The storm shatters itself against the windows. The trees shriek in the wind. Entering the cottage, I’m drenched. Brian is holed up under the desk, spooning Tommy. He looks at me, knows immediately that something is up.
“What’s up?” he asks me, which is good because it means he can’t see it in my eyes—the shame of it. I slip off my shoes, sprawl myself against the carpet. I tell Brian everything, just what exactly had transpired with Mags in the back of my minivan.
“It just happened,” I say to him.
“Sounds like you lured a child into your van with candy.”
“She’s a grown woman.”
“She’s a child.”
“She’s 18,” I say.
“18? Jesus, I thought she was 20. She’s a child.”
I don’t respond.
This statement is not news. I am a weak man. We both know this, everyone knows this. Mags knows this. She knew this when she climbed into the back of my minivan, gave me the back massage, awakened the beast.
All the while Tommy just lies there and listens to me recount the tale, this young lady of 18 in the back of my minivan. Every time the number 18 pops up, his eyes widen, his cheek propped up against his tattooed fist.
“Mags,” Brian says. “Mags.”
“Mags,” I say.
“It makes sense. Mags. Yeah, I see it. Of course it would’ve been Mags. I guess it was always Mags.”
There was a time when I would complain about Mags, the way she just talks at you, the way she butts into any conversation and turns it into her conversation. The way she follows you around the store—gabgabgabgabgabgab—it’s exhausting. How clear it was when Brian would work a shift at the Bellingham location, that Mags would treat him like her token trans friend. She’d say, “I’m just so glad you’re alive, you know? I’m just so glad you’re still alive.”
“Yeah, sure,” Brian would say. “Sure thing.” And that would be his contribution to that conversation. And now Brian, as he sits here digesting the information I’ve thrown at him, decides that yes, of course Mags and I were meant for one another, of course I’d make a decision to walk willingly into this storm. There is something so truly vulnerable, so lovable, about someone so unlikable.
Brian chuckles. “Mags,” he says. And thats the end of that conversation.
Mags and I, we’re in the parking lot again and Mags lingers near the back of my minivan, our something of a conversation at a pause, an impasse, and I become suddenly self-conscious of the fact that I have no candy cigarettes to offer her this time, self-conscious of the fact that if I did, this would be how I’d lure her into the bed of my minivan. Brian’s words, they ruin so much. Brian ruins everything. I can’t get him out of my head as Mags asks a question I do not hear.
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
“Yes,” I say, too fast.
There is a trail that leads from the bookstore parking lot down to the water and the promenade that reaches out parallel to the beach. The sky is dark now, a deep navy blue. The air feels like lukewarm water. There’s something about the air that feels stagnant. There’s something about my mind that feels festered, rotten, rotting, something deranged. I’m not sure if it’s okay for me to touch her, to take her by the hand, make terrible decisions.
I don’t take her by the hand, but I follow her blindly. I follow her like a dog. She’s wearing that summer dress again, floral prints, and her legs are like milk poured into night, into skin, though the lights on the walkway bathe them in a low yellow glow. The tide is low and smells like sulphur. She’s talking about something, could be anything. With no room to get a word in, this has become a spectator sport. No participation required.
Every now and again I’ll say something and she’ll laugh and I won’t know why. Her laugh, that shrill pitch stays with you because tonight there is no wind to carry it away. It lingers like a ringing in your ears. I fall back, hands stuffed in pockets to adjust a certain throbbing discomfort.
I tell her that it is.
We’re at the point now where the walk ends, though it’s only half over because we still need to walk back. There is a little beach here and the water laps at the sand, though not really—it seems lethargic tonight, doesn’t really care about romance.
“Do you smell that?” she asks.
“The eggs?” I think she’s talking about the smell of low tide.
“No.” She pushes my arm, flirtatious. “No.” She sniffs the air. “That. That smell.”
I sniff the air. I only smell eggs. Dead eggs. Rotten ones. “No,” I say, “I don’t smell anything.”
“There’s a lilac tree somewhere around here, I just know it.” And she skips off, looking for said lilac tree, stopping only to sniff with her little sniffing nose. I follow her because I would follow this girl anywhere. I would follow her to the end.
“I swear we’re getting closer,” she says. “It’s somewhere around here, it must be.” She goes on to explain the smell of a lilac tree (sweet not sexy, spicy without stinging the nostrils), what a lilac tree looks like, what it feels like against your inner thighs as you climb it.
Though I’m prepared to search forever, Mags gives up, defeated. We don’t find the lilac tree. I’m afraid to tell her that I think it was only you, your shampoo or deodorant or perfume or whatever florality wafts off your skin. You were only following yourself, and I was following you.
