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From the passenger seat, Savannah watches the hairs on Allison’s arm go golden in the late afternoon sun as it hangs out of the driver’s side window. The sun has been moving across her arm for the last four hours as they’ve driven east, spreading a rash of redness across that thin strip of skin, from wrist to her elbow, while Allison herself, wearing her enormous Jackie O sunglasses, stares ahead unflinchingly as if the flaming star sending light to her through several months of black space were just some boy extending his hand to grope at her.
They’re driving across the state to Tom’s cabin on Lake Sidree, the third deepest lake in all the world so they’re told. Tom is Allison’s boyfriend of a few months. Her parents don’t like him. But she says he’s the funniest boy she’s ever known. Savannah wonders how many more times Allison will say how funny Tom is. They’ve got a border to cross and three hours of road to travel after that.
Allison tells her to not worry. There will be other boys there.
[private]Boys. Hearing the word, Savannah remembers some dirty faced kids crawling out from under a car to throw eggs at her and her starchy, plaid skirt on her way to Eastside Christian.
She also thinks of her schoolmate’s brother. They’d been having a slumber party with several other girls and Savannah had walked in on him in the upstairs bathroom shaving. She looked at him through the white light and saw his naked chest with ribs showing. Noticed his crouched shoulders and the bare, flat landscape of his body. How he looked at her for a minute with a face of silence before slowly closing the door on her, leaving her outside the light, facing the dark wood.
Savannah thinks how she doesn’t want that. A boy. What she wants is less defined. She can’t picture it. Can’t even tell what gender it is. Like someone thumbing out on the highway half a mile ahead. Maybe a prison escapee. Or a convicted killer. Well, maybe not a killer. But someone on the lamb at least.
She doesn’t tell Allison any of this.
Allison’s the first friend she’s made in public school. A friend that ensured an end to all slumber parties by providing Savannah with new friends, which in turn allowed Savannah to delete all her slumber-party friends’ phone numbers.
They met on the tennis team. In fact both their parents think they’re finishing up a tennis camp in Fircrest—about a hundred miles west of their approximate location. An empty highway between rolling, yellow hills, copses of ponderosa pine and open sky.
Allison’s driving her dad’s old Golf. The white hatchback buzzes and snorts up the hills. When the hills rise, the buzzing gets louder. So Allison turns up the music.
“Mmm. I’m hungry,” Allison says.
Savannah turns to rummage in the back seat to fulfill her co-pilot role and notices they’ve eaten everything. The only things left besides their duffles are two bags. One filled with fortune cookies. The other filled with condoms.
Savannah peers into the bag of condoms for a moment. Notices again the round, candy-like shine reminiscent of lollipops you got at the doctors. But she didn’t think you got condoms at the doctors. She wasn’t sure where you got them.
She pulls up the bag of fortune cookies she got at the factory downtown and pauses for a minute to watch Allison’s body responding to the music—beat-heavy club-pop with lyrics about partying and drinking and falling in love, which always sounds more like sex. The music works Allison over. It rolls her, shakes her, makes her open her mouth.
Savannah marvels at how Allison can act like she’s alone. Her cheekbones are red crab apples. She wears a fuchsia tube top and Daisy Dukes, showing as much skin as she can without getting arrested. Her skin has the same creamy, high gloss of the fortune cookies. Savannah doesn’t understand. How someone can be allowed to have a body like that. She seems so equipped. And ready.
Savannah offers her a cookie.
“What? Oh, thanks. Sorry. This fucking song is the cut!”
They’re shedding the plastic wrappers, then prying open the stubborn lips of the cookies and reading their fortunes, ending each with “in bed”.
“You are sure to be making a life long friend…in bed.”
“Your adventurous spirit will bring good things…in bed.”
“An exciting experience is headed your way….in bed. Haha, headed. Get it?”
“We’re so retarded.”
Allison eats half of each cookie and flicks the rest, fortune and all, out the window. Savannah stashes hers in the pockets of her black short-shorts and eats the cookies, licking off their buttery sheen for a few seconds before cramming them into her mouth. She consumes them with a frustrated cycle of jaw work.
“Jesus, Savannah,” Allison laughs.
