She wanted to go back there. To that warm house on the main road. Where there had been a party. The only party that didn’t feel like one. Where she had seen many faces she didn’t know. And all around her, people seemed to be showing themselves to each other.
“She’s beautiful,” I said, “looks like the star of a silent film. But everything else, I don’t know where it comes from.” It was January second, the sky was gray in Indiana. Everything looked quiet from inside the car. Matthew was driving me to his parents house in his slim, black two-seater. From the outside it looked like a bullet, except the front fender was completely dented and at every uphill the metal would scrape the street. The salt and pepper shakers tucked into the door clinked and danced at wide turns. “She’s been plucked,” he said, “plucked from another time.” I tried to remember her, as she was, when we first met. But the memory was disjointed and muted. A dancer with strong pale legs, her dark hair always tied back with a scarf.
I could feel her teeth grinding through her skull. The sound bled onto me, onto my head. I can hear you. “I know,” she said, “I do it a lot.” We were touching, seated in the back row of the van. I had my arm around her. There had been no hesitation from either of us. We had been drinking but I didn’t know how else to react when she announced that she was cold. So I brought her close and she leaned into me with force. I had to brace my other arm on the seat in front of me, where Jack and Matthew were sitting. Up until that point I didn’t think there would be room for us to be like this. I hadn’t pictured anything between us. But it felt natural, almost necessary. And at every bump her head dug deeper into mine. I told her that my mom had to wear a mouthguard at night so that she wouldn’t wear down her teeth, from all the grinding. I could hear her breathing and when she spoke I felt the air pushing up out of her chest and neck. I was just getting to know her and somehow we ended up glued like this.
That night I slept terribly. My room was very cold and I was too tired to sort through the blankets. I was anxious about not being able to sleep, if I went to pee in the middle of the night would I wake everyone up, how can I get warm, why didn’t I ask her to sleep next to me. The tension in my throat from a night of chain smoking didn’t help. I hoped to wake up without a voice. After four hours of rest I decided to get up. Even though everyone else was sleeping, I just wanted to see for myself. Maybe the bliss rolling off their swollen faces would reach me and I would sink into a deep sleep.
Margaret was trying on her clothes. And I was just observing. It seemed like a frequent episode for them, even though it wore out Kelsey. Do you see how all of my clothes fit her? Yes, Kelsey, but you have small boobies and I have big ones. I felt like I was twelve again at another sleepover, projecting curiosities about my changing body onto friends. The sensation was oddly comforting. It had been a long time since I experienced anything pseudo-sexual between female friends. That blurred line had hardened over the years but perhaps it was wavering again. And here were Kelsey and Margaret, stuck in a loop of aging friendship. I exclaimed that I was tired, and Kelsey offered me some space in her bed.
We both kept our eyes on Margaret who walked from the mirror to the bed and then back to the rack. Sometimes she asked us how she looked or if one dress would be acceptable to wear or not. “Another summer day in Indiana,” I said, with a smile on my face. Kelsey kept quiet. And after a while, Margaret noticed and came up on the bed with us. She sat right on top of her, staring. Look, she’s really sick. Water and then bed. “Thank you Margaret,” I said. She turned the lights off and left. I shifted a bit to look at Kelsey. My arm was around her again, resting over her stomach. But even in the dark I was too timid. The foolish thing would be to remain in bed with her, leaving her to believe something might happen, not allowing her to get rest. When Margaret was back we drank the water and returned to our timid cuddle without speaking.
As soon as I heard her breathing get deeper and the first feminine snores, I quietly left the bed. I reappeared in my white slip like nothing had happened. Before I had been too self-conscious to engage with the crowd wearing something like that. And now that couldn’t matter less. I had to accept my choice among the lingering guests. Tomorrow is my last day and she will still be sick and I will still be shy. That moment in her room, with her best friend watching, that was as close as it would get.