“Like David Copperfield turning an entire audience around just to make the Statue of Liberty disappear, this love story stands us on our heads without our suspecting it, an almost effortless-seeming magic trick, skillfully executed and gorgeously written, so masterful in its narrative authority and sleight of hand that the whole time we think we’re standing solidly on our feet—falling in love with older guys or bad boys with “toothpicks between their teeth” and scars from stab wounds, or even a clueless man with a rental car and a name from a “Kindergarten nametag”—all along we’re falling heels over head in love with a woman whose name is almost, but not quite, a man’s.”

Judge, Lex Williford

Frankie

by Kate Wisel

I like bad boys.

That’s what Frankie said. And I know it, too. I used to date a guy with stab wounds on his shoulder I traced in bed while he slept, raised white dashes like Braille. Bad like with toothpicks between their teeth. Idiots really, the kind who wore black backwards hats with no logo, walked with a limp, fucked with their tongue out, dropped out of high school, worked at the Sunoco, or security, and got me in for free.

Guys who would text me what up and when I said nothing, you? I never heard back. I liked it when they disrespected their mothers. Or picked me up after school then dropped me off somewhere discreet, like in the back parking lot of a movie theater. I liked them for short, ballistic bursts, so much that if I crossed the street I’d get hit.

I got over boys and then Frankie said I went for older guys instead: an investment banker, a lawyer, one with three kids, and one who kept blueberries in the console of his BMW, a fad diet. In the sunlight I could see his every pore, open like craters on the moon. He was always late for meetings, and so everything was quick.

He told me my hips looked like a Coke bottle, and my ass, bent over, a heart. Once he grabbed my cheeks and knocked my head back onto the metal pole in his condo. I liked to press that spot, the dull ache, days later when I was spaced out at the register.

These were the kind of men with magazine subscriptions that I flipped through on the train home, licking my finger to flip the thin pages that smelt like the inside of a wooden treasure chest. The last one bought me Summer Jam tickets, one for me and one for Frankie. Frankie went anyway, even though she would say, “I don’t know about him,” or “Remember what I said last time? How come you don’t listen?”

***

Frankie could pick a guy out of a lineup even if she wasn’t the witness. That’s what she does, picks. We live together in a two-bedroom split above Sal’s Pizza, where the crackheads blabber beneath our open windows at night. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I crawl into her bed. She lies on her side with her head propped in her palm, her sheets smelling like a department store with the faint trace of her Guess perfume.

It’s confession, lying there in the dark while Frankie listens. She points little words like vectors toward my heart. She knows things. She majors in Human Development. That means something to her since we both dropped out of school our first semester then tried again the next fall. I don’t really care about school, specifically the part when men walk in and try to educate me.

***

Sunday and we’re curled into the velvet couch we carried all the way from Goodwill ourselves then pushed into the corner of our old, enormous kitchen. When I brought Andrew home the first time, I dragged him through the kitchen to my bedroom and Frankie flashed a thumbs-up from the couch. She tells me she likes him because he has natural blond hair, an office job downtown, and takes me to dinner like a real guy. We met in what Frankie calls “a picturesque way.” This is the thing: ever since Frankie’s mom died, she wants everything to go right.

“How did it go?” Frankie asks. She’s got a smile that belongs in toothpaste commercials, with this permanent rosacea flush across her cheekbones, her face half lit from the warm strip of porch light that extends across my bare ankles. I’m wearing her Hebrew school t-shirt that got mixed up in the laundry and became mine.

“He took me out for Chinese,” I say. I pass back the gravity bong we fastened from a Pepsi bottle.

“Details,” Frankie says.

***

It goes more or less like this: Andrew reached his hands across the booth just as I was about to say, “Look…” The waiter moved to our table with the purposefulness of a surgeon and filled our water, shardlike ice cubes cracking in the silence.

Then the food came, platter by platter, wet steam swooshing out the clanking lids into our faces. I filled my plate and drowned it in duck sauce.

