As soon as Heidi arrived at Kim’s condo, she suggested they go meet Lisa­ParsonsTwo, Kim’s online crush. Usually Kim was the rule-breaker, the wild girl whose mom let her do whatever she wanted, but Heidi hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Lisa­ParsonsTwo since Kim had told her about their messages last week. When Heidi found out Kim’s mom would be out for the evening, she’d invited herself to sleep over.

“You don’t want to make hot dogs?” Kim brandished the package. She’d let it sit out way too long—the protective ice had dissolved and the meat was pale and clammy. Kim pinched a puckered end and winked.

“What’s wrong with you? She’s your crush. Of course you want to go.” Heidi would fluff Kim back up to her normal self, that cool, slouchy tomboy. “You never cook.”

“I thought it was a nice night to stay in and enjoy dogs. I have mayonnaise.”

“Kim. Come on. We have to meet her. There’s so much buildup.”

“I thought you wanted a fun night in.” Kim flapped the hot dogs, puffing meaty air toward Heidi. “Just me and you. Like old times.”

Heidi smoothed her flyaway hair. She was fourteen but looked twelve, and had always been pushed around at school. She liked this new feeling of freaking out someone else—especially Kim, who was the daring one. Who’d found this mysterious online woman in the first place. Heidi needed to go to Boston tonight, to watch Kim bravely charm an adult woman, so that, down the line, she could flirt with one herself. She took a breath. “You mean you’re chicken.”

“Not really.” Kim’s head tilted back, her bottom lip popping out.

“You think you’re so tough,” Heidi said. “But you’re not, are you?”

Though they’d been best friends for nearly a year, Heidi had never spoken to Kim so boldly. She stepped forward, molding a face of intimidation. Kim rolled her eyes, but said, “Fine, whatever you want,” and shuffled into the shadows to make arrangements on AIM. Heidi loomed over her as Kim typed with one hand, massaging hot dogs with the other.


Heidi couldn’t still her heart as they stepped into the snowy night, passing the decorative rock engraved with the name of the apartment complex—Stony Court—and crossing the parking lot toward Mass Ave. Ever since Kim had first mentioned LisaParsonsTwo, Heidi had lain in bed each night imagining their correspondence: the bleak white dialogue box, filled alternatingly with Kim’s blue screen name and Lisa’s red screen name. Kim had been vague about what they discussed, but Heidi was sure their chats brimmed with eroticism and romance. She’d begged Kim to let her see, but Kim had called her a certified perv and only shared choice quotes. Tonight Kim’s seduction skills would finally be on view. Heidi was sick of her dreary life, mildewing into old rugs at her dad’s house, laboring over math worksheets.

“Don’t let that woman drive you anywhere,” Heidi’s father had said of Kim’s mom, Nancy. “Not even to the corner store. And if she starts in on the marijuana, tell her your father doesn’t like funny business. If she doesn’t listen, step into another room. Then call 911.”

Kim and Heidi trudged through the snow, which was stale, yellow foam under the fresh marshmallow layer. Heidi glanced back up at the light in Kim’s living room on the second floor. If Heidi hadn’t pressed for the trip, they’d be in there, her finger filling a burn hole in the couch, hearing secrets from Kim’s old school: how she’d masturbated under her desk during social studies; how she’d seduced her resource room teacher; how she’d skimmed her mother’s marijuana, a speck at a time, and secured it in the rubber belly of her Pillsbury Doughboy. Heidi was sick of hearing about Kim’s experiences. She was ready to be out in the world witnessing them.

“You’ll seduce LisaParsonsTwo, right?” Heidi asked.

“Doy,” said Kim. “I’ll seduce her so hard.”

As they reached Mass Ave., Heidi zipped her puffy jacket, frail armor against the winter night. “How far is the bus stop?”

“This is the bus stop,” Kim said. “Are you blind?”

They hunched in the shelter, where snow blew in sideways. Kim’s chunky black pixie cut collected a dusting like powdered sugar on chocolate cake. Her breasts formed a shelf for the snow, the cotton of her sweatshirt darkening as flakes melted from her heat.

“How do we get to Beacon Hill?” Heidi asked. The name sounded like a lighthouse.

“Doy.” Kim brushed snow off her hair. “Seventy-six to Alewife, Alewife to Park Street, then walk or take the Green Line to Government Center.”

“Cool,” Heidi said, and then, though she’d never been, “I love Government Center.”

