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let me love you wrong

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this is not really happening

you bet your life it is

you bet your life it is

oh honey, you bet your life

— cornflake girl, tori amos


The knife’s blade, freshly sharpened on tree bark, slices through the animal flesh like it was only made to do this one thing. Like the art teacher’s paper cutter at school, like a lowly butter knife through plush white bread. Doesn’t matter what kind of animal flesh it is. Rabbit. Squirrel. Deer. Bear. It’s all the same at the end of the day, just earth-colored fur and blood itching to stain and oodles of guts to nudge aside, to get to the goods. Bones can melt into broth that almost tastes like salt. A chunk of liver, scorched ashy black on one side from too long over the campfire, is to die for. A few months ago, the eyeballs wouldn’t have seemed palatable, but now...

Shauna’s fingers are skilled at this, this undressing of nature’s sparse offerings— nimble, even, like her grandmother’s veiny hands were with those chunky knitting needles. She sits near the restless fire and works quietly through skinning and deboning. She no longer thinks of it like picking at a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store; that thought serves no comfort for her now. Comparison to before only hollows out another pit in her. Grocery stores are a relic from some other life she led, some other Shauna who drove a car and listened to music and fucked her best friend’s boyfriend when she told herself the rest of the world wasn’t looking. Such strange, far-off, foreign things now. Her parents, her school, her town, Liz Phair. Maybe they never really existed at all.

She had considered painting her nails real quick before the trip, or asking Jackie to paint them for her, since Jackie’s hands were always less shaky when she touched her. She almost remembers the sting of cosmetic chemicals in the back of her throat, the giant bag that Jackie would drag out from under her bed, full of nail polish bottles clicking and clacking against each other, captured pieces of artificial rainbow at mercy for them to sift through. Something dark blue, maybe, to match her dress for the formal banquet thing they were meant to attend in Seattle. Blue, or yellow, or even scarlet, a small acknowledgement of Brown just for herself, that she could let Jackie think was a nod to Rutgers. 

Vaguely, she wonders how much of the polish would’ve chipped away by now. But she ran out of time, so she didn’t paint them, and instead her hands are naked, months’ worth of blood and dirt caked underneath her fingernails that no amount of lake water scrubbing can seem to get rid of. They all pass around a set of nail clippers that only one of them had thought to pack, but it’s a fragment of civilization that does little good long after everyone’s travel-size bottles of shampoo and zit cream ran out. With time, anything can run out.

Shauna also wonders what civilization thinks of them now. Not as much as she used to, though. Have the Yellowjackets’ fifteen minutes of fame gone by yet? Have the news stations shifted to a different set of mugshots and car crash photos to broadcast on people’s screens? Has their shitty little Jersey suburb coughed and sniffled a bit, then cleared its throat and moved on without the Wiskayok High girls soccer team? Have they been passed like a fucking bowel movement by now? Oh well, people must be saying. Almost sarcastic in their indifference. It’s such a shame. Such a bright group of young women. Had so much going for them. Just like a faded Dateline case, like the radio in an old car crackling out, or even like that poor girl from Petaluma whose murder all over the news a few years ago kept Shauna up at night. How it haunted people then, but who talks about her now? Bad things happen all the time.

The fucking Jackie’s boyfriend thing, that’s what keeps Shauna up at night now. It’s not humanity’s nail clippers or red chucks that keep her connected to the life she lived before— it’s this. This is the one issue that still makes itself matter in the wake of a catastrophic plane crash, rearing its ugly head through the splintered trees and split earth and twisted wreckage, smiling up from the crater they carved into southern Canada. The wilderness will eat just about anything, but it won’t absorb the existence in Shauna’s belly, nor will it swallow the searing guilt. Out here, the universe seems to lap it up instead, her guilt, pulling it out from deep within her like a magician unraveling colorful ribbons from her throat. Disemboweling all those suppressed feelings under open tree-dappled sky, or beneath a cobweb-crusted roof. 

Jeff’s hands on her, her hands on Jeff, it felt wrong, as she knew it should. Deliciously wrong, for brief glimmers, but disgusting too, enough for nausea and shame to clog her arteries and make her chest clench. Some other girls would have pounced on the opportunity, to ride a cute boy in his car late after a party, alcohol blazing new trails through her veins. And not just a cute boy, but Jackie Taylor’s boyfriend— what an achievement! To sleep with pretty, popular soccer team captain Jackie Taylor’s boyfriend, who never bothered to go all the way with her the way he had with Shauna, who pushed particular feelings deeper and deeper inside of her with each roll of his hips. The one boy in the entire school who should have been considered untouchable to her.

