to meet me at. I sit on the bench outside and wait. It's like waiting for Jessa's doctor to call her in, only without the travel magazines.

He pulls up in his Accord. It's blue like my bedroom walls.

“You haven't been waiting long, have you?” he asks.

I shake my head and he walks up, puts his hand on my back to guide me into the store. The only cinnamon buns come packaged as a pre-sliced doughy rectangle of six in a flimsy plastic container. They aren't pretty like the fresh ones at the bakery. They're slathered thick with icing, but he buys them and we sit outside on the bench, the container between us. He picks out a bun, peels at the coiled dough.

“This is different,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. My shoes click against the pavement as my legs swing back and forth, and I catch him looking down, his gaze tracing over the definition of my calves under white tights.

“I always pick up coffee on the way to work,” he says. “You're always there. I didn't think I'd ever talk to you until you actually looked up. I was going to the other day, but then you stood up and ran off.”

I reach for a cinnamon bun, the icing sticking to my fingers. They're shaking, so I put the bun back down. I clear my throat. “It's the only place I ever go aside from work,” I say, bringing my fingers to my lips. The icing is sweet, reacting to my tongue.

“Do you live alone?” he asks.

“I live with my friend,” I say. “She's married. They own a condo but it's tiny. Sometimes I feel like I'm going insane.” My chest tenses like it always does when I get too close. I don't know why I'm saying everything, but it comes out like I'm still sitting in front of the therapist, a life's worth of burdens needing relief.

“You should get your own place,” he says.

“I had my own apartment before.” I bite my lip but the taste of the icing is gone. “I couldn't really afford it,” I say. My fingers grasp around the edge of the bench.

His gaze drops. He notices.

“You're a careful girl, aren't you?” he asks.

My lips tighten and I glance at the cinnamon bun I can't eat.

“You take your time,” he says.

I take a breath, glancing down at the pavement, at my shoes.

“It's okay,” he says. “I won't push you.”

He puts his hand over mine and I flinch. His hand's warm, his grip soft. I can't help but draw a breath. The way his fingers twitch, I know he wants to go everywhere.

I wonder how long he'll wait.

•••

I dream of my father. I'm six years old but I'm fully grown, and I walk downstairs and find him watching television with the lights off. He's watching his secret movies again. His fist is gripped, pumping over his lap. His movies are always the same but with different girls in different classrooms.

This time a girl in a blue uniform is getting spanked over her desk.

“You're a dirty girl, aren't you?” her teacher asks before unzipping his pants. He slips his hand under her shirt and he gropes her breast.

The girl nods, her pigtails bobbing.

Heat fills my throat. I want to run but my legs don't move. I cry instead, scared and lost in my own home. Dad turns around, his shadow shifting in the dark. He gets out of his chair. He covers my face. His hand is sticky, smelling of salt water.

I wake with the memory of Mom's voice in my ear. She's angry, yelling, “You've ruined her, you know that?”

•••

The nurse puts the wand over Jessa's stomach and I look up at the screen, trying to find her baby, lost somewhere in the static. I'm holding Jessa's hand and I force myself to think it's like holding Francis' hand but it's not. Jessa's palm is soft and she clings tight like she's holding me, guarding me, keeping me safe.

Like always.

But then the nurse tells Jessa that the stormy blur on the screen is a girl and Jessa lets me go. She covers her mouth. Her eyes tear up and she looks at me.

“I've always wanted a girl,” she says.

The screen whirs. I take a breath but the air feels thick. I can hear the ocean.

•••

The overcast sky is easy to look at, low-hanging grey clouds stretched like a bedroom ceiling all the way to work. I order my coffee just like Francis, and the barista gives me the to-go cup with the plastic lid. I carry it to work with me. The heat seeps through the flimsy waxed cardboard, warming my palm.

I walk past a mother holding her daughter's hand. The girl tilts her head to look at me. She makes eye contact. She looks afraid. The mother looks Jessa's age but she looks so much older than me. She smiles and says, “Hello.”

I forget to answer because I'm still looking at the girl, at the fear in her gaze.

The mother pulls the girl past me and the girl turns her head. She stares.

