by Jessamyn Edra
Evelyn grips the cold curves of the sink. She closes her eyes, lets the image of malformed Irish Spring soap and unscrubbed tub fade to black.
She remembers back when she was a kid, her mother promoted afternoon naps by turning them into a competition. Evelyn dutifully shut her eyes alongside her brother and her two favorite cousins, knowing that whoever woke up last got to walk to 7-Eleven and pick out a piece of candy after church. She always faked it—listening hard for the rustling of clothing, the shifts in breathing, and waiting just a little longer before lifting her own lids and yawning. She entered second grade with several cavities.
Evelyn opens her eyes and looks down at the rust-ringed drain. As she breathes slowly, in and out, she feels the full weight of her head.
“Hey, babe?” Edward says with a light knock on the door. For the past three months, until now, she has only heard his voice over the phone, syllables distorted by static. Now in the silence of the small studio apartment, his words are clear, even through the bathroom door. “You okay in there?” he asks. She hears the steady note of concern in his voice, but also his barely-muted anticipation.
She unclenches her hands. She puts the toilet seat cover down and sits with her knees tucked into her chest. “Yeah.” Then, with an effort at normalcy, she says huskily, “I’ll be right out, darling.” But somewhere along that last word, her voice hiccups into something from an old Western film, and her performance becomes parody. She coughs.
There is a pause. For a moment, she fears that he has noticed her incompetence, her lack of experience with this sort of thing. “Looking forward to it,” Edward says.
Evelyn listens to him walk quietly away from the bathroom, then stands up and lets the pink chemise, trimmed with black lace, resettle over her thighs. As the cool silk moves over her skin, she feels almost desirable. Hand outstretched, she takes three small steps to the door. But at the last moment she stops at the sink again, and this time, when she grips its edges, she looks up into the mirror. Her sleek hair has frizzed up in the humid, Hawaiian air and, despite her best efforts, her eye liner is unevenly applied, giving her left eye a slightly sinister look. She dabs at it with a piece of toilet paper and tries to smile. She lifts the corners of her mouth, but as she parts her freshly-glossed lips to show some teeth, the smile falls.
Earlier that day, her mother drove her to San Francisco International airport, telling her that Grandma bought herself a mink coat at the mall yesterday, that Auntie Luz waxed off too much of her eyebrows, that Bill did not like taking baths because it irritated his eczema.
Smiling, Evelyn half-listened to the latest gossip, her mind inevitably drifting back to Edward. She had opted out of her cotillion this year, the traditional Filipino debutante ball that announced eighteen with dresses fitted too tight and stiff waltzes with vaguely reptilian cousins. Instead, she convinced her parents to send her to Hawaii to visit Edward during Thanksgiving break. It was cheaper, she reasoned, and with the bills from her first quarter at college filling the file cabinet, they agreed.
Evelyn first noticed Edward more than a year ago when they were lining the dirt track for the meet against Washington High. The job normally needed one person, but she couldn’t chalk the straightaway without someone else’s eye. She tended to veer subtly to the right if left unsupervised. So he walked alongside her, his hands shoved in black basketball shorts that were too long for him. Sometimes he jogged ahead on the grass to check out the progress, but mostly he stayed with her. They finished lining the track and when she turned to look at him, she noticed the smudge of chalk on his jaw. It was smooth back then; the stubble she so adored would come later. She told him he had some chalk on his face. He pulled his hand from the deep pockets of his shorts and quickly brushed along his jaw-line. She hoped he would miss a spot, but he didn’t. She knew because she spent the rest of the afternoon sneaking glances.
“Are you bringing Edward anything from his dad?” her mother asked.
“No,” Evelyn said. She put her fingers to the car window and watched suburbia stream past. “Mr. Flores just sent him a care package, actually.” This was a lie. Or maybe it was the truth, but she doubted it. Evelyn’s mother had wanted her to see Mr. Flores, let him know that she was going to visit Edward, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She didn’t like him. Maybe it was the way he said, “Would you just call me James already?” every time she greeted him, or the cigarette smoke that announced his arrival. It could be the gleaming whiteness of his teeth that unnerved her, or the rigid part of his hair. But it was probably what he had said after Edward placed sixth in the two-mile against Kennedy. If Edward had run a good race, Mr. Flores would jog over to the track, holding a bottle of water—not cold, ’cause cold’s not good for you right after a race, but room temperature water—and a stopwatch to show Edward the new time to beat. Kennedy High was not a good meet for either Edward or Evelyn, and when Mr. Flores came jogging over as they changed out of their racing flats, Evelyn saw Edward grab a fistful of grass in preparation. “All those nights with Evelyn are draining you, son,” he pronounced and winked at both of them. Edward tore the grass from the earth and looked at her. He whispered apology as his father sauntered off.
Granted she and Edward did spend many nights kissing, and touching, and licking, and caressing. One night, they parked at Coyote Hills and fumbled about in the backseat of his Honda Accord. He pushed away fabric and bit down on her shoulder, and she prayed that he wouldn’t actually take off her shirt because she was wearing one of her rattier bras. The headlights of a passing car had been her saving grace, the sudden illumination of the car’s gray interior an apt reminder of where they were and what they were doing. Still—her smell was everywhere, and as soon as she got home, she washed her panties in the sink so her mother wouldn’t stumble upon them in the laundry.
Evelyn was almost ashamed by just how much she loved feeling his skin under her fingertips, loved the taut muscles of a long-distance runner just below the surface, loved even the smell of his sweat after a quick six miles. Even better than his skin under her fingertips was his skin under her lips. He tasted good, like eating graham crackers and then waking up from a long, afternoon nap, with the mild honey-sweetness still in her mouth. “Does that make sense?” she asked when she told him. “No,” he said, and kissed her. Still, they had not done anything that warranted Edward’s father winking in such a way. Mr. Flores never would have believed it, though. Edward said that since his mother died, his father only got worse.
“Oh, so you’re really not bringing Edward anything?” Her mother was displeased; her mouth puckered in thought about the correct social protocols. Evelyn’s mother was still beautiful, even with the thinning hair she washed with a special shampoo; something about the brown freckles at the corners of her eyes kept her girlish. Though she complained about how much weight she had gained here in America, she had aged softly, retaining her high cheekbones and the easy class that Evelyn never inherited.
“I am bringing myself,” Evelyn replied, twisting her long string of plastic pearls. “That should be more than enough.”
“No, not that.” Her mother laughed. “Anything but that. It’s still early.”
Evelyn laughed, too—and not the nervous, guilt-tinged laugh she may have uttered at any other time—but a real laugh; her mother had made a joke that acknowledged sex and, by extension, her adulthood. Evelyn knew her mother, who attended mass at St. Anne’s Catholic Church every Sunday, would never grant an official seal of approval on her decision to finally have sex with Edward. But understanding, on a woman-to-woman level, wasn’t impossible. The proof was in her name.
Her mother had named her Evelyn after a Filipino woman who sold kalamansi in front of the house her mother had grown up in. Every day, her namesake would carry in her basket not only hundreds of these small, round lime fruits, but also the letters of young lovers. In Tagalog, the only language which her mother could use to describe these things, she recounted the sharp, tangy smell of the letter that had been wrinkled by the weight of the kalamansi and the pleasure of smoothing out the thin paper on the floor of her room, watching the black letters appear under her hands. Her mother was not allowed to date until she was in college and when it was discovered that she had been sneaking letters to a fisherman’s son in the barrio, her father forced her to drop a semester of classes. “You only have time to do one thing: study or date,” he pronounced. The next semester, her mother studied hard, remembering how she had knelt with bare knees on uncooked rice. She held pails of water, too, as her parents chastised her. Because of this, her mother let Evelyn date as soon as she was in high school. Because of this, her mother named her Evelyn, after a woman who understood young love.
Edward had written Evelyn letters, too—his cramped handwriting filling page after page of lined notebook paper with lurid remembrances of short skirts and sticky afternoons. Her name all but disappeared under the flood of babes, darlings, and sweethearts. Other, sturdier names popped up like driftwood: Anne from work and Shelly from the cross-country team. Edward and Evelyn’s conversations were either do-you-remember’s exchanged or promises for the future—they didn’t have a present together.
Evelyn consulted friends. She read Advice for the Geographically Challenged along with articles in Cosmo. She researched and responded accordingly. She sent him perfumed pages of poetry: Amichai’s “Posthumous Fragments,” Neruda’s “Letter on the Road,” her own enjambed lines. She went to her first frat party, felt large hands grip her hips, and shed small tears. She sent Edward the racy photos and the care packages with his favorite candy, Mike and Ike’s. She glared at couples holding hands and ran for miles, trying to purge herself of this immense tension, this sleeplessness that made her mistake one head of hair for another, this affliction that made her grip armrests at movie theaters. She bought a scruffy loofah and inhaled chocolate. And one night, after she filled yet another awkward silence with trite advice when he was trying to decide whether or not to withdraw from organic chemistry, she promised him. A promise that their first night back together would be a night he would not soon forget. That got him talking, and the buttery flow of his low tones over the line loosened something heavy threaded through her.
