by Tony Ayers
reads Ashley's text; maybe it is him, lol. She
sees the grey ellipsis appear, disappear, pop up again, and then
the phone hours later, but neither Ashley nor anyone else has texted her, so she
goes to bed.
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.
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.
she turns the shower handle to steam level and prepares her shower accessories,
including shaving her legs.
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.
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
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.
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.
eyes swim a little; when their silence concludes, she tells him,
"Thanks for the ride," and heads toward the fire.
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.
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.
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.
he says and takes off his backward hat to show her the
top of his hair.
she says to the man—Are you him?
saw you across the fire all night." He says toneless, and she
wonders how old he is. "You're so beautiful and young."
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
they are lying on the cold grass. "Does this feel good?" he
asks, kissing her gently on the neck and ears.
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.
I?" He stares at her with pleading eyes. She reaches down
and guides him in.
it's over. He pecks her gently on the forehead and then leaves her on the
ground without a word.
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.
can drop you off at the end of your street."
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.
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.