“Ew, why? Hey, do you think anyone will die in this storm?”

“Everyone clears their tailpipes now.”

During the last snowstorm a local couple had died in their car, late at night, waiting for their windows to defrost. Their tailpipe had become clogged with snow. They’d lost themselves talking, the newspaper thought, hadn’t noticed they were drifting off, maybe confused the feeling with love. Heidi couldn’t stop thinking about the woman dying first, her bowed head enticing the man into his own coma. They’d met through HistoryBuffSingles.net and the Lexington Minuteman had excerpted their personals. It was wrong they’d died just when they’d found each other. They’d both listed the Hundred Years’ War, Rice-A-Roni, and human tenderness as interests. The couple’s death was the singular most compelling story Heidi had encountered. Until LisaParsonsTwo.

Kim leaned against the shelter post and flipped her hood up. God, if only Heidi could be Kim. She scared herself by acting like her father sometimes: washing her hands three times after using bleach, removing the hair dryer from the bathroom in case it slipped into the tub while she was bathing, quizzing Nancy on the location and condition of the carbon monoxide detector. Kim was the only exciting feature of her life; Kim, whose mom smoked cloves and wore silk scarves as tight as bandages. Kim who used to live by the ocean, who visited the city after dark, who had come out as a lesbian in fourth grade.

It was last year, soon after they met, that Kim came out to Heidi. They were sharing a cushion on Kim’s floor, and Heidi asked, “But how do you know? Everyone has fantasies.” In a discussion about President Clinton, her dad had told her that fantasies are for the mind alone. That if you want to think of someone who acts on fantasies, you should think of a serial killer.

“I just know.” Kim worried the frayed edge of the mat. “I get boobs and boobs get me. What fantasies do you have?”

Mean bosses filled Heidi’s mind. Female bosses. And, though she’d be humiliated if anyone ever knew, moms. Moms who knew better but couldn’t help themselves. Moms with shaggy hair and graceful limbs. “I guess Greg Luce is cute.”

That’s when Kim started in on her stories from Scituate, which Heidi pictured as a cheerful cluster of brown buildings pressed against the Atlantic, though her dad insisted it was a second-rate town with a dangerously defective sewage system. In Scituate, Kim had dated a popular girl named Kelly Stephanie.

Heidi understood that Kim knew Heidi was gay, too, though they’d never discussed it. Kim gave a funny smile when she caught Heidi studying accidentally homoerotic advertisements, like two women plunging their hands into a bowl of popcorn, blue TV light on their faces, pajamaed legs tucked under their hips. The idea of two adult women in a living room at night swept Heidi’s head from her shoulders.

Maybe Heidi could become secret girlfriends with Kim, as the whole school assumed anyway. But her feelings for Kim ranged only from tepid satisfaction to fierce affection, the normal range of feeling for a buddy.

“What will Lisa Parsons be like?” Heidi asked. “Do you think that’s her real name?”

“It’s probably a pseudonym.” Kim crushed a circle into the snow. “Probably her name is Beef Jessica or something.”

“Why would her pseudonym be more normal than her regular name?”

“Why do you care?” Kim’s eyes glinted, challenging.

“Of course I care. You’re my best friend.”

“You’re not my best friend.”

Heidi frowned, her chest tightening. “Well, who is?”

“My pussy.” Kim laughed wildly, then shoved Heidi with two hands.

Heidi collapsed backward and the snow accepted her with cold, wet arms. Kim pounced on her and stuffed her leg between Heidi’s, mashing her crotch.

“I’m going to beat you,” Kim said.

Heidi gasped, willing herself to ignore the burn between her legs, the sweetness of the friction. They wrestled all the time under Kim’s black light posters: wild, grasping fights that led to a pop of pleasure so deep it was almost painful. Tonight the snow made the whole world private. Even the air was white, so bright that the snowflakes were gray against it.

Heidi hooked her chin over Kim’s shoulder so they wouldn’t have to see each other. They pressed the snow down with their weight, sinking their platform, until rocks and the trash of summer poked Heidi’s back.

“Pretend I’m Greg Luce,” Kim said.

Heidi pretended Kim was the black-haired woman laminated on the shelter wall, with a sharp nose and crow’s-feet, passing kibble to a Pekingese. The woman’s hands stroked Heidi’s hips as she spoke in low, firm tones, Heidi raging all over.