Shauna sets aside her finished task; someone will cook it soon. She glances up. The others mill about the camp, doing what needs to be done or doing whatever happens after that’s finished. Nobody watches her when she prepares the meat anymore. They’re all used to their duties, immune to Shauna’s immunity to the gore in the same way Nat and Travis barely flinch when they fire the rifle mere centimeters from a poised eye. 

Scratch that— Misty is looking at her, perched on the cabin’s step, toying with something in her nubby talons. But Misty stares at everyone with those magnified eyes, like the glasses she keeps pushing up the bridge of her nose offer a window into souls. Lucky the fucking thing didn’t snap in half when they came down, the same as Allie’s leg did at that last scrimmage.

But, no, staring into souls is more Lottie’s thing. That’s her hobby, her thing to do after the day’s duties are done— like how Mari and Akilah’s hobby is to whisper amongst themselves, and Javi’s is to whittle things out of discarded antlers, and Laura Lee’s is— was— to read. One of these days somebody should bundle together a bunch of moss and twine and mud so they can kick it around and Shauna can pretend she likes soccer again, just for a little while.

She cracks her knuckles and flexes her bloody hands, already dry and painted in stinking, body-borne musk. A different kind of scarlet. Then she starts to push to her feet from the damp log, only for a bucket full of sloshing water to drop heavily on the leaf litter next to her. Some of the girls would say Jackie’s hobby is to complain. Complain, and retrieve water when someone snaps at her to do it.

“Hey, come with me,” Jackie says. Her presence hits Shauna first by way of faint body heat, that unmistakable sensation when someone else is nearby, offering a shield that feels protective no matter how thin it is. Then Jackie’s voice is there too, just above Shauna, equally thin and somewhat wobbly as it beckons to her. Then, finally, a hand is thrusted into Shauna’s periphery, fingers outstretched with a touch of impatience. 

It used to be, before all this happened, that Jackie’s scent would be the first factor to announce her presence. When she had sweet body wash to rub into her skin, when she had fruity perfume from a bust-shaped bottle to dab behind her ears, or neon-colored body mist to spritz in a fine cloud in her corner of the locker room, covering up the sweat and stink. There’s none of that now. Yet Shauna still likes how she smells— more real.

Shauna is fucking Jackie’s boyfriend. Was fucking him. Yet Jackie still reaches out to her and helps her up from the ground.

She has to know. Does she know?

“Come on,” Jackie whispers, squeezing Shauna’s hand. She doesn’t appear to mind the filth coating Shauna’s palms; maybe it’s because these are Shauna’s hands and not anyone else’s. The same hands that passed her a tampon under the bathroom stall, and stole sidewalk chalk during summers spent splayed on Jackie’s front lawn, turning the driveway into an art project. Warm, lightweight fingers close around her wrist, and Shauna thinks of Jackie pulling her down the candy aisle at Kmart, of Jackie dragging her into the theater to see Clueless, popcorn spilling around their feet, buttered confetti. 

She thinks of the volcanic fight they got into afterward, tears in the parking lot. Hurling threats lighter than dust. Who knows what it was about. Maybe it was over who got control of the car radio. Whatever the result, they went back home and they danced in Jackie’s bedroom to music Jackie likes.

Either way, they ended up here.

Shauna finds those big green eyes, and then without another word she’s following Jackie through the trees. Following behind them is her final brain cell, her last crumbs of common sense and humility and fear all balled up into this unstable thing that won’t stop muttering this endless hellish pattern of I’ll tell her tomorrows. 

She ought to burn that journal. Someone other than herself ought to tell her she’s being an idiot.

When they reach the lake, Jackie shrugs off her varsity jacket, exposing tanned skin that shouldn’t make Shauna’s heart stumble the way it does. She’s wearing jean shorts and the butterfly tee today. Its sheer white fabric is marked by streaks of sweat and dirt from whoever wore it last, left behind thanks to someone’s shoddy laundry job using nature’s spit and a sliver of soap or deodorant.

Shauna lingers at the pebbly shoreline, watches as Jackie wiggles her toes and wades slowly into the water. Since the small plane’s explosion, they all try not to think about what debris may be floating around in it.

“So, um, what did you need me for?” Shauna asks. If this was anyone but Jackie, she would have half a mind to wonder if she’s been taken out here to be drowned or strangled or smothered for what she’s done.

“To hang out with you. Duh.” Jackie flicks a pink hair elastic off her wrist and sweeps her hair into a hasty ponytail. It’s an action Shauna has seen her do a million times before, so familiar to her that she can hardly associate it with one of their realities over the other.

Shauna rubs her arm. “Oh.”

“I mean, you’re my best friend, Shipman,” Jackie says. Her tone is the embodiment of the word duh, so much that Shauna expects her to say it again. Then Jackie adds, “Or you’re supposed to be, I guess.” The last couple words are mumbled, but they carry easily on the breeze to deliver a punch right to Shauna’s gut. If Jackie’s painfully decipherable body language wasn’t tense enough already, this would snag Shauna’s attention for sure. Secrets never thrived between them before, but out here they really fester. How long can Shauna maintain the unlikely narrative that it’s Randy Walsh’s baby? When will she fucking fess up?

