The Summer House

By Caitlin Killion


She's beautiful, you know? Jeanette. She has these grey eyes that are small crescents, dark around the edges. Her eyelashes white, her hair thin and dusty. Tiny freckles across her nose and forehead. She wears a ring on every finger, and when she laughs, she tilts her head back and opens her mouth, shutting her eyes tight. She really laughs, that girl. Showing all her teeth. Different from the Dominican girls I used to date back home. Whenever I tell her she's got nice teeth her cheeks blush pink and she brings her fingers up to her mouth to cover her smile. That girl. Jeanette. Mmm hmmm, she likes to say, letting her hmmm roll on forever, batting her eyes sarcastically.

"You know when I do most of my thinking, Luis?" she asks me now. She is blowing grey bubbles with her gum. We are in one of those four-seater sections on the train on our way to her summerhouse in Maine. She's got her legs stretched out, resting her feet on the chairs across from us. Her shoes point out in opposite directions.

"Where," I say.

"In bathroom stalls. You wouldn't know because you don't get as much contact with a toilet seat. You, being a guy and all. But it's a good place for thinking." She taps her fingers against the window, looking outside at the burnt orange trees. I watch the blur of red and orange and auburn, too. The colors are still new to me.

"Like I remember one day after I lost a tennis match in high school, I sat in the stall in the opposing school's bathroom for about thirty minutes, just thinking. Nobody had scratched a message into the door or anything – it was that plain, bathroom colored blue. Shiny. And I just kept staring at that blue like it was a goddamn Rothko or something. The team was worried about me, everyone waiting in the bus ready to go home."

I pause for a minute, listening to the hum of the train. I think of my cousin Rita, who told me once that when her family first moved to New York she ate all her second-grade lunches by herself in the third stall in the bathroom on the fourth floor. That whole year long.

"Were you crying?" I turn to ask Jeanette. For some reason my voice comes out in a whisper.

"What, in the stall?"

"Yeah."

She looks out the window, focused on the rusted iron clouds outside. "No, just thinking. I mean I never really cry. Ever." She shrugs, swallows. "My sister – she used to cry a lot, you know. My mom sometimes complains about how she just nonstop sobbed for the first two years of her life. She was bald, too. Imagine that. A crying, bald baby." Jeanette's voice is thin and light, and it swoops up at the end of her sentences, reminding me of a tightrope walker balancing on a string. "She stopped crying, though. Now she never does. None of us really do."

"I guess that's good," I say. I lean forward to kiss her forehead and I feel her body stiffen underneath me.

"What do you do when you're sad, Lu?" she asks me. "Do you cry? I can't imagine that."

"Nothing," I shake my head.

"You never cry?"

"Maybe."

"When?"

"I don't know."

"When?"

I lift my knee up to my chest and I stick my finger through the hole in my jeans that's right by the hem. I scratch at my skin and watch the patch of brown turn red. "Like when my grandfather died," I offer. "I was eight."

"Only then?"

"And more when I was a kid, I guess." I keep digging at my skin, making a cross section with my nail. "I remember falling once. I was playing basketball with some neighborhood kids. I scratched up this old silver watch my father had just given me. I remember it scraping against the asphalt, and I was just lying there, wailing while the older kids continued playing, some of them laughing. That might have been the last time I cried."

I feel Jeanette's eyes on my hair, my ears. My ears burn as she looks away, disappointed, it seems, with my memory. She clicks her tongue. I don't dare tell her that I sobbed on the first night I spent in the States, alone in my bare dorm room, a little drunk from the strange red juice I'd tasted at my first university party.

"Those people that cry in airports," she says, shaking her head. "When they're reading some paperback book! I never understand them. Or the strangers who walk out of movie theaters with swollen eyes. You know? I mean Jesus Christ, do they have wells inside of them?"

I swallow and put my hand over hers. It lies limp underneath mine, tiny and lifeless.

After our train ride, we call a cab. Jeanette claims she is going to pay, but I don't like the idea of arriving at her family's house and standing there awkwardly while she flattens out her own twenty dollar bills, smiling and saying something cute and loud in her high-pitched voice while she does it. The problem is, I count how much money I have in my wallet, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be short.

"Damn it, Jeanette. I didn't know we were going to take a cab. Otherwise I would have taken out more cash." I feel myself sweating at my collar around my neck. It is hot in here. I hate discussing money with Jeanette. "I don't want you to pay."