As Heidi pressed tighter to Kim, her thighs and butt numbing against the cold, the woman on the poster blurring into peach and black and green, even the Pekingese becoming erotic, with its long, fleshy body, they were hit with floodlights.

Heidi pushed Kim off so hard that she crashed onto her side, her mouth filling with snow.

“Chill out,” Kim said, spitting slush. “Why else would we be here?”

Heidi leaped at the bus as it bowed to her. But when she climbed the rubber stairs and faced the driver—bearded, red-eyed—she could tell he’d seen her grappling with Kim. His chin was set.

“Girls?” he said, and since she couldn’t tell what he was asking, or if he was asking anything, she paid and took her seat.

As the bus lurched forward, Heidi couldn’t turn from the strip of greenish skin and shiny eyes in the rearview. Had he thought she and Kim were fighting, as they always claimed they were? Nancy might know she and Kim messed around. “Kim’s lucky to have you,” she’d said once.

The driver’s eyelids sagged over his pupils. Heidi squished her face against the freezing window.

 


The coffee shop where they’d arranged to meet LisaParsonsTwo was a sandstone block of a building on a hill above Boston Common. A metal­work sign, peculiar treats wrought in cursive, hung over the door. With a trembling hand, Kim squeezed a roll of belly and jammed it into her jeans. She smeared cola-flavored ChapStick throughout her hair, lifting her bangs to expose the confetti of whiteheads on her forehead. She claimed the smell of cola made girls horny, that cocktail of tang, caramel, and caffeine.

“Ready?” Heidi was anxious to get inside. “Do you know your first come-ons?”

Kim rubbed off her waxy fingers on Heidi’s shoulder. “We could just hang out, you and me. Like walk around the Common. Find a hot dog stand.”

Heidi took a breath. “Let’s check this place out, since we’re here.”

Inside, a blue-haired girl manned the counter, jelly bracelets bouncing as she foamed milk. Men sat on stools, though they could’ve been stone butches, which Kim had once described as lesbians with off-limits boobs.

“Where’s Lisa?” Heidi whispered.

“How am I supposed to know?” Kim twitched like a squirrel.

“Fix your hair.” A gob of ChapStick had lodged in Kim’s bangs. She scraped at it distractedly. “Are you even ready?”

“Doy,” Kim said, her voice a ghost.

Each step downstairs was danker than the last, the air cold and dense and mildewed. The basement was split into chambers with wall hangings and strings of lights tossed over pipes. The last room was padded with animal-patterned rugs, screenprinted sheets softening the surfaces: desert landscapes, rainbows arching over ponds, geese arranged in formal units in the sky. The room held a group of women who were older than the high schoolers who smoked on Ledgelawn Avenue and younger than the parents whisking by in wood-paneled minivans. The age of no one in the suburbs. One of them had rolled her hair into twigs. Another wore a bandanna and overalls, feathers dripping from her earlobes. One had balls studded along the curl of her ear, like a wolf tagged for research. Heidi’s favorite was a large woman—older than the rest—with bleary cow eyes and a silk shirt that reached her knees, peacocks glittering from the billowing fabric. Her hands tickled her thighs like nervous spiders. She looked like she’d pull a runaway from the cold or stroke a stray. Unlike Heidi’s father, who was too afraid of fleas to help anyone.

The woman looked at Heidi, cheeks brightening. “Kim?”

“Lisa?” Lisa was at least twenty-five. But she didn’t look repulsed by the girls at the threshold, not even by Heidi’s puffy coat, sagging jeans, and gum boots. In fact, she seemed to prefer Heidi. Her focus scanned all over Heidi’s face.

Lisa Parsons stood up on tiny feet. “I didn’t expect you to be two.”

“I’m not Kim.” Heidi tapped Kim’s chest, signaling her to begin her seduction, but she just stood there, feet planted in the carpet.

“Ah.” Lisa Parsons turned to the real Kim. “Nice to meet you, Kim. I’ve enjoyed our chats.”

“Yeah.” Kim teetered where she stood. Why wasn’t she dashing forward and beginning the great romance of her life?

Lisa blushed. “Would you care to meet my friends?” Women from the group watched on, some with lattes pressed to their cheeks, some flashing large teeth.

“Fine.” Kim spoke so loudly that Lisa turned to Heidi, startled.

“And what’s your name?”

“Um, Heidi?”

“Is that German?” a lesbian asked. “Guten Tag, Umheidi.”