I’ll tell her tomorrow.

After I get another good night’s sleep.

When it rains next.

Once Nat and Travis bring back another healthy deer. I’ll tell her then. 

Jackie huffs out a sigh that punctures the stagnant air surrounding them. “Please, Shauna, can you just— can you get in with me? Just for a minute.” She blinks at her once, twice. A plea transmitted through eye contact that’s had years to intensify— ever since they were two attention-starved only children who connected in their elementary class, who promised each other a close, easy sisterhood with everything but a blood oath. Ever since Jackie let Shauna hug her on the playground a week after they met, just so she could stifle her sobs and hide red-rimmed eyes from their classmates while she, at six years old, blamed herself for her parents’ impending divorce.

Shauna forces a nod and strips off her layer of unbuttoned flannel— an unusual commodity for someone to pack for May in New Jersey, though not for rainy Seattle, apparently. It would’ve been Shauna’s first time there. She’s only ever traveled to North Jersey, South Jersey if she’s lucky, and a couple surrounding states. And now, technically, she can check a whole new country off her list, if they are where Coach Ben tentatively estimated they are. Hard to believe they’re actually in any sort of country with borders and laws, though, when it’s so remote.

Shauna lays the flannel on a flat rock close to where Jackie left her things. She couldn’t say if this shirt started out as her own or not. All she knows is it couldn’t have been Jackie’s. But if it wasn’t Shauna’s, it’s cool that her teammate was willing to share her clothes, since all of them are now. They all rifle through everyone’s beat-up, unpacked suitcases and duffel bags like it’s their own messy closets at home.

Home. Shauna struggles to recall the definition of that.

With the flannel and her shoes gone, she wades in after her. She keeps her t-shirt and shorts on, since Jackie still has hers. It’s fairly warm today, maybe sixty-five degrees. They’re probably somewhere in early or mid-September, so the water has an icy bite to it that wasn’t there a month ago. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, classes are starting at Rutgers.

“Feels good,” Jackie hums. She’s in up to her waist almost, dragging her fingers lightly over the murky surface, drawing fleeting paths like jet trails in the sky. In certain places where the late afternoon sun hits just right, the water turns to glass, and the ends of Jackie’s hair turn to fire, a brassy golden auburn to match the ruddiness of her nose. In this poor lighting, she could almost have a healthy complexion. The lack of brightness fails to highlight the true pallor that lurks beneath her natural tan. 

Shauna has envied Jackie’s complexion, the way she develops a nice even brown like a bitten apple exposed to air. She envied it often until one night some time ago, when they lay under a cluster of glow-in-the-dark stars scattered across Shauna’s bedroom ceiling, beneath another, farther canopy of real stars. Jackie didn’t want to count the fake stars, though. She wanted to count Shauna’s freckles instead, starting over each time she lost count like she was counting sheep, poking quick, playful fingers into her cheeks until they both drifted off.

“Yeah, it does,” Shauna breathes. She stands until she’s numb to the chill licking at her knees, then ventures in deeper. Slick pebbles roll under her feet.

Jackie clears her throat, crosses her arms. She pushes one leg through the water, a slow-motion kick if they were on dry land, and Shauna’s eyes track the movement of muscle in her thigh. “Tai and Van are cute,” Jackie eventually says. It’s an offering, a tidbit of gossip they could’ve giggled about before, while sliding on their jerseys and checking braids and ponytails for stray loops of hair in the locker room mirror.

Shauna looks at her. This extension of normalcy tastes bitter, its texture like the sludge that came out of the cabin guy’s spoiled cans of beans. Even without this aching awkwardness between them, Shauna thinks, it would still be weird. Jackie is frozen in time, stuck back in a society that embraced her as much as it prodded her sore spots. 

But Shauna wants, needs, her best friend to adapt. Anyone who doesn’t grow a pair and let their nails and hair grow ragged— she won’t last. She collects these tiny signs of Jackie adjusting— wearing a less-than-spotless shirt (no stain remover out here), willingly swimming in chilly water (no heated pools out here)— and hoards them desperately. Because she is— was?— team captain for a reason. If Jackie, the one who’s fluent in encouragement and Let’s go, Yellowjackets!, has lost her way, how fucked are they? Even if her pep talks only mattered in their old life, can’t they count for something out here?

