The sky has really unwound itself. Up there, black and blue, it's warping. There are more stars than she's seen, ever, living between walls and cars and spending nights under street lamps, under the orange glow. But now she's burning. And the desert howls.
Five months ago she had a boyfriend.
One month ago she lost her first boyfriend.
And now she is in the center of a desert sprawl, on the hood of her car, an eternity away from the bonfire, from the clash and screech of the post game party. And she can feel the world in all its grand and reeling infinity settle to nothing but still dust as she rolls words around her mouth like “I'm gay” and “I love you” and “You ought to come home with me.”
But all these things, these tightly-wound-and-growing-still things, they will lie in shambles inside her brain for eons as Jules holds her hand and looks absolutely dazzled by the cosmic unending tugging at their bones, looking down on them and calling out.
Jess thinks about time and how now it is slinking along a loping line, slow as summer rain, breathing into her so that she can feel the seconds crawl through the roots of her teeth.
She is holding Jules’ hand and she does this often, of course, because they are friends and they do friendly things like hug and kiss and stay up until the dawn hours telling each other the secret, important truths that make them from the ground up, that break them. Friends.
And Jess doesn't think about how it'd be nice to stay the night, sleeping between each other’s arms, wrapped up in blankets and yawning into each other’s mouths when the sun rises because that would be silly and she does like talking to her parents sometimes, thank you. A white boy was bad enough.
Jules asks why she's so quiet and Jess just smiles and leans over and says that she's just basking in the post victory hum of glory which is now buried under a different sort of hum, a hum like “God we belong like this, looking at the cosmos, infinite in each other’s hands” which she doesn't tell Jules about because she values this and she sees this as a fragile, glass twist of precious... something.
The rest of the team is by the fire, burning things, sending smoke signals up to the Gods, a defiance of wills. They see the embers shoot out and the orange thrash and glow out of the corners of their eyes, but they stay on their backs, in the chill of night, swallowed by a sky that is far bigger than them.
Tonight is a sober bonfire, streaking smoke out like breathing and dying and they’re all close, circled around, pressed to silence by gravity and cosmos on their backs. Jess is sat in the dirt, and its all murmurs up in the dusty air for her, all the things she can’t reach out to. And the moon is all engorged, a stethoscope, shinning light; scars, in this thumbtack of light, unveiled, swelled with blood, puss, infectious pride.
She watches Jules through this light and haze, that’s all she seems to be able to do sometimes with her eyes all heavy. And she pinpoints the angle of her frown, encodes the cells of her, her hair, her knuckles, her stickily elbows, into the pit of her brain wherein lies the mess and shambles and endless desert nights they’ve grown to expect and to stitch through their anatomy as piecemeal human reworkings. Oh they know the color of orange brown dirt your eyes can’t see the end to, they see it when they blink, they see it tracked between their fingers and toes.
Now, she thinks, the desert and the turmoil must be written out on her skin in some language of dust and star prints or some such nonsense. Which means she must be a flaming illiterate because she doesn’t know what it all means. Her body feels lain down, bled out and dusted through, and she isn’t sure how to take that except with here eyes darting over to Jules, except that.
Well, there’s always comfort in knowing that whatever wreck you make of your own body the sky doesn’t care so much.
Jules sits by her, rum heavy, and she herself is already night drunk from whatever thick purple hallucinogen the cosmos pours down your throat, into your veins, to weigh the seconds to five hundred hours and slacken the bone joins.
“You did great,” Jules says.
“We’re still going to the semifinals. We won.” There’s a pause, empty, then, “Even if it was a disaster.”
Jules has her hand, and the desert, the sprawl of red rimmed, cracked and stitched dirt has the rest of her. Maybe she’ll spiral into dust. Who knows, at this rate, whatever warpath or warped path her heart is beating itself down could take her anywhere. Certainly it feels like impending doom and the end of her galaxies and worlds and stars.
“You’re doing alright, Jess.” Jules looks at her, kisses her forehead. “Sometimes you forget that.”