Lisa offered them a corduroy couch, low-slung like a beanbag. Heidi squeezed past the coffee table and took the middle. Kim perched on the armrest by the door, her body tipped toward the exit.

“Everybody.” Lisa spread her hands. “Heidi and Kim, my mentees from the internet.”

Heidi’s face splashed with heat at being included, being placed on equal footing with Kim.

“Aw,” cooed the twig-haired woman. “Lisa’s so generous with the baby bears. You girls probably don’t even know she’s been working with gay youth for, what, three years?”

“Five.” Lisa blushed at the carpet.

“She was at bagly, but now she finds kids on her own, helps them out big time. What do you call it, Lisa?”

“Personal mentorship,” Lisa said, watching Kim and Heidi.

Looming over the girls, Lisa’s proud pancake face could’ve passed for professional. And maybe Kim would imagine someone was in love with her when all they wanted was to help gay youth. But Kim had quoted chats where Lisa made reference to acts more intimate than Kim and Heidi’s fighting. Once, Heidi had reeled to the bathroom, overwhelmed.

Lisa offered Heidi her latte. Heidi took a sip, then flooded her mouth with spit to dilute the heat. “Tastes like heaven,” she said. Maybe she wouldn’t even have to wait for the next mysterious woman. If Kim wasn’t interested, Lisa could be Heidi’s chance. Why not? Bitter milk dribbled down her throat.

The women discussed vegetarian marshmallows and a menstruation aid called the Keeper. Heidi could take the train here every day after school. She’d claim she’d gotten into a play, but really she’d be here, perched on Lisa’s knee, laughing with everyone but pausing to whisper in Lisa’s ear a private jest or a special memory.

“What’s your favorite subject, Kim?” Lisa asked.

“Math?”

“She means English,” Heidi said.

“What do you like about English?”

“This is stupid.” Heidi pitched her voice deeper and less kid-like, “but sometimes we give the books new plots.” Heidi loved the days they spent sitting on Kim’s floor, Nancy at work or out with friends, sounding off without filter. Scout murdered Dill, Holden Caulfield grew up to become a Broadway producer. The kids in Lord of the Flies hitched a ride on a Disney Cruise.

“I was creative, too, once,” Lisa said. “Sometimes I wonder how I ended up in medicine.”

“You work in medicine?” Heidi scooted to the edge of the sofa cushion. Out in this world, she could meet people in any profession, not just the same batch of fools at the same dumb school. She yearned for every detail of Lisa’s life. That’s how bonds formed.

“Kim, you didn’t tell Heidi about my job?”

“Don’t remember.”

Lisa’s face blinked with hurt. Maybe Kim was disappointed with Lisa’s weight or age. The picture Lisa had sent was old, Heidi saw now, maybe even from high school. She’d smiled falsely in the shot, her bangs outdated, her jaw set with awkward enthusiasm. Heidi preferred Lisa now. She wanted to announce that she couldn’t imagine a handsomer woman, but that might’ve been awkward. “What do you do in medicine?”

“I’m an orderly.” Lisa rolled her eyes. “Go me.”

“I’ve always dreamed of being an orderly,” Heidi said, which seemed like the thing to say after someone revealed their job.

“Oh, honey,” Lisa said. “I’m sure you’re smarter than that. I’m just keeping afloat until I can afford a tapestry loom. Weaving is my main thing.”

Heidi’s chest filled with warmth. No one ever called her honey.

“I’m smart, too.” Kim’s voice quivered as though passing through jello. “I get some Bs.” Kim yanked strings from a hole in her sweater. They built up on her lap like a worm colony.

“Attention, please,” announced a lesbian, clapping.

“What is it, Anya?” asked Twig Hair, fondling a scone. “Will you sing a ballad?”

Lisa’s hand dropped on Heidi’s knee under the coffee table. Heidi’s throat closed. Lisa was touching her, fanning her hand protectively. She’d been selected. She catalogued the weight of each finger, the palm’s circle, so she could reheat and enjoy them later.

The woman named Anya stood up in unlaced boots. She was the only one, besides Lisa, who wouldn’t pass for a lesbian anywhere but here. She had silky hair and three dimples.

“We indulge Lisa’s personal mentorship,” Anya said. “But we never hear from the kids. We pat their heads and say they’re cute and isn’t Lisa so great to help, but have you ever thought maybe we’re missing an opportunity? Maybe these kids know something we don’t about this new ‘AOL culture.’ After all, these girls materialized from the internet, and to the internet they shall return.”