Jackie stares back, then looks away and decides to take Shauna’s silence for surprise. “They’re so fucking obvious, I figured everyone knew.” The water murmurs as she moves, gulping the lower half of her body into oblivion. A neat line of dampness darkens the hem of her shirt. “It’s sweet that Tai’s into her even with the... y’know.” Jackie gestures in front of her face. “Not that she shouldn’t be. All I’m saying is— I mean, can you imagine how pure a love that is, to like somebody that much? Love them that hard? Someone who’s zits you’ll pop, who you’d kiss even when they have the flu.” She gazes toward the treeline and works her jaw, and Shauna can tell she’s disguising a wobbly lower lip. “I’d kill to have something like that,” Jackie whispers. What does she mean? That it’s brave to be so determined to love someone so scarred? To commit to something that can never fully heal?

Shauna knows what her response could be. Should be, if they were somewhere else. What about Jeff? She doesn’t ask, because she also knows Jeff’s viewpoint on the matter: She’s gonna dump me the second we leave for college. I’m just the high school boyfriend. It won’t last. 

But she doesn’t really want to think about Jeff right now.

“Yeah, that would be nice,” Shauna replies. She wants to find Jackie’s eyes again, if only for a second. She wants to force herself to do it, to ignore the icy hot flame that sparks in her stomach and rockets up her throat whenever Jackie looks back at her with her head tilted a certain way and her brow set at that perfect slant. But Shauna doesn’t look at her. She peers down at the water instead, disturbing its dark gloss with unfeeling fingertips.

Sensing Shauna won’t be any more receptive to this subject, Jackie changes gears again. “I wanna show you something,” she says. “Give me your hand.”

Shauna does. She closes the distance between them with a few long, floating strides and holds out her left hand. Before she takes it, Jackie aims a playful splash at her, stifling a snort at Shauna’s soft hiss of “Damn it, Jackie!” The cold water hits the bare skin on her arm like a series of needle pricks, raising goosebumps, and suddenly it’s the summer before last, and Jackie’s splashing her in the neighborhood pool, hands shattering the rippling cerulean surface, sporting a striped bikini that Shauna tries not to overanalyze while “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blasts from a speaker by the snack bar.

Unexpectedly, Jackie bends and reaches for something underwater. Tense, Shauna stands idly and observes as she dips the front of her body into the murk. Still wincing while she does it, because it’s still Jackie. She tugs something free and straightens again with a handful of moss in her grasp. “Hand,” she says again, even though Shauna is still holding it out for her. 

She slips her own hand under Shauna’s, palm up, and begins to massage the wet moss over the sticky, bloody skin, meticulously wiping between Shauna’s knuckles until they’re clean as clean can be out here. Mixed with the lake, the blood becomes slime. Then she turns over her hand and works the moss into the grime-filled wrinkles striped across Shauna’s palm, rubbing in tight, circular ministrations, as firm as she is gentle. All is quiet, the only sound coming from the occasional drip of water meeting water as the moss gradually wrings out.

When Jackie seems to be finished, Shauna gives a murmur of thanks. Only she isn’t done— rather than switch to the other hand, Jackie sets to work on scrubbing out her fingernails too. Shauna starts to protest. “You don’t have to—”

Jackie shushes her. “Kinda like a washcloth,” she points out, “if you close your eyes and pretend.”

Shauna relaxes. This is good. Jackie is cleaning her fingernails with moss. This is good. She’s adapting. Jackie, who treated the dead batteries in her Walkman like the end of the world, is using nature’s sponge. She’s trying. 

A few minutes pass. Jackie eventually moves to Shauna’s right hand, using the same near-painful scraping technique to clean out the gunk under her nails. If Shauna looks the other way, this could even be a manicure, like from that place Jackie liked in the crusty little strip mall off Cleveland Boulevard. Cleveland. Or was it Carter?

“Could you...” The moss stills for a moment. “Could you sleep downstairs tonight?” Clear eyes flit upward and catch on Shauna’s, locking the two in a staring contest all too familiar and all too foreign. Shauna takes a breath, but before she can respond Jackie rambles on, “I’m sure you and Tai have, like, a ton of fun up in the creepy attic, braiding each other’s hair or whatever. But... I need you, Shauna.”

Shauna considers. 

Never one to wait long for an answer, Jackie’s brow settles heavy over her stare. “Or does Tai need you more than I do?”

“No, it’s not that, I—”

“We could kick her out, make it our domain for the night. Practice for when we’re gonna be roommates, when we get out of here.” Jackie gives an energetic little bounce in her knees, holding both of Shauna’s hands now and fuck, it saws into Shauna’s core with a blunt knife. Jackie’s eyes dart down to Shauna’s stomach for a flicker of a moment, and her smile falters, until it returns again in full force like nothing is amiss and they’ll be driving on down to New Brunswick tomorrow. “Just for one night,” Jackie insists, pulling on her hands. “Please?”