“You must have been hungry,” he said, as I scraped the last grains of rice with my fork.

“Do you want to order dessert?” He leaned in with the enthusiasm of a talk show host. I nodded toward the waiter and ordered another Blue Moon.

By the time he got the check I was almost lying down, corpse-like, in the booth. I stared at him sleepily, exaggerating my blink like a housecat. I contemplated burping but foresaw him refusing the check and thought better of it. Instead, I reached across the table and broke my fortune cookie open with a single fist. I straightened up to tug the fortune from the remains, which read: “You need only to understand that it is not necessary it understand but only enjoy.”

He insisted on walking me home. He tried again to hold my hand as we moved under streetlights that lit up our faces like morons at a spelling bee in which we knew none of the words. I let him grasp my forefinger, which only made me blush, from the inside out.

“Careful,” he said, as I kicked my way through the broken glass of our block, jellied condoms lying shriveled in the cracks. I was fuzzy and drunk, and hoped he would leave me at my front door without asking to come up.

When he did, I said, in my best robot, “I do not have air conditioning.”

We stood in the foyer as he watched me stab keys into my lock. When the door swung open I held my hand on the knob while he waved bye, tripping down a step as he reversed his way out of my sight.

***

But I don’t tell Frankie this. I just say, “Frankie, I don’t think it’s going to work out with him.”

She makes a face, taking the bong between her knees.

“This is my last one,” she says. Later on she wants to study for finals. She’s been spending more time in her room taking notes from textbooks under the green lamp we took from our neighbor’s moving van. Last week, when we were in line at Shaw’s, I was flipping through an US Weekly and she said, “You know what’s weird? I think I could actually be a psychologist.”

She pulls a small hit, the aluminum speckled with holes from a safety clip. I watch her suck the smoke between her teeth. When she exhales, it vanishes up between her nostrils as she bends to put the bong back on the windowsill. I shrug into the couch like I’m holding an invisible fan of cards up by my face.

“I thought things were good,” she says in a strained voice. She coughs emphatically with my bad luck white lighter clenched in her fist.

“I thought he was good,” she says again after a long pause.

I dig for explanations: He’s not my type. I need space. I don’t like his name. Andrew. So kindergarten-nametag. Like his parents are still together. And they send out Christmas cards. And paid for his college. He probably shops at J. Crew.

Then I catch Frankie looking at me knowingly, like I’ve turned down the wrong road in my mind only to find her standing there on the other side, tapping her foot.

***

When Frankie and I first met freshman year of high school, we were both locked out of the basement storm doors of a frat party on purpose. Frankie had a gleaming lip ring that gave her wide eyes a lost look. She was sticky from a forty that got poured over her head, I assumed for being beautiful.

“Do you smoke?” she asked. Her voice had the sageness of a runaway. I had never had a friend who was a girl. She touched my hand. “Watch,” she said as she pulled a cigar from her pocket. Some people remember things like their first kiss. I remember this: us sitting against the shingles of the frat house in the driveway, our knees up against our chests. Haa-haa she went, fogging the emptied paper up with her breath like she was trying to keep warm. Then she licked around the tatty edges and sealed it with her lighter, sticking it carefully between my lips. The flame lit her face like a ghost story, her eyebrows darkly arched and expectant. She said, “Real lightly, just a little bit.”

“It was good,” I tell Frankie now. I’m looking past her head at the sinewy branches that jut through our porch. Sometimes it feels like we’re waking up to the same morning, weekend after weekend. Frankie asking me how things went.

Frankie, despiser of ambivalence, asking, “So what’s the problem?”

If there is a problem, a twitching light bulb, a clogged drain, Frankie fixes it herself. No landlord. No phone calls. When we used to share a car and it snowed three feet, Frankie hurled a shovel under the buried tires, snowflakes like confetti in her dark hair. I had given up on class the second I saw white from the window.

“I think we’re stuck,” I shouted, watching her with a frozen face, hands in my coat pocket as the relentless wind bitch-slapped my cheeks.

