The only thing shining was the check engine light. It was just after four o’clock, but evening was coming on quickly. August had that effect on things, Mindy remembered. She took a look at Jake. His eyes were on the road.
They were setting out to find a waterfall Jake had heard about at work. Barely registering black tarmac and yellow lines, he thought back on Ed’s directions.
“The first thing you’ll hear when you walk into the reservation is the water,” he’d begun, “But that’s going to go away in a couple of minutes,” he paused, “These woods are different than the ones you’re used to.”
“What do you mean?” Jake asked.
“You climb Somer Mountain a lot, right?”
“Yeah, so? You saying it’s easy?” Jake hated when anyone older judged him, as if time made more difference than the experiences within it.
“No, no. I just mean Somer isn’t like the Castle Reservation.”
Jake had studied him with a hard look. Both of them stood unmoving, staring at the ground they had yet to mulch. It was Jake’s first summer working at the retirement center. His days were filled with lawn-mowing, cutting hedges and planting flowers and trees, as well as eating the occasional fudgsicle. At least once a week, he’d have to painstakingly realign the pebble mosaic sign which spelled out Rivergate Retirement Community. It was all worth it though. Early mornings meant long free summer hours. Early mornings meant Ed. Ed had some stories, and Ed had some beliefs, and Ed always had a way to impress a girl. He had previously advised Jake to sneak Mindy into the local Country Club after hours to make out in the gazebo they lit up at night. He’d also suggested a road trip to a drive-in that was two hours away. It only showed classically trashy horror movies, spanning every decade except the present. “A horror movie means she’s in your arms all night,” Ed had instructed. He had yet to take Mindy there. Neither of them ever wanted to make the drive, but this, the Castle Reservation, sounded worth it.
“Once you’re in about fifty yards, it’s like the water isn’t there anymore. It’s still right near you, but it’s quiet. And you forget it. Most people stick to that main trail, but there are plenty of others that you could take: Jacob’s Ladder, the Gypsy Moth –”
“What the hell’s a Gypsy Moth?”
“A rare one, I guess. I don’t know, they studied it back in the fifties or something. Apparently, it was a big enough discovery to name a trail after it. Anyway, you could take any one of those trails. But the one I’m suggesting is not on the map.”
Jake remembered those last four words: not on the map. He’d gotten goose-bumps on the back of his neck.
“If you blink, you’ll miss it. It runs along the side of the main trail, about two hundred yards in. Take that, and you’ll start hearing the water again. You’ll come right up on it, right when you least expect it.”
Mindy was expecting something. She had been staring at Jake for at least seven minutes, she estimated. He hadn’t looked back once.
“Jake, why don’t you ever look at me?”
She turned to face the window.
Jake rolled his eyes. “What do you want me to do: crash for love of you?” He grabbed her left thigh with his right hand. “Is this better? What are you thinking Mindy? Tell me all of your hopes and dreams.”
“Jake! You’re tickling me!”
“I can’t take my eyes off of you Mindy. Don’t push my hand away.” He laughed as he squeezed her knee.
A spasm passed through Mindy’s kneecap, but before she could scream, her eyes caught the guardrail that formed a hopeless protection from a perilous fifty-foot drop.
With only inches to spare, Jake righted his jeep. They both let out breaths they didn’t realize they’d been holding.
“Are you okay?” Jake asked, touching Mindy’s shoulder.
“Keep your hands on the wheel,” she snapped. She put the hood of her sweatshirt on and looked back out the window.
A line formed between Jake’s thick eyebrows.
“You’re always doing crazy things like that,” she shouted, “Are you trying to get me killed?” She turned to look at him to emphasize the point, her blue eyes as wide and wet as April driveway puddles.
“No, I was just fooling around –”
“Yeah, that’s all you ever do,” she said. And then, she amended in a quieter voice, “All you ever want to do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked. He focused his dark eyes on her, darker now with frustration. “Well, I’m looking at you now. What do you mean? Mindy?”
Instead of answering him, Mindy said as if from the back of her throat, “Is that, is that it?” She was pointing past the windshield to what looked like a tiny cave, only formed by trees. If you blinked, you’d miss it.
“I don’t know. Where’s the sign?”
“Just pull over.”
Jake came to a stop in a poor gravel excuse for a parking lot. As he slammed his door shut he muttered, “Jesus, the state could do a better job funding this.” He walked over to where Mindy stood, transfixed by something on the ground. He grazed the knuckles of her hand with his own. He looked at her, but she did not look back. Following her gaze he saw, etched in cement just before the opening in the woods, a picture of a castle.