She doesn't say anything. She just grabs my index finger and holds onto it, running her thumb along mine. We look out opposite windows, and she watches the shore while I watch the colorful wooden houses, growing larger and larger, the spaces in between them disappearing, giving them less room to breathe. We pass by white picket fences and signs that say things like "beach" with an arrow pointing to the left. They are painted to look older than they are.

I roll the window down, and the sea breeze fills the car. The air is cold; heavy with the smell of fish and something else that I don't know. I still can't believe that up here is part of the same ocean I grew up with, yet it smells like nothing I've ever known.

"So remember, Lu," Jeanette turns to me. She puts her head on my shoulder and she is warm and familiar and I love her at that moment. I love her I love her I love her. "You've never been here before, okay?" I can feel her smiling on my shoulder blade the same way I can feel her smiling when I kiss her. I pull her in closer to my body, and she fits right there, her chest underneath my arm, her whiteblond hair spread out across my shoulder.

"I know, I know," I say. "I've 'never' been here before." I look at the driver's rear-view mirror, watching my lips move as I speak. They look sly.

"You're a bad liar, Lu." She looks up at me. "You'll be okay? You have to pretend to be impressed all over again, you know. Pretend you don't know where things are in the house."

I hadn't thought of details like that. "Of course," I tell her.

She squeezes the finger she still hasn't let go of. "We're almost here."

The wind howls inside the car, and the yellow-green eelgrass dances like a sea, each blade synchronized with the others. It looks like silk from here, and last weekend when Jeanette and I were here we had tried to run through it. Last weekend we snuck up on a night train to sleep in her summerhouse when no one was here. We covered up our tracks like the poor women in India who have to sweep their footsteps away as they walk. The blades of grass had cut at our shins in our first two strides, and mosquitoes crowded our ankles the moment we entered the eelgrass.

"Do you love it here as much as I do?" Jeanette asks.

I scrunch my nose. "I love it," I say.

Saying the word love in front of Jeanette feels strange. We haven't officially said it yet, and it feels like it's this halfway-inflated balloon that we have been dancing around for the past two weeks. I mean, it's been a few months now since I first saw her sitting, drinking tea on a campus bench and I asked her out on a date. I should be able to say it by now, but for some reason I'm afraid to. Somehow, saying love out loud in English feels heavier than "te quiero," "te amo," words I used to say so lightly, so loosely in curlicue Spanish, in thin-smiled whispers to schoolgirls back in Santo Domingo. I used to say it all the time.

When we pull up to the back of the house, I am reminded again of its size. It is ten times the size of our apartment back home in Santo Domingo. If Mami only knew I have an American girlfriend who has a house this size just for vacation – well, I don't know what Mami'd do. Maybe she'd stop wasting all her money on lottery tickets and start spending her time trying to get the two of us married. And quick.

The cab costs $48.50, and Jeanette pays discreetly inside the car. I slam the car door shut and see Jeanette's mother emerge from the house.

"You're here!" She shouts. I listen to the car roll away on the gravel, and I feel a small pang of jealousy for the driver, who will drive back along the ocean now, not talking to anyone but himself.

I look up at the woman standing on the top stair by the door, her arms raised in the air like she's God. She hasn't bothered to take off her red oven mitts. I know it is Jeanette's mother because I've studied a photograph of her Mom and Dad before – the one that sits on top of her printer in her room at school.

She stands up there with her oven mitts, waiting for us to climb the stairs. As we get closer, I can see that her face is an unnatural color, caked with a layer of makeup and pink powdered cheeks, and her eyelashes are like spider legs that stick together in small clumps of black. We reach her and she wraps her arms around Jeanette and then turns to hug me. My hands bend up underneath hers, and I pat the small of her back as she squeezes.

"So we finally meet you," she says in my ear. She barely smiles when she says it, and it seems like her teeth are a little clenched. The closeness of her breath and the stench of her perfume make me shudder. She pulls away from me and I feel her eyes swoop down to my feet as she examines me. Her eyebrows narrow when she reaches my waist, where I've forgotten a belt, I suddenly realize. A small bit of my green boxers is showing. I tug down at my shirt.

