Excerpt from The Distance

The hours after Gordie fell asleep were the loneliest. She watched TV with the sound turned low, Gordie stretched out beneath the blankets on the couch next to her, his belly rising and falling in shallow breaths. She picked up the mail and sifted through it, tossing flyers for pizza delivery and window blinds and brake specials onto the floor, pulling out any utility or credit card bills and piling them unopened on the arm of the couch next to her. She went out through the sliding door to the patio and smoked a cigarette, shivering. The light was on in Luis’ apartment, and she watched for any sign of him moving around in there, or of anyone else who might be there with him. She snubbed out her cigarette and lit another, then pulled her phone out of the pocket of her hoodie to check the time. Not too late, she thought.

She went inside and stood over Gordie for a moment, listening. Then she went into her bathroom, pulled off her hoodie and bra and dropped them on the floor, washed her face, brushed her teeth, drew on some eyeliner, and pulled a brush through her hair. She thought of her grammy, Daddy’s mom, who before leaving the house to go anywhere would say with a self-mocking laugh, I guess I better drag a brush through my hair. She pulled her hair back with one hand and slipped a scrunchy over the ponytail with the other, twisted it and doubled it over. Standing unmoving in front of the mirror, she scanned her body slowly from top to bottom: hair, eyes, nose, lips, chin, neck, breasts, belly, waist. She lay her hands across her belly and held them there, feeling nothing. She turned slowly, examining her jeans snugged tight below her hipbones, stretched taut below the dimple that lay at the base of her spine. This is as good as my ass is going to look for a while, she thought. Satisfied, she went to the closet and pulled on a clingy t-shirt and over that a tight sweater.

She went out quietly, locking the door behind her, walked downstairs and knocked on BethAnne’s door. Already she was shivering, and it took forever for somebody to answer the door. Finally she saw the peephole darken, then heard the deadbolt turn and BethAnne opened the door.

Did I wake you up?

God no. I never go to sleep until midnight or one.

Cool. Do you think you could keep an eye on Gordie for a bit? He’s asleep. I just need to run an errand.

Yeah, okay. I’m just doing homework. I’ll take it with me.

Bring a snack, too, if you want. I don’t have much in the cabinet. She handed the girl her keys. I should be back before 10. I have my phone.

Whenever.

Meredith smiled and thought about the last time she’d said whenever. Must be nice. She turned to leave but BethAnne called out.

Don’t you need your car key?

Oh! Yeah. She stepped back and took the keys from the girl’s outstretched hand, slid the car key off the ring, tried not to make eye contact. Wouldn’t get far without that, right?

Right. I’ll see you later. Take your time.

Meredith figured BethAnne saw right through her, but what the hell, the girl didn’t seem like the kind to be judgmental. She walked quickly away, waving over her shoulder, and headed in the direction of her car before cutting across the lot and knocking lightly on Luis’ door. The wind had been blowing all day, and it slashed right through her sweater. She hopped from foot to foot trying to generate some heat, her hands deep in her jeans pockets. Jesus, she suddenly thought, if he’s not home I’m going to have to drive around for an hour with the heater on before I can go back home.

The door opened and Luis stood smiling at her, wearing basketball shorts and nothing else, his narrow chest as hairless and smooth as hers. Uh oh, he said, are you lost?

Shut up and let me in there. I’m freezing. She slipped by him and headed for his refrigerator. His apartment was identical to hers but flopped, so his kitchen was on the right, totally familiar but slightly unsettling. She was always surprised at how tidy his place was, she’d never known a single guy who didn’t live amid a pile of clothes, cigarette butts, video game cords and cartridges, and trash. And she was always impressed that the apartment smelled like weed, day or night. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a can of beer, popped the tab and took a long pull. When she closed the door and turned away he was there beside her, leaning back against the counter, still smiling, one arm crossed over his muscular abdomen.

She stepped to him and put a hand on his chest, felt how cold her skin was against his, marveled that he didn’t so much as flinch. She slid her hand across his chest and around to his back, pulling herself tightly to him, then pressed her open mouth to his. They kissed like new lovers, eyes closed, breathlessly, her tongue teasing across his lips. When she finally pulled away and turned her head to the side to take another drink of beer, he slipped his pinned arm free and rested his hands on her hips.