“Ed didn’t mention this.”
Mindy’s heart was racing. The castle looked like a nightmare, she decided. It wasn’t the Disney logo. It wasn’t like anything she’d ever seen. Jagged and narrow, with multiple cupolas – towers where people are imprisoned, she thought. Is this the kind of castle this forest is named after?
“You scared or something Mindy?” Jake asked, devilishly asked, Mindy thought.
“No, of course not,” she said, and stormed inside. Jake followed. Though the entrance was narrow, the foyer of the reservation was wide, the trees forming incredible arches above.
They walked on in silence. Ed was right. The water was all you could hear when you first walked in, but after a little ways, it stopped. You hardly noticed it. The light coming through the trees was golden. Everything reflected in it took on a magical, glimmering tone.
“What’s this?” Mindy ran ahead to a sign that was mounted like a drawing table at chest height.
“What’s it say?”
“It’s commemorating some scientist…Stewart J. Sheen…something about a Gypsy Moth…”
Jake remembered Ed’s offhand reference, “Oh, yeah. Ed said he thinks it’s some rare moth or something.”
“Well, not according to this.”
“What do you mean?” Jake joined her to see for himself. Both of them scanned the plaque. It was covered in old black and white photos as well as color pictures that seemed to be out of their Biology books of the male and female gypsy moths and caterpillars. The sign detailed how the Gypsy Moth, considered one of the deadliest kinds of terrestrial invasive species, invaded the Castle Reservation in the early fifties, defoliating over three quarters of its trees.
“Holy shit,” Jake whispered.
“I know,” Mindy said. “Apparently this Stewart Sheen headed the group that went in to destroy it.”
The sign said that Sheen, fellow biologists, as well as volunteers from surrounding towns had gone into Castle over one summer and destroyed all of the egg masses they could find. They also killed the adult moths and the pupa stage caterpillars, but the most important thing was to prevent the eggs from hatching. After that, Sheen helped to introduce more controlled amounts of the Gypsy Moth’s natural predators – white-footed mice and chickadees – to increase the population of animals already native to Castle, ones that would not become out of control themselves.
“I’ll have to tell Ed tomorrow,” Jake said.
“When, in the afternoon? First day of school tomorrow, remember?” Mindy said it quietly, barely moving her lips. Jake didn’t notice. They had really been a summer thing, and lately Mindy had started to worry what would happen when they returned to school.
“Ugh, you’re right. Well, I’m going to stop in and get my last check at some point. I’ll see him. So, you had enough? Wanna go find that waterfall?”
“Yeah,” Mindy said. She felt softer to him suddenly and grabbed his hand. They walked a few more yards, and then she asked, “Jake, do you think they really could have destroyed all of them?”
“They must’ve, right? I don’t see any bare or dying trees, do you? Hey,” he said, his lips pulling back to reveal perfect teeth, “I think I hear the water again.”
Not far away was the side path Ed had told him about, taking off narrowly from the main one.
“We’re going down there?”
“Yeah,” Jake said, kissing the top of her head. He was almost a foot taller than Mindy. Her hair was brown, but often from his vantage point the sunlight gave her red highlights. He never told her this. He kept it for himself.
Just a few yards down the path, they’d already come much closer to the river. It was sparkling, and Mindy began to worry about coming upon an animal unexpectedly. Before she could worry too much, though, the sky opened before them, blue and certain. The waterfall wasn’t like Niagara or some tropical paradise. It cascaded over a sheer rock face. Jake began to take off his shoes.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re going to climb it.”
“We’re going to what?”
“Climb it,” Jake repeated, “Take off your shoes.”
Mindy removed her canvas slip-ons and set them next to Jake’s dirty tennis shoes. They half-crawled across a fallen tree to the other side of the river once Jake decided it was safe and wouldn’t break. At the base of the waterfall, Mindy felt a tremor of fear pass through her. She grabbed Jake’s hand. They began to climb up on the left side of the fall. Mindy realized that the rocks were not completely flat. Each three to four foot sheer face ended in a sort of table-top. They were stairs built for giants, she thought: a giant’s castle. They got about a yard and a half from the top of the waterfall before the stairs ran out. Mindy sat down. Jake began to take off his t-shirt and shorts.