“We’re not,” she said automatically. “Grab a shovel.”

***

My phone buzzes on the coffee table. It’s him. I know it. Just like I suspected he pocketed our fortunes for a scrapbook. This is what one of Frankie’s boyfriends would do. Get her one of those picture frames from Pier 1 to stick a black-and-white photo in. Frankie would stare at it, belly down on her bed.

“You read it,” I say.

Frankie reaches over for my phone, her lips slightly parted.

“Oh shit,” she says, “he’s outside.”

She smiles like a kid, tossing the phone in my lap like it’s a bomb built just for me. She scrambles up and slips across the linoleum in her sweatpants.

“I think that’s him in that car,” she says. She’s got her back against the wall, looking furtively out the window like a secret agent.

I read Andrew’s text: come outside!

“What does he want?” Frankie asks with her fingers clasped under her chin.

“Probably everything,” I say. I go to my room to put on a pair of jeans, a Pats jersey, and big gold hoops.

“Wait,” Frankie says. She comes in with her ridged bottle of perfume, turning over the pale side of my arm to spritz, then dabs at my neck.

“That’s good, that’s good,” I say.

“Am I high?” I ask Frankie, holding onto her forearms,

A few minutes ago, we had made big, elaborate plans to be productive, but I forget what the plans were exactly.

Frankie looks at me like I’m high.

“No,” she says, “I’m high.”

“Okay,” I say, swimming in Frankie’s eye contact. “I’ll be back.”

“Go,” she says, channeling her mom’s Boston accent, “You whore.”

I smile at her, all the way, like she’s checking my teeth.

“Be good,” she singsongs. She makes a point of locking the door. Perhaps I don’t think to because more days than not I wouldn’t mind if someone walked in and shot me. My face pooled in a salad-sized bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

***

“Hey,” I say, bending down to the car where he had rolled the window, “you have a car?”

I wrap my arms around my chest like I’m hugging someone.

He cocks his head and laughs. Andrew has long, straight teeth, like a dentist’s son. His hair really is blond, which disgusts me. I normally go for guys who are so dark they’re mistaken for terrorists. Making old ladies scowl with their arms around my waist on the T. I had an intense attraction to the marathon bomber; his mug shot made me dizzy.

“I rented it,” he says meaningfully.

“It’s Sunday,” I say slowly and with equal meaning.

“You look like some rapper’s girlfriend.”

“Thank you,” I say, moving my eyes over the vehicle, his hands gripped tight over the wheel, the vacuumed upholstery and spotless backseat. It smells new and sick, like sniffing glue.

“Can I take you somewhere?” he says.

I don’t know, I think. Can you?

***

Maybe part of my disappointment lies within the fact that we didn’t meet at the bar, strangers in long black coats, seven shots deep and waltzing; or online, talking dirty, back and forth; or in class, he, my professor, I, his student, suddenly bra-less in his apartment; or at his office, so his wife wouldn’t find out.

We met at the goddamn park. Frankie and I were on the swings, forcing our feet into the sky. We swung to the brink then leapt off, our bodies like action figures against the fierce heat of the sun, fake crossing ourselves in mid-air.

He was walking his two-week-old puppy.

“Hi puppy,” Frankie said, crawling across the playground with wood chips stuck in her palms.

“Can we hold him?” she said, her hands clenched under her chin.

He bent down, making a crease in his khakis as he released the leash. He grinned as he watched the dog run into Frankie’s arms where it pawed her shoulders, extending its tender belly to lick around her neck like an ice cream. Then he came over and sat on Frankie’s swing.

We watched her laugh and coo, her hair sprawled over the wood chips as the puppy struggled across her legs as Frankie lay still. I made figure eights with my sneaker, my hands clenched tight around the chains.

“I’m Andrew,” he said, his eyelashes light in the sun and his nod as determined as a Hitler youth.

“I don’t want to hold the puppy,” I said, before he could ask.

***

In the rental car, he squints out toward the road. Then, in one swift move he leans over the console and clicks open the door.