I never identify with mothers.

•••

There are things a girl needs to know. Mom told me those things when I first started talking about the boys in my class. Those boys seemed less interesting the more Mom told me about how they would become men. That was what she always called them. Men.

“It's when his gaze looks different than it did before,” she said. “That's when you have to ask yourself what he really wants.”

Tour guides know everything.

But I don't.

I don't know what to say when Francis surprises me, when he walks into the bakery. He waits in line, his gaze directed at the cinnamon buns behind the counter. I ask him what he wants but he doesn't buy any. He looks up and he asks me when I'm off work.

I want to go home, to lie under my duvet. It's hard to not want that with him standing in front of the counter, the last customer in the store, ten minutes before closing.

“You don't have any plans, do you?” he asks. He stares at me like he knows me.

I shake my head and I take off my apron. I run my shaking fingers down my bleached white shirt. It's dirty, stiff, and gritty.

When I close the store he offers me his arm. I link mine through and he bends his elbow, pulls me against him. He smells like the candle in my bedroom, the welcome gift Jessa and her husband gave when I first moved into their spare bedroom. I never lit it because it smelled so masculine, so foreign. The scent was printed on the side of the box.

Coastal Boardwalk.

•••

He takes me back to the coffee shop. We sit face to face and I feel familiar enough to ask him where he works. He says he works at the post office, sorting mail.”It pays okay,” he says. “It's just not the sort of place you enjoy working. You know the things they say about postal workers? Some of them are true.”

I look at him.

“Everybody eats their lunch in their car.”

“Do you?” I ask.

“Sometimes,” he says, pulling off the end of his cinnamon bun.” Sometimes I go out. Maybe I'll come visit you instead.”

I want to ask him what he likes about me but I can't. All I hear is Mom's uncertain voice telling me what sex was after I asked her about the schoolgirls in Dad's movies.

“It's what grown-ups do,” she said. “They do it when they're in love.”

Francis smiles in front of me. I feel another twitch in my chest. It makes me think of the ocean. I take a sip of coffee but all I taste is salt in my mouth.

•••

Jessa sits on my bed rubbing lotion on her stomach, her massaged slow circles now routine. She doesn't wear makeup anymore, despite always worrying about how she looks. She says she's too tired to really care. She sounds like she knows what she's talking about. She smiles as she pushes gently on the bump the baby's made. It's a small bump, but I can see it.

“It's stiff,” she says. “It feels so weird.”

She takes my hand and places it over her belly. I push down, feeling the hardness. The bump almost looks like an infection, the manifestation of her love for her husband. It's ruining her figure.

She looks at me. The little crow's feet that creep from her eyes look like Mom's.

“Who was that man who dropped you off the other day?”

That word again. Man. It makes him seem so distant.

“His name's Francis,” I say.

“Oh?” she asks, her lips curving. “You met a man named Francis, hey?”

I nod.

“What's he like?” she asks.

“He's nice,” I say. I picture him eating lunch in his car and my chest warms like the sun's touching it. My cheeks flush.

“He's not like the other men?” she asks.

I shake my head. “He likes to talk,” I say.

“What do you talk about?”

Jessa never asks questions, but they come one after the other. I think of when Jessa first met her husband and I nervously asked her for every detail. She knew everything and I didn't, but now I tell her about the first day Francis saw me at the coffee shop and I was too scared to stay. I tell her about the day he approached, how I could have run but I didn't. I tell her about the cinnamon buns. I tell her about the Boardwalk. It's the most I've spoken in weeks.

“I remember buying you that candle,” she says. “I didn't know you still had it. I thought you hated it.”

“I wasn't used to it back then.”

Jessa kisses me on the forehead. “I like seeing you like this,” she says.

•••

I remember finding Dad's stash of movies in the shoebox where his formal shoes should have been. It was like getting lost, a foreign country, just pictures of women in girls' clothing, shirts cut low and skirts hitched up. I showed Mom because I wanted to know why she never dressed like that.

She used to know everything.

Her crow's feet deepened when she opened the box. Her lips pursed. She looked angry and she was supposed to be in love.