Savannah has to fight a feeling of wanting to hide or disappear or at least keep quiet. She’s been noticed being stupid by her friend. But she tries to laugh and bob to the music and even say something:
“I’ve heard the fortunes won’t come true unless you eat the whole thing. Besides I’m starving.”
“Yeah, well you better save some for when we get there,” Allison replies. “Or you’ll have to start in on the condoms.”
“You’re the only one who’s going to be eating those,” Savannah says.
“We’ll set you up, kid,” Allison says, punctuating each word with a slap on Savannah’s knee. “Don’t worry.”
The sun has a very different effect on Savannah’s arms; it brings out every black, villainous hair clinging to her dark complexion. Her mother’s half Indian, a heritage that’s hard to wax off. Especially considering how little it’s discussed.
“Big change equals big earnings,’” Allison reads her newest fortune. “…in bed. Yum! I think I’ll eat all of this one,” Allison says but puts the broken cookie between her legs.
The crumbs glint like grains of sand on Allison’s skin. A quiet scratching comes from the broken pieces. It unnerves Savannah. Makes her want to eat. She snatches the shards of cookie from Allison’s crotch and starts chewing.
“Gross, Savy. I don’t know if I can be seen in public with you.”
“If you can’t handle it, go home,” Savannah says through a mouthful, playing confident like she’s watched Allison do.
“We’re in my car,” Allison laughs. “If anybody’s going home, it’s going to be you and you’ll have to walk. Or hitch.”
“Ooo, maybe then I can maybe meet a boy.”
Pines are replaced by sage brush. The hills get bigger.
The Golf starts to snort more than buzz.
Allison turns the music up.
The car jerks. Then stalls near the crest of the uplands.
The music cuts.
They hear a gust of cold wind sweep long over the yellow scape of nothing.
The road would have led them down into a mild looking valley with rows of poplars and scattered blocks of buildings. Allison has Savannah get out and push her into a turn off. The ignition gives a few hisses and then goes silent.
Allison gets out and opens the hood. The grey tangle of engine steel emits a smell like burning vacuum. They cough.
“Shit.” Allison says.
“I thought you said you had this thing checked out.”
“What’d they say?”
“They said I probably needed a new fan belt.”
“I had to buy the condoms.”
Allison’s walking away from the steaming hood towards the road. Her hips start to roll as she saunters in her cowboy boots. She curls a thumb around a belt loop on her cut offs and slides them down just slightly so that one of her hip bones sticks out; she posts her other thumb straight up.
“What are you doing?” Savannah asks.
“Bet the first car’ll stop for this,” she bites her lower lip and gives a scandalous look.
Savannah stands there like a deer in crosshairs. She knows she looks this way. Can see it reflected in Allison’s bug-eyed sunglasses.
“Why don’t you just call Tom?”
Allison bites her lip and doesn’t reply.
A school bus passes.
“Haha.” Savannah says.
“Doesn’t count,” Allison says, shaking her blonde curls.
The highway stretches emptily. The five o’clock sky is a severe blue slowly dipping into dusk.
“Just call Tom. He likes you, right?”
“Savannah. Rule one about guys. DON’T be needy. Besides he’s three hours away and at work.”
They hear a sports car zooming up from the valley. It passes and all they see is their reflection in the tinted windows.
“Don’t even say it,” Allison says.
“They were probably gay lesbians,” Savannah replies.
“Wouldn’t they want me if they were lesbians? Ditz.”
For a moment there’s only the wind. It rattles a line of barbed wire strung between stumps along the road.
A tank-sized rumble comes up over the hill. It emerges as a grey-black Suburban. In the cab, Savannah sees a collection of males who, without smiling, swerve their lumbering vehicle into the turn off.
“Maybe they’ll rape us!” Savannah says.
The look Allison returns her with makes her immediately sorry she said anything. It’s a look Savannah didn’t know Allison could have. The swelling strain in her red cheeks. The shrinking of her mouth as she swallows quick.
The driver gets out of the cab. He looks twenty something with a beard, wearing a trucker hat that casts a darkness over his face. His eyes are small and he wears a dusty thermal shirt over an abdomen with some shape to it. He’s a guy, Savannah realizes. Not a boy.