“Get in,” he says, like a bad movie.

The wind blows my hair forward for a second. I feel Frankie’s eyes on my shoulders as she peeks through the window. I can tell, even with my back turned.

We drive down Beacon Street, past the CVS where I sort of work, and where Frankie and I would be roaming aisles trying on lipstick if it weren’t for this. We zoom past the bars we don’t go to anymore because Frankie says they’re infested with college kids even though we’re college kids.

“I don’t know about you,” he says as he makes a left turn toward the highway, “but I’ve been dying to get out the city.” Tall buildings sink then disappear completely as we go down through the underpass.

***

We’re now on I-93. Maybe I’m still high, but I have to admit, he’s kind of a good driver. He zips in and out of lanes, weaving through vans and four-wheelers with precision. His eyes move from the road to the rearview to me in a narcotized succession. The road is straight and black with the sun glittering up the asphalt. I can feel the tires in my chest, thwacking forward in a low hum.

But then he turns the radio up and starts drumming the wheel with his thumb, mouthing lyrics to this country song about living like you’re dying. Fucking A. Here I am, trapped in a car with the kind of guy who would slowly then aggressively start singing “American Pie” in unison with a bar full of strangers, their fists in the air. Also, I do. I live like I’m dying and I don’t need anyone’s advice on it. I look at him again out of the corner of my eye.

He puts his arm around my seat.

***

I don’t want to know where we’re going. This highway looks like every highway in America though I’ve never been out of Massachusetts.

The truth is I’ve driven down this highway my whole life. Every other weekend after my parents split up. My mom drove down I-93, her knuckles turning white around the wheel.

I’ve told Frankie: When I was in third grade my dad had a rental house by a lake and a friend Marco who would babysit me when my dad was bartending. Marco had curly black hair, the kind that looked wet, and a motorcycle he would take me on only sometimes, on the Fourth of July or after a couple beers. I would beg him to let me go on—“Please, please, please,” I’d say. Marco drove fast, and the helmet was too big on my head. We zoomed down back roads. On hills the open air felt like you were dropping from a plane.

When he’d lean to turn it felt like you were going to die.

I held onto his waist but the engine gave the insides of my shins burns that took on the shapes of crocodiles.

He would watch me swim in the lake, the skin on my shins turning a ghostly white, ready to peel off and scab. Marco hung my bathing suit on the shower curtain and dried me off with my dad’s thin towels, taking my legs up on the tub one by one. At night he made bologna and cheese roll-ups with ketchup. We watched VHS tapes on the armchair. I waited for my hair to dry and for Marco to fall asleep behind me.

Sometimes I still feel like I’m in the car while my parents scream in the driveway.

My mom had seen the burns on my shins.

Never again! Never again!” went my mom’s raging chant.

But I also used to drive down this highway with Frankie, on the first day Sonic opened or when we went to the mall to buy summer dresses or sometimes just to drive, blowing smoke rings with my bare feet up on the dash, sunglasses down to turn the world a purple-black and blabbing on about how bad we needed boyfriends even though I never felt lonely, then.

I let out a sigh and Andrew looks over at me. I put the window down a crack but the air makes a screaming sound so I seal it back up.

“I’ve never been out of Massachusetts,” I admit. I turn to look at him.

He glances over at me for a second then fixes his eyes back on the road.

“Really?” he says.

“Would I lie?” I say.

“You’re mysterious,” he says.

“You’re the one in a rental car,” I say, “driving 85 miles an hour toward some town no one goes to so you can, what, dispose of my body in a polluted reservoir?”

***

We’ve been driving for an hour by now, the silence and the trees lining the road growing thicker. My high’s wearing off and I start to wonder what Frankie’s doing. I think of texting her: I need you like my morning cigarette. I cross then uncross my legs and watch how the clouds pretend to be faces, a monster opening its thin jaw. I hear a lighter clicking then Frankie’s hysterical laughter. If I were home right now, in our kitchen with the Christmas lights, we might be taking everything out of the fridge and arranging it onto the coffee table like a feast.

