Authors: Mary Elizabeth
“Poesy, tell us about yourself.” Patricia also scarfed her meal. She pushes the dish away and folds her fingers underneath her chin. “Start with your family.”
Shame shifts to resentment, straightening my spine and lifting my chin in defiance. I circle my finger around the rim of my mug, working the courage to utter untruths to these hungry people. It’s the same story told anytime I’m asked about the people obligated to raise me: we’re happy.
“They’re assholes.” A smile spreads across my face, and I laugh loudly—right from the belly. “We totally hate each other.”
The sound of my laughter echoes off water-damaged walls, but telling the truth chips at hostility, and I feel lighter. Lowen brought me to his house—his run-down, foodless, happy home—without pretenses or indignity. A place with exposed electrical wires and stained carpet, but a place warmer and more sheltering than my house has ever been.
“My mom watches soap operas all day, and my dad wears loafers. It’s ridiculous,” I say, looking toward Lowen. His smile matches my own.
“Shit, Poesy,” Patricia says, shaking her head. Her lips curve. “I’ll tell you what, though. Parents really know how to fuck shit up.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Gillian mumbles.
THE WOMAN O
the house refuses help in the kitchen after we’re done eating, and Gillian closes her school books and drags her feet to bed, finding it impossible to keep her eyes open once the food settles in her stomach and the excitement of the day comes to an end.
“Which room is yours?” I follow Lowen to the living room, standing a foot shorter than his towering frame.
Frayed laces drag on the carpet, and grass-stained denim hangs low on his hips. Twirled cowlicks and lengthy around his ears, Low pushes his long fingers through his golden hair. Summer just began to heat things up, but the sun blazed hot enough this week to lighten his ends.
“You’re in it,” blond boy answers, falling onto the sofa. A white bedsheet covering the couch collapses under his weight.
“Am I allowed on your bed?” I ask in a light tone, winking.
“My sister used to sleep with my mom.” He pats the spot beside him, extending his legs and kicking the table back to get comfortable once I sit. “But I gave Gillian the second bedroom a few months ago. She’s too old to crash with her ma, you know. So this is me now.”
“It’s not bad.” I bounce on the cushion.
He laughs, and my heart leaps.
“I’ve slept on worse,” he says.
The yellow light from the lamp beside the couch throws a shadow across Lowen’s face, exaggerating the hard lines of his nose and chin. A light stubble trails along this boy’s jawline in a hundred different shades of blond. It’s killing me not to reach over and trace the tattoo beneath his left eye at the sharpest point of his cheekbone, but I settle for brushing my fingers over the scars on his knuckles.
“I don’t live like you do, Poesy.” He looks down where my hands touch his.
“Tell me how it feels,” I whisper. My thumb sweeps over healed fight marks and slopes between hard bone.
“To struggle? To not know where your next meal will come from or if you’ll be able to pay the rent? You don’t want to know how that feels.” Lowen suddenly turns his palm, capturing my wrist in his large grasp. He eases when I don’t pull away but doesn’t let me go.
The passion in his stare, dark blue and cutting, steals the breath from my lungs in one easy pull. Airless, hypnotized, and dissolving under his rough touch, I lean toward my capturer and part my lips in search of something to stop the aching pressure in my chest.
“No,” I say breathlessly. “Tell me how it feels to live with people who love you.”
Lowen’s lips collide with mine, forceful and warm, and his palms cradle my face. I close my eyes as the rhythm of my heart drowns out the sound of running water from the kitchen. Gripping on to the front of his shirt, melting into his embrace is thoughtless, and the feel of his tongue touching mine is provoking.
He’s sincere but commanding, pushing his fingers through my stringy hair and scratching my scalp. I let him lead, at his mercy, gasping for air when the tingle in my lips spreads to the rest of my face.
“Is this okay?” Low asks softly. His wet kiss presses to the corner of my mouth.
Capturing his bottom lip between my teeth, I pull until it lets loose and smile. Deep-set warmth envelops my entire body until I’m reduced to goosebumps and prickles.
“Baby, there’s a piece of chicken left if you’re—shit!” Patricia’s cheeks burn bright red. She turns in a circle, not sure whether or not she should go back into the kitchen or to her bedroom. Deciding on the latter, mother wolf sprints by. “Ignore me. I’m not even here. It was nice meeting you, Poesy!”
