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Tony Ayers: Heidi

99_ym_heidi_jelliott.jpg
Art by J. Elliott 2023

Heidi

 

by Tony Ayers

 

 

          Heidi reads Ashley's text; maybe it is him, lol. She sees the grey ellipsis appear, disappear, pop up again, and then disappear again.

Heidi returns to the phone hours later, but neither Ashley nor anyone else has texted her, so she goes to bed.

          The following morning, Heidi awakes with tears in her throat and images of her estranged mother picking tiger lilies in her head. Her mother's big, brown eyes are melting; the petals on the flowers dry up and blow away. The nightstand buzzes. Maybe it's him, she thinks and answers the phone. 

          "Hello?" she says softly into her cell phone. There is no breathing or white noise on the line, yet she is certain someone is there. She defers to her godmother’s photo on her dresser; she urges her to hang up, so she does. She stares at the phone as if it will strike her at any moment.

When it doesn't, she turns the shower handle to steam level and prepares her shower accessories, including shaving her legs.

          Ashley's message reads; Gravel Bed tonight???…dress sexy. Heidi flutters open like she did at spring prom. She types: see you there.  Her hand hovers over the keypad, and so does Ashley’s, as they confront each other with ellipsis again.

 Ashley expects her to ask for a ride. She can feel that familiar tug drawing her in and making her question her actions. Heidi wonders if their relationship is contingent on her giving in to Ashley and what sticking up for herself would do to their friendship.

Thirty minutes pass, and the moment hangs. Heidi calls her dad and tells him to order her a pizza for lunch. When it arrives, she eats two slices and falls asleep watching a movie. It's seven when she awakes, so she takes a shower and dresses for the evening. 

          Around ten-thirty, she gives up calling schoolmates for a ride and buys an Uber. She calls the unknown number again from the car: When someone picks up, she says, "I will be at the gravel bed tonight. I am wearing that silver miniskirt you love.” She hangs up, decidedly more nervous than exhilarated.

She stares out the window until the fire becomes close enough to smell. The car slows to accommodate the bumps in the road and then bottoms out. Mohammed stops and tells her, "Thanks," and then, "Be careful," but his rearview eyes tell her he means something else.

          Their eyes swim a little; when their silence concludes, she tells him, "Thanks for the ride," and heads toward the fire.

          The ground underneath makes it difficult for her to walk in heels, and she stumbles several times. Someone yells "drunk," and "slut," but no one is listening.

Heidi doesn't care either way and scans the faces for Ashley or her classmates. Although some faces morph into someone recognizable, they fail to produce someone she knows. This schism moves her around the fire to catch a conversation and to stay warm as she intermittently shakes from the night chill. 

          In the dying fire, she relents that neither Ashley nor her night caller will arrive. "That bitch,” she says, feeling set up, and she walks away in search of a signal in the remote sky. Steps approach her from behind.

          "Hey," he says and takes off his backward hat to show her the top of his hair. 

          "Hi," she says to the man—Are you him? 

          "I saw you across the fire all night." He says toneless, and she wonders how old he is. "You're so beautiful and young." 

          "You have nice eyes," she returns and means it, although she notices a heaviness starting to wear them down. He leans in and kisses her on the mouth. She allows him to touch her chest, and he slides his hand up her miniskirt. 

          Soon they are lying on the cold grass. "Does this feel good?" he asks, kissing her gently on the neck and ears. 

          "Yes," she says and rubs the outside of his pants. She pulls down his zipper and then struggles too long with the button, which forces him to unbutton it himself. He gets his pants around his knees and lies on top of her. He presses up against her but does nothing else.

          "Can I?" He stares at her with pleading eyes. She reaches down and guides him in.

Within moments, it's over. He pecks her gently on the forehead and then leaves her on the ground without a word.

She feels cold against her back, and after hours it seems, she gets up and walks to the fire. Everyone seems much older, suddenly. She's freezing, so she asks a man and woman for a ride.

          "We can drop you off at the end of your street."

          "That works fine."

          The car warms her up until the night air squeezes it from her at once. She cuts through a cow pasture and thinks about riding a heifer home to her house—the cold starlight is the only witness. But then her kitchen window blinks at her warmly, and she jogs barefoot over the cold field until her throbbing legs climb her steps.

She slides into her bed and falls asleep without checking her phone. 

 

Tony Ayers is a professional writer in New York. He currently lives with his wife and two sons in South Orange, New Jersey. He has published many short stories. 

J. Elliott is an author and artist living in a small patch of old, rural Florida. Think Spanish moss, live oak trees, snakes, armadillos, mosquitoes. She has published (and illustrated) three collections of ghost stories and three books in a funny, cozy series. She's currently writing (and illustrating) a ghost story novel, Jiko Bukken, set in Kyoto, Japan in the winter of '92-'93. Episodes on Amazon's Kindle Vella. Paperback and eBook coming late this summer (2023). 

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023