He asks what the problem is.
From the covered trailer and passenger seats, five boys step out. None can be over sixteen. The youngest around twelve. None of them gawk or smile. They look remarkably pale. Their eyes squint in the sunlight as if coming out from a dark closet. Their quietude, their over-bitten teeth and dusty faces make Savannah want to feed them for some reason. They look hungry.
Before they can answer what’s wrong, one bare-chested boy wearing suspenders says he thinks it’s a fried fan felt.
The driver looks from the speaker to Allison, “Could that be it?”
“Well, that’ll be easy enough to fix,” the driver says.
“In town,” one of the boys puts in.
“Yeah, cept it’s closing time,” the driver adds. “Only one place’ll take you and they won’t be able to have it ready by morning.”
The light is pinkening in the west now and Savannah sees a telltale sliver of the moon in the east. Wind scythes effortlessly through the plains that offer themselves bare without even the semblance of shelter. Not so much as a nook.
“You two got a cellphone?” the driver asks.
“I’ll use it to call my guy in town.”
Allison gives the driver her phone and traces a half circle with her boot in the dirt as he mutters something about the highway and make of the car. He gives her back the phone. Savannah notes that their eyes have settled on each other. She wonders about the origins of Allison’s bodily magnetism. For the last year she’s watched Allison tractor beam several guys this way and each time she’s watched with the same excitement and revulsion of watching a carnivorous plant trap a fly. They give a kind of consensual shivering that makes it hard for her to sympathize, exactly. It must be that skin of hers that’s to blame. Guys must mistake the sweat on Allison’s arms for honey.
While Savannah’s thinking this, she rummages in the car for the bag of fortune cookies, almost pulling out the bag of condoms by mistake. Both are situated next to each other in the same duffle in non-descript grocery bags that say Thank You in red. She goes around feeding the boys fortunes.
She likes how they pop the air from the plastic wrappers and break the cookies gingerly. How each one reads over the little waxen papers slowly and sniffs before eating.
Savannah eats one too.
One of the scrappier-looking ones, not a day older than twelve, in his wife-beater and rat tail—asks her what her fortune is.
Savannah tells him she’s got lots of them. She keeps them all.
He says that’s bad luck.
Maybe it’s bad luck she’s looking for, one of the other boys suggests.
“Hush up,” the driver tells them and they hush. The driver turns and asks the girls if they have a place to stay.
A half hour later, they’re riding in the suburban with the driver. Allison is riding in the front seat. Savannah sits diagonally behind her. The seat next to her remains empty. In the place that normally holds the radio, an open hole gapes its red and yellow wires like wax snakes.
The tow truck came and went. The driver knew the tow guy, who assured them he’d have the car ready in the morning. But didn’t bother offering to drive them into town.
The driver is now driving them to a hotel he owns. One he’s fixing up. It’s not much but a place they can stay a free night.
From the viewing window in the truck’s canopy, Savannah can see the other five boys riding in the covered truck bed. At each bump and turn, their heads bob.
“So what brought you out here?” the driver asks.
“We were going to Lake Sidree,” Savannah answers.
“Oh yeah? That’s a fine lake. Second deepest lake in the world.”
“I’ve never been,” Savannah says.
“It’s not the nicest time to go. Real hot and sticky out there, now. Tons of people,” the driver continues.
“Well, Allison has a friend who lives on a lake.”
“Huh. Swell friend,” the driver looks at Allison. “Making you drive all this way. Having a bunch of rednecks pick you up. I’d have driven you from Point A.”
Allison is staring ahead. Her big, buggy glasses have become a visor of blackness betraying no expression.
“His name’s Tom,” Savannah says.
“You don’t say. My name’s Tom,” the driver says without looking at her.
“Maybe you could be our new Tom,” Savannah asks.
She hears Allison let out a flat exhale of disgust. Savannah goes silent.
“Hon, you can call me whatever you want. I’m just a guy giving you a ride. But hey,” Tom puts on a pair of silver aviators. “You know why they call it Sidree?”
Savannah doesn’t dare reply.
Allison gives no response.
“Desire,” the new Tom says. “All mixed up.”
The car goes over a bump.
The heads of the boys bob.
