Authors: Mary Elizabeth
With so much extra time on my hands before class starts, I’m able to come and go from my house to his as I please. Low has to work during the week, so I’ll tag along sometimes, equipped with an ice chest and sunnies. I’ve helped pull weeds a couple of times, earning a few bucks here and there. Enough for movie tickets or dinner.
I’d easily give the extra funds to Low, but he doesn’t ask for it, and I won’t offer. His pride is worth more than twenty dollars.
I help in other ways.
My teeth puncture the red-orange skin of my favorite summertime fruit, filling my mouth with a first sweet then tart juice. It runs down my fingers, pooling in the palm of my hand, leaving me sticky. Standing in front of the refrigerator filled with too much food for three people, the cold air touches my hot body, over-heated and sweaty from a day spent with Flaco’s Lawn Service.
“Will you be home tonight?” my mom asks through the receiver. Her tone is distracted.
“No,” I say with the cordless phone between my shoulder and ear.
“We won’t either. Make sure you lock up, and leave the porch light on.”
Not surprised that she doesn’t ask me where I’ll be or where I’ve been for the last month, I just hang up and take another bite from my nectarine. This time the juice drips to the linoleum floor.
Once I eat every bite and toss the pit into the sink, I reach inside the fridge and start looking for expiration dates and unbroken seals. Anything close to the
date goes into the large duffel bag I found in the closet, including frozen meat in the freezer. There are cups of yogurt shoved behind a tub of butter and sour cream that no one will eat, so they go inside the duffel, too. Fruit and vegetables on the soft side—including the rest of the nectarines—are coming with me.
After I’ve ransacked the Frigidaire, I shuffle through the canned goods and junk food. I’m the only one who eats the cookies, and it’ll do Mrs. Ashby some good to lay off the powdered donuts until the next shopping trip.
“Poe, you ready?” Lowen calls out for me.
“Yeah, let’s go.” I grab a twelve pack of soda, the last two bananas on the counter, and the sack of food.
He takes the duffel bag from my shoulder, and I lock the door. But I don’t leave the porch light on, because fuck them.
LATER THAT NIGH
, Lowen and I are able to take the car for a few hours. The air conditioning at the house went out, adding it to the list of shit that needs to be fixed, and despite opening all of the windows, it was insufferable.
“What’s the big deal?” I ask, pulling my hair into a high ponytail to get it off my damp neck. The air in the Buick doesn’t work either, but the temperature cools as we drive, cooling the layer of sweat over my entire body.
“You’re not getting a tattoo on your face.” Downright hood, Lowen is shirtless behind the steering wheel, shimmering in perspiration. He reaches over the center console and places his hand on my thigh.
“I don’t want it on my face, dummy,” I say.
We approach a red light, slowing to a squeaky stop. Once the air stops moving, the heat rises and a drop of sweat falls between my barely-there cleavage. I roll the hem of my shirt, exposing my stomach, and tie it in place under my breasts. A billboard on the side of the road displays the temperature: ninety-seven degrees.
“My ankle? My wrist? My hip?” I suggest. Low shakes his head. “The back of my neck?”
“I’d have you put it on your face before your neck. That’s just trashy.” He winks, laughing.
“Says the guy driving around L.A. with no shirt on,” I say, playfully punching him in the arm.
A cop car passes on the right, and I notice Lowen’s posture stiffen, so I sit straight. City lights glow in yellows, reds, and greens, advertising everything from fast food to bootleg shoe stores. Beggers beg, teenagers walk in loud groups, and white people wonder how they ended up on this side of town.
“Why do you want to do this?” Lowen asks with no humor left in his tone.
“Because I adore you,” I answer simply.
My boy parks the Buick in front of a beige building, complete with a flickering florescent sign that reads
, between a Mexican food place and a used furniture outlet. We get out of the car at the same time, simultaneously shutting the heavy metal doors and stepping onto the sidewalk. Lowen pulls a white shirt over his heated body before draping his arm across my shoulders and leading me inside.
