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Holly gave it up before she knew what it was.

Holly

The storm is big and round, restless, its undersides tinged with green. It’s implacable, and its movement is invisible but obvious, as downtown gets rapidly darker. Holly, four, is pounding her soft fists on anything available. Her mouth is red and angry; she’s mad and stubborn, and the madder she gets the harder she makes her face, beet-clenched under a wispy brown bob.

The storm is ready to bite. In the gnash of its thunder there’s a sharp clean white edge, the same fluorescent that stains its belly. Its teeth are ready, yet Holly is hungry, and the storm is full.

Holly

“Die-off” is what the radio stations have begun calling it, and downstairs the anchor sounds tinny and nervous–three meteorologists in two weeks can’t explain the heat.

Holly’s hand stings under the bandage she tore from a shirt; her sweat is gone as soon as it’s there, but the salt sticks around. Glass crunches under her flip-flops on the rotten little deck.

She’s finally sobbing. It doesn’t feel good. “I’m sorry!” she cries to nobody. “I hate you, I hate him, I’m sorry!”

She’ll have to fix the glass door, use duct tape or something. All the AC will get out.

Dave

He’s thought about her naked before. Hasn’t he? Surely, all the fantasizing, the watching–he must have. But if he did, then how did he imagine she’d look?

He’s on the roof, alienated as usual. Below him, they’re all piling into the pool: drunk, high, naked. It’s very late but still warm. “Skinny dipping”–that makes him think of being seven, his cousins and the pond at the farm. For some reason it’s seemed an innocent term until now.

Holly’s naked, her face flushed with wine. A thousand hours she’s lived in his head: can he really have had no expectations?

Holly

The street’s washed out with dead snow, sick and tired of asphalt, salted and dirtied into sullen drifts. They clump down the melting sidewalk with hats on and coats flapping open. All three of them steam like dragons.

“You have no argument!” snaps Diane.

“And you see everything in black and white,” says Rose, affecting Zen.

“That’s still not an argument. Anyway, shades of gray aren’t any better.”

“I know, Diane. That’s why I try to see things in full color.”

“Rose,” says Diane, “that doesn’t even mean anything.”

“You’re both cigarettes,” mutters Holly, and kicks an offending chunk of ice.

Rose

“Apples.”

“Water.”

“Good.”

“Girls.”

“Um. Clean?”

“Pretty.”

“Good.”

“Roses.”

“Kittens.”

“MSG.”

“What?” asks Rose, startled.

“Girls smell like MSG,” Diego repeats. “That’s the question, right? What’s the most popular response so far?”

“Just ‘good,’” says Rose. “Nine of twenty-eight couldn’t come up with anything else.”

“Right,” says Diego, “like if you asked them how Chinese food tastes. Only they’d say ‘MSG’ instead of ‘good’ because they’ve been told that’s what it is.”

“Girls smell like Chinese food.”

“No,” he shakes his head, “but it does the same thing. Bypasses your discernment, your categories, all of that. Just hits the pleasure center straight on.”

Holly

No shower for a while, and she’s starting to feel it–when she runs a hand through her hair it won’t come down until she smoothes it. Sometimes that’s hours. Probably shouldn’t have cut it myself, thinks Holly, or so short.

Every morning she makes herself look at the picture (at least she still gets up). It’s a Polaroid of the three of them, in the park, last August; somebody held it wrong while it developed, and there’s one pale splotch of sky stained white. In the middle, a blurred Frisbee is baby-new pink: the color of skin under a scab.

Holly

“Well, there’s no student scene,” says Rose. “First step in urban renewal. You need kids with free time, no money and a strong social network.”

“Reading your textbooks again?” asks Holly, scanning the grass. A moment later, she stoops, coming up with a four-leaf clover.

“No, my Hipster Handbook.”

“That’s worse.” Holly hands the sprig to Rose, who tries to slip it into her buttonhole and is vaguely surprised to find it occupied by another one.

“Hipsters decry gentrification,” she murmurs, “while simultaneously causing it.”

“You’re a born anthropologist,” says Holly, and picks her seventh four-leaf to place in Rose’s hair.

Jake

Jake’s aware that people have died this summer, but it’s not made fact to him until he finds her, a block from his apartment.

His first thought is Don’t Move The Victim but it’s boiling out and he carries her inside. Her skin is dry and hot; her hair has been cut recently, too short. A silver bracelet gives her name as Holly.

Somehow he ends up riding in the ambulance. She wakes as they start to wheel her out. She’s holding a dirty black lump in one hand. She touches his lips, and the taste is sticky, gritty, impossibly sweet.

Holly

Holly plops down and idly traces something in the hot black gravel with one finger. She’s almost sixteen and her calves are bare, the hems of her ragged pants bound with purple tape. Roger’s still not entirely sure how they got up on the roof of the athletic building, but he’s in love with her calves; he stares, and fumbles a rolling paper.

Later, high, Roger laughs to see the ants three stories up. Because they’re black on black, though, he doesn’t notice their long complicated line. It’s like they’re following a sweet trail of spilled Kool-Aid: long cursive loops, H-O-L-L-Y.

Holly

“Study party? Please.” Holly hooks her fingers in Rose’s belt loops and tugs. “Anyway, I hate my hair in the rain.”

“If we skip–”

“She’ll be fine. Come on.” She gets Rose back on the couch, then slithers behind her. “Let’s stay in, get pizza, I’ll rub your shoulders…”

“Mmm,” sighs Rose, “rub out my GPA,” but she doesn’t get up.

Holly doesn’t care about the session, or her hair, but life with Rose is new; she doesn’t want things to get weird. And they would, because the rain doesn’t fall on Holly. Ever. Even if she wants it to.

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