When they got to the airport, her mother gave her a soft smile and said, “Be safe and have a good time.” Evelyn spent most of the five-hour flight looking out the window and twisting her pearls. She tried to fall asleep but couldn’t keep her eyes closed for more than a few minutes. Instead, she opened and closed the paperback she brought until the sky drained of daylight. It was after midnight when she saw the lights. When a plane landed in California, the world came to view in square grids of city or farmland, but the lights outside her window were an organic net of golden points, more web than grid. The red lights on the wing flashed as the plane began its descent into Honolulu, and Evelyn realized all the darkness rushing below her was water. An island, she remembered, like the Philippines. Evelyn walked to baggage claim, her steps shaky in her new high-heeled shoes. She almost didn’t recognize Edward when he came toward her, walking in his slow and deliberate way, sensuous but precise movements through the crowd. It always surprised people how quickly those tawny thighs moved on the track. He was holding a lei of yellow flowers. He was leaner than she remembered, more tanned, too. The good runners look hungry, their coach had said. He was wearing the striped polo she liked. He placed the lei around her neck and smiled crookedly, flashing his sharp canine teeth.
“I just lei’d you.” He winked.
She pushed him, but he grabbed her hands and pulled her in for a kiss and the kiss was familiar, his fingertips weaving into her hair like they always did.
“I’m just kidding,” he whispered in her ear. Edward planted a small kiss on her earlobe—thick earlobes were a sign of great intelligence, he once told her—and drew back to look at her face. She wondered if he noticed that she had pierced her ears. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said and picked up her bags.
The moist air enveloped her as soon as they stepped out of the airport. She felt hazy, her edges blurring like an object overexposed in a photo. “Your hair makes you look surprised,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows and chuckled. “Yeah, it’s due for a cut.” He ran his hand through his coarse hair and glanced at her. “So…how was your flight, kiddo?”
“It was okay. How was your drive?”
He shrugged and adjusted the backpack slung over his shoulder. “Eh, it was all right, a little long for me.” He smiled and she had a ridiculous urge to count his teeth.
Instead she nodded, and felt petal and pearl shift against her neck. Edward should hand her back one of her bags. Her arms dangled uselessly at her sides. “How are things with Rich?”
“Good, good,” he said. He re-adjusted the bags again and put his hand on the small of her back, guiding her in the direction of his car. His palm felt enormous and warm on the eyelet fabric of her dress. “He actually decided to go back to Michigan for the break.”
“Oh.” She looked downward, focusing on the heel-toe motion of walking in her heels. She thought suddenly of her mother who had worked as a bank teller in college; it paid well back then and was respectable for a young lady. She told Evelyn that she would walk close to a mile to work from campus in the black heels required for her uniform. On her way, she always passed by the crumbling Spanish-style mansion of a blind old man. The gentleman’s ancestors were well-established in Quezon City, but his children were in America, all gorgeous mestizos who sent home LBC boxes crammed full of good coffee and tins of corned beef. He always called out the window when he heard her pass: “Hoy, kumusta ka na, Lita?” He swore that he knew her by the sound of her heels on the pavement, but she never believed him until one day she passed him on the street. Their shoulders brushed—puffed sleeve of white cotton and starched corner of gray tweed—and he was silent. Ha, she thought, clacking away with a smile. Three strides later he called out, “Marry me, Lita!” She laughed and hopped onto the jeepney, her dress stuck to her back in the heat. It was only later that she learned he was in earnest. He had even gone to see her parents. She had stared down at his hands, sun-withered and crossed with veins, and when he reached to take her hand into his own, she refused as politely as she could, citing her studies.
“Yeah, so we have the place to ourselves,” Edward was saying. He looked at Evelyn and she returned her gaze to her shoes. “No coercion, I swear. His mom wanted to take him skiing, or snowboarding, or something.”
“Oh,” she said and nodded again, thankful to be at the car.
He opened her door and held her hand as he drove. The windows were rolled down and that thick air wafted in, carrying with it the possibility of warm rain. With Edward’s hand massaging hers, she felt her muscles slowly relax, one by one. She once sent him a rock she found on one of her rambling walks across campus. She thought he would appreciate its smooth lines, the way it retained heat, the way she held it under her pillow when she needed to grip something at night. The miles passed in silence and much to her embarrassment, she managed to fall asleep this time.