Brightly lit and freezing cold, the shop walls are covered in cheesy flash art, and the floor is checkered black and white. The only artist working is stationed in the far right corner, wrapping up a butterfly he’s just finished on a redhead’s lower back. He looks in our direction under a flat-billed hat with half of his face hidden behind a long black beard.
“What’s going on, man?” he says, standing up and removing the black latex gloves from his hands. “Wasn’t sure if you were going to make it.”
“I was trying to talk her out of it,” Low replies with a smirk, guiding me forward. They shake hands before introductions. “Poe, this is my homie Cliff. Cliff, my girl Poesy.”
Cliff and I share pleasantries, small smiles, and a firm handshake. The person he tattooed takes her exit, and I roam around the shop, checking out the art on the walls, while Lowen catches up with his friend. When they do call me back, I’m lost in art and have forgotten why we’re here.
“So, where’s it going?” Cliff asks, snapping on a fresh pair of gloves. His arms are covered in illegible ink, and there’s an anchor on the side of his neck.
“Not sure,” I say. A blast of heat dampens my palms, but I don’t show how nervous I suddenly am.
“Last chance to back out,” Lowen says, pulling me in his arms.
I take his face between my hands like I have so many times before, and he kisses the palm like he always does. Little things such as this—small displays of affection I’ve been starved for my entire life—are some of the reasons I’ve fallen for him.
Cliff cleans my hand with rubbing alcohol before drawing a cross identical to Lowen’s on the center of my left palm. My boy looks over my shoulder at the small mark before he pulls a metal chair and takes a seat beside me. He sweeps my sweat-dirty hair away from my eyes, brushing the back of his knuckles across my cheekbone.
“Don’t tell anyone,” I say. “But I am so fucking nervous.”
Everyone laughs, momentarily easing the ache in my chest. But Cliff turns on the tattoo gun, dipping the needle into a small plastic cup of black ink.
“Keep your hand still,” he says, leaning toward me.
Fizzing nervousness makes me feel like I’ll take flight at any moment, and the buzz of the machine drills bone deep. With my bottom lip between my teeth and a lungful of oxygen jammed in my throat, keeping my fingers from trembling is impossible. Cliff can’t come near me without my fingers twitching.
“Hey, look at me, Poe.” Lowen tilts my chin toward him until our eyes meet. “I’d never let anything hurt you.”
The needle touches skin, etching the first line of the cross. I squeeze my eyes closed, overwhelmed by how much one tiny mark hurts.
“You need to know something,” composure says softly, loud enough for only me to hear.
“It better be good.” My eyes open to find a smile across his face and bright blur irises reflecting warmth.
Lowen takes my right hand and kisses my knuckles one at a time, and the screaming buzz from the tattoo machine hushes to a whisper. His long blond eyelashes brush across his cheeks as he slowly blinks, deliberate with every press of his lips.
“I knew it from the second I saw you, Poesy.” He laces his fingers with mine and catches my glossy stare. “I’m so fucking in love with you to death.”
“I love you, too,” I say brokenly, choking back tears. They run down my face despite my effort.
“Yeah?” Low asks, like it couldn’t be true.
“Yes,” I say, laughing as salty happiness runs over my lips.
He licks them away before giving me the first kiss since
I love you.
“All right, darlings. I’m all done.” Cliff wipes my new tattoo with antiseptic before sitting back in his chair, grinning from ear to ear. “You guys have matching tattoos, and you’re in love. That’s sweet. Real sweet.”
My boy stands, helping me to my feet. He reaches into his back pocket for his wallet, but Cliff holds his hand up.
“I won’t accept your money, Low. Our dads go way back.”
Lowen’s expression falls, leaving him straight-lipped and daunting. “Don’t fuck around, C.”
“Pops said your old man had his back in the joint when some shit came up. I won’t accept your money now or ever. It’s principle.” Cliff walks away, removing his gloves one last time tonight.
SUMMER COOLS T
autumn, welcoming fallen leaves, fresher weather, and college classes. As a result, I spend more time home in Culver City and less time with Lowen in Inglewood, but we make it work and steal moments together when we can.
My school books are open-faced, spread across the glass kitchen table much to my mother’s dismay.