Lisa’s palm tightened around Heidi’s knee. “They’re kids, you guys. They’re shy.”

“Bullshit,” said a woman in a moss-colored sweater. “Check out the feisty one.” She pointed at Heidi.

Heidi tried to look normal but she felt like the pointing finger had punched her in the stomach. This was her chance to show Lisa she was mature, worthy of that hand on her knee, that she wasn’t some child like Kim. Shakily, she climbed onto an aluminum stool. The stool was a mistake, she realized, the moment she mounted it. Now everyone could see the bottoms of her jeans, which she’d stamped until she’d shredded the hems.

“Go for it, girl,” called a woman with a tiara and a panda purse.

The stool was unsteady and there was nothing to hold on to up there. Lisa watched with anxious investment, like a mom at a spelling bee. Those fingertips on Heidi’s knee, searching. She stood taller, proud. She was doing so well today. The hand on her knee, the women shouting encouragement. She should pull Kim in.

“Everybody,” she said. “That’s Kim.” Faces turned at the same time, like satellite dishes, toward Kim. Heidi breathed better with their eyes off her. “You guys say Lisa helps kids through being gay, but I don’t need help. I have Kim.” Her voice rolled out smooth and loud. She was killing this. “Kim used to live by the ocean, far away from here. There was a Coke factory near her house and Kim has this sea glass that’s, like, brown. Kim dated the most popular girl at school, not even in secret. I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s true. And she had this band? Rainbow Rainbow? Their music made other girls gay.” The name of the band, Kim had explained, symbolized two people side by side. The people, who were incidentally both girls, would eventually merge into one rainbow, or girl, but for now were separate ribbons of color, hovering side by side in the lonely sky. “Kim probably helped like five girls realize they were gay with her band.” After all, Kim had helped Heidi realize she was gay, without even an electric guitar or a recorded drumbeat.

These women were decorated and filled out and easy in the world, and then there was Kim, crunched up on the couch, her gray canine exposed. Heidi had told her to get that tooth checked a million times, didn’t get why Nancy didn’t notice. Against these old lesbians, Kim was so funny-looking and shy. Heidi realized what she somehow hadn’t before: Kim had never dated a popular girl or seduced a teacher. She’d never had a band. She probably hadn’t even come out in fourth grade. Heidi couldn’t believe she’d had to stand up on this stupid stool to figure that out. Her voice flattened: “Kim’s neat.”

“That’s damn right,” Anya cried. “Kim’s a freaking figurehead!”

They turned to Kim with blaring love. Kim eased her feet onto the floor and straightened her back. Her mouth ticked. Lesbians beamed at her, and she beamed back. Slowly, so as not to attract attention, Heidi dismounted the stool.

“You’re rad,” Anya said. “I didn’t come out until college.”

“You’re a very impressive young woman, Kim,” Lisa said.

Kim blushed into her shoulder. God, she looked endearing. Heidi wanted to bite the sweet smile off her face.

“How old were you when you came out?” asked the woman with the panda bag.

Kim showed nine fingers, and the lesbians groaned. Anya shot out of her seat. “That deserves a cappuccino.”

Kim followed Anya like a dog, without a glance at Heidi. When they were gone, the room tittered back into conversations. But Kim’s glow lingered. The women’s mouths opened wider, their fingers massaging the air as though it were a substance from which they could pull meaning.

Heidi was abandoned on her side of the room. She pretended, like a little kid, that no one could see her with her eyes closed. If Kim was going to be the cool, charming one again, she’d rather vanish. Kim loudly returned, stamping the carpet and carrying on to Anya as though everyone in the room beyond wanted to hear.

Kim went on and on about Scituate, talking in her strident voice. For the first time Heidi realized this must’ve been her lying voice. She claimed the bathrooms in her old middle school were labeled genderqueer, that Gertrude Stein was the centerpiece of each lit course. Heidi waited for Anya or Twig Hair to scold her. They were adults, they should know better than Heidi, who should’ve been too old herself to have believed Kim for so long. Instead, they seemed to fall in love with Kim more and more by the second. Kim would make friends with these lesbians and leave Heidi behind. Heidi’s throat tightened.

“Are you okay?” asked Lisa, coming over. “You look sad.”

Lisa reclaimed her seat on the couch. Under the coffee table, the hand returned to Heidi’s thigh, higher than a teacher or a mother or a tutor of youth would dare. The hand slid an inch higher. Heidi leaned back against the cushion, nerves glowing from her groin to the tip of her brain. Lisa Parsons plopped her giant handbag on Heidi’s lap.

“Hold this,” she said, in a voice that was mossy and damp. Before Heidi could agree, Lisa Parsons’s hand crossed over Heidi’s crotch and dug under the waist of her loose jeans, fingers worming under the elastic of Heidi’s underwear, and into the cotton crotch, pushing through the few lonely curls of her pubic hair.

Kim yelped. Heidi’s eyes shot open and Lisa Parsons’s hand ripped back like it was on a spring. Heidi had been caught. But Kim was staring at her watch.

“My mom’s coming home in twenty minutes.”

Heidi barely had time for relief before she was flooded with annoyance. “Since when does your mom care about curfew?”

“We have to go.” Kim jumped up.

Heidi could have pushed Kim to the floor. Her crotch was still warm from Lisa’s hand, and Heidi longed for those fingers to be back in her underwear, moving like slow, gentle animals. Kim could just shut up.

“I’ll drive you,” Lisa said.

“All the way to the suburbs?” Heidi asked.

The women laughed. Twig Hair made an “ooh” like a ghost. Kim picked up on it, trilled at Heidi, “Ooh, the suburbs.” Heidi wanted to scream.

 


At the car, a compact, rickety model with a strawberry on the antenna, Lisa collapsed the front seat and waited for someone to climb in back. Kim didn’t make a move, so Heidi crawled in like a dog, her butt raised in their faces. She swept aside crushed chip bags and CDs so scratched they weren’t even shiny.

They drove between lit-up buildings, over the Charles and into Cambridge. Kim and Lisa chattered about topics Heidi didn’t follow, referencing stories they’d swapped in their weeks of IMing. Now that Kim had shed her shyness, she had more to say to Lisa than Heidi ever would have, all those hours of raw material, intimacies ready to bloom. Lisa discussed her cat, who Kim called Noodle like he was a personal friend. Lisa fretted over Nancy’s DUI.

“You should tell her how upset you are,” Lisa said. “She thinks you’re so strong.”

Kim picked at the sleeve of her sweatshirt. “I wish I had normal parents.”

Lisa shook her head with pity. No one included Heidi in the conversation, though she’d spent hours talking through the DUI with Kim, holding her while she cried, arranging rides for Kim when Nancy’s license was suspended.

Halfway through Arlington it started to snow, or maybe it had never stopped in the suburbs. Back at Stony Court, the light was still on in Kim’s den. Heidi couldn’t bear to sleep on Kim’s floor, staring at the cigarette butts and the gummy dildo under her bed. If only Lisa would drop Kim off and pull a U-turn back to the city, tuck her hand back in Heidi’s pants.

“Bye,” Kim chirped, leaping from the car into a snowbank. She was halfway to the complex by the time Lisa had come around to the passenger side and hunched over the front seat, jiggling it forward so Heidi could get out. And there was Kim, already a mile away. She was an idiot to give up this close to the finish line.

Heidi sank into the snow, her sneakers soaking through to her socks. Lisa looked, through the falling snowflakes, like she was stuck in a fuzzy TV.

“This was fun,” Heidi said. If only Lisa would pull her in. Maybe even kiss her.

“Yeah,” Lisa said, peering around. “Is this your house?”

“It’s Kim’s.” Heidi tipped her head up so Lisa could reach her for a kiss.

Lisa sucked in a breath, her cheeks reddening. When her voice came out, it squeaked: “I better go.”

Before Heidi could respond, Lisa had disappeared into the car. Slowly, Heidi turned and stumbled through Kim’s tracks. She’d praised Kim so hard, of course the lesbians all preferred her. Her shoulders sagged as she walked.

When Heidi reached the boulder with the nameplate of the complex, hands flashed out and caught her ankles. Heidi screamed.

“Be quiet,” Kim said, jerking her behind the stone. They crouched low.

As soon as they were alone the world quieted and became familiar again. Kim’s loose mouth and fuzzy hair were comforting. The rest of their night unrolled before Heidi: discussing the café in Kim’s room, in the toxic violet of her black light. They could still have an okay time.

“Keep hidden,” Kim said, shuffling over the ice until their knees touched.