It was their seventh anniversary. They were supposed to go out for dinner, but Mom took the box of movies and threw it in Dad's face.

“Where are your goddamn shoes?” she asked.

•••

“My parents divorced when I was ten,” I say, looking down at my shoes, running them over the mat in his car. “I lived with my mom and I saw my dad on weekends.”

“Did it bother you?” he asked.

“I don't know,” I say. “My best friend's parents divorced when she was a kid, but she was younger. She handled it better than I did.”

I think of Jessa on her wedding day. Her dad wasn't there, so I walked her down the aisle. She always said I meant just as much to her as she did to me. But it was her hand pulling me along. The wedding was outdoors and it had rained early in the morning, the smell of dirt piercing the field. I couldn't close my eyes during the prayer. My gaze was pinned on the dirt that stained the train of her dress. I wanted to bend down, to clean it off. I wanted to do something for her.

Francis looks at his watch.

“My break's almost over,” he says.

I look out the windshield, back at the bakery, at my boss, her gentle pink smile flushed as she  arranges the buns behind the glass counter. Francis takes my hand and leans over the space between the seats. He kisses me. His lips are slightly cold but they're soft and sweet, filling me with a warmth that trickles down into my lungs.

I kiss him back, still tasting the icing after he pulls away.

•••

I used to collect old postcards of France, the same monuments, just different angles, different shades of muted colour—the dog-eared matte paper comforting under my fingers. I used to wonder what people did once they got there, if the romance was real, if the feeling flooded their veins.

“When I hear clicking shoes I think of you,” he says, his voice faint over the phone. “I know it's late but I want to see you.”

I'm burning my candle, his scent filling the room.

“I want you to come over,” he says.

He said he wasn't going to push, but I don't remind him. I look at the candle, the red-hot flame, Las Vegas heat in my lungs. I drop the postcards back into the shoebox that once held my Mary Janes. I tell him to pick me up.

I push the shoebox under the bed just as Jessa walks into the room.

“It smells too manly,” she says, leaning back against my bed, pulling herself onto the mattress. She looks at the candle and then at me. I take her feet in my hands and massage the swells.

“How old is he?” she asks.

“He's turning forty,” I say.

Her foot twitches in my hand. “Do you really like him?” she asks.

“I can talk to him,” I say.

“Do you tell him things about yourself?”

“I don't know,” I say. “Small things. I told him about Mom and Dad.”

She looks over at the burning candle. “Have you slept with him?”

I shake my head and she looks at her stomach, smoothing her hand over the bump that's bigger now. She knows how long it's been since the last man took me somewhere.

“What do you want from him?” she asks.

I didn't think it was a question I could answer, and I wish she'd tell me what I'm supposed to want, but she grips at her stomach for a moment, shuts her eyes and moans. I want to ask her if she's okay, but I don't know what I'd do if she wasn't.

I think of when she found me in my old apartment, camped out on soiled blankets in the living room, rotting food on the counters, remnants of the weeks I'd spent without leaving. Back then I didn't want to leave. I didn't want to go anywhere, but Jessa came to me and she touched my cheek, the warmth of her palm like sunlight I hadn't felt in days.

She said, “Ang, you're not okay.”

Her voice echoes in my head and then I hear Francis' car pull up outside. Jessa exhales slowly, pulling her feet from my lap. She winces again, and rubs at her stomach before she leans over and blows out the candle.

•••

He sits beside me on his couch. He's turned to me, looking at me, his gaze like an ocean that goes on forever. I look away. His house is sparse and clean. His kitchen has stainless steel appliances and dark hardwood floors. He has matching leather couches with coordinating cushions. There's a stack of coasters on the coffee table.

I glance at my Mary Janes, kicked off on the floor beside his door.

“Did you ever have boyfriends before?” he asks.

I nod, thinking of the other men, the ones who visited Las Vegas and never wanted to talk about it after.

“I had a boyfriend in high school,” I say. I take a drink from the wine he gave me. It's white wine, but it looks more yellow than white in the glass. It goes down dry. He leans in close, his breath full of expectation. I imagine the sound of my feet running on the boardwalk.

“I was sixteen,” I say. “He said he wanted to be my first.”