Savannah looks at them. They look at her like strays rounded up in the back of an animal control car. She shuts the viewing window. Behind the tinted glass, the boys become faceless shades with gaunt shoulders.
Tom says that since the hotel’s being renovated, they’ll have the place to themselves.
Another bump. Then bobbing of heads.
Allison turns sharply to him, “What are you going to want from us?”
He laughs. It’s a dusty, leaping sound that Savannah finds pleasant. “Wow, you got some teeth. Ouch, doll.”
Savannah wonders what Allison’s problem is all of a sudden. She guesses it’s that Allison already has a Tom and doesn’t like that this one is hitting on her.
He could hit on me, Savannah thinks.
The new Tom is still backtracking, “I’d never ask anything from two stuck travelers.”
“Too bad,” Savannah says.
For the first time, Tom looks at her from the rearview mirror.
Savannah looks back.
But then she sees his eyes flit back to Allison’s go-go pink top. “Yeah,” he says. “I bet you gals could put on a show if you wanted.”
The shadows of the boys bob behind the glass. No bump needed.
It’s dusk. The new Tom rolls the car up into the empty parking lot of an unmarked, two story building with a length of rooms running in rows along the top and bottom stories.
One streetlight illuminates the grounds, along with the now red light of the setting sun.
The doors have wrought iron screens covering them. Every door except one. A white door in the bottom middle.
“This is a hotel?” Savannah asks.
It could just as easily have passed for a storage facility.
“It will be. Like I said, I’m renovating it. I’ll show you.”
“Can you just give me the key?” Allison asks.
Tom shrugs disarmingly, “Anything for you.” He slides an off gold key onto the arm rest between them.
Allison takes the key and gets out, boots stomping up dust angrily. Savannah follows with the duffle, finding herself having to run after Allison.
“You’re welcome,” the new Tom calls out.
Savannah turns, “Thank you.”
“And don’t worry if you lose the key. I have a skeleton. I might be by later to check up on you. See if you need anything.”
Savannah’s step falters as she trips over his words in her mind. Looking back, she sees herself as a shrunken figurine in new Tom’s icy-looking aviators as he stands on the driver side’s running board, staring over his open door at them. The back hatch of the Suburban opens and out crawl the other boys. She sees their muscles below their thin skin, paler somehow and more primal, their movements quickened in the gloaming light like nocturnal animals beginning the hunt. They step gingerly onto the running boards and redistribute themselves throughout the cab.
Allison pulls her into the room and shuts the door, “Stay here.” Allison starts walking circles around the room. The room has a bed. A bed, dark furniture, thin, green carpet and wall paper with sketches of road runners bulging their eyes as if in terror. A white fan with heavy blades hangs from the ceiling. The back window faces southward to open country.
“Watch them leave,” Allison says.
Savannah notices she’s whispering. She tries to look out the eyehole. But all she sees is an opaque circle bubbling towards her. “Allison.”
“The eyehole turns in.”
They hear the truck engine start. Allison opens up one of the heavy curtains enough to see them pull out.
Allison turns to her, “Of course it does.”
Allison’s voice is starting to sound older. Harsher and grating. Like Savannah’s mother’s voice sounded when Savannah would walk out into the street. “We’re in deep.”
The empty hotel, the skeleton key. Maybe they’ll rape us. It sinks into Savannah like a hot knife. “Oh my God,” she gasps.
“And you flirted with him.”
“You dumb ass. The one guy you chose to flirt with.”
“I said I was sorry,” Savannah says.
Allison lets a blast of air out through her teeth, “It’s alright. You didn’t know what you were saying.”
Savannah feels the clamor of a crowded room in her stomach, her cells bobbling inside her like the beady little heads of the boys in the jostling truck.
Allison scans outside at the other buildings.
“K. Come on,” Allison says and flings the curtains closed. She disappears into the bathroom. Savannah follows.
Allison mounts the toilet seat in her boots. She opens the window, flings the key out into the brush and even as she’s giving Savannah orders to lower her out the back, she’s already half gone.
Savannah grips Allison’s arms and finds them surprisingly wet and cold. Not like the hot currents of blood she imagined. Savannah realizes she’s been wanting to touch this skin for the last year and now that she has, she sees it slipping through her hands, the little golden hairs smoothing flat as it goes.