Shauna thinks of when she argued with Tai at the party, about Allie. How Tai used to sneer at Jackie’s harmless cheerleading before games, and mutter under her breath as she turned her shoulder after the group handshake, “Whatever you say, Jacqueline.” Then Shauna thinks of when Tai found her out among the trees, on her back with underwire between her legs.

“I can... sleep downstairs,” Shauna says haltingly.

Half a frown twists a corner of Jackie’s mouth, cutting into her cheek. She drops her hands. “Wow, don’t act too excited.” Then she steps back, her expression darkening further. “What do you guys talk about up there?”

Shauna drags her hands back and forth through the water. It’s edging on too cold for comfort at this point. “It’s...” She shakes her head. “It’s really dumb.”

“Is it?”

Shauna bites the inside of her lip, hard. She sort of wishes it would just give way under her teeth, burst like a berry. Instinct stops her. “I have these... dreams.” She looks at the sky, then back at Jackie. “Where I— I give birth, but it isn’t... it’s not... human.”

Jackie is quiet for a second. “And you tell Tai about these dreams?”

“That isn’t the point, it’s just that she’s there when I wake up and—”

“You tell her and not me?” Jackie asks, staring ahead and speaking like Shauna didn’t just try to explain. “After you kept the whole not-actually-a-virgin, actually-pregnant thing from me?”

Shauna closes her eyes and draws in a shuddering breath. “It’s just that she’s there, Jackie, when I wake up. Who else am I supposed to talk to?”

“Me!” Jackie snaps. If there was a speck of wildlife nearby, her voice would definitely have cleared a flock of birds from nearby trees. When she speaks again, however, that same voice has splintered into pieces. “Why won’t you just talk to me?” 

Because of what I’ve done.

Because of what I won’t do. 

“I’ll sleep downstairs with you, okay?” Against her better judgment, Shauna taps the underside of Jackie’s chin and tilts her head back, treating her with a soft look. “We should go,” she suggests. “It's freezing in here now.”

Despite that, there they stay in the lapping, lukewarm lake, somehow clinging to each other though both of Jackie’s arms lay limp at her sides. Only Shauna dares to touch, dares to slip one hand down to the base of Jackie’s throat, to play with the gold heart charm, tracing its shape between thumb and forefinger.

“Do you want it back?” Jackie asks. “For protection?”

“No, it’s fine,” Shauna replies. No, she says elsewhere. I think you’ll need it more than me. 

Hand in hand, they make their way back to the shore, shove wet feet into socks and shoes, drape outer layers over their shoulders. The warmth from Jackie’s damp skin is injected into Shauna’s fingertips, as permanent as tattoo ink. There’s a familiar pinch of hunger. A sense of incomplete emptiness in her stomach.

I’ll tell her tomorrow. 

It’s colder than it was the night before.

Shauna peers through the attic window, the one Lottie didn’t break, her quick breaths clouding glass already fogged up by age. The glow from Jackie’s fire down below is an angry orange, small but mighty with its flaming fists, glaring up at Shauna at her safe roost inside the cabin. 

Their fight bubbles in her gut like vomit, heartburn climbing her windpipe and lighting a match to each one of her organs on the way up. She’d told Jackie she peaked in high school, like there’s anything coming for them after high school now. They’re trapped in this in-between era for however long a lifetime lasts. They were supposed to grow up, mature, develop a brain. They all were. Who the fuck is born not supposed to grow up? Shauna rubs near her navel, pushing up her shirt. The wilderness has taken their youth, sucked it away like maggoty marrow out of brittle bones. And all that manmade power handed to Jackie in the old world— queen bee, team captain, prom queen— has soured like milk in the sun. This isn’t a kingdom. The only affordable identity here is wanting to survive.

“You should go talk to her,” Tai says. Shauna doesn’t look at her. She’s just a shape in the edge of her vision, bundled in blankets with a pillow that belches dust each time a head lays on it. 

Shauna considers. She blinks at her own so-called bed, at its makeshift permanence on the creaky attic floorboards, a few feet away from one of those sketchy markings. When she had indulged Jackie several nights ago and slept downstairs again, it had been warmer and safer and somehow quieter, surrounded by the others. But Shauna hadn’t liked it much.

She peels herself away, creeps down the stairs, and goes outside.

Jackie is shivering violently when Shauna parks herself on a boulder nearby, the rock’s tapered edge partially digging into her ass. She can’t determine if Jackie is shaking from the cold or from anger or from some combination of both. She also can’t determine whether or not she wants to find out. 

“Here.” Shauna holds out the extra quilt she’d brought with her. It smells and feels damp even though it isn’t, perfumed with body odor and something like damp earth and just-passed rain. Jackie ignores her and scowls at the fire. “Take it,” Shauna presses. When she doesn’t, she slides over onto the log and throws the blanket over Jackie’s back herself.