Francis runs his fingers over my knee. He's gentle but I can feel the tremors.

“It went how it was supposed to. I was nervous. He took the lead.”

“Did you want him to?” Francis asks.

My grasp tightens around the glass. I never thought much to remember it, the face of the boy who first said manly things to me. “I thought I wanted it,” I say. “I thought I was supposed to but I didn't really know anything back then.”

He leans in. He takes the glass and sets it on the coffee table. No coaster. He slips his hand around my waist and pulls me to him. “I just want to be with you,” he says, his voice in my ear again, only this time I can feel the heat of his breath. “I'm in love with you,” he says.

He's probably telling the truth.

I know what love sounds like, his shaky breath echoing. He kisses my neck but all I can do is gasp and shudder. He climbs on top of me, his weight heavier than all my blankets and my duvet piled on. His lips cover mine and I picture a beach in an earthquake.

I'm trying. I'm trying.

His touch slips over me. I grip at the cushions on his couch, my grasp getting tighter. I shut my eyes when he undoes the buttons of my blouse. His fingers are cold, the sensation of a wave hitting my chest.

“I don't know anything,” I say, the tremors filling my throat, taking over. “I don't know why I came here.”

I'm trying. I'm trying. 

“Angie.” His voice is a soft tremor inside of me. He repeats my name. He asks, “Angie, are you okay?”

Everything feels vast and endless. I clench my toes. My feet are so cold.

He pulls away. He says he's sorry. He says it over and over.

Above me, his ceiling looks like expanding grey sky.

•••

I dream that Francis and I try out beds in an endless maze of hotel rooms. He takes my hand and pulls me onto each waiting ensemble. He submerges me under feather pillows and soft covers, but I sink and flail, unable to breathe beneath all the white.

In the morning I wake in my own room, the shame like jet lag as I roll out from under the uneven weight of my duvet.

I put on my work clothes, the blue skirt and bleached shirt, my white tights and Mary Janes. My hair's tied back and I stare at the flickering reflection, feeling like I used to feel when Dad would pick me up from school on Friday afternoons.

In my uniform, I never felt right.

I still don't.

•••

The ache in my stomach builds, forcing me to leave work early. Jessa doesn't hear me when I kick my shoes off. She's behind her bedroom door with her husband. At first it sounds like they're making love, but then I hear her groan.

“Honey, I can't talk about this. My feet are aching today.”

“You have to deal with her eventually,” her husband says.

“The baby can stay in our room until she's ready,” Jessa says.

“Ready for what?” her husband asks.

“To live on her own.”

“Are you serious?” he asks. “She can barely make it to work without falling apart.”

“You don't know her like I do,” Jessa says, her voice sounding like Mom's. “She goes out all the time.”

“To where?” her husband asks.

•••

The streets are turbulent, my heels clacking on the wet sidewalk. The sky is an infinite span of darkening clouds, stretching over the post office and off to the horizon. I stand in the employee parking lot and wait for him at the side entrance where his co-workers pass in and out, looking just as sad as he once did.

He walks out, keys jangling.

“Angie,” he says.

His gaze is on me. It tames the heat of anxiety inside of me. He approaches and I reach up, fingers sliding over his shoulders and around his neck. His coat is long, the buttons undone. The thick wool warms my shoulders when he wraps his arms around me.

“We should go somewhere,” he says.

“Your place,” I say.

He asks if I'm sure and I nod against his chest, breathing in deep, the scent of the boardwalk.

•••

I'm on his couch again, my legs curled underneath me. He sits beside me while I glance outside the living room window at the falling rain.

“What are you so scared of?” he asks.

“I feel like you barely know me at all,” I say.

“There's plenty I can see on the surface,” he says. It sounds like an insult but it's not. He touches my face, brushes his fingers over my cheek.

I look up at him. I share his gaze. His eyes are blue, like his car.

He's the guide.

“I asked you to spend time with me and you came,” he says. “What made you want to?”

I think of my shoes clicking against the sidewalk. I think of my aching calves, of the sky seeming a little less vast when there was somewhere else to go.

“It used to be impossible to go out,” I say.