She thinks she’s going to puke something up, something big and heavy and lodged halfway between her throat and the truth of it all, straight out onto the dirt to rot and seethe.
“I’m so fucking gay.”
There it is.
And Jules laughs, and laughs and laughs and laughs, a call to the night. It rings and then rings around her skull like lethal injection.
“It’s not that funny,” she says but that’s a lie and she is smiling up to the stars.
“It’s funny you think I didn’t know.” Jules hiccups (wow, that’s a head spin she wasn’t expecting) and says, “You have a poster of Ally Sheedy on your wall and don’t think I haven’t snooped through your bookmarks and found all those trashy lesbian book recs.”
“Some of them aren’t so bad,” she says and she pouts, which Jules, as she does, as she knows she will, always, pokes at until she can’t help but let a whirling smile and laugh out.
“Well you’ll have to recommend me some good ones then, huh?”
Jules has her hand in a bind, wrapped up between fingers and promises and sweaty skin, and has anyone in her family had a history of pulmonary hypertension? She hopes not.
Whatever this is it’s either medical or terminal and maybe her body has been beaten by waves or an eighteen wheeler or maybe everything has finally settled into a neat place which just blooms out of her rib cracks and spine nobs. Maybe she can’t thin with smoke in the lungs and desert sand itching under her skin.
They wallow in the desert smiling, murmuring and she tries not to think on whatever has been done to her body because of Jules. Its not hard to get lost between her hands and the drippy ink of near day break, no not hard at all.
This time its just the two of them stuck in the thicket of May, on their backs, on the car again, a fire weakly dashing the night with its ash and glow. They’ve been stuck in the jam between midnight and sunrise for at least a decade, possibly the long sprawl of a light year in which stars have died and they never noticed.
This time the shambles in her body have settled to a murk like seaweed you’d find cusping a deep, deep black sea. She breathes in the sweet night, feels it stick to her skin, cools like car engines and hot tin roofs and bodies heated to fission.
“Do you know where you'll be living next year?” Jules asks and she says no and that she would implode if she had to think so far into the future.
Jules says, “Why don't we get a flat, together, one of those by campus with the little balconies.”
“You might get tired of me,” Jess replies.
“Might. We might fight over the trash and the dishes and who's hair is in the shower drain but good friends, I mean, they do that.”
“And old married couples.”
“What if I have a horrible habit that you don't know about?”
“I know near everything about you. You don't have any horrible habits.”
“Sure I do. I, I leave empty milk cartons in the fridge and I sometimes eat peanut butter straight from the jar with a spoon.”
“There's nothing horrid about that.”
“And I think about kissing you sometimes. On the mouth. So there's definitely that.”
“Well,” Jules says and Jess isn't looking at her, she is watching the scatters of stars and trying to read the language except she's never been good with hidden things, with keeping the scattered bits inside.
“I don't think that's so horrid either,” Jules says and Jess laughs like a razor edge.
“And I think about falling asleep with you. In your bed. Until we don't even know who's who and we feel all warm and soupy because we've been asleep so long and the sun’s already risen.”
“You know Jess I can live with that. You don't even want to know my horrible habits.”
“Oh,” she says, laughing again, in that “I've been shed raw” sort of way, “And what might those be?”
“Sometimes I leave the TV on after I've gone to sleep and I listen to that shitty pop music we hear on the radio when I'm sad and I think about getting your clothes off a lot.”
“So really, your bad habits are really quite tame in comparison.”
She stares at the horizon, the inky black that drips and smudges the desert off farther than she could walk. Her heart, that beating, fluttering winged creature currently flapping around the cage of her chest, is pounding. And she thinks, wildly, that with Jules she may never be able to breathe straight again. It's all gone crooked. It comes out in jerks.
“Jess, are you going to kiss me now, or what?” Jules asks. Jess decides she just might.
She tastes like sweat and grass and mint gum on Jess’ lips, like brush fire, like licking flames. And she thinks “Okay,” as the moon swells above them and the sky stretches beyond all measure, “Okay. Bring it on.”