“What are you doing now? You can’t swim in here.”
“Why not?” Where they’d stopped, the water formed a small pool before falling over the edge to the bottom that was now some forty feet below them.
“What if you fall?”
“The water’s not going that fast, Mindy.”
As Jake eased himself in, Mindy glanced at the hair that had just begun to grow in the hollow of his chest. She’d never known a boy with such a deep crevice dividing his heart from everything else. It was her place on his body. Though her hand was wet with the slime from the rock, she seemed to feel it resting there.
“Jesus, it’s freezing,” he said.
“See? Barely summer anymore.”
Mindy watched as Jake put his clothes back on and sat next to her. They were quiet for a long while. “You wanna go?” he finally asked. “We could go back home and order a pizza.”
“Sounds good to me,” Mindy answered.
Jake kissed her on the cheek, and they began to make their way down. Mindy thought that the rocks seemed a lot slipperier now than on the way up. Jake was crab-walking ahead of her, and she was trying to inch her way behind him with as much of her body touching the rock as possible. They’d just made it past the first shelf when her foot slipped.
“Jake!” she screamed, but in her own ears she heard only a whisper. Mindy felt herself losing control of her body; she grasped anxiously for something, but her hands came up empty. She slid with all of her weight and the force of her fall straight into Jake’s back. He stopped her and held her still, pushing his feet against a rock that jutted out from the flat face.
“Are you okay?” he yelled, almost as if her scream had been as inaudible as she thought.
“Yes,” Mindy said as she righted herself into a similar crab-like position.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she said, angrily this time. From this point on the drop became less sharp and Mindy scurried away from him, high on adrenaline and embarrassment.
As she put on her slip-ons, Jake took hold of both of her shoulders. “Hey, maybe we should sit for a second. Catch your breath.” His voice was understanding, his eyes loving and concerned. He searched her face, uncertain of what it was he was looking for. Her cheeks were red. “Mindy.”
“Why are you always taking me to stupid places like this?”
Mindy could feel the tears burning in her eyes as she ran up the narrow path.
Jake knew she must be embarrassed, but he was sick of being yelled at. When he finally caught up with her, she was sitting on a tree stump on the side of the main path. She was crying. He knelt in front of her. “It’s okay,” he said. “You’re okay.” He took her in his arms. She fought it briefly, but then buried her face in his neck.
When they pulled apart, Jake caught sight of something large and brown crawling on Mindy’s leg. “What the hell?”
Mindy screamed and with no hesitation began running back to her former danger.
Jake got closer to the stump. “Hey come back. Don’t worry. It’s just a moth. Actually, I think it’s –”
“A Gypsy Moth? Why isn’t it flying?” Mindy finished as she walked cautiously back towards him.
“The sign said the females don’t fly. I really think it is. Hey, let’s take it back with us,” Jake said.
“Really?” Mindy asked, “But it’s an invasive species.”
“If it’s living in this forest not doing any harm, what could it really do in Hill? We don’t have that many trees.”
“Here, we’ll even take a piece of this stump to make it more like its habitat.” Jake broke off some bark. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic sandwich bag that was left over from his lunch on Friday. He placed the bark and the Gypsy Moth inside. “This will be its home until we can get it a mason jar or something.”
“Maybe we can get a terrarium from Mr. Simms tomorrow.” During the short months of their relationship, they’d each gone into raptures over the teacher. Mindy was thrilled with his understanding and peculiarity, Jake with the sense of humor that replaced the expected rigidity; both knew that he was the smartest teacher in the school, perhaps the city. He would definitely not be opposed to illicitly donating school property to their cause.
“Good idea. I’ll bring it to school tomorrow.”
Jake made a couple small holes in the baggy with Mindy’s bobby pin. Settled, they began to walk back to the car. On the way, Jake saw a small brown bird eating a mouse. He averted his eyes quickly, not wanting to worry Mindy any further.
“From the Latin meaning ‘to go.’ How innocent. Meaning to enter forcefully, as an enemy; meaning to enter offensively; meaning to take possession of; to intrude upon; to permeate; to enter and affect injury or…destruction. Were you confusing it with another word, perhaps? Had you a malapropistic moment?” Mr. Simms was not amused with the torn sandwich bag Jake and Mindy presented him after the last bell of the day. The gray hairs surrounding the glasses atop his head were curling with the heat of the afternoon. The moth was there. The egg mass on the bark, or more appropriately, the caterpillars it housed, were not.
Jake had left the bag in the top shelf of his locker. At some point in the school day, during which time Jake and Mindy had traversed the building in their respective groups, separated, laundry-like, according to age, intelligence, attractiveness, and popularity, Mr. Simms hypothesized that the caterpillars had hatched and escaped through the absurd vents they put on lockers. “As if they encourage stuffing nerds into them,” he scoffed. They were now somewhere in the school, if not already the city. “You must be the most intelligent children in this school.” And then, with an exhausted exhalation as he leaned on his desk, “That’s sarcasm.”
“What’s going to happen?” Jake asked.
“Nothing if we alert the proper authorities. Environmental police. You’re lucky not the actual police. Do you know how deadly this kind of thing can be? We live in a fragile ecosystem. Don’t you know anything about rabbits in Australia? About reproduction in general?”
Both Mr. Simms’ students stared at him red-faced and sheepish. Before either could answer, high-heeled footsteps sounded in the hallway. Each was inclined to hide, but the school nurse passed by room 117 as if it were filled only with ghosts. An additional set of footsteps, coming from the opposite end of the hallway, mirrored the nurse’s. Both halted a mere three doors down.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the woman said.
“This is a picture of the boy, here?”
Mindy made a move toward the door, but Jake stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. Instead, both stared at the hallway, vacant to their view.
“No, no, it’s the girl. The boy was in such bad shape there wasn’t time for a picture. He couldn’t have consented to it.”
The footsteps began walking swiftly, in unison, back from where the second set had come.
“God, what do you think that’s about?” Jake asked.
“What if it’s one of our friends? It sounded bad.” Mindy got closer to Jake, surprised by her audacity in front of a teacher. However, when they turned around, Mr. Simms was not even looking at them. Instead, he was sitting at his desk with his nose buried in an enormous book.
“Mr. Simms? Do you know what that was about? Mr. Simms?”
Mr. Simms slammed the book shut and brought his hand to the desk with equal force. Standing once again with his eyes on the wall at the back of the classroom, he did not yell, but seemed, rather, to declaim, “Those allergic to the histamine in the body and hairs of the caterpillar will suffer from raised rashes around the collar, the abdomen, the arms and legs, and the feet. Some may require more than a simple antihistamine. Some may require steroid treatments. Some may suffer so they cannot sleep. Those highly allergic should be taken to the hospital immediately.” He was silent. Mindy could see a few dead heads of dandelions floating into the room from the open window.
“Mr. Simms, we didn’t –” Jake began.
“The population is eruptive,” Mr. Simms said through his teeth. “I’ll be alerting the authorities immediately to get this taken care of, and I want you two out of my sight.”
First: fist kiss, first grade. It was sloppy and stolen, full of saliva and snot on the hill overlooking the playground. Since then, Corey Hammett had never quite left her. He was the Gilbert to her Anne Shirley, if her hair had been red. They went through a rough patch in middle school, and then, with the transition to high school, it was as if they had forgotten one another’s names. She played along. She wanted to ignore him ignoring her. Walking past him on the stairs without even a glance was intentional. The seat in the cafeteria which left her back turned to him was carefully plotted. He would be taunted, but he would never touch. It was only later that she learned that the shift in their relations did not mark a lasting treaty, but instead, a ceasefire.
Second: second base was all he got to the first few times he went over her house. Anxious, they both learned to mark the sticky sounds of her mother’s feet padding through the kitchen and the heavy and slippered footsteps of her father; their silent shudders were hushed by The Late Show. Their relationship progressed to ignoring his mother’s calls when he ignored his curfew.
He removed the ‘D’ and called her Minnie Mouse; he changed a letter in her name to sing her “Mandy.” Pre-fabricated ‘I love yous,’ she realized later. He filled in the blanks, but for some reason could never play the “I like you because” game. The fourth time she had to say, “It’s not that hard, you just have to like me,” she stopped asking. He did like-love me though, she thought now, fiddling with her earring. Maybe it wasn’t true love but it was so close.
Third: the third time they broke up was the last time. It was not long after that she started seeing Jake, but that was not how people saw her – Jake’s girlfriend – somehow she felt her fate still tied to that boy who would always, irreversibly, be first.