I tell him everything. I tell him about my parents. I tell him about my apartment. I tell him about Jessa, my only girlhood friend who's fading away. He listens. It gets late. He gets me blankets from his linen closet and I fall asleep on the couch. In the morning he's there. We go out for coffee before he drops me off at work.

My clothes are wrinkled, but they feel comfortable, lived-in.

•••

Jessa calls me into her bedroom when I get home from work. She's on her bed, circling her stomach with an unsteady palm. She's having contractions—four in under an hour. It's too early. Three months early, she says.

Her hands shake when she grips my wrist.

I think of the baby, not yet contained to the walls of her womb, yet forced to meet the world.

“It's not supposed to be like this,” Jessa says. Her voice cracks.

“You'll be fine,” I say. She looks at me, her gaze filled with static and worry like when she found me trapped in my apartment and she cupped my cheek and she took me away.

I touch her stomach, my fingers shaking.

“She'll be fine,” I say, trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about.

She doesn't look like she believes me.

•••

She's a tiny thing, breathing ventilated air, barely moving in the incubator. Looking at her, it's like looking at a picture of a place I've been to.

Jessa's asleep in the sterile room. Her husband's at her side, clutching a pale hand, clutching it tight.

I buy Jessa flowers. They're white lilies and I write on the card, STAY STRONG in big capital letters that look like the text on my phone when Francis calls, his name appearing over Atlantic City.

I tell him I need to see him. He offers to pick me up but I tell him I want to walk.

“From the hospital?” he asks. “Are you sure?”

He's far away. Blocks uphill, my heels clicking the whole way.

•••

His bedroom walls are white like a hotel bedroom. His sheets are blue and grey, tucked neatly under the mattress. Sitting beside him, I shed all my weight against his shoulder. I drape my arms around his neck, my grasp tightening, clinging.

“I didn't know what to say. I never know what to say.”

“She knows you care.” He's talking about Jessa but I'm picturing the baby, swaddled in blankets and incubated warmth.

Trying, trying, trying.

“I meant it the other night,” he says, his fingers flinching, tracing up my arm. “I'm scared for you sometimes.”

I look at him.

“I didn't want you to walk all the way here,” he says, “but I let you.”

I lean in and kiss him. I try to fall back on the bed but he holds me up. He grips my thigh, his hands shaking, the tremors starting. I don't stop him. He guides his palm under my blue skirt. He gathers the fabric in his grasp, pushing it up before he pulls at my tights, his hands cold on my bare thighs, slipping between.

“Are you okay?”

His breath caresses my neck, flushes my skin. I kiss him back, feeling all the heat, all the warmth—its sweetness on my tongue. My grasp slips up his arms, clinging tight against his muscles, his comfort. I pull at his shirt, at his clothes, exposing warmth and desire, things I've wanted all long. He slides his fingers under my panties, eases his reach inside of me, the tremors filling me. My grasp slips over his shoulders. My fingers curl gently through his hair. He pulls me over him, pulls my legs around him.

I breathe in deep, taking in the scent of Atlantic City's boardwalk, the ocean in my lungs. I gasp and I moan. I ride the waves until I'm shaking.

•••

My phone vibrates on the nightstand.

There's a message from Jessa:

She made it through the night.

There's a new sight, my clothes on the floor, discarded. Francis lies beside me. His sheets are wrinkled but they're soft on my skin, his warmth reaching my side of the bed. I run a hand up his back. He stirs and opens his eyes. He touches my hand and I show him the message.

“I have to see her,” I say.

He clings for a moment, but then releases his grasp. “Are you going to walk?” he asks.

I nod. I kiss him.

“Be careful,” he says.

I step out of the bed and place bare feet on the floor. The wooden planks are laid out like a boardwalk, stretching outside, leading beyond.


Rebecca Jones-Howe lives and writes in Kamloops, British Columbia. Her work has appeared in PANK, Pulp Modern and Punchnel’s among others. Her first collection of short fiction, Vile Men, was released in 2015 from Dark House Press.

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Comments

At the end of this story, I'm curious what emotions you are feeling? This story always pushes buttons with me, and I respond in a number of ways.