“Hey, babe?” She awoke to Edward whispering in her ear. “We’re here.” She opened her eyes to find him looking at her. “I was going to take you to get some food or something, but I thought sleep might be the better option.” He bit his already chapped lip.
Still half-asleep, the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them: “I thought we weren’t going to be sleeping tonight,” she said. Immediately, she regretted the joke.
“Well, then,” he said. She was glad he didn’t wink.
Edward had some difficulty with the keys when they finally got to his apartment on the seventh floor. In between apologizing for the out-of-order elevator and telling her how much he had missed her, she remembered that she liked him a great deal. She put her hand over his and he grinned, toothy and boyish. They unlocked the door together.
“You’re going to love the view,” he said as he flung the door open. He tossed her bags to the side and took her hand. Quickly, they crossed the small space of the apartment; kitchenette, two twin beds, a television, a fan. He brushed aside the threadbare curtains that lined one whole wall and they walked out onto the lanai. Her eyes took in the dark ocean continuously shaping the curves of the island, the banyan trees that grew both up and down, roots descending from the branches to steady the tree during flood times, but also the skyscrapers and road construction and traffic. So Honolulu was a city after all.
“What’s the place with no lights?” she said.
“Diamond Head Crater,” he said, wrapping his arms around her from behind. “Those high-rises around it are the U of H dorms.” He pressed his lips to her neck as she stared out. A plumeria tree worthy of worship spread its branches next to a streetlight and a tattoo place. There was a Mustang parked outside “Tropical Tattoos” and when Evelyn leaned forward, she could make out the figure of a man smoking on the hood of the car.
An ambulance rushed past on the street below them and before the siren could reach its fever pitch, she took his hand. “Let’s go back inside.”
“Okay,” he said, and scooped her into his arms. One of her shoes almost fell off.
“Hey, hey, hey,” she said. She batted at his forearms. He had never lifted her before; she told him short people didn’t like it. And they didn’t, especially on the seventh floor. “Put me down.” She tried to laugh.
“Why should I?” he said. He buried his face in the crook of her neck. With only his foot, Edward slid the screen door shut.
“So,” she said, tugging at her dress which had ridden up a couple of inches in the process, “I can go get ready.”
He stopped in the middle of the room and considered this. “Okay.” He put her down.
She took a couple deep breaths. “Where’s the bathroom?”
“It’s, uh,” he walked over and opened a door, “right over here.” He smiled down at her and tugged at his earlobe, a tic she had always found endearing. “I’ll just be out here, getting ready, too, okay?”
“Okay,” she said and shut the door.
Evelyn can imagine him now, sitting on the edge of the bed, tugging at his earlobe, wondering exactly when she will be ready. She walks out of the bathroom. The clear clacking of her heels on linoleum is instantly absorbed by the dingy carpet. The silence is disconcerting.
“Wow,” Edward says, the single, breathless syllable breaking into her thoughts. He is wearing the boxers she got him for Christmas last year, bright blue and covered with penguins wearing orange bow-ties.
Emboldened by these penguins, she strikes a pose, placing her hands on her hips and jutting her chest forward. She turns her head dramatically to the right, letting her long bangs fly over her eyes, and pouts her lips, another parody of sexy confidence.
“What do you think?” she says, careful not to look at him.
He walks up to her and slides a fallen strap back onto her shoulder. His fingers are warm, his touch much-missed.
“You look—” He chuckles the way he did on their first date, nervous but happy. “Too good for any of the clichés I had planned to say,” he concludes.
“Spare me…” she begins, still half in character. But when she turns her head to look at him, she cannot finish her line. He brushes the hair from her face with those warm fingers. It’s been so long.
“Thank you,” she says. She looks down, embarrassed by the rush of warmth in her body. It is then that she notices Edward’s erection poking through his boxers. Her head snaps back up just as he leans in to kiss her forehead.
“Fuck!” His eyes are tightly shut and his thick eyebrows are knitted together as he grimaces. He exhales a single syllable through gritted teeth. “Ouch.”
“Oh my god!” She winces in sympathy. “I’m so sorry.” She means this, she really does. But underneath her hand now covering her mouth, she feels herself begin to smile. She suppresses the impulse quickly. What is wrong with her? “Are you okay?” she says, “You want me to get some ice?” She slips off her heels, ready to run for the fridge.