“TELL ME TH
truth.” I spin so Lowen can see me at every angle. “I look ridiculous, right?”
Shrouded from neck to toe in bright blue polyester, my arms swim in my commencement gown, and the cap won’t stay on my head. I’m positive I’ve already lost the fucking tassel, and this is absurd.
“You only have to wear it for a few hours. Do it for your parents.” Leaning against my dresser with his arms crossed over his chest, Low’s lips curve into a half-smile.
“This is their fault.” I snatch my cap from the floor after it falls off again. “My mom forgot to order my cap and gown, so I got what was left. Which is why this is two sizes too big.”
“Then do it for yourself, Poe. It’s important.”
I turn away from optimistic and sensible toward a body-length mirror, refusing to glimpse at my reflection but unable to look at him as I fidget with the plastic zipper on my gown. Lowen didn’t finish high school. If there’s one thing he’s been in the two weeks since our first kiss, it’s upfront.
“I want you to know what you’re getting into,”
my boy cautioned once he realized his empty refrigerator and cursing mother weren’t going to scare me away.
Between kisses, Low told horror stories about his life, including the truth about his murderous, incarcerated father, which eventually resulted in his family’s financial struggle, and because he had to work full-time, the five credits short he is from receiving a high school diploma.
Patricia was injured at work a few years back, leaving the responsibility of their household on Lowen’s shoulders.
“Do you think about going back to school?” I glimpse into the mirror, catching his gaze. Butterflies with razor-sharp wings flap in my stomach, slicing me to bits. “I can help you … if you decide to.”
“Worry about yourself, Poe,” the dropout says, approaching me from behind. He wraps his arms around my front, kissing the exposed skin on my neck.
Despite the not-so-terrifying stories of life lived on the other side of the tracks, Lowen and I are devoted. On Fridays, I catch a ride with Flaco and the crew to his house after the grass is clipped and the roses are trimmed, only popping in and out of my place long enough for my parents to see my face during the weekend.
They’re clueless about my relationship with Low, so not to spike their curiosity or plain annoyance at my sudden interest to drive, I don’t ask to borrow the car too often. Lowen shares an old Buick with Patricia, but she needs it for doctors’ appointments and Gillian. We’ve put our bus passes to good use in the meantime.
“Will you be there tonight?” I lean my head back, opening my throat to his mouth. The gown finally unzips.
“I want to see you graduate, Poe…” he murmurs between kisses.
“What’s the problem?” Turning in his arms, I grip the neck of his shirt and pull him with me as I step back toward my bed.
“Gillian has some shit going on at school tonight. My ma will need the car, and the buses don’t run that late.” He slides his hands under my shirt and around the small of my back.
“Stay here then.” I fall onto the bed, guiding him between my legs until we both sink onto my blue gown across the queen mattress.
Lowen reaches between us and unbuckles my shorts. “If your dad finds out, I’ll lose my job and my family won’t eat.”
“I’ll feed you,” I say, lifting my hips so he can tug the dark cotton down my legs.
“Nice offer, girl, but my mom and sister can’t survive on pussy.” Lowen laughs, dropping my shorts to the carpet.
Pushing my red painted toes into his chest, my attempt to kick him away fails. He grabs my ankles and spreads my legs apart, loosely draping them around his hips. As my chest expands with deep breaths, Lowen pulls his shirt over his head, tossing it across the room.
“When will they be home?” His hands slide up my bare legs, shooting sparks through my limbs.
We haven’t had sex.
He doesn’t want our first time to be on his couch, and he won’t fuck me in my parents’ house. The boy between my knees refuses to sneak in through my window or come after dark. Not telling my life-givers about Lowen and being purposely deceptive about him are two different things. The only reason he’s here now is because my dad’s at work and my mom is shopping, having waited to the last minute to buy something to wear to my graduation.
Lowen walked through the front door.
Like a man.
“Later,” I say breathlessly. “Much, much later.”
Warm lips touch the inside of my thighs. He pushes my knees to the mattress, opening me past comfort. Muscles from my hipbones to my kneecaps strain sorely, but his kiss on my ticklish skin is lovely and soothing enough for me to breathe through the pain. I stare at the ceiling, grip the bedsheets, and unconsciously circle my hips.
