Rock and roll therapy crashes in waves against her eardrums. The sound changes color. Her mind is lacquered purple and the room is full of smoke. Listless clouds bounce from couch to couch and hot cirrus strands dance towards the ceiling. It’s been two years since college. Brian is sitting on the red loveseat. He’s always been a dick. Ciara straddles him; long blonde hairs careening down her shoulders, brown arms wrapped around his neck. Lucy can see the outline of Ciara’s bra strap poking out from underneath her orange striped tee. Jamie is in the kitchen making drinks. He doesn’t smoke. His track jacket has several wet stains on it. He stands in the doorway and stares. He sees his reflection in Lucy’s green eyes. They crinkle. Soon she’s giggling uncontrollably. Jamie continues staring at Ciara on top of Brian. Lucy collapses into a laughing, coughing heap on the couch.
“You doin’ alright over there?” Ciara gets off of Brian and sits next to him. His hand stays connected to her thigh. Lucy continues wheezing in strange convulsions, a smile never leaves her face. Jamie moves to sit down next to Ciara. The record begins to skip.
“Do ya…Do ya… Do ya… Do ya…” it no longer sounds like a question. No one moves. The room is in quiet hypnosis. Lucy’s blinking begins to slow. Jamie changes the record and sits down next to Lucy. A silent sigh escapes his mouth.
“Let’s play a game.” Lucy sits up suddenly.
“Okay.” Ciara laughs. She looks around the room for a few seconds. “Wait, what?”
“A game!” Lucy yells in excitement. She’s blushing, crimson on alabaster. Brian strikes a match and lights a stick of incense. Notes of burning cherry wood sing softly in circular rings.
“Wait, what?” Ciara repeats.
“Jesus Christ” Brian gets up. “What do you wanna play Luc?”
“I’m not sure.” Lucy bites the tip of her tongue in contemplation. God she has so many freckles, thinks Brian. He begins silently counting them. 36…37…38…no wait that’s a mole.
“Ciaaaara dear.” Lucy says with an accent. “You wouldn’t happen to have a deck of cards perchance?”
Ciara lifted her chin from her chest. “Hmm?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Jamie leaves the room and comes back with a small blue cardboard box.
“Woah! Jamie’s a magician.” Lucy laughs.
Ciara’s head is back on her chest. Her eyes are closed.
* * *
The snap of her jeans, a pelvic thrust and a slight shimmy. She’s in the bed of his truck. Brian kisses her inner thighs. It’s too dark to tell if she has freckles down there. Patient mewing and heavy breathing followed by the slow fade, the tension and release. He’s inside her. She coils and bends, pushing up against his weight. Her tongue leaps around in his mouth in figure eights. The smell of her hair mingles with damp leaves. Somewhere in the distance a bonfire is burning. Tears begin to form in Brian’s eyes. It must be the smoke.
Lucy pushes him off her. They are both on their knees, naked in cold autumn embrace.
“I wanted this for so long,” she says.
Brian lies on his back and shudders, cold metal against his spine. Lucy gets on top of him. She covers herself and laughs. He pulls her down to him. Their legs quiver and the sky around them glows red. Transmuted, they lie still. Brian pulls a blanket over them. The hum of the night lulls them to sleep.
* * *
“Okay Luc, we have the cards. Now what?” Brian asks.
“We can play bridge!” laughs Jamie. Lucy shoots him a look. “No seriously. Lucy and me versus you and Ciara. Couple against couple. Senior citizen style.”
“Shut up Jamie.” Lucy bites her lip.
“What are we doing?” Ciara sits up suddenly and looks around, bloodshot zigzags in her eyes.
“Maybe we don’t play cards.” Brian stands up. “Let’s go out back.”
The screen door slides open and Brian sits down. He drags his fingers along the glass table. He looks at his breath, a frost white steam pouring out of his mouth. The others are still inside. He begins to shiver. The cold seeps in through the seams of his sweatshirt. Icy pinpricks start at his hands. He looks out across the yard. Shadows sway in the wind. Amorphous shapes peer back menacingly out of the darkness. The deep blue sky is empty. A new moon. He gets up and takes a few steps forward, into the grass. He can’t make out where the fence is. The faint twinkling of stars casts no light on the backyard. He doesn’t hear any movement coming from the house. It’s clear that no one is going to be coming. Brian turns around. The stream of light is blinding. He can feel the heat inviting him to go back inside. He takes one last look at the night. Fuck it I’m cold. He walks into the house and closes the door behind him.