He slowly opens his eyes. She must still be conveying an accurate enough expression of concern because he sighs. “I’m okay.” He sits down on the bed. His erection has deflated considerably. “How’s your head?” he asks, staring at the wall in front of him. His roommate has a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar up and next to that is the Greenday poster she sent Edward in September.
“It’s fine,” she says. She needs to get a grip. She promised and it was not a promise made lightly. It was a promise she is sure even her mother would eventually forgive, as long as Edward and she get married immediately and never divorce. Breathe, she tells herself, this is Edward—you know him. She knows that his earliest and fondest childhood memory is of winding his mother’s hair in his small hands. She knows the way he kisses, never staying in one place long enough, and that his ex-girlfriend is a little prettier than she is, but she is much smarter. She knows that despite his mother’s fatal accident, he drives like a maniac, recklessly weaving in and out of traffic, making bets about the ethnicity of the drivers who piss him off—all in a car with no horn. She knows that when he cries, he is like a little boy, both hands covering his face. She knows that he likes smooth, not crunchy, peanut butter, and that he has exactly three pornographic magazines under his mattress back in California.
“I know you’re nervous,” he murmurs. “It’s my first time, too.”
Right—she knows that it’s his first time, too.
She sits down next to him and rubs his back with one hand. He glances at her with a half-smile, not wide enough for dimples. She moves behind him and starts massaging his back with both hands, planting open-mouthed kisses on his spine.
“That feels real good, babe,” he says with a low moan. His excitement should excite her. That’s the way it’s always been in the past, just the sound of his pleasure gave her pleasure—but even now as she kisses him, each kiss committing her further, all she can feel is anxiety. What if she doesn’t know enough? Or what if what she does know has changed? She stops kissing him. Breathe.
“You like that,” she says, pressing her body against his, “Edward?”
He turns to look at her, somewhat surprised. “I do,” he says, “Evelyn.” He turns away from her as he says her name. In the silence that deepens between them, she can hear the continuous whirring of the small rotating fan in the corner of the room. She closes her eyes and tries to concentrate on the sheer warmth of his body. She can do this. Maybe one more fact to recite, one more story to hold.
“Where did your name come from, Edward?” she asks him, her cheek pressed against the sinewy muscles of his back. She wraps her arms around his narrow chest and breathes him in; the plumeria-air making him smell as pure as soil.
“My name?” he says. He shrugs off her arms, not roughly but decisively, and turns so that they are facing each other on the bed. He looks at her, his gaze direct and a little cold. She grabs a pillow to hug to her chest. “Why are you asking about my name right now?”
“I don’t know,” she says. She buries her face in the pillow. “Just wondering, I guess.” She peers out from the top of the pillow, just enough to see his face through the hair that has fallen over her eyes.
He sighs and grips his thick hair with one hand. “Edward,” he says, releasing his hair, “is actually my middle name.”
She looks at him—at his rumpled hair; at his eyelashes even longer than her own; at the constellation of moles on his chest, Orion’s belt in sepia tones. “What?”
“Edward,” he says, “was what my mom wanted, after some character in a Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility.” He stands up and just as quickly, sits back down. “But my dad didn’t go for it. My first name is Jamison.”
Jamison. James’ son. Somehow, she is not surprised. Edward’s hands are back in his hair. He is looking at the off-white curtains now. The muscles in his face are tensed. “After she died—” He stops and closes his eyes. Evelyn watches as he takes a deep breath. He looks almost too lean, the newly tanned skin pulled too tightly over his lank frame. She remembered what he told her; his mother went on a drive to cool off from another argument with his father, just a spat about the groceries, and collided with a pickup while merging onto the freeway. He opens his eyes, but keeps his gaze averted. He starts tugging at the curtain. “When she died, I was just starting high school, and when people asked me what I went by, I said Edward.”
She smiles softly and places a hand on his knee. He looks at her, his eyes taking a while to focus. “I see,” she says, rubbing small circles on his knee with her thumb. He is the same after all. “I like Edward better,” she says.
“Me, too,” he says. She reaches out and holds the angles of his face in her hands, relishing the prickly feel of his stubble, wanting to feel it brush against other skin. He closes his eyes and she leans forward to press her lips against his. She has missed this.
She feels as close to him now as she ever has, closer even; no sex necessary. And looking at him, she knows he feels the same. “So now that we know each other’s names,” she says, arching her eyebrows, “how about we, uh—” She can’t find the words so she pats the bed instead, still flexing her eyebrows. Her forehead hurts a little with all her exertion.
He tosses the other pillow lightly in her direction. “You’re ridiculous.”
She tosses her pillow at him. “You love it.”