Okay, he said. Let me go tell my other ladies that they got to go home now.

With her free hand, she swatted his hand away from her. Shut up. I need to smoke a joint.

You need to? That sounds a little…

Needy?

I was thinking nasty, but I’m not judging. He grinned.

She rolled her eyes and then she rolled her entire head. Then she stood up straight, raised her chin, and enunciated carefully: I would very much like to enjoy some cannabis right now, and I would be delighted if you would join me.

Okay, fancy lady. Let’s make that happen. He moved toward the front room, trailing a hand for her to take, and they settled onto the couch. He picked up a cigar box from the lamp table and set it open on his lap. Indica, sativa, or hybrid?

Mmmm. Indica for sure. She tipped her can back and emptied it into her mouth. I’m going to get another one. Do you want one?

Sure. Leave that can. She popped up and set the can on the upturned crate that served as a coffee table, then headed to the kitchen while Luis plucked a cannabis bud out of glassine bag, dropped it into his grinder and gave it a twist, then tapped the leaf into a pre-rolled cone. He packed it lightly and twisted the end of the paper into a tight wick, then set the box back on the side table.

Meredith came back with a beer in each hand and, setting them on the table, gripped the hem of her sweater and pulled it over her head in one smooth motion. I love how warm you always keep it in here. My apartment is freezing. She tossed the sweater onto the far end of the couch, then settled in next to Luis. He slipped the narrow end of the cone between her lips and flicked the lighter, holding the flame just beyond the tip of the joint.

Come on, she groaned behind clamped lips. Stop teasing me. She gripped his wrist and pulled the flame to the joint, drew lightly to ignite the paper then the flower. Once it was glowing, she sucked a large puff into her mouth, held it there to cool, then pulled it deep into her lungs. She held it for several seconds, then smoothly exhaled a prodigious cloud of smoke.

Not even a cough, Luis said. Such a pro. You know, coughing makes…

Coughing makes you higher. I know. You tell me that every time.

It dilates the vessels in your lungs so you get more of the THC into your bloodstream.

I got plenty, thanks, professor. She leaned forward and popped open a beer, handed it back to Luis, then opened the other for herself and took a long drink. He took a pull from the joint, then leaned forward to balance it on the lip of the empty can.

You’re done already? she asked.

I had some before. I only need a little.

Well, I want some more. She picked up the joint from the can and held out her hand for the lighter. She relit the joint herself while he drank his beer, and she took another puff as long as the first.

Luis watched her inhale, her eyes closed, her head back. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. Where you been, Merf?

She opened her eyes, squinted at him. What do you mean? she asked, her voice squeaking through held breath.

I’m not complaining. I love that you’re chill and I know you got Gordie and work. But it’s been like three weeks since I heard from you.

She finally exhaled a cloud of smoke in an exasperated sigh. That sounds like complaining.

Okay, maybe a little.

More than a little.

Well, I just really like you, you know? I wouldn’t mind spending a little more time with you.

More than a little.

He grinned. Okay, a lot.

Shut up, she said. He shrugged and took another drink of his beer. She pulled her knees up under her and turned sideways on the couch facing him. She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, then turned his face toward her and kissed him deeply, tasting his beer and smoke and hers. She ran her hand down his chest, over his belly, and slipped it beneath the waistband of his shorts. He twitched and she laughed. So ticklish, she said. Then she dropped her head into his lap, pulled the front of his shorts down, took him into her mouth, held still and enjoyed the sensation of him going rigid, filling her up.

He lay his head back against the couch and felt the indica begin to drone in his head, enveloping him in warm, feeling her mouth and her tongue surround him. He tipped his head forward and lifted her hair away from her face, watched her suck him. She pulled away and stood up. I’m very high.

Yeah, it’s good.

She pulled her shirt over her head, baring her torso. She paused for a moment and watched him appreciate her, her hair hanging loosely now around her shoulders, her breasts small and lovely, her stomach smooth and almost flat. She stood this way for what seemed a very long time, feeling glorious, seeing his cocoa brown eyes drink her in, watching the almost imperceptible ripples of muscle in his motionless body. She felt very very good. He smiled and closed his eyes.