We’d be crisscross on the couch, knifing peanut butter onto Ritz crackers, towels twisted tight around our heads. Our faces would be caked in homemade sugar masks, the honey dripping slowly down our necks.

We’d be watching repeats of America’s Next Top Model or some forgotten movie like LA Confidential or Uncle Buck. Frankie would be on the other end of the couch, both of us in black tights and black bras, our hard bellies protruding like six-year old girls. Frankie would look at me and I’d say, “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter,” and then she’d laugh so hard she’d knock over her water, our fingers Cheeto orange and our nyloned feet pressed together in the contract of girlhood.

***

“Oh my god,” I say, as we pass a sign that reads Welcome to New Hampshire. I turn back, gripping the headrest.

“We’re in New Hampshire,” I say stupidly. That’s when I know it. I’m being kidnapped.

At the gas station, he unbuckles carefully, the belt zooming back across his chest. He leaves the keys in the ignition then slips out the driver’s side. I think of all the things you can do in New Hampshire that you can’t in Boston: wear flannel earnestly, drive trucks with Republican bumper stickers, carry guns. I flip down the visor and pat my lips with cherry Chap Stick then watch him from the side mirror as oil drips steadily from the pump in his hand.

He runs his fingers through his hair and it falls back through his eyes in pieces. I see him in a muscle-tee, tattoos of dead relatives peeking out the sleeve that I must not have noticed. There I am, tied to the Motel 6 bed, my collarbones making a cavity in my neck as I suck in my breath.

“Shut the fuck up,” he’d say as he cocked his gun.

I bite my nails as we pull out. He jams in a CD.

“I used to really like this band Bright Eyes in high school,” he says.

Conor Oberst whines as we drive.

“His voice sounds like a cat being murdered,” I say.

***

I guess Frankie and I went through a Bright Eyes phase in high school. We did everything. Made out in front of guys, went as JonBenét Ramsey for Halloween, gave ourselves loopy tattoos with India ink, laxatives, arrests. Frankie squeezed lemon juice over my head for highlights every summer, laid out wet trash bags to tan on, plucked peach fuzz from my tummy trail, tilted my chin up in mirrors, held me still, slipped a needle through my tongue.

But Frankie’s got new plans now. Once we graduate Frankie says we have to eventually get married, have kids, get divorced, and then move back in together. But what would we do with the kids? I thought. We’ve lived in four apartments and only sometimes I’m worried we’ll keep going like that, apartment to apartment, making figure eights around Boston with our heavy boxes of clattering candles.

Frankie will come home with a kitten that will become a cat and it’ll die before we do. We’ll bury it illegally in the backyard. We’ll hold vigil candles, our dream catcher earrings drooping our thin earlobes, tatty blankets wrapped around our shoulders like Russian shawls. Frankie will cry, covering her face with her hands and I won’t know what to say, like the day her mom died.

I’ll be worried she’ll be thinking about the faded but black India ink on the left sides of our pointer fingers: each other’s names. “You,” we mouth, across crowded rooms with our fingers pointed laser-like.

She’ll take out a stubbed-out roach from her sweater pocket and we’ll light up, medical marijuana now like we’re on disability. We’ll pitch cold shovels into the hard dirt as it starts to snow. Our neighbors will see us and call our landlord, adding to the growing list of complaints.

***

She’ll take out a stubbed-out roach from her sweater pocket and we’ll light up, medical marijuana now like we’re on disability. We’ll pitch cold shovels into the hard dirt as it starts to snow. Our neighbors will see us and call our landlord, adding to the growing list of complaints.

Back in the car, New Hampshire is a postcard, scenic and lush as it slices by in my window.

“Okay,” he says, “if you could go anywhere in the world, anywhere, where would you go?”

Return of the game show host. My turn.

“Do you believe in God or is the lack of God your God? If you were stranded on a deserted island what is the one thing you would never bring? Have you ever gotten a girl pregnant?”