They get away to a motel across the street. Moving quickly and in darkness, circumventing the scattered streetlights like shadow people.
Allison has Savannah check in to one room while she waits around the corner and checks into another.
“That way if he asks, they’ll tell him no two girls came in together,” Allison says. “He probably knows everybody in this place!”
In their room, while Allison is using her phone to call her Tom, Savannah feels her hands pulsing like each one holds a half of her heart. She smells her palms. Smells Allison on them. Wipes herself with them.
She’s told to keep watch for the Suburban to pull into the abandoned hotel.
“Get down on your knees,” Allison says. “And keep the curtains drawn so they don’t look over here and see us!”
Savannah does it. She hears Allison whimpering on the phone to her Tom about how he has to come out here ASAP and pick them up. Or she’s going to be raped by an entire town of inbreeds.
“They have my car already!” she said.
When she finally loses her wind, she merely repeats his name. “Tom, Tom, Tom.”
Looking at Allison, Savannah feels something akin to hunger. It’s not an emptiness but a ragtag group of feelings trying to climb out of her all at once.
Savannah remembers a party at Allison’s house. After everyone had gone home, she’d stayed. She walked out back to the pool and found Allison sitting on Tom. With her blonde body moving up and down him and him moving back, they seemed to have turned themselves over to some rhythmic power synching them inseparably.
Tom had Allison’s head cupped in his big hands and was nosing, licking into the fruit of her face. Savannah watched alone, her dark, hairy arms goosebumping in the cold.
She remembered sitting in Chapel, in the row of like-clad girls all in white polos and dark skirts like groomed shrubs. Hearing about how those in the flesh burned for each other and writhed. But seeing them—Allison and Tom—writhe into each other, Savannah realized that that burning felt good.
If they knew she was there, they didn’t let on. They belonged to a rough, tussling cult of skin, content leaving her to stand at the edge of the waters where a reflection of herself refused to coagulate, shifting in the ripples of their motion.
Savannah has seen and re-seen this moment in her head, in the dark, in her bed. She has wished to be them—one then the other. But she has remained herself and she doesn’t know why. She wonders why the boy shaving hadn’t pulled her into him. She wonders why no guy has asked for her. Called her from her sleep. Or leapt into her bed through the window. But she’s tired of wondering. Tired of waiting. Looking at Allison’s quivering chest, at the blood flooding the apples of her cheeks and filling her fortune cookie flesh, Savannah wants to do something about it.
“Savannah?” Allison asks, turning her chin away from her phone. “Anything?”
“Then what the hell are you looking at me for? God!” Allison says and returns to the phone.
“What am I going to eat?” Savannah asks. It’s all she can ask.
Allison shrugs and tosses her the duffle with the cookies and the condoms, “Pick one.” Allison mouths.
“You know,” Savannah says looking out at the abandoned hotel. “They might have just been being nice,” Savannah says.
Allison lowers her phone.
“Maybe they just wanted to check up on us,” Savannah continues, nearing the door.
“Tom, I’ll call you back. Savannah is being a twat.” Allison flips the phone closed and sits up. “Hey. Stop. Where are you going?”
Savannah has her hand on the door knob, “You’re just going to ignore me all night anyway.”
“I was schmoozing my boyfriend up so he’ll come rescue us. He’s on his way!”
“Maybe I don’t want to be rescued,” Savannah says opening the door.
Allison stands up, slams the door shut, and sends her hot breath out onto Savannah, “This isn’t one of our games, okay. We’re talking about something else. Something you don’t know about. Do you know how much it hurts the first time?”
“No. You don’t. You don’t know what it tastes like or what it looks like. And you don’t want to know. You talk like you do, but you don’t. You don’t want to know how mad they get when you don’t do it right. Or what it feels like inside when you don’t see them again.”
Savannah grabs Allison’s face by its cheeks. With a cheek in each hand, Savannah opens her mouth, breathes in deeply and tries to bring her handfuls forward.
Allison shoves her away, “What are you doing?”
Savannah stands stiff as a coat hanger nailed to the door.
“Is that it? You have a thing for me now?” Allison exhales in revulsion. “Why am I friends with you again?”