"Well, we're so happy you're here," she says after a pause. She flashes a wide, stiff smile. It seems like she's reciting a line in a play. She's stopped looking at me and now she's staring past me, her eyes blank. I turn around, making sure that there isn't some kind of audience behind me, some group of people she's performing for. But there are just some trees. A few empty cars in the driveway. She squeezes my shoulder tight and I still feel it after she lets go. Jeanette's father appears at the door behind her, his blue, watered-down eyes immediately on mine. His narrow forehead and his upturned nose, I notice, are exactly like Jeanette's.

"Daddy!" she squeals.

"Sweetie." His voice deep. He kisses her forehead and then looks at me and he nods, his lips forming a straight line. He stretches out his hand stiffly. "Nice to meet you, sir," he says to me. I stare up at his cowboy hat. Should I have called Jeanette's mother "ma'am?" I wonder.

The rest of the family comes upon us before we cross the kitchen. Her small cousin Jared does not let go of my hand, asking over and over again if I am the same Luis as Luis Ramiro, his favorite baseball player on the Sox, and if I am could he please have my autograph, please? I grow tired of shaking my head no and I draw a small squiggle on a napkin that I hand to him. He looks up at me with these enormous blue sparkling eyes, his mouth gaping.

A tiny blond woman with miniature features who is holding a two-year-old boy on her hip is the only person who offers to help us with our suitcases.

"I'm Madison," she tells me. She's chewing gum and doesn't not bother to look at my face. "Jeanette's sister-in-law."

"Nice to meet you," I say. There are a lot of names. Jared and Madison, Eric, Danielle. Her younger cousin Christine. There are twin boys in overalls playing a board game: Joey and James. Patricia, Linda, Stephen, Mark. Bill. Leo. Jeanette's grandmother, a towering old white-haired woman who places her hand against the wall when she walks, and who doesn't smile but she bows forward when she says hello. Keeping her distance. They all call her Gram.

"What a beautiful home," I say loudly so that Jeanette can hear me. I feel her eyes on the side of my face and I soak in her smile of approval. I walk through the rest of the house. The small kids seem to have control over the floor: chasing one another around tables, spreading out puzzle pieces and dominos along the hard wood floors. It is too chilly to play in bathing suits outside. The grown men occupy the couches that crowd around the television, and the women walk between rooms, their singsong voices traveling from one side of the house to the other.

Last time I was here, we didn't take off our shoes. Jeanette and I walked straight past the white sofas and the dried flowers hanging from the ceiling, and I barely noticed the giant television screen or the long wood table that took over the dining room. I didn't look at the black and white photos of white-toothed smiles that crowd the walls. We made our way past the marble countertops and the yellow tiles and the chandeliers. I remember I saw the stairs, first: a narrow set of steps squished in the corner of the house. "Still unfinished," Jeanette had explained.

But now I notice that everyone is walking barefoot over the thin layer of sand that dusts the hardwood floors. I feel the grains in between the hard surface and the bones of my feet. I listen to the floor creak. This time, I walk through the busy rooms slowly while Jeanette talks with her mother in the kitchen. I peer into the black and white faces that crowd the walls. I study the artificial smiles, the folds in the silk dresses. The creases in the button-downs. I watch the small squirrel-sized dog that someone picks up for four seconds to obsess over, talking in a high-pitched cooing voice before dropping him back down on the floor, not bothering to glance his direction when he barks again. I walk upstairs.

The second floor is a quiet sea of closed doors and evenly spaced chandeliers. The doors are all whitewashed, and I wonder who painted these thick coats of white, so perfectly opaque? The sun is setting through the window at the end of the hall and light floods the space, illuminating the hardwood floors, bouncing off the doors, making them so bright that I am nearly blinded as I walk. I cannot remember which door belongs to the separate bathroom, so I wander into the bedroom Jeanette and I slept in the weekend before – a small room at the end of the hall, painted light blue with a bed on one side and a wall of windows and wooden panes on the other. Last weekend Jeanette and I pushed the bed to the window side. Before falling asleep, we stood up unsteadily on the bed, fogging up the square pieces of glass so we could play tic-tac-toe on the windows. She won three times. After, we stayed standing there and she put the tips of her cool fingers on my back underneath my shirt and she kept them there as we kissed until her fingers began to warm again.

I walk in and the room seems transformed, like the rest of the house. The weather this weekend is darker and gloomier, the skies heavy with clouds, giving the bedroom a more dismal feel. The bed is back where it belongs, two bedside tables hugging it. Open suitcases sprawl out on top of the bed and a red headscarf lies forgotten on the floor. There is a coffee mug and an open newspaper on the desk. I walk through the room and open the door to the bathroom.

"Jesus!" A woman's raspy voice whispers, causing me to jump back. The woman is perched on the windowsill in the corner of the bathroom, her legs wrapped close to her chest like she's still a teenage girl. She must be in her late thirties, though – or maybe even older – and she is dangling a cigarette outside the window. It is covered in deep red lipstick smudges. "You scared me," she says, bringing her other hand to her chest. "I thought you were my husband." She lowers her legs and rests her bare feet on the toilet seat. "Everyone down there already hates me enough," she explains, nodding to indicate the cigarette in her hand.

I stay standing in the doorway, mesmerized by something about her. Maybe it's her long, slender body, bent over like a paper clip. Or maybe it's her hair – a wild yellow mess of untamed curls. Or maybe it's the fact that this is the first person in the house who doesn't seem to be putting on some sort of show, who talks to me like I belong here. I study the smoky color of her skin, and stare at her fierce black eyes, watching as they shut slowly and then open again. She turns to look outside and then takes a drag from her cigarette.

"I'm sorry," I say, turning to leave. "I was looking for a bathroom."

"Oh, stay. I'd like some company." She holds the door open, her hand preventing me from closing it shut.

"I just need a bathroom," I say again. I watch her red-stained lips tighten.

"Well, then. I'll put this out and you use the bathroom. We can chat when you're finished, and I can smoke a second one. You smoke?"

I shake my head.

"Too bad." She hops off the sill, tossing her cigarette into the toilet before closing the door behind her.

I sit down on the toilet seat. In the back of my head I try to picture Jeanette sitting here doing all that thinking of hers, and I wonder if her underwear is up or down when she does it. I can't concentrate the way Jeanette can. I can't do anything, really, except breathe in and out and think about the woman with her red lips who is standing behind the door right now. The moment I flush the toilet she opens the door and catches me still zipping up my pants. She closes the door behind her. She lights a second cigarette while I wash my hands and she hoists herself back up on the windowsill.

"Sit," she tells me, pointing to the bathtub.

"What? In the tub?" I want to laugh because that is funny, but the corners of my mouth won't turn up.

"No, idiot. The edge of it. Sit there."

I look down before doing so. The edge is porcelain and rounded. Wide enough for a seat. My brother Edi cut his head open on the edge of a bathtub, once. Ours isn't so soft and rounded like this one; it's a metal of some sort, and it's got sharp edges. He was eight and standing on a stool, pretending he was old enough to shave. His face all lathered with soap. He stumbled, his head crashing down on that edge. He still has the scar and he wears his hair long to cover it. That kid. He looks like a hippie with his headband and long hair and everything. Mami doesn't like it.

"So you must be Jeanette's boy. The Dominican."

I nod. She makes it sound like I'm Jeanette's son, Jeanette's slave. Not her boyfriend.

"I've been there."

"Where?"

"The DR," she says, breathing out a cloud.

"Punta Cana?" I guess, not raising an eyebrow. I begin to relax, now, my shoulders unclenching.

"All over." She sucks in again.

I look at her and feel my eyes widen. "All over where?"

"Oh, the north, el sur, las terrenas, la capital … you know. All over. I met a Dominican man while I was in Haiti and he took me there. I was really young. He was much older, but he was stunning, that man. He showed off the whole country to me. Beautiful little island you got down there."

I study her tiny limbs that she's covered in black layers and her little delicate feet, the high heels, and I have trouble picturing this woman walking through city streets in Hispaniola, stepping over puddles of gasoline and weaving through the deranged dogs and the bus drivers grabbing at her. "You were in Haiti?"

"I went down there after high school with one of my teachers as his research assistant. Really I wasn't any sort of assistant; he just wanted me there with him. I have no idea what the fuck he was studying, to be honest. Something about the septic system. But it was a free ticket to the Caribbean and it became an excuse for not going to college. At least for a while." She looks straight at me now, smiling. I try to avoid her black liquid eyes because I am afraid I'll see my reflection in them, my body small and withering on the edge of this tub. I don't say anything.

"You like college?" she asks me after a pause.

I shrug. "It's okay."

"Sometimes I wonder if I missed out. My husband, Bill, he used to tell me it's never too late to go."

I lean forward and rest my chin on my open palms. The room is filling with smoke and it is growing hotter. I want to leave now.

"You met him?" she asks me.

"Who?"

"Bill. My husband downstairs."

Bill, I think, running through the names and faces I was just introduced to. I think Bill might have been the chubby round-faced man who was sitting on the couch, the one with the sloppy smile. He was half-watching the game on TV and half-playing with some little kid who was sitting on the ground beside him and holding onto his shoe. Bill kept lifting up his leg up, picking the little kid up with him, just an inch or two off the ground.

I nod. "I think so."

"He's a good guy, Bill," she says, not looking at me.

I nod again. Her cigarette is only a stub now.

"Well, I'd better find Jeanette," I say, getting up. I notice that my knees are unsteady.

"Yes," she sighs.

I walk towards the door and when my hand is on the knob she speaks again.

"He doesn't love me, you know."

I turn around and I look at her. She has brought both of her knees to her chest now and she hugs them tight. Her body looks like a small black package resting precariously on the sill, about to fall out the window. And that pale face or hers with those red red lips. It begins to look like the face of some kid. Reminds me of a kid waiting to be picked up on the steps after school, a kid that's been waiting for two hours too long.

"Who?" I ask.

"Bill. He doesn't love me. I cheated on him and he doesn't love me anymore." There are two bellies of water that lie like hammocks on the bottom lids of her eyes and she is biting her red red lips, lipstick getting on her teeth now. I leave her up there like that, a black package on the windowsill, and I close the door behind me so that the smoke will not escape the bathroom.

"Hey," Jeanette smiles when I walk downstairs and enter the kitchen. Her fingers are covered in brownie batter and she is licking them one by one by one. It is just the two of us in the kitchen. "Where'd you go? Want some?" She brings her fingers to my mouth. I lean forward.

"Bathroom. And yes," I say, licking the goo off her pinky. She turns to wash her hands in the sink and I slip behind her, grabbing onto the hips she doesn't really have. When her mother walks in, Jeanette steps away from me.

"Luis, want to go for a walk on the beach with me?" she says then, suddenly all prickly.

"Lovely idea," her mother says flatly. She opens the refrigerator and I can only see her head floating on top of the door.

"Sure," I say.

It is colder than last weekend. It is low tide now and we walk down to the water and we continue along the edge of the basin, walking right on the line where the wet and dry sand meet. Waves roll up to bite at our ankles. Jeanette strays a few steps ahead of me and I look behind at my footprints in the sand, some halfway eaten by the waves, and I think of how when I was about twelve years old I used to suck in my breath as I walked along the beaches at home, stepping lightly. I used to never want to grow up, and I thought that if I still had little kid footprints then maybe I could stay a little kid.

"So. What do you think?" Jeanette slows her pace to walk by my side.

"Of what?"

"I don't know. Everything. My family. Do you like them?"

I swallow and walk further into the water. It is so cold it feels like tiny needles pricking at my skin, sucking away my blood.

"Yes, I like them."

I think of Jeanette's mother with her thick make-up face and her silver trays of flavorless appetizers and her red-oven-mitt hands. She probably pays thirty bucks for a manicure twice a week. I think of her father who hasn't said more than five words to me, who sat in front of the television for the last two hours not saying a thing, not taking off his cowboy hat, not bothering to smile. I think of the watered-down blue eyes that the whole family has, the black-and-white photos, the tight-lipped smiles, the controlled laughter. "But I don't think they like me," I add.

Jeanette stops walking and she laughs at this loudly because she thinks it's funny. Her head tilted back and everything.

"Oh, Lu. Yes they do. That's just them, you know. You'll get used to it."

We reach the end of the basin where it curves to the ocean side and there is an empty dock. We walk to the end of it and sit there, our legs dangling off the edge. To our left is the basin where sailboats and buoys are bouncing. To our right is the ocean side, empty and deep and vast, a plane of dark blue filled with vicious waves. Directly across from us is the point where the basin, the ocean and the river meet, where the water shifts in uneven patterns and the three bodies of water battle. A man is rowing in a white boat beyond this point, heading down from the river.

"That's Bill," Jeanette says. She is looking at the rower, too. "Did you meet him?"

I squint. I can barely make out his face. "Yeah, I think so."

"He always goes for these rows on his own. He's so wonderful."

When I don't say anything, Jeanette continues.