Kim had laughed with the lesbians, head thrown back, shameless. Heidi’s chest inflamed. “Why’d you do that?”

“I wanted you to hide with me.” Kim giggled, her dead canine popping out. “I didn’t mean to scare you. God, you screamed so loud.”

“I mean in the café.” Heidi straightened her neck. “They liked me and you stole all the attention.”

“Who cares? They’re a bunch of old people. And you made that speech. I thought you wanted them to like me.”

She had, at first. She’d pitied Kim.

“I saw your face up there.” Kim picked snow out of her sneakers. “You know I made it up. The band and stuff.”

“I’ve always known,” Heidi lied.

“No, I’m glad.” Kim’s teeth clicked together in the cold. “You know me, Heidi. I love that.” She snatched Heidi’s hand.

Heidi waited one polite second in Kim’s clutches before easing her hand free. “That’s nice.”

“I left my sweatshirt in her car.”

“Yeah, right.” Kim was meticulous about clothes, especially her purple sweatshirt with 1998 emblazoned across the chest. She stored it on a yellow hanger and never washed it.

“So I’ll have to see her again.” Kim looked over the top of the boulder. Lisa’s car idled, exhaust mixing with the flakes. “Should I go now? I should, right? That’s what a date is?” Kim squished her face up like she wanted Heidi to stop her. She inched toward the lot. Heidi caught her by the wrist.

“Don’t.”

Kim puffed air into her cheeks. “Really?”

Heidi wouldn’t be able to stand it if Kim won Lisa. “You have all this mystery. The girl with the stories, who doesn’t need anyone. You don’t want to spoil that. I’ll get your sweatshirt.” Heidi spoke softly. If she sounded kind, maybe she would be. “I’ll tell her I’ve never seen you so happy.”

“One practice kiss.”

“What?”

Kim pulled Heidi in by the cheeks and slammed their mouths together so the whole snowy expanse flashed red and throbbing, like Heidi’s head was wrapped in someone’s giant vein. Heidi shook free, as though escaping from a licking dog. Soggy and irritated, she deserted the boulder.

 


Heidi kept herself from sprinting back to the cozy world contained within the glass and steel and rubber of the car. She already missed Lisa’s sleek hair, the soft fold of her mouth, the chance to be free of this town with its bowling alleys and golden dogs and dads who kept you inside.

She stepped up to the car and peered through the glass of the passenger door. Lisa was slumped over the steering wheel, her hair fanned on the dashboard.

Heidi knocked, loosening ice shards that had formed on the glass. Lisa startled, then reached across the empty seat and opened the door.

“Kim left her sweatshirt,” Heidi said. The purple heap had been kicked down into the footwell. Heidi was careful not to soil it as she slid inside.

Lisa Parsons fell back against her seat. Tears had cut channels through her foundation. This must’ve been how the internet couple felt before they slipped away: staring at the soft white world that was about to let them go.

“I can’t keep doing this,” Lisa said, her forehead bunched like a towel. Her voice turned richer. “I’ve never crossed the line before. You should know that. I get to here and delete my account. I use my name so I won’t be tempted. Something’s wrong with me.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t know if I’d really do it. God, why am I telling you this?” She raked a hand through her hair. “Is Kim okay?”

Heidi nodded, her body floating outside the car.

“She’s not, like, damaged? She seemed off.”

“She’s fine.”

“The stuff I said? It’s not, like, traumatizing her?”

Affection for Kim welled in Heidi. “She already knows all that stuff.”

Lisa wiped her face with her wrist. “Thanks.” She hesitated, staring into her lap. Her voice was so low that it was almost inaudible: “What about you?”

The last word surged in Heidi’s underwear. She was part of this whole drama. “I liked when you touched me.”

Lisa snorted, her cheeks flaring red. “You shouldn’t.”

Lisa had a soft body that begged to be stroked. Heidi couldn’t stand anymore to just sit beside it. She leaned across the console and snatched Lisa’s mouth with her own. Lisa leaned back, and Heidi reached under Lisa’s shirt, meeting breast abruptly, the slippery fullness, the knob of nipple. She didn’t care that rest of the world blinked out. She’d reached the sweaty center of life: a nipple throbbing on her palm.

