Everyone is moving away and making it look so easy. They seem so happy, breaking down their lives and building them up somewhere else. I can’t imagine living anywhere but Heart’s Horn. I know which neighbors to steer clear of and which Taco Bell will screw up your order and which cops will look the other way if you’re speeding a bit on your way to work or enjoying a joint after. Now my last real friend, Tasha, is moving tomorrow. When she told me three weeks ago I felt like someone had propelled me into space, my ears abruptly plugged with silence and every bit of me boiling and freezing. She’s at her desk across from me, making that guppy face she does when she’s putting on lip gloss; the clear sparkly kind that my mom thinks is trashy. It makes me want to kiss her, and I think that’s the point. Neither of us is gay enough to try sleeping with the other, but something inside of me uncoils and purrs whenever I look at her.
Tasha’s watch beeps. “Brie, stop spacing out. It’s five o’ clock.”
“I wasn’t,” I mumble. I upload my finished assignments and shut down my computer. I can hear our manager Hilda guffawing down the hall.
“Let’s slip out the back way.” Tasha unties her elaborate crown of dreadlocks. They spill over her cinnamon shoulders and swing as she walks around me. She’s already decided we’re going back to my dad’s for a sleepover, like old times. I live with my mom in town and he lives with the horses on the farm. His cerulean-haired girlfriend is twenty-six but he’s started sleeping with my mom again. When he comes over to play cards they get tipsy and touchy, and last Saturday morning I spotted him cutting through the maples between us and the Andersons with his flannel from yesterday draped over his shoulder. They act like I’m not twenty-one with a pair of functional eyes.
We turn down the farm’s driveway one by one, my black Civic and her jade pick-up. For a moment I wish we were going to the movies instead. We sneak in bags of chocolate truffles and thermoses of Kahlua.
The front door is shut so my dad must be out picking tonight’s salad from the vegetable garden. We sit on the porch swing and Tasha pulls a slender joint from her skirt’s front pocket. “I’m gonna miss you so much, dude. I still can’t believe I’m moving,” she says, exhaling woodsy smoke. “I wish you wouldn’t,” I pout. “How’s Columbus better than this?”
“Uh, there’s like over a million people there, first of all. You should come too.”
“You know I don’t have enough saved. Plus my mom needs help with the bills.”
“Excuses are like assholes. She should just move back here with your dad. It’s so obvious.”
“I know right?” I nuzzle my cheek against her shoulder. She smells like strawberries and a bonfire. “What am I gonna do without you?”
“Fuck the stable boy.”
We tremble with giggles. She knows I’m new to sex, thanks to this college boy, Pham Nguyen, with piano hands and tornado hips. I’m wearing his Fleetwood Mac t-shirt with my favorite shorts right now. He went back to Nebraska for the summer after only three rounds so my body is still a humid, hungry fleet looking for a land to shock and awe. The stable boy, Ben Claw, an ex-pillhead, is perfect for me. His eyes are honeyed green and his hair is long and night-river dark. He’s all yes sir, yes ma’am, his voice rough knit-wool.
“But for real,” Tasha says. “That’s what I want you to do without me. He’s perfect for you.”
After dinner and drinks with my dad, Tasha wants to say goodbye to the horses. We walk barefoot to the stables, hand-in-hand, and there’s Ben Claw, mucking my horse Delphine’s stall. Delphine moseys up to me and I tussle her chestnut mane while Tasha walks over to Ben and says, “Too busy for dinner, huh?” He doesn’t stop mucking. “No ma’am,” he says. “Not hungry.”
I watch a single bead of sweat roll down his Roman nose in the crepuscular light. How could anyone leave Heart’s Horn when Ben Claw is here, quietly toiling, straining the fabric of his plaid button-downs, slowly growing a new man out of the old husks of himself? I don’t know why I’m not more like him. I should quit my job and raise horses. I should grow a warm, strong woman. I should grow a woman that could have Ben Claw for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Tasha is telling him she’s gonna go to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams every weekend and every festival this summer and try out every bar, especially the gay ones, and how the Columbus library system is one of the best in the country, and how he should come with me to visit, how we can all go out and drink top shelf and then get high on her balcony. All the while he’s looking at me. I’m a deer in his scope while he mucks the stall and nods at Tasha’s giddy babbling. She likes him because he lets her talk as much as she wants. In the middle of Tasha gushing about her new loft, I lunge for him, knock the pitchfork from his hands and kiss him. Tasha whoops and applauds. He freezes at first but my body overwhelms him, our exposed skin sucking together with a wet slap. He carries me, bare legs around his hips, back to the work bench, kissing me with low growls, and my heart’s horn trumpets. While Tasha keeps look-out, I grow leaps and bounds. I grow enormous with intricate roots. I expand with dark leafy green. I can see the start of it in Ben Claw, my diamond-tough and glorious future. I’m leaving without going anywhere.
About the Author: Dawn West (b. 1987) reads, writes, edits, and eats falafel in Ohio. She can be found online at nouvelliste.tumblr.com.
Story Song: "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak