“Tell me about your first time.”
They were sitting on his bed listening to some band she’d never heard but pretended to like, and his hands were in her hair. She continued to flip through an old copy of National Geographic while he waited for her to reply. When a minute had gone by and she hadn’t said a word, he stopped winding tendrils of her hair around his nimble fingers.
“Did you hear me?”
“Mmhm.” Living on smooth pages, honey bees gathered in families of thousands, flowing amber sticking to hexagonal homes. The remnants of Apollo 13, dull and heavy, tumbled through space in forgotten memory. The skeleton of a new species of homo sapiens stared gloomily through empty eye sockets. She kept flipping.
“Tell me about your first time.” His tone was heavier now, and he looked right at her.
“It was stupid. Not worth the breath.” A lump rose in her throat, threatening to reveal what she had buried within pages of diaries hidden beneath uneven floorboards. Digging her fingernails into clenched palms, she tried to push away the memories that dive-bombed into the well of her stomach.
He took her cheeks in his eighteen-year-old palms, turning her attention away from a malnourished African child dressed in rags.
“Nothing you say is a waste of breath.”
She nudged her chin away and sighed.
The next track played over the stereo, sewing melodies over the rustling of magazine paper. He got up, making the bed springs jostle and shake.
“You hungry?” He had changed the subject and she was grateful.
“Sure. I’ll eat if you eat.” Her painted fingers brushed across a glossy photo of the river Nile, cutting elegantly through rocky grasslands. She thought of tangled clothes soaked in dim light, then of the silence that had hung in the air like a thick vapor seeping in through the cracked windows of vacant rooms in her chest. She didn’t hear him ask where she wanted to go.
“Did you hear me?”
“What do you want?”
“I’m not sure.” He let out a strangled breath and grabbed his keys.
“I’m getting pizza.” And then he left. The sound of his footsteps echoed down the hall until she heard the screen door snap shut. She closed the magazine and tossed it onto the floor. It made a defeated sound, and then the pages rested.