She stepped forward and pressed her legs between his against the front of the couch, put her hands in her hair. He opened his eyes and, seeing her there, raised his hands to unfasten the button on her jeans, slid the zipper down, began to peel the waistband back and down.

Wait, she said.

What?

Shoes! She pinned one heel with the other toe, stepped out of the shoe, did the same with the other, then pushed her jeans and panties down and stepped out of them. She leaned forward and hooked her fingers into the elastic waistband of his shorts and as he arched his back to lift his weight off the couch, she slid the shorts down and to the floor. Then she climbed onto his lap, pressing her wetness against him, kissing him deeply.

I need a condom, he said, pulling away.

It’s okay. Come here.

You trust those pills more than I do.

It’s fine, she said breathily, then, locking eyes with him, she reached behind her and guided him into her. She saw the involuntary twitch in his eyelids as she dropped her weight on him, taking him deeply quickly. He groaned, shut his eyes, let his head loll back against the couch again, wrapped one hand firmly around her waist and lay the other on her breast, she could feel the texture of his skin against her nipple, could they be more sensitive already she wondered, no, I’m just high, but god that feels good. She rocked against him, feeling the fullness and heat rise up into her belly, outward toward her limbs, up her spine and into her head. His shoulder muscles were firm beneath her hands, then she felt them contract, turn to stone, and a low grumble rose from the base of his throat. Her head began to fill with sparks, with color, with fuzz, and she drove herself against him, squeezed him tightly inside her, felt him explode within her, felt herself go over the top of the hill and that weightless feeling before you settle back to earth and she has both hands on the wheel and she’s squealing with unashamed joy and as the stop sign ahead looms out of the black she slams on the brakes and locks up the wheels and skids forever to a stop in the cold moonless night. She opens her eyes and sees him there, smiling, struggling for breath, feels his hands on her hips, she recedes back into her body, feels him soften inside her, she relaxes and he slips out, she collapses forward against him.

He hears her voice soft and distant outside of the antic cacophony in his head. Hey, I have to go, she says.

He hears her but doesn’t hear her.

Luis. He hears now, louder this time, feels her body move against his, and he wills himself up from sleep. He opens his eyes. She is lying against him on the couch, back to him, his arm around her torso. He flexes his arm, pulls her more tightly to him.

No, I have to go.

What time is it?

I don’t know, but BethAnne’s with Gordie and I need to get home.

Okay.

So you have to let go.

No, it feels too good.

Come on, Luis. Let me up. And you’re laying on my hoodie.

Promise me it won’t be a month before I see you again.

It wasn’t a month. She twists and tries to lift his arm away from her but she has no leverage.

Promise.

Christ. I don’t know. It won’t be a month.

He lets go and she stands unsteadily. Wow. That’s some strong weed. She picks up her clothes from the floor and pulls them on.

Luis sits up on the couch, watches her dress.

Let me take you out this week, he says.

Maybe.

Let’s go dancing.

Maybe.

He finds his shorts and pulls them on, stands and waits as she wrestles the hoodie over her head, then slips the elastic band around her ponytail. She turns in a slow circle, looking around the apartment for anything she might have forgotten.

Okay, maybe, he echoes back to her, a gently mocking tone in his voice. I’ll be your booty call, if that’s what it is.

Don’t be weird.

Am I being weird?

Yes.

Hmm. I don’t think it’s weird. I just don’t even know if you like me or not.

See, she says.

See what?

You’re being weird.

How?

I just fucked you. You don’t think I like you?

He grinned. Well, I know you like that.

Okay.

Okay?

Yes, okay.

That’s all you’re gonna give me?

I don’t know, Luis. I like you. You’re seriously the sweetest guy I know.

He smiled now, relaxed. Okay! So let’s go dancing.

She sighed, rolled her eyes. I’ve just got a lot to deal with right now.

I know you do. So take a night to have some fun. That’s all I’m saying.

She nodded, closed her eyes. Okay, she said.

Okay? Next Friday?

Okay.

He wrapped his arms around her, rested his chin on her shoulder. He felt her draw slow controlled breaths, wondered what she was thinking. He held her as long as he could, held her until she backed away. Then he let her go.

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