Savannah reaches into the duffle and pulls out one of the bags that says Thank You, “Have fun with yourself,” she says and opens the door again.
“It feels like you’ve got a whole drilled in you!”
“Good.” it’s all Savannah can get out.
“They’ll tear your vag open so wide you’ll talk out of it!”
“That’s right. Be jealous.”
“Come back here. We’ll leave you…”
Savannah slams the door on the bright, blonde medusa head Allison’s face has become and sees the image flashburned in the air, fading only slowly as she retraces their steps, back across the street and to the trap waiting there.
The full moon looks like a battery powered camping light in the sky. The summer evening’s darkness is heavy and clouded as a cup of wine.
With a dry tongue and thirst in her throat, Savannah tries the white door on her Tom’s hotel. She wants to lay her flat body on the bed and have the fan on, hovering over her like a moth. The door is locked.
She goes around back to look for the key but finds a stretch of dry, scraggly wilderness, mute and ungiving in its tangle. She thinks of tiptoeing into the bitterbrush, and groping on her knees over the shale, looking for the key. But she can’t take a single step in.
She smells sage and dust on the wind.
She walks the streets of the town-between-towns swinging her Thank You bag from her wrist, passing trees planted sparsely along the road—ash, oak.
She doesn’t know which bag she took. The condoms or the fortune cookies. She resists the urge to see what’s in the bag. Tortures herself this way. Each time she craves, she pulls one of the earlier fortunes out from her pocket and lets the wind carry it away.
She walks until the halters on her flip-flops cut into the pinch of skin between her big and tall toes, making her feet bleed and the new day begins as lavender peelings in the night’s fading purple canvass.
She finds the Suburban finally. It’s parked outside a split level, sheltered by a modest bluff, at the end of a service road on the outskirts of town. One of the many roads she’s walked.
Its cabin light is on and she sees the driver lying on his back, screwing the radio panel into the dashboard.
He sits up. “Hey,” he says.
He’s still in his off white thermal shirt, that bears a few more swipes of grease. He wipes his nose on his wrist as he looks her up and down.
She’s walked and re-walked so many dead end roads this night, she’s become like a live host to her own dead spirit and feels glisteningly alive in the crisp air. With his sunglasses and hat off and the sunrise opening like an eye over the bluff, she can see he has brown eyes.
“What are you doing out here? You need another lift or something? I thought about sending one of the boys to check up on you. But you’re friend seemed a little heated.”
“We’re… She’s okay.”
“Yeah. Figure she can take care of herself well enough.”
“I’m not sure of that anymore.”
“Why you here by yourself then?”
Savannah doesn’t know how to answer.
He looks back at the house—the flat country porch shrunken by a half finished roof. He looks back at her. “Want to come in? The pack’s asleep downstairs. They won’t bother us.”
She feels the same old craving come as a thickening of her saliva and a trembling in her stomach that makes her sick, “Why me?”
He worries the grease on his hands, “You’re the one standing here.”
So is he though. He’s just standing there. Just a brown eyed boy with a beard and a car. Just like Allison’s a little girl crying on a motel bed up the street. Two larger versions of the underfed children. And Savannah is a person in between.
She reaches into the bag and surrenders herself to chance and lifts out what she finds, her own hand acting as a kind of toymachine’s claw for fate. What she pulls up is a folded pocket of sweet, dry dough, which she hands to the Tom, who gives a dry laugh and a bemused smile as if he somehow understood the dichotomy of her choosing and the randomly decided outcome. He cracks open the cookie.
“There’s no fortune in this one,” he says. But by then, Savannah’s walking away.
She hears him take a single step after her and in response, she quickens her pace. “Where are you going?” he asks.
She doesn’t know. If she did, she might actually have answered him.
Maybe she’s going to where the sun is rising from—to the source of all this gold and pink and orange splashing on the surfaces of rock outcroppings and across swathes of prairie. Maybe she’s going to the place the barren land meets the blue expanse of that shimmering body called desire, the deepest lake in all the world. But wherever she’s going, there’s no one waiting for her there, not even one of her own preconceptions. She will surely arrive there alone. As her own. Gone.[/private]