“Slow down, ho.” Low bites my pelvic bone before releasing my knees and moving up my body to kiss my tingling lips.
“You are such a motherfucker.” I smile against his smirk, digging my fingernails into his sides.
Stripped from the gown and white cotton shirt, I’m left in nothing more than a heavy blush and pair of light pink underwear. My legs shake at his sides, and my nipples harden against his chest. Low’s bare skin burns under my trembling fingers, smooth and soap-scented and mine.
“Sweetest thing,” he whispers, kissing along my collarbone. “You’re the sweetest thing, Poesy.”
I drag my fingertips across his shoulders, attaching my lips to the pulse point on his neck. Pulling his beat between my lips, I suck until blood vessels burst, and a bruise purples his skin. The damage I inflict on his throat sings to me, unlocking dormant lust and overwhelming desire.
He’s hard where I am soft.
He’s big where I am small.
He’s calm where I am crazy.
“I want to, Low,” I say. My head falls back as he strokes against my middle, lighting me on fire.
Calm and collected dips his hand into my delicates, sliding between the flames. He pushes his thumb against my clit, and my back curves away from the mattress as my breath leaves my lungs in a sweet hum.
Then his fingers are inside me, and I see stars.
“Fuck,” he whispers, bound by how tight I am.
Our lips brush lightly together, and I open my eyes long enough to catch his hooded stare. Lowen’s face is as flushed as mine, and his blue eyes darken. As I exhale, the man above me inhales, slipping his fingers in a little deeper each time. He’s knuckle deep, slow moving, and tender, easy to stretch my opening for his delicious intrusion.
“Tell me you’re not a virgin,” he says, placing small kisses on the corner of my mouth.
Clinging to him, Low’s heart beats high against my chest, pounding faster as I move my hips back and forth against his hand. I fuck his fingers until a slow burn explodes into a firestorm, and I’m reduced to ember and ash.
“That is so much better when someone else does it,” I say a few minutes later, still floating, still breathless, and still stunned.
Lowen closes my legs, shifting onto the bed beside me. He moves meandering strands of my blonde hair away from my flushed face, pushing it behind my ear. His eyes return to their normal color, studying my face, taking in the sight of my near-naked form.
“How?” he asks, kissing the top of my shoulder.
“How have I never done that with anyone?” I laugh lightly. My arms and legs feel boneless.
“Yeah.” He palms my small breasts, rubbing his thumb over my sensitive nipples.
“The boys I go to school with are wannabe gangsters or overachievers. My integrity is worth more than a random fuck with some clueless loser. I’ve never wanted to.” I’m quiet for a moment. “Until you.”
“They have more to offer than me,” Lowen says evenly, honestly.
“Don’t talk like that.” I take his face between my hands. He kisses my palm. “I’ve never felt this way before, Low. Don’t take that from me.”
“You’re saying this now, but I’ve been arrested. My family is on welfare. My dad is never getting out of prison because he killed someone. That’s all I have for you, Poesy.”
Sitting up, I pull the gown from under my body to cover my chest. The tips of my fingers and toes are still numb, and my legs are too unsteady to stand. I feel pleasantly stretched and strained, even as anger I feel from his stubbornness begins to stir.
“If you think I care about how much money you have or don’t have, you’re wrong, Low.” I look to him over my shoulder. “I’m not that girl.”
“Why are you so willing to take on my baggage?” He covers his face with both of his hands.
“Because you talk to me. Because you care.” I inhale a shaky breath, but even as my eyes fill with tears, I refuse to cry. I’m not that girl either. “None of this shit in this house is mine, Lowen. My mom has always made it very apparent I wasn’t wanted, and my dad has done absolutely nothing to prove her wrong. Once I leave this place, I won’t be welcomed back. And once I leave, I won’t have anything either.”
He places his hand on my lower back.
“My body,” I start, “and my intelligence are all I have. That’s why I haven’t given them away. You’re not the only one with baggage.”
SUMMER TASTES LIK
nectarines and smells like sunblock.
The solstice sun shines UVAs and UVBs with a vengeance over Los Angeles County, plaguing the city with record temperatures, rolling blackouts, and heat strokes. With the fall semester at the local community college not beginning until the first week of September, Lowen and I are left with the entire summer to melt together.