What about that time he pantsed me in 6th grade
Guilty of sexual harassment
Stronger, more athletic (better at everything than me)
Jake compiled a list of the reasons he hated Corey Hammett while he and Mindy sat silent on the couch in his living room. He realized that he’d have to change that last one. Jake was not, as far as he knew, allergic to anything; while Corey on the other hand, was deathly allergic to bees, and now apparently to Gypsy Moth caterpillars as well. He was weaker, if only in this one way. Mindy’s best friend, Liz had called to let her know that Corey had been brought to Mercy Medical just as school was ending. The rash had spread rapidly, and the swelling which had started with his skin had proceeded to his throat and tongue. Apparently, he had lost consciousness at school, and had to be taken to the hospital for emergency treatment. Mindy said they should visit him and see how he was doing. Jake said, “Why the fuck should we do that?” It was a losing battle. It always was.
It was evening, dinner-time, and visiting hours were over, but Mindy’s mother was a nurse at Mercy; brought on errands since she could walk on her own, Mindy felt inherently like she owned the place. They found Corey’s room quickly, unnoticed by the overworked staff. The sheet was drawn all the way to his chin. To hide the effects of his allergy, Jake thought. Christ. He began to put his arm around Mindy, but she resisted his affection and walked towards Corey’s bed. “Corey? Corey can you hear me? I’m so sorry.”
“Shut up! Do you want someone to hear? We don’t need to tell anyone that we caused this, Mindy. Mr. Simms is going to take care of it. Besides, you heard him, a couple rounds of steroids and Corey’ll be as good as new. I’m sure he’s already used to injections like that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means –” but before Jake could finish a nurse walked into the room.
“You two shouldn’t be in here.” She didn’t yell it. It was strange. Her voice was gentle, consoling; she seemed more concerned about their well-being than Corey’s. She was young, only a few years older than us, Mindy estimated. She knew a nursing degree only took a short time. Maybe she felt for them, understood them. “Are you friends of Corey’s?” she asked.
“Well, sort of,” Jake began, but Mindy stifled him with a resounding “Yes.”
“I am so sorry,” she whispered. She was wearing the same one-size-fits-all scrubs Mindy’s mother wore to work, but Jake noticed that she paired them with a much more flattering and form-fitting t-shirt.
Mindy was confused. “Sorry about what?” she asked. “He’s going to be okay, isn’t he? He just got here. He just came in because of an allergy.”
“The reaction was severe,” the nurse began, softly, but her throat was full of tears to push through. “It just happened, just before you got here. I was just coming in to get ready to take him to the morgue.” She seemed like she was about to hug them both, so they quickly grasped each other. Jake was afraid he’d vomit, struck with conflicted emotions. Mindy began to cry.
The nurse walked over to what was now only the body of Corey Hammett. They took it as a signal to leave. Before they’d gone very far, though, they heard the young nurse’s audible gasp. Jake turned around, but Mindy’s face was buried in his shirt. The nurse must have lifted the sheet to raise it over Corey’s head, but at the sight of him, dropped it. It lay rumpled around his waist. The raised rashes Mr. Simms had mentioned were much worse than that. The reaction was severe. All over Corey’s neck, arms, and abdomen were several marks. They looked like ulcers. The skin had started to peel back from the gaping wounds on his body.
The blue T.V. screen worked shadows on the living room walls. Mindy and Jake watched the evening news. Corey’s was not the only death. Critical reactions had occurred in seven of the thirty cases at their high school, and the numbers were growing. The caterpillars were spreading, but it now seemed to authorities that what they were tentatively calling a virus may have started to spread from person to person as well. The pandemic could be virtually unstoppable. More at eleven.
“Do you…do you think everyone knows it was us?” Mindy knew it was a stupid question.
But she was surprised when Jake said, “No. I don’t think so. I don’t think Mr. Simms had time to tell anyone before –”
Mindy grabbed his thigh. “Jake. I think he’s going to be all right. My mom said that the coma would probably help him. It would protect him.” She took her eyes from Jake’s and stared at the floor instead. “It’s his body’s way of protecting him.”
“Don’t you see it looks like we masterminded it, Mindy?” he asked, raising his voice. “The one person who knows is a vegetable; already so many people are dead –”
Mindy began to cry again. Jake knew it was for Corey and he wished almost instantly that he had never said anything.
She stopped. “Oh god, Jake.”