* * *
Ciara lies in her bed. The pink floral comforter hangs to the side. Jamie is in the bathroom. Textbooks lie open at her feet. The ceiling gives her a blank, vaguely judgmental stare. Ciara rolls her eyes. What? The ceiling doesn’t blink. Ciara turns onto her side. The cream colored walls are far less critical.
Jamie returns from the bathroom. Ciara can feel blue eyes tracing the curve of her back. He’s in love. Ciara opens the drawer of her nightstand and pulls out a joint. She lights it. The room moves in slow waves. Jamie is next to her. He takes a hit and coughs relentlessly.
“Baby lungs.” Ciara laughs. Her smile is tightly wound. Laugh lines leaves deep cuts around her mouth. Jamie turns, his eyes suddenly red. He leans in without warning and kisses her. Their dry mouths connect. Friction. Low voltage sparks careen between their teeth. Jamie rolls on top of her.
* * *
Ciara turns her head slowly as Brian enters the room.
“Well, no one came outside with me.”
“It’s pretty cold” Ciara murmurs.
Jamie is sitting next to Ciara on the loveseat. Lucy is sprawled out. Brian looks at Jamie expectantly. No one moves.
Lucy curls her legs in and makes room. Ciara watches as Brian sits down. I’m too high. Ciara breathes deeply and straightens her back in a conscious effort to stay awake.
The haze is dissipating. The smoke finds its way out through vents and cracks in the wall. Brian stares at Ciara. Longing doesn’t suit him. His eyes are vacant. His motives suspect. She’s confused. Brian lights another stick of incense. Cherry wood burst. A fog creeps over the room. Ciara looks over to her left. Jamie is drinking punch-like liquid from a glass. Brian is grinding his teeth. Oh great he’s pissed.
“Luc wanna switch spots?” Ciara almost whispers.
“No I’m too comfortable.”
He smiles at her. His teeth are stained bright red.
* * *
There she is, the tanned queen of Biochemistry 2, golden hair falling down the back of her neck. She frowns holding a piece of paper. On top of scribbles and calculations, permutations and flat out guesses, written in bright red ink sits a fat C-. Jamie leans forward on to desk. He puts his elbows over the A written on his own exam.
“How’d you do?” he asks, pretending he hasn’t seen.
Ciara turns around. “Not so great.”
“We still have a few weeks until the final. I can help you study.”
Ciara’s room is different than he imagined. A tapestry hangs over the head of her twin mattress in kaleidoscopic purples and greens. The other walls are blank. The room is meticulously clean and uncomfortably spare. Jamie’s nervous. Ciara’s in her bed. Jamie walks over to a desk and sits down. He pulls a textbook out of his bag.
“What are you doing all the way over there?”
“Um… getting out my textbook.”
“How are you supposed to teach me this shit if you’re halfway across the room?”
Jamie gets up and walks slowly towards the bed.
“That’s right hop up on the bed.”
Lying on their stomachs, they flip through the textbooks in a dance both deliberate and unsure. Ciara’s leg lightly brushes against his.
“This is exhausting.”
“We’ve been studying for 20 minutes.”
Ciara reaches over Jamie. He can feel her breasts against his legs. She comes back from her nightstand holding a joint. She lights it without a word and sits up, passing it to Jamie. His head is spinning.
“I’m going to use the bathroom.”
He can’t recognize himself in the mirror. The lines of his face are scrambled. His eyes are a different color. He thinks about Lucy. He can’t remember what she looks like. His mind is white. He peers through binoculars. In the distance is a mannequin with a red wig. He opens the bathroom door and walks towards the bed.
* * *
Lucy is fast asleep on the couch. Brian’s head is tilted low. Jamie and Ciara exchange glances. Their fingertips touch and grasp for one another. Her hands are sweating. Jamie’s heart is beating fast. Ciara picks up a snubbed-out joint off the table and lights it. She passes it to Jamie. He looks at Lucy, closed eyes fluttering in a REM cycle stutter. He takes a hit and shuts his own.
* * *
Lucy blinks slowly. She can see the first glint of morning light peaking through the windows. Across from her, on the loveseat, she sees Jamie and Ciara. A pang hits her central nervous system and she sits up. Their hands are intertwined. Ciara’s head is resting on Jamie’s shoulder. Guilt and heartache sink into her stomach.
She stares for a moment longer, wondering if she has the right to be upset. She lies down, eyes fixed straight ahead. Lucy tries to will herself to cry but her eyes are dry from too much smoke. Fixated on their hands, she watches as long as she can but her eyelids are heavy. She takes one last look and falls back asleep.