We’re walking back down the promenade and neither of us are talking. I can tell she’s frustrated that we couldn’t find the tree. Neither of us know that in a few weeks’ time, when Mags finally agrees to come back to the cottage, she finds a lilac tree just outside the front porch.
“I didn’t know you had a lilac tree at your house,” she’ll say.
I’ll tell her that I didn’t know either, I really had no idea. My body will be bursting with the meaning of it all, the coincidence of it all, how there is no such thing as coincidence, no such mythology as chance. We’re connected, you and me.
We’re still on the promenade though, the black water below us like spilled ink. We sit on a bench that overlooks these waters and we sit there in silence. There’s a gap between us, I’m too terrified to fill it. The bench is in memory of two dead people neither of us have met, neither of us have heard of until now.
I open my mouth to say something, she opens her mouth to say something, neither of us say anything. My phone vibrates against my thigh. There is really only one person it could be.
“Hey Brian,” I say into my phone.
“What’s going on? Where are you?”
I glance at Mags, who glances at me. “Mags,” I say. “I’m with Mags.”
Brian laughs, his loud laugh that I know carries beyond me and my phone. “Making poor decisions, are we?”
“The worst kinds of decisions,” I say.
“Hey!” Mags screams and gives me a push before getting up. “So I’m a bad decision, huh?”
“No,” I say as I put the phone to my chest, a hopeless attempt to stifle Brian’s laughter. “You’re a great decision, the best of decisions. Top-tier.”
She skips away from me down the boardwalk. I turn toward her, my arm resting on the back of the empty side of the bench. “Mags! Mags, come back here. You’re the best. The top one percent!” And I know that means everything to her because she’s already turning around, making her way back toward the bench. She falls into me, under my propped up arm, and she nudges right up against my chest. I almost drop my phone. I feel her. I feel her breath before it leaves her lungs.
“Anyway,” says Brian in my phone,” I’m at the cottage now, because I thought you’d be at the cottage. I needed a break from Tommy and set him up at a campsite elsewhere for the night. I was assuming you’d be home. I hoped we could talk.”
“I’m not home.”
“I know, I assumed you would be though.”
Long after the phone call ends, I thank Brian for the phone call, for without said phone call Mags wouldn’t be nudged up against me now, both of us breathing into each other, my fingers skating the ice of her upper arm. We stare at nothing for some time.
Ripples approach us from the far nothing. An impossible shadow under the dark. I feel we’re being watched. “Hey,” I say. “Hey, let’s keep moving. It’s getting cold.”
Back in the parking lot, leaning against her car, we hold each other tight, holding off the temperature that continues to drop. Mags with nothing more on than that light summer dress. I couldn’t squeeze her tighter if I tried. She could squeeze me tighter but she doesn’t. Her arms are loose across the back of my neck.
“Would it be too much if I kissed you?” I ask.
She backs away a smidgen, her big eyes gazing into mine and full of water and the secrets waters tend to keep. Buried bodies. Creatures of the deep. Shipwrecks. She pulls herself back in, tighter than she had before, and rests her chin on my shoulder where my lips are a far cry from hers.
“What is it?” I ask and I feel her chin swivel, shaking the rest of her head. There’s rain on my back, but only on my back. Mags doesn’t mention it, she doesn’t mention anything. She holds me tighter, she leans into me. My hip digs into her car door.
“So just to be clear, I shouldn’t kiss you right now?”
She nods on my shoulder.
“Yes, meaning no I shouldn’t?”
She nods again.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I can wait.” And in retrospect I’ll know this was the worst thing I could’ve said, because in retrospect I’ll know how uncomfortable this patience of mine made her.
Mags says she should go. I don’t let go. We don’t go.
Mags says she should go. I let go. She doesn’t let go. We don’t go.
When she does pull away, she pulls herself back in because pulling away gives my lips an opening. Her lips are right there, out in the open. Then they’re not.
It’s probably 2:30 in the morning when she finally lets go.
I back away from her car as she gets in, starts the engine. I watch as she rolls away, the flickering of her taillights disappearing into the dark. I smell of lilacs.
When I get back to the cottage, there’s a text from Mags which reads—
I stare at that text a long while before I realize why it makes me so uncomfortable, and when I do it hits me hard. It’s the smile. That stiff yellow smile. The smile feels off, false, a fake, because that night on our walk along the waters, I don’t remember her smiling once.
join man next week for journal #19 (which involves the things that happen on the night of someone else’s threesome)