Posted on: June 30, 2015
Dallas imagines that she can still smell the couch’s aroma of cigarette smoke and burnt bacon as she stands at the edge of the porch, just out of the rain. The old quilt shrouding the couch hides the faded forest green fabric that withstood spilled beers and barbeque sauce. The couch that had cradled Jasper during Sunday afternoon naps, hangovers, and sickness. The rain hammering on the old roof sounds like thunder. A puddle has gathered on the concrete in front of the couch, creeping towards the dragging edge of the quilt. It’s been two years since she visited, but the twist of pain in her chest hasn’t dulled. She can’t count the summers spent on the porch, stuffing herself with crawfish and slapping away mosquitos. The screen door swings open and for a moment, she expects to see Jasper there, grinning and banging the door back against the house before running across the porch. But instead his father Joel—Big Joel, everyone calls him—steps out.
“Dallas, honey, come on in.” He holds out his arms for a hug.
His smile makes her throat constrict and she tries not to look at the couch again as she walks into the house.
Eight years earlier, the couch was still in the living room. Dallas sat on its sagging cushions, staring straight ahead at the TV. Jasper was inches away, but the narrow space between them felt like miles; any accidental brush of his fingers against hers brought the blood into her cheeks. She went to retrieve two cold beers from the fridge, holding one against her flushing cheek before she walked back into the room. She handed Jasper his beer and sat beside him. His fingers traced over her shoulder blade, creating a trail of goosebumps; the contact anything but accidental. His lips were warm as they pressed against the skin on her back, just at the top of her white cotton tank.
After, she could taste the salt on Jasper’s skin as she pressed her lips to his collarbone, feeling the gentle hum of his snoring. She breathed in his familiar smells: spearmint toothpaste, sweat, and sun-bleached hay. She watched his eyelashes catch the last rays of the afternoon sun as it slipped behind the back of the couch.
“Hi,” he said, opening one eye, his face inches from hers. “What time is it?”
Jasper nearly rolled off the couch, and she laughed. He reached for his jeans and pulled them on, buckling his belt and yanking his shirt on over his head. She watched the muscles move beneath his sunburned skin, feeling them ripple under her fingers again. Dallas reached for one of the beers on the table. Empty. She hugged the blanket to herself and sat up looking around for her bra, suddenly awkward.
“Hey.” Jasper turned back to her.
She didn’t look at him, poking her hands down into the seat cushions. “We should probably get everything ready for the party,” she said, finally finding her bra and struggling to put it on under the scratchy blanket.
“Hey,” he repeated, tugging on a strand of her hair. When she met his eyes, he kissed her lightly on the nose.
She pulled on her top and her shorts and slipped down the hall to the bathroom. It seemed too quiet without Jasper’s father listening to NPR or banging around in the garage, swearing. She splashed water on her face and felt it drip down her chin, erasing the ghost-touch of Jasper’s fingers. Sweat darkened the hair that clung to her neck and shoulders. Gripping the edges of the sink, she took a deep breath, feeling the thin fabric of her shirt strain against her chest, remembering how the top floated to the ground like a discarded feather. She heard him singing off-key in the kitchen, punctuated by the cascading sound of ice being poured into a cooler, and smiled.
The screen door bangs shut behind them and Big Joel leads Dallas through the hallway she knows almost as well as her own face. She asks how he’s been. He’s doing well, he tells her. Her brother Carson came by last week with his new baby, and they’re lucky she took after his wife. Joel’s trademark booming belly laugh fills the hollow silence of the house, if only for a moment.
He clears his throat. “Can I get you anything, hon? Sweet tea, water, beer?”
“Tea would be great, Mr. Lee, thank you.”
“Mr. Lee,” he shakes his big head. “You call me that and I feel about a hundred years old. I’ve known you since before you could walk. And these last few years—” He breaks off, rubbing a hand over his mustache, gone almost completely white. “I’ll get you that tea. You still take it sweet?”
Dallas nods, looking around the living room as Joel lumbers off to the kitchen. His favorite armchair still sits to the right of the TV, at the perfect angle to catch every Saints game. There’s a new couch: a massive sectional that still reeks of fresh cowhide. Dallas doesn’t blame him, probably would have done the same. She remembers her hands shaking as she shaved off clumps of Jasper’s thick, sandy hair, remembers sitting on the old green couch, every nerve ablaze with the strain of listening to him retching down the hall, forbidden to help. She remembers kissing the top of his sweating, stubbled head, remembers the metallic smell the chemo brought out in his skin. She remembers how he didn’t smell like himself anymore. At the end, he said he didn’t want to die in the hospital, that he wanted to be at home, so he came back to the couch. Dallas looks at the replacement, the shining leather monstrosity, and feels a pang. She wants to bury her face in the cushions, to see if she can find a trace of the hay-and-sunshine smell.
Written by: Hannah Sears
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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