I wait for you to say something perfect. Niri finishes stringing the lanterns around the patio. All those colored paper shells look like sugared sweets; a candy necklace for the night. I wish they would melt into syrup and trap you and Kinsey; the two of you ambered together forever. Maybe then you would find something to say.
From my spot in the yard, I’ve watched you fight and kiss and maybe do a bit more. Niri’s parents presented me when she moved into this new place, back when you were with her, and not anyone else. She’s been here for five years, eleven months, and twelve days, but everyone still calls it the “new” place, and everyone seems to forget about the two of you.
But I’m still here. Albeit I’m a little less pink and my ankles have rusted from last summer’s rain. Grandy still tells me I’m beautiful, but I’m not sure I believe him. He’s so much younger than I’ll ever be. Tonight I’m not talking to him because I’m too busy trying to listen to you. And Kinsey. These past few months it’s been Wade and Kinsey at every party.
“Niri!” You yell her name, pulling her in for a hug. She makes a face at me and Kinsey over your shoulder. Her eyebrows rise and say no way, her eyes go wide and wonder what happened. Even I know that you and Kinsey have something.
“Somebody get this girl a drink,” you say, passing Niri off to the others at the party.
Kinsey hands her a glass of your homemade sangria, and Niri dumps it by my feet as soon as you’re not looking. I suck it up through my legs and it makes me feel good, almost great.
“Kinsey, girl,” Niri says.
I smile even as my stomach sloshes with too much sangria and sappy daydreams of what tonight should have been for you.
“And nothing,” Kinsey says. She chews on a soggy orange wedge. I imagine the fruit bursts with booze and saturates her tongue in slime and seeds. When she spits into the bottom of her glass, I know I am right.
“Like, really nothing? Not even hey or hi or you know, let’s fuck?” Niri asks. No one looks because it’s Niri. But if it were me or Grandy, they’d all be like acid trip? And then maybe they’d drink and dance and forget that the lawn ornament said something so profane.
“It’s not like that. We just, I don’t know, and it…he’s just different here,” Kinsey says. I want to say he is different, he gets you, he just gets confused, and I think he might love—
“The dance floor is calling us,” Niri says.
There is no dance floor.
You drink that gin with yesterday’s lips, the ones that talked about Kinsey. You said she was brilliant and beautiful and you finally got that there was something real about her. So where is that guy? Why isn’t he here tonight? Why aren’t you kissing Kinsey and keeping her in your arms? Why are you so determined to fuck everything up?
“Later,” you say to a girl named Kat when she asks you to dance. I follow your gaze to Kinsey swaying, seeped in those lanterns’ colored light. She looks like some sort of mystical creature, and she smiles when she sees you staring.
You still haven’t said anything to her. You hugged everyone but her. You laughed with everyone and just nodded your head when she said the stars, even though we all know that is your special code for let’s talk. Because everyone remembers the last three parties and how you brought champagne because Kinsey loves it and it makes her crazy and it reminds you both of the galaxy.
Tonight it’s like you are trying to put as much distance between you and her as possible. I hope you know that your Kinsey is a philophobiac, and the idea of loving someone, like really loving someone, scares her. But sometimes you are sweet and you sang that one line from your favorite song to her that night she got sick. I think she still remembers that version of you.
Everyone dances and sings another shot before we kiss, but you stand still beside me. You sigh and I miss the end of that line and the one after. But when it gets to the chorus, you whisper the words, and smile. I know you want to join the party, but you don’t. I’m not sure if it is because of the song or because of whatever has happened with Kinsey. You pull your phone from your pocket, start typing into your Notes. How will she get back up?
I know it is about Kinsey because you only write things about real people. They are never characters created from blood and ink. And knowing that, your silence makes sense, but it doesn’t satiate my need to hear it straight from your lips. I want to ask: how do you know she’ll fall? How do you know she’ll care as much about whatever isn’t happening as those of us who know the two of you might add up to something better?
You say “only sunshine” to Kat as you pull her into a slow dance. I wonder if you said “only stars” to Kinsey. I wonder if you will ever just love someone to love them.
When you lead Kat to the porch, we all watch. Kinsey stops dancing and leans against Niri and they whisper back and forth. I can’t hear them from here so I try to read their lips. Kinsey’s mouth moves slow and it looks like she says fudge, but I know she must be saying fuck you because that’s what we are all thinking.
Kinsey doesn’t crumble, even as you lift Kat, and take her into the house. She is so much stronger than you. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you care too much and that’s why you feel the need to hate fuck strange girls instead of making love to just one.
“It’ll be okay,” Grandy says, nudging me with his little grey wing.
I’m not sure that’s true. Grandy hasn’t seen enough of you to know either way. But I think about how you almost kissed Kinsey at the last party, the way you closed your eyes, and drank in her words. I remember the way you leaned in and whispered something I almost heard, but never would. And now our lives consist of the almost.
Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll