She Had Been Clean For Eight Months
They were huddled together in the middle of his bed. Her hair was down. The lamplight was mellow. They shared a quilted comforter.
“I usually only do things like the lottery now, but that’s alright, right?” Sarah asked. “Everyone plays the lottery. I don’t feel the same urge to bet, bet, bet anymore.”
Geoffrey nodded, but he was staring at a point over her shoulder. “Um, maybe. You’re not everyone, though.”
“I know…I would go back to G.A if you asked me to,” she said. She put her hands against his cheeks so that he would look at her. “You’re looking out for me, right?”
He smiled. “Right.”
“So. You.” she said. “What’s your biggest secret?”
Geoffrey took a deep, hitching breath that lasted a couple seconds. His face turned a waxy color, drained of blood. He swallowed, and his throat made a loud sticky sound.
She rubbed a thumb over his cheekbone. “It’s ok. We’re looking out for each other.”
“Yeah,” he said, his eyes flicking to her. His heart began pumping.
He was savoring these final moments between Now and Later, Later being when the words would be irrevocable.
He would say them and that would be it. They could never be unsaid or unheard. It could never be like this again after he said them, and this was amazing.
His bed had never seemed so small and so large at the same time.
He took in another breath and swallowed the spit that had flooded his mouth. Sarah put a hand over his shaking ones.
“Let it out,” she whispered. “I’ve got you, baby.”
“When I was younger, I…,” he breathed.
His chest was shuddering. Common sense wasn’t letting him say it. Common sense said to leave well enough alone. Lie, Geoffrey, lie. Say you cheated on your SATs. Say you were in jail for a month. Say you’re addicted to porn. He had lived with this secret for so long, he couldn’t comprehend a life with someone else knowing. It had been beaten so deeply into his core that it was like the loam under a building. It wasn’t meant to be dug up again.
“When I was in high school, my sister and I…we,” he swallowed thickly. “We thought we were in l-love. We had a relationship.”
There was a ringing silence. His ears popped.
“Which sister?” Sarah asked. It came out harsher than she intended.
“Oh. Oh my god. Wow,” Sarah said. Her hand did not leave his shoulder. Instead, it tightened painfully into his skin.
He buried his face in his hands.
Sarah tilted her head back until she was staring at the ceiling. “What…what happened?”
“Our parents worked a lot. Karen was always out. It was mainly just us in the house, and…I told you, I didn’t have many friends in high school. Neither did she. We just clung to each other and then it- it got out of hand,” he said. His voice was strained, as if he were on the verge of crying.
“Get out of hand how?” Sarah asked. It was almost whispered, like she didn’t mean to ask it at all.
Geoffrey was silent.
She jumped off the bed suddenly. “Wow. Oh my god. Oh god.”
She was pacing.
“No, Geoffrey,” she said. “I’m sorry. This is just a little-” She jumped up and down in place as if trying to get blood circulating through her system.
“Wow!” She laughed, almost a tiny bit hysterically. “This is really wild.”
His eyes followed her as she walked back and forth in her bra and boxer shorts.
She kneeled by his bed and took his hand. It had stopped shaking.
“I want you to tell me everything,” she said.
“Everything?” he asked.
“Do to me like I did to you earlier,” she said. “Tell me what happened.”
He looked down at her hand. “I was 16, she was going on 18. We were watching a movie and we…we…got close. We kissed. It was…”
He stopped. His face was turning colors.
From the moment he said “I was 16” Sarah had jumped back up and resumed pacing. Now she stopped and put her hands against her chest. Her eyes were closed. “It was what, Geoffrey?”
“It wasn’t like kissing other girls. It actually meant something,” he said in a rush. “And it felt that way every other time afterwards- and…” Sarah’s eyes were squeezed so tightly, the eyelids were turning purple. “Oh my god. Sarah you can leave. It’s ok. I’m not…I understand-”
“I’m not leaving, Geoff,” she said. She was practically running back and forth across the room. “Did you have sex?”
He nodded quickly, ripping the bandage off.
Sarah dropped down so fast, that he thought she tripped. She was squatting with her cheeks squeezed between her hands.
“Tell me more,” she said, her voice muffled.
Sarah once saw this documentary about a swimmer named Diana Nyad who was trying to break a record by swimming between Florida and Cuba. During one of her many attempts, Diana once swam into a horde of microscopic lethally poisonous jellyfish.
None of her crew could touch her, nor could she momentarily get into the boat, or else it would be considered cheating. If she moved even a tiny little bit forward with the help of someone else, all her effort would be lost.
There was nothing to do but bear it, unless she wanted to forfeit the entire swim. So she just floated in the water, screaming, “Oh! Oh! It hurts so bad! I don’t think I can take it!”
Her crew, including her partner on the boat watched tearfully, repeating, “Breathe, Diana, breathe, you can do it, Diana! Power through!”
Her life was in their hands, both physically and spiritually. They had to deal with the destruction of her dreams and her body. It wasn’t easy, but that was their job. To be the eye in the sky, the voice of reason as Diana broke through her limits. They had already come so far, she’d already been through so much. To end now would be unthinkable.
So Diana floated and screamed, getting louder and louder until she went into anaphylactic shock and had to be pulled onto the supplies boat and rushed to a hospital.
That’s how Sarah felt.
With every tiny bit of information eked out of Geoffrey, every sting, she lost something. The loss made her reel each and every time, but her mouth wasn’t letting her give up. It kept asking questions, kept asking for more, more, more, until she felt the butter knife scraping at the very corners of her body.
She wasn’t going to make it. They needed to pull her onto the boat, but they didn’t understand it yet. They wouldn’t know until her esophagus swelled shut.
“I loved Deborah. I don’t know why I felt that way for her. I swear I didn’t see Karen like that. It was just Deborah. She felt it too. To this day I don’t know what changed for us to make it like that.”
“How long?” Sarah rasped out.
“From October to April. It was the best-” He chanced a look at her. She was doing the downward dog on the rug. “Being with her was probably the best I ever felt in high school. It was a really shitty time for both of us.”
“How’d it end? Oh!”
“My father saw- I don’t want to talk about this,” he said.
“Ok!” Sarah said. “What happened after, Geoffrey?”
“They made Debbie pick a college out of state near Aunt Wanda. She lived with her for a while before moving out,” he said.
Aunt Wanda with the pet ferrets, Sarah thought. “Did she know?”
He shook his head, still staring at the mattress. “Only me, Debbie, and my parents know.”
He huffed out a laugh.
Mrs. Macavoy had been so excited to meet Sarah. She had cooked a lavish lobster dinner and repainted the guest bedroom just for her first visit. She had talked for hours about how lucky Geoffrey was to have met Sarah.
Sarah squatted down again and hung her head between her legs.
Deborah had been at Thanksgiving. It had all seemed very, very normal. She and Karen drove Sarah to the mall and they tried out the new yogurt shop and saw a movie. Deborah had gone back to a hotel, even though her old bedroom was empty.
“Oh, god!” Sarah cried. She jumped on the mattress and pulled Geoffrey down with her.
“Thank you for telling me,” she gasped out. She held him tightly, her face buried in his neck. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled the covers up.
“I don’t think I would have had the strength,” she said. “That is a huge secret. I promise I’ll share the burden with you. It’s our secret now.”
He cried while kissing her. “Thank you, Sarah. I love you!”
“I love you, too!”
They broke up two months later. She stole his credit card and lost three hundred dollars on off-track betting.
Val Rigodon is an occultist from Brooklyn, NY who can write a spell for anything. You can find her at @valdritch on Twitter.
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