“Can’t you do that in your room?”
she complained to me on more than one occasion.
“You’re getting fingerprints all over it.”
I purposely drop pencil shavings onto the floor for her to find when she gets home tomorrow morning. I’ve also left my dishes in the sink, and put the forks where the spoons go and the spoons where the forks go in the utensil drawer, because fuck her.
My parents grew accustomed to me not being around much during the summer, leaving them to their own devices. Now I’m back, taking up space and breathing the same air as them, and they haven’t made it a secret that it’s bothersome.
While they’re off pretending to give a shit about each other on a last-minute overnight stay with friends in Big Bear, l have the house to myself.
And it’s Friday.
At exactly four p.m., the sound of a lawn mower fires up in the front yard, and a smile stretches across my face. Lowen is right outside the front door, and my body is well aware. Prickling nervousness tickles the tips of my fingers, and my heartbeat fills my chest with a thump, thump, thump so heavy I nearly expect my ribs to splinter at the force.
When the mower stops, I close my books and stack them in an awkward pile, brushing eraser crumbs and broken lead to the linoleum with the shavings.
Low knocks before he enters the house.
A week has passed since I last saw him, and the sight of my boy, sun-kissed and filthy, leaves me breathless and tingling between my legs. Dark denim jeans are haphazardly tucked into his work boots; one is tied perfectly, and the other is unlaced completely. I helped buzz his head a couple of weeks ago, but it’s already long around his ears and in need of another shave.
“Your parents are gone, right?” he asks, closing the door behind him. Lowen’s blue eyes fall on my form, barefoot and braless. He smirks. “Please tell me they’re not here.”
Words abandon me, so I jump into his arms instead, wrapping my legs around his waist and pressing kisses to his salty skin. Lowen stumbles back, tripping on his untied laces, and collides with the wall. His grip on my bottom tightens, and he laughs into my neck, holding me against his hard chest.
“Miss me?” he asks. The tips of his work-worn fingers slip under my shirt and brush across my lower back.
“You have no idea,” I murmur between kisses.
Lowen sets me on my feet and hooks his arm around the back of my neck to kiss the top of my head. He smells like gasoline and freshly cut grass, and I press myself against him to breathe it in.
“What are you doing, girl?” he asks softly into my ear, pressing his lips to the tender spot beneath it.
Time away from Lowen is time spent untouched and unloved, back in the company of people who, in the very least, can’t take one moment to stop and ask how I am. After a summer spent cherished, it’s difficult to fall back into a life knowing what love feels like. My defensive walls aren’t built as high, and the silent dance my parents and I do around each other hurts my heart.
“I need you,” I say, rubbing my face into Lowen’s shirt.
He allows me to lead him toward my bathroom, sharing slight smiles and wordless devotions. I let go of his hand outside the door, reaching under the hem of my thin gray shirt to lift it off. Cool air hardens my nipples, and goosebumps spread across my arms like a breeze. The tie around my bun comes loose, cascading my long blonde locks around my slender shoulders.
Lowen scrubs the palms of his hands down his face and leans against the doorframe to watch me step out of my shorts, shaking his head. As I slip my thumbs under the elastic band of my panties, his position breaks, and he comes forward.
“Let me,” he says, lifting me onto the cold tile counter.
White cotton glides down my legs with ease, and Low covers my naked center with the palm of his hand, stroking wholly and kissing my mouth without haste. I fall back, hitting the bathroom mirror, and gasp for air as relentlessness moves lower. Running trembling fingers through his yellow-colored hair, I drive him toward my heat and nearly scream when his tongue slips between my folds.
Piercing blue eyes look at me from between my thighs, but I’m too far gone to hold his stare. I throw my head back and knock the soap dish and tissue box to the floor, searching for something to hold on to. Lowen thrusts my knees back—opening me wider, loving me deeper—and I wrap my hand around the faucet to keep steady, turning on the water.
“Not yet … not yet, Low,” I whisper as my heart beats like a drum, and my body winds up, on the brink of spiraling out of control.