“No, I don’t want it,” Jackie growls while she’s doing it, and when it’s on, she swats it off with a trembling hand. “I said I don’t fucking want it!”

“Then come back inside,” Shauna says, matching her razor-edged tone. “I’m sorry, okay? This is stupid. Just come back in where it’s safe and warm—”

“Safe?” Jackie laughs. “Is it safe in there, in the hive? Really? When you’ve turned everyone against me? Even Coach Ben didn’t give half a shit when you kicked me out.”

“You walked out.” Shauna fidgets with her fingers, bending them back so far she hopes they break. “And you tried to kick me out first.”

“And who deserves it more, huh?” Jackie still won’t even blink or sniff in her direction. “Y- you...” She mashes her elbows into her knees, hangs her head between her forearms, rocks back and forth a little. “Why?” she whispers. “Why would you do that?”

Why would I get with Jeff? Shauna rephrases the question in her head, restructuring it into something harsher, truer. I don’t know. Why did I do it? 

“And don’t give me shit about reading your diary. How can you blame me? It’s not like they’re sending monthly issues of Cosmo out here. Only other reading material we’ve got is Laura Lee’s suicide mission manual and Mari’s copy of Montana Sky.” Jackie swipes a thumb over a scab on her knee, then continues, “And if normal rules don’t apply, the way all you guys act like they don’t, then the rule about not reading people’s diaries doesn’t matter anymore, right?” She tugs the extra blanket around herself, to Shauna’s relief. “And maybe the Jeff thing wouldn’t matter out here either, but, well, you’re kinda having his fucking baby, so.”

“I tried to get rid of it,” Shauna blurts out. She’s staring at the weak fire, but when she feels Jackie turn to look at her under her blanket cocoon, she looks back. Orange shadows overlap on Jackie’s face, dancing on her forehead and cheeks like warpaint come to life. Remnants of Doomcoming makeup are smudged by her glossy eyes, glitter flickering on heavy eyelids. Last night had been her final attempt at some sort of distorted normalcy. It failed. Jackie’s brand of normalcy doesn’t cooperate with life out here. Her crown, woven from flower stems and twigs instead of jewels and gold, has been dislodged.


“I- I tried to... abort it,” Shauna says carefully, picking her words like stepping stones over lava. “When I found out. I went out by myself and... Tai found me.”

“Jesus.” Jackie speaks through chattering teeth, her breath a cloud of cigarette smoke unfurling in small puffs from her nose. She looks at the fire, then back at Shauna— at her thin pajamas that were only packed to be worn in a hotel room, surrounded by giggles and vending machine snacks and MTV. Shauna hears the resignation in Jackie’s voice when she mutters “Come here” and holds out an arm, accepting her into her cocoon. 

They sit for a while. The temperature continues to drop. Frost weighs down the air. And the sizzling fuck you spoken a few hours earlier still remains between them, offering a type of warmth different from the blankets and the fire and the meager body heat. Shauna has noticed Jackie’s recent refusal to eat, as hope has ebbed, and it’s undoubtedly making the cold harder on her. What Shauna has tried not to notice is how she herself has given up on trying to make Jackie choke down something, anything, even a damn acorn.

“Y’know, maybe I’m not innocent,” Jackie pipes up, “but what you guys did last night was fucked up.” Shauna feels her nodding, assuring herself to keep going. “It was... it’s like you’re some kind of, I dunno, shroom-based cult or something. Led by Misty fucking Quigley. Like that documentary thing we watched during our sleepover that one time, the one where we couldn’t sleep at all the rest of the night? And we saw th- that red puddle on the living room rug and I screamed but it was just—”

“— spilled cherry Kool-Aid,” Shauna mumbles.

The beginnings of a laugh outline Jackie’s features, but it doesn’t come to fruition. Not anymore. For a second Shauna wishes it would, just so she could see it on her face, even if smiling out here hurts like chewing glass. Smiling means hope, and hope can be fatal. Only one of them truly had faith, and she’s gone now.

Shauna frowns and gives her attention to the fire. The memory fogging up Jackie’s eyes cuts deep. “We’re not in Jonestown, Jackie,” she tells her. “And I- I swear I don’t remember it. What happened. It wasn’t—”

“Wasn’t you?” Jackie clicks her tongue and rubs her hands together. “Uh-huh. Right.” She also gazes ahead, and Shauna feels the distance wedge itself between them again. “I don’t even know who the hell you guys are anymore,” Jackie murmurs. She doesn’t say us, or we, or our team. She’s drawing a line in the dirt between herself and the rest of them and treating it like a national border. 

Amusement, pity, and danger all tread across Shauna’s conscience. Her heart pulls. “That’s because we can’t be the same people anymore. We can’t. We’ll die.”

“Well, all I know is you’re still the same girl who screwed my boyfriend. Aren’t you?” Jackie purses her lips and lures Shauna into a challenging stare. “I wish I’d just died when we crashed,” she continues, leaning in close, so close that they graze foreheads. “Would’ve been a weight off your shoulders.”

Shame blinds Shauna for a moment, and in the darkness she gropes around for a hold. She snags on something. “Was it good?” she asks evenly, locking Jackie into the glare-fest she initiated. “Sleeping with Travis? Worth it?”

“It was worth it, and you know why?” Jackie spreads her arms as best she can under the layers and fixes her with a smirk. “No rules, right? Nothing means anything out here in our personal purgatory, Shauna. So why should you give a shit that I stooped to your level?”

But it’s not fair to drag Natalie into Jackie and Shauna’s private river of toxic sludge. It used to be only a trickle. Now it’s an ocean. Why can’t they just drown in it alone together? Why can’t she have Jackie all to herself while they go under? Better to love her wrong than not at all.


“And you never answered me, by the way,” Jackie says. “Why Jeff?” She pushes at Shauna under the blanket, nearly knocking her off-balance on the half-rotted log. Her abdominal muscles clench as she resolves to stay put, firmly upright against the pummeling. “Why him?” Jackie demands, now adding an elbow into the mix. Tears slur her words. “Why’d you do it? Huh? Why?” Knuckles, knees, all the hard edges of her bones poke sharper than usual through malnourished skin, digging into soft flesh. Shauna withstands the bruising, not keen on leaving the cover of the blankets even though the door to the cabin isn’t more than ten feet away. She knows what will happen if she leaves her—

Jackie’s practically howling by now. “Fucking why?” 

“Because I wanted you!” Shauna shouts. And just like that, the crush she harbors has crushed her. Finally.

Time freezes, taking Jackie with it. She stops, drops her arms. Faces Shauna with a furrow between her eyebrows.

“I wanted to know what was so great about him. What made him better than me, and good enough for you.”

Words that should be in a yell are scarcely more than a breath: “What the fuck, Shauna?” When no response comes, Jackie adds, “If this is your idea of a joke, that’s a new low even for you.”

“It’s not.” Shauna rubs her streaming nose. “I would’ve never said anything if we didn’t end up out here, ‘cause that’s exactly what it would be in your world. A joke.”

Jackie shakes her head. She won’t look at her now. “I don’t... I can’t even—”

“Forget I said anything.”

“No,” Jackie snaps. “I— it doesn’t make sense. You—” She fumbles for words, trembles harder. “So... like how Tai and Van are...?” She swallows. “How they like each other?”

“Which isn’t any different than how Nat and Travis like each other,” Shauna points out.

“I know,” Jackie snaps again. “But I... I don’t believe you.” At last she rewards Shauna with a withering look. “How can you say you like me, let alone like-like me, and do something so cruel?”

Shauna hunches her shoulders. “It was... how I dealt with it. I needed an outlet.”

“Well, you picked the worst one.”

“Yeah.” Shauna exhales. Another hundred heartbeats thunder by. Then— “You never thought about it.” She means it as a question, but it comes out flat, like a statement.

“About you? In that way?” 

Shauna gestures with a limp hand, glances sidelong at her. “Did you?”

“I thought...” Jackie shudders. Possibly inadvertently, she scoots closer to Shauna, draws her knees to her chest. “Something was off, I guess. I dunno. Whenever it was Jeff’s turn to— to receive, it was...” She snorts. Epiphany dawns in her gaze. “I felt sick.”

Shauna chooses not to tell her that she also felt sick being with Jeff— how deep can she rub salt in a wound before it scars instead of heals? And anyway, it’s not that she dislikes being with boys. Shauna is starting to think she likes guys and girls in many of the same ways. But no matter who it’s with, misplaced love will always fit about as well as a dress that’s suddenly two sizes too small. 

“I still hate you,” Jackie says. “I really, really hate you. A lot.”

“I know.”

“But I wanna try something. And if you don’t at least let me, after what you’ve said, I’m gonna hate you more.”

“Okay,” Shauna says. She’ll revert back to the doormat sidekick, the thirsty worshiper, if it means Jackie will do what Shauna thinks she might do.

The scent of snow stings in the back of her throat, and then Jackie is leaning in again, and every nerve ending fizzes. A hand slips out from the cover of the blankets, venturing into the cold to cup the side of Shauna’s face. Shauna almost expects Jackie to fuck with her instead, to head-butt her and spit on her when she falls. Instead, she leans and leans until the gap between them ceases to exist. 

At first Jackie’s lips on hers are dead, cold. Then they aren’t. Shauna is drawn into it. They move in a tentative rhythm, their breaths warming numb noses, and Shauna’s hands slide onto Jackie’s thighs. The only things in the world that matter are chapped lips and calloused hands. In the intimate quiet, Shauna swears she hears a faint murmur from inside the cabin. Of course they have an audience. She wouldn’t doubt at least somebody has been watching them, anticipating another blowout.