Lisa pushed Heidi away so hard that Heidi hit the door, which she hadn’t fully closed, and it popped open. The air was freezing, and she thrashed as she collapsed into the snow. Any moment Lisa would dash over, lift her onto the seat, run the heat and mop her face with Kim’s sweatshirt. And there Lisa was: reaching over the passenger seat, her eyes beaming like fat stars. She pulled the door shut, and then, shoulders over the wheel, she gunned the engine and was gone.

Heidi didn’t have the heart to move. Her arms were wobbly and sore, like she’d swum a mile. Maybe Lisa had rejected her because she’d sulked in the corner after praising Kim. That had been babyish. She wouldn’t kiss herself after behavior like that.

Nancy’s silver SUV pulled in. She always parked as far away as possible, so she could sober up on the walk to the door. Heidi stood up and brushed off snow as Nancy crossed the parking lot and through the complex’s front yard with her funny, unmeasured stride. Her hair was down, gray strands swinging. When she reached her building, she leaned against the wall and lit a joint. Heidi walked over and stood beside her. The bricks were ice blocks against her spine. “Taking a stroll, Princess of the Alps?”

Nancy took a drag and offered her the joint, the joke of it all over her face. Heidi was Kim’s square friend, the kid with the annoying father. But this time, Heidi accepted. She drew from the cigarette, holding in a mouthful of smoke until her eyes watered. So what if Lisa hadn’t worked out? Heidi could do anything. She’d kissed a woman tonight.

A sliver of light shone from the living room directly above, probably too steep an angle for Kim to see them. Kim must’ve been waiting at the computer for Lisa to get home and IM her, start the relationship for real. Soon Heidi would have to tell Kim that her sweatshirt was gone, that Lisa wasn’t interested, that she was just some pervert like they should’ve always known. The good news was, Kim wouldn’t mind. They could salvage the sleepover.

“Thanks for having me over,” Heidi said.

“You should come around more.” Nancy extinguished the joint. “Tell your daddy I’m not so bad.”

This was enough, the leftover smoke itching her lungs, hanging out with a grown-up who seemed to care. So it wasn’t romantic. So what? She turned to head to the door.

Nancy pinched Heidi’s sleeve, stopping her. “Kim never told you what happened at her old school, did she?” Nancy frowned. “I think you should know.”

Nancy was dead serious. Heidi’s limbs tensed. “She told me some stuff.”

“Never tell her I told you this, okay? What I’m about to say? I trust you.” Nancy’s mouth twitched. “I can trust you, right?”

Maybe someone had posted a picture of Kim’s vagina on the school bulletin board, or pretended to seduce her and revealed a laughing crowd behind a curtain. Kim must’ve been so different in Scituate: nose aimed at the ground, back curled against not even insults but indifference.

“There was a girl,” Nancy said. “Kim got the wrong idea. She acts tougher than she is.”

Nancy took Heidi’s shoulder. “Will you be careful?”

“I’ll protect her.” She already had, tonight. If it weren’t for Heidi, Kim would be in Lisa’s car now, gliding into an unlit drugstore parking lot.

“That’s not what I mean. She’s fond of you, Heidi.”

Kim’s hands on her shoulder when they wrestled, holding tighter than Heidi ever held her back. The way Kim watched her glassily when they finished. Kim was at her desk now, shoulders hunched, the computer open but her focus on the window, waiting not for Lisa, but Heidi.

If only Kim’s Scituate was real. The resource room teacher with the futon in the closet, Kelly Stephanie, Rainbow Rainbow. Kim should’ve stayed in that world forever, where she was safe and popular and happy.

Nancy straightened up. “Be careful how close you get, all right?”

“Yeah.” Because hadn’t she always known, really? She’d been cruel. Just awful.

Nancy wiped her hands on her sweater. “Meet you inside?”

But when Nancy went in, Heidi crossed the yard and parking lot and headed down Mass Ave. She’d walk the two miles home. She’d give her father a fright no matter how softly she opened the door, but when he saw her, he’d know she was upset. She wouldn’t be able to hide her red face, her busy teeth that had already chewed a cut in her lip. She’d lost Kim, all the adventures and books read together, back to back on Kim’s dusty floor. She’d curl in her bed with her quilted pig and muffle everything. She’d tell herself this was right, that Kim liked her too much, that she’d only get hurt, that Heidi had to leave. But in all the lonely years ahead, she’d never be sure if she was being cruel all over again.

As she walked down the street she looked as far as she could through the night, squinting so the snowflakes were just motion on the air.


Homepage image courtesy of Chandra Chakradhar, Wikimedia Commons
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