“What?” No answer. “What, Mindy?” He was getting fed up with her dramatic pauses, but he realized that she was pointing at the entrance to the living room. His French bulldog, Sadie, was standing there. “Come here, girl,” he called. Sadie struggled forward, pulling herself with her forelegs. Jake got up and went to her side, leaving Mindy alone on the couch. Sadie’s breathing was shallow. She was an old dog. Jake had had her for a long time. The skin on her stomach was already starting to split open.
“Lie down, girl,” Jake whispered.
“Is she okay?” Mindy sobbed.
“No. I don’t think so.” Almost as soon as Jake said it, Sadie’s eyes closed. Still, it took some moments before he realized she was gone.
Jake walked back into the house. He left the shovel in the breezeway. He did not wait for Mindy, but she followed anyway and shut the door behind them. Without stopping, he walked into the bathroom. He did not shut the door. Mindy walked in and brought the toilet seat down with a jarring clap on the porcelain. She sat down. Jake pulled both the hot and cold knobs on the sink to their highest level. He rolled up his sweatshirt sleeves. He pumped two times on the soap. He rubbed his hands together vigorously. He worked beneath his fingernails. Mindy watched as the soapy water turned grey. She had not realized how dirty his hands were. He worked his left hand up and over his right wrist, and then his right hand mirrored the action. He washed his hands like a surgeon, Mindy thought. He washed his hands like he was going to put them inside of someone’s body.
Jake finished washing his hands, and grabbed the nearest towel. His parents weren’t home yet.
He took off his shirt and jeans. Mindy could see now that Jake was disheveled, wet with sweat and flecked with dirt from the digging. He was in only a white t-shirt and his blue boxer shorts. The entire summer had been filled with almost. Without looking at Mindy, Jake walked into his bedroom. Mindy sat in the bathroom a while longer. “Butterflies” was such a sweet way of explaining how sick you felt when you wanted someone this badly.
They must have been together this whole time, Jake thought. Her and Corey. She’d been seeing him behind his back. How would he have known? They weren’t in school. They were separated from anyone who might have known the truth and thought to tell him. All this time he had been thankful for that, what he had thought of as the silence, the solitude of their love.
Mindy followed Jake into the bedroom. He was sitting on the end of the bed, fiddling with something. She couldn’t see what it was. She went to the other side of the bed and sat down. His mirror image.
I brought home that moth for her, Jake thought. For her! I brought it to console her. She must think I killed him. I only did it for her, for her. But I don’t blame her for anything. I don’t. She does. That’s the difference between us.
Mindy looked at Jake. He was still holding something in his hands, but he had stopped moving it. Touch me, her eyes pleaded. I just want to be touched. Seeing Corey like that proves that we don’t have very long. We don’t have much longer.
Jake moved across the bed. He wrapped his left arm around Mindy and lay her down on her back. He kissed her. The sloppy urgency of his open mouth reminded Mindy of something but she lost the memory in an instant. His body was so heavy on hers. And then, suddenly, she was free; he pulled himself up onto his knees. He stared at her. She felt embarrassed, so overdressed. She took her shirt off, and her jeans. They were tight and she struggled awkwardly when it came to her calves. They corresponded now: bra to undershirt, underwear to boxers.
Jake lay down again, balancing himself on his left elbow. He brought his hand, still in a fist, to Mindy’s sternum. He breathed slowly, heavily on her. He wanted her to feel his mouth without touching her with it. He opened his hand. At first Mindy thought the caterpillar was dead; it was her first thought. But then it moved, crawling, caressing her with its tiny hairs. Jake sat up and removed his shirt. Already the large, raised, welts were opening, splitting down their middle to reveal an inner layer of skin.
Mindy removed her bra. Corresponded. Jake removed his boxers. She did not flinch as he pulled her underwear past her ankles, much more skillfully than she had removed her jeans. She did not speak. She did not breathe. It was too late, wasn’t it? To say anything? At first, they just lay beside one another. The caterpillar was crawling down Mindy’s right thigh, past a freckled patch that reminded Jake of Cassiopeia. Suddenly Jake brought his mouth to her neck. He got up, hovered above her. Where he had kissed was already a red mark, rising. He drew his mouth to her collarbone, to a freckle on her chin, Polaris.
The warm, wet, heavy, pressure on her body was like being buried in sand. Her brother had dug the hole. She had wanted to stay in it all day, and yet simultaneously she thought she’d die if she didn’t get out.
Jake’s welts were bleeding now, but he took no notice. He kissed her more deeply as they opened wider. And Mindy’s would soon follow suit.