Then his fingers are inside me, shoving, thrusting, fucking, and his mouth is attached to my throat, sucking, biting, consuming.
And I am coming.
“That’s it, girl.” He watches me catch fire like he drenched me in gasoline and lit a motherfucking match.
I cling to his shoulders, rocking my hips and burying my face between his neck and shoulder, absorbing the flame.
“Do you have any idea what this does to me, Poesy?” tenderness asks, sweeping loose strands of hair away from my flushed face with the hand he made love to me with. “How it makes me feel?”
Feather-soft lashes sweep across my cheeks as I blink heavily, waiting for the world to come back into focus. I’m fading in Lowen’s arms, barely breathing and utterly spent, throbbing and radiant all at once.
“It’ll be better than that one day,” he continues. “When I’m inside you.”
Lowen helps me down from the counter, but the feeling hasn’t returned to my legs, and I sink to the floor, wondering how it can ever be more than this. I rest my face on my knees as he starts the shower and takes off his shirt.
Solid muscle flexes under his tanned skin, and his abs constrict every time he exhales. Once he’s undressed and the small bathroom is full of humid steam, my boy helps me into the shower and follows me in.
Hot water chutes over my breasts, free-falling down my legs, and lastly, puddles around my feet before pouring down the drain. Low massages lavender-scented shampoo into my hair, scrubbing my scalp and washing away not only the day, but any lingering feelings I had of not belonging before he showed up.
This is the only place I belong.
“How was your week?” he asks, rinsing soapsuds away.
Overwhelmed by the simple question, I turn to face Lowen with tears in my eyes and emotion stuck in my throat, confronting nothing but genuine sincerity and kindness. The decency of his consideration is more than I’ve ever experienced, and now that I have, it’s not something I can live without.
“I hate it here, Low,” I admit, unable to be anything but honest with him.
Piercing blue eyes search my face, absorbing the torture in my expression and recognizing the aching in my soul. He sighs.
“Things are getting better with Flaco. I’m working more hours, Poe. Maybe you can move…”
There’s a knock on the bathroom door.
“Poesy, open up.” The handle jiggles. “Who’s in there with you?”
“What are you doing here, Mom? I thought you were gone until tomorrow,” I call out. The hot water beating on my shoulders only helps aid the rage building inside me at the sound of her detached voice.
“In the living room—now,” the person who gave me life says, and I know she’s walked away.
“Shit,” I whisper, turning the shower off.
Lowen and I dry ourselves and get dressed in a thick, steamy silence. He does his best to make his hair and clothes—grass-stained and muddy—presentable. Meanwhile, my hair drips water onto my shirt, soaking the back, and I don’t bother putting underwear back on under my shorts, knowing what’s coming.
“Don’t leave me alone with them,” I say with my hand on the doorknob.
Lowen draws me behind him and walks out first. The short hallway is dark, and the living room is bright, transforming my protector into a silhouette. He has a loose hold on my fingers, leading me toward consequence, with his head held high and his broad shoulders square. I feel unbeatable with him, and proud.
Mom is in the kitchen, pretending to put the dishes from the dishwasher away, banging pots and pans and slamming cabinet doors. My dad paces back and forth in front of the entertainment center against the wall. They both stop when we emerge, filling the open area with booming silence.
“You’re the gardener,” my father says.
“My name is L—”
“I don’t give a fuck what your names is. That’s my daughter.” Dad takes a step forward, red-faced and tight-fisted.
Lowen’s jaw constricts, but he’s otherwise rock-steady and firm in his place at my side.
“I will have your job for this,” irate and irrational continues, pointing a finger in Low’s direction.
“What the fuck, Poesy?” Mom suddenly shouts from the kitchen. Her arms are crossed, and she taps her foot crossly.
“You weren’t supposed to be here,” I say, offering nothing else. I tighten my grip on Lowen’s hand, unwavering.
Mom shakes her head as if to loosen the stupid between her ears and says, “What?”
“I thought I had the house to myself tonight, so I invited Lowen over,” I repeat. The way she looks at me like I’m nothing but an inconvenience has my stomach in knots.