"He's married to this awful woman, you know. She's been cheating on him since they married. Horrendous. I mean it's really awful. Apparently there have been numerous men. Like family members have seen her out in public with these men, and she'd always deny it." Jeanette is still looking out at the rower in the distance. I look down at my swinging feet. "And Bill would never believe it, always worshipping her, always waiting on her hand and foot, always talking about how angelic and beautiful his wife was. But he's finally come to his senses, now… they're going to get a divorce, finally, I think." Jeanette sighs. "I'm sure it's hard, but it's the right thing, you know?"

I don't say anything. I try not to look at Bill, alone out there in his boat, and I try not to think of his wife upstairs in the bathroom. I try not to picture what she must look like when she's happy, when those red lips are loose and careless and curled upward, when she's driving fast in the passenger seat of some man's sports car and she doesn't care about what family member might see her. I take in the landscape instead: the gold and yellows and the varying shades of green in the eelgrass, the pale blue of the sky and the deep indigo of the water. I breathe in the smells of fish and listen to the howling wind, the crying seagulls.

"This is my favorite place in the world," Jeanette then says, leaning back.

"It is beautiful," I finally say. "Not like the Dominican Republic." Whenever I begin to talk about home, I can feel my accent growing thicker. Sometimes I wish I could speak to Jeanette in Spanish, but she stopped taking language classes her sophomore year of high school.

"The DR isn't beautiful, then? I thought it's 'paraiso,' like you always say."

"It's a different kind of beauty."

I think of the white powder of Playa Bonita and the stereos that blast from car trunks that line the beaches around the familiar coastline. I think of the sweet thickness of the air back at home, and the water so warm it is more like a tepid bath than anything refreshing. I think of grilled red snapper and coconuts, and adults who don't know how to swim.

"I miss it," I say. I feel Jeanette's hand crawl over mine.

"I want to meet your family. Do you think they'll ever come to visit? Or maybe we could go down there." She smiles at me without her teeth.

"Maybe."

I imagine this. How Jeanette and I would have to take a cab home from the airport instead of the guagua, because it would probably be too overwhelming for her, and how my mother would have a feast prepared on the table when we arrived. How she'd hide herself in the kitchen while we'd eat, washing and rewashing dishes for the whole meal, probably, too embarrassed about not speaking English to sit at the table. How my father would keep shoving all the platanos dulces – his favorite – onto Jeanette's plate, then politely excuse himself to take his siesta, disappointed that she couldn't eat them all. How my grandmother would stare at Jeanette for the whole lunch, smiling with her gold teeth, and how Edi would talk the entire time in his high school English. How after Jeanette would leave, my mother would cry by herself in the backyard while doing the laundry. How Jeanette would fly back home, listening to pop songs on her ipod, wishing she had gotten a better tan.

Jeanette coughs. "So tonight," she says, looking at me. "I don't think my parents are cool with the whole sleeping-in-the-same-room thing. I think you're sleeping in the bedroom across the hall from the one we slept in last week, and I'm sleeping in the bedroom with my sister. That okay?"

So I'd sleep across the hall from Bill, I think. Bill and the mysterious woman from the bathroom. I look out at the sea again, and I see Bill's boat crossing the patch right where the water is in its ferocious battle, the three sources converging. The boat rocks violently and my heart begins to beat faster. I hate that I am worried about him. I hate that he has chubby smiling cheeks that make people think he's jolly and I hate him for rowing away from his wife who is crouched on the windowsill.

"Actually, I think I might leave. I kind of want to head home early." I hear my voice say it before I think it. My mouth feels dry. And I keep staring at the rocking boat out there, watching the water almost spill over it on the left, on the right, on the left again.

"What do you mean?" she asks. Her eyes wide. She withdraws her hand.

I wish she would cry. I wish she would start sobbing right there, just break down and collapse, maybe, and then I would know I am wrong and I'd hug her close to my body and I'd tell her no, I want to stay, I'm going to stay, I love you I love you I love you. I finally love you. But she holds onto the dock with her hands tight and she stares out at the sea like she's staring at the Rothko bathroom stall.

She stays silent and I watch as Bill makes it through the rough patch of water. I want to push my body off the dock and walk through the water and keep on walking alone. I could make my way back down the beach, cutting through the eelgrass and the backs of the houses so that eventually I'd come to a road, where maybe I'd find a bus stop and get on a bus that would take me away. Then I could go back home, or maybe head somewhere else I've never been to.

But Jeanette turns to me and says that it's dinnertime and her aunts have probably put out the extra placemat for me by now. I swallow and wonder how many forks that means I'll have to use. We walk back along the beach together, a few steps apart.


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