“I do,” he says. And he is sincere. He takes both pillows and tosses them aside. They hit the floor decisively and she knows as soon as she hears the soft thuds that she has misread him. He feels close enough to have sex. She braces herself, as if against a summer monsoon; her limbs stiff planks waiting for July flooding. His face becomes less and less clear as he moves forward; his chapped lips filling her half-shut eyes. He kisses her, lightly, tenderly even. On their third date, they had been sitting next to each other in a booth at Nation’s where he ate with such vigor that a rib popped clean out of his mouth and on to her lap. He was mortified, but she had laughed, turned to him and they kissed for the first time. Soft and barbeque-flavored, she recalls, and smiles against his lips. He notices, pauses, and smiles back, his hair falling over his forehead. She breathes deeply and lifts her legs onto the bed. Maybe this will be okay. Edward begins kissing her again, his breath coppery-hot, and her scalp tingles when his tongue slips in and out of her mouth. He chews on her bottom lip.
“Ow,” she cries out, louder than she intended to.
“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry.” His lips touch her forehead, eyebrows, cheeks, even her chin in feathery apology. She knows she loves him. He hums on her collarbone and she is breathless, her back arching in response. His smooth chest rubbing on top of her makes her squeeze her thighs together. All her muscles are rapidly contracting and releasing, except the ones in her fingers, which seem to be going numb. When he moves her legs so that they are no longer tucked underneath her and she is laying flat on the bed, she hardly notices. She begins to recite facts in her head again: He likes his tea stronger with each sip. He wants to be a forensic scientist. He tugs at her chemise and rubs his thumb furiously across her left nipple. She inhales sharply and exhales fractured words. His favorite color is red, but only because black is not a color. Black absorbs everything and reflects nothing. He moves to her right nipple. His breath fills the creases in between her breasts as he murmurs moist endearments: darling, babe, gorgeous. Everything but her name. He has terrible taste in music and cannot conjugate the simplest Spanish verbs, much less the irregular ones like ir, to go. Yo voy. Tú— He lets out a tangled groan that breaks into her recitation.
She can no longer hear herself think, and yet still can’t pull away. They are both laying down now, his hairy legs intermingling with her smooth ones. He presses into her with the full weight of his body. Sweat gathers in the small of her back, along her forehead, in between her toes. And even now, she feels as though she could summon up desire, if he would just—she grits her teeth and thinks that they have time. They have more time together. There’s no need, no need to rush. His stubble scratching her clavicle feels almost too prickly. She shudders as his hand sprints over her calves, searing. His fingers part her thighs and she gasps. “You like that,” he says. She bites her lip and closes her eyes. He moves his rough fingers forward, his thumb slipping beneath flimsy black lace. Breathe. She lifts her arms and begins to reach around his neck to remind him that she is still here, will be here for a while. There’s no need, no need to rush. Her fingers shake and she wills herself to solidify, to pull together. He grabs her wrists with his other hand and pins her hands above her head.
His hand, the one that had been snaking in between her thighs, stops. His grip on her wrists loosens, but he does not let her go. He remains on top of her but eases back so that he can see her face. All the vulnerability in his once tense jaw has evaporated; his mouth is slightly open, his jaw slack. His brown eyes churn as they struggle to process the image in front of him: a woman restrained, breath curled on her dry tongue. Deep lines etch themselves into his brow. She tries to speak that one syllable, but her throat aches.
She shakes her head. No. He releases her wrists first. Then he moves his other hand from underneath her chemise. He gets off of her. The bed creaks and she hears the whirring of that fan, spinning blades reverberating in her throbbing skull. She feels wetness on her cheeks and realizes she is crying. She stares at the ceiling and hears the screen door that leads out onto the lanai slide open. He is outside now.
Her mother never saw him again, this fisherman’s son she had been writing letters to, this boy whose hand she held as they walked along the pier. In her second year of college, after her first proposal, her mother met a medical student with thick glasses and gentle hands. Not as cute, Evelyn’s mother admitted, but from the right type of family. Family is important, her mother said, you need to feel secure. By secure, Evelyn had always thought her mother meant financially secure. Young love is important, but her mother did not regret her choices—this is what Evelyn understood from the story. But maybe after all this time Evelyn had misunderstood this last sentence, maybe her memory of her native tongue had failed her and she had misinterpreted that last word: not secure, but something more basic—safe.
Evelyn hears the screen door slide closed and Edward’s soft footsteps return to the bed. She dutifully shuts her eyes.
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