Jackie breaks the kiss, presses their foreheads together, then pulls away completely with a breathless hmm. 

“Do you believe me now?” 

Jackie squints at her. She sighs sharply, her breath coming out in spears of mist. “I don’t know,” she answers. Then her jaw splits into a yawn. “Honestly, I’m... I’m feeling sleepy...”

Shauna nods, blinks hard. “Okay.”

“So sleepy...”

She nods faster. Blinks harder. Wetness spills over anyway. “I know.”

Jackie leans in again, but this time it’s to slump forward into Shauna’s arms. Shauna holds her. It’s no strenuous effort; she’s a twig, a tumbleweed, lighter than a gasp for oxygen. And she’s so tired.

The edges of Shauna’s vision crumble, waver, warp. Her eyes crack, then fly open. Stinging sticky salt is smeared across her face. She’s curled on her side on the ground, and it feels warmer, and there’s still a featherweight in her arms, but she doesn’t want to look down. “Jackie,” she breathes. It feels wrong between her legs. Her lower body is flattened.

A face floats above her, a stray cloud in a clear sky. If it had an expression, it would probably be something like concern. Shauna’s brain isn’t filling in those blanks. Rationality is the enemy of fantasy just as boredom is the lover of danger.

“Shauna, Jackie isn’t here.” The words are clear and concise and cutting.

She shakes her head fiercely, hugs the mass in her arms tighter to her chest. Leaves catch in her hair. “Yes, she is, Jackie, I just saw her,” she babbles. It slips, slides in her arms, she almost loses it. “She was just here.”

“You need to let go, Shauna.” The voice is firmer now. Shauna can almost place it. Tai, probably. Could be Nat. Maybe Misty. Fuck, don’t let it be Misty.

“No,” she rasps. She was just holding Jackie, knees in the snow. She was just screaming. Howling. Her throat is still raw like that bear meat, tearing off bits and tossing them into the pot over the fire. The fire. There was just a fire. It was cold.

“Shauna, let go. It didn’t make it, okay?”

Shauna turns her face down. She grinds her molars into a chalky pulp. She presses her chin into her chest and inhales snot. Something is pulling on her. She’s so tired.

“Shauna, please. Please.”

“Jackie, I’m so sorry. Fuck, I’m sorry,” she whimpers. Is she? She’s sorry. She is. What is she sorry for?


She’s sorry. But out here, Shauna isn’t the one who let Jackie tarnish like an old forgotten necklace. Out here, Jackie tarnished Jackie. To survive a plane crash, only to go like this, withered in the claws of an early winter. What happened to her? Shauna dry heaves, spits on the dirt. What happened to Jackie? She’s only hibernating. Shauna has just dropped her off at her house, and Jackie’s twisting around and grinning over her shoulder as Shauna drives away. She’ll see her tomorrow.

“Damn it, Shauna,” Tai or Nat or somebody hisses. A hand clamps down on her arm, gripping it roughly. Squeezing and pinching until she can’t feel it anymore. “Listen to me. Jackie isn’t here. She can’t hear you.”

Shauna rolls onto her back, folded over partially like a pancake after a failed flip. The warm earth below her is a skillet. She’s uncooked; her guts ooze. She tries to focus on the face, on the skeletal branches swaying behind it. Then she smiles. It seems like the polite thing to do. If she’s in a nightmare, might as well bask in it.

“What the hell, Shauna? Are you even listening to me? I said, Jackie’s—”

“Come on, prom queen. Let’s go inside, okay?” Shauna rises unsteadily from the log, kicks some dust over the feeble fire. She supports Jackie’s weight almost entirely as she heaves her onto her feet. The blankets drag on the leaves, and Shauna pulls them up again. 

Jackie groans in protest, then giggles as Shauna guides her towards the cabin, warmly lit from the inside. It’s a gingerbread house, and the snow beginning to fall is buttercream frosting, flakes of coconut. Shauna laughs too.

“Doesn’t even matter anymore,” Jackie says. She won’t walk. “‘Prom queen.’ Does it? Got that title, but not m- my diploma.” Her teeth click and chatter, making her words stutter. “Sh- should’ve... should’ve had a fake graduation walk in- instead of fake homecoming, huh?”

Shauna continues dragging her along, but the distance between them and the cabin porch seems to widen before their eyes, and Jackie is only getting heavier. Still, Shauna grins down at her and replies, “You’ll always be more to me than just a prom queen, anyway.”

Jackie doesn’t look up at her. She won’t look at her anymore.

“Let’s go inside,” Shauna repeats. She takes another frostbitten step, then another. The cabin looms. “I think,” she says, “I think they’re making hot chocolate.”