“You’re real weird,” he says, smiling.

“Case dismissed.”

“We’re almost there,” he says, ignoring me, ticking on the blinker and pulling onto a back road past all the brazenly sexual fast food signage that glows over the whole road: Get your six inches! Hot ‘n’ juicy. Try our new fish bites box.

He parks on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. We click out the car, Evergreens reaching tall, the power lines rustling with an electric tinge like before it starts to rain.

“Follow me,” he says.

We walk up a path, rocky and fragrant with dirt. We snap back branches and climb up through the path. We walk forever, fallinginto a hypnotic pace, like in fairytales, deeper and darker into the woods. The dirt dusts up my shins and sticks in the heat like the skin on a peach. I get thirsty but follow behind him, the back of his neck gleaming with sweat.

I once had sex with a stranger in the woods kind of like this. We met at a bar and got drunk on PBRs. I whispered, “I want to fuck you,” in his ear then spun around on a barstool, faster and faster, my head thrown back like an over-sugared child. I woke up parched in my then-boyfriend’s bed the next morning. I went to pee and found tiny, incriminating twigs in my hair and in my underwear. With my heels in my hand I walked home, where Frankie brushed out my hair with melted coconut oil from her fingers and I fell asleep like that, her fingers slipping through my knotted strands.

My cheeks heat up. Part of me starts to wish none of that happened. “Are we almost there?” I ask.

“Almost,” he says, “It’s worth the wait.”

We’re both breathing deep as we stop at an opening in the trees. He takes my hand and lifts me up by the waist so I can climb onto this rock that ledges out. We’re so high up it’s like the end of a Jeep commercial, the sky as open as the washed-up wetland below.

“What is this?” I say. “It’s like the Grand Canyon of New Hampshire.” I can’t help but smile, tucking my hands inside my sweatshirt cuffs to hide my mouth.

“When I asked if you could go anywhere? Well this is where I’d go.” He says. He squeezes my shoulder. “It’s called Deer’s Leap.”

We sit at the edge on the weathered granite. The rock under my jeans is cold but the sun warms my face.

“This whole thing used to be a pond,” he says, pointing to the deserted valley, “but it dried up.”

I squint against the brightness. The expanse of hollow earth gapes open under us like a mouth. I look out and out, trying to grasp something enormous. I want to be this girl who’s taken with the sky and sometimes I am so I think just do this. You can tell Frankie about it later.

So we kiss. Slow, with my hoodie up around my hairline. He puts his hand on my cheek.

“Can I tell you something?” he says, “you’re very honest.” And he’s looking into my eyes, too, like he means it. If I could, I’d slither away. I pick up a pebble and squeeze it as hard as I can.

“Can I tell you something?” I say.

This is what I could tell him but don’t: the first time I masturbated I was nine. In my neighborhood there were all these kids who played after school on this trampoline in my neighbor’s backyard. After I did it, I laid in my bed. I held my hand over my chest so my heart stayed inside my body. I could hear the kids shrieking and I remember thinking that they were laughing at me.

I look at him. I’m kind of smiling but it’s got that numbness.

“What is it?” he says.

This is what I’d like to tell him but can’t: one summer I wore gloves to summer camp because I thought I had AIDS.

Or this: in high school Frankie and I went to this party with an indoor pool. We did coke with a senior we barely knew who fed us blueberry Stoli with his arms around us in the hot tub. The next thing I remember I was getting pulled out by the cops. I can still feel the heat on my cheeks from the hood of the cop car in the driveway. I was shivering in my bathing suit. I looked up and Frankie was already in the back of the car.

The cop bent down to my ear and said, “Have you ever been arrested?”

I tried to pry my arms free and screamed, “Have you ever been raped?”

I want to tell him about Marco. How he slipped his middle finger inside me like he was separating me from myself. Then he lifted us up out of the armchair and laid me on my dad’s bed. He put his hands on my chest like on a doctor’s table.

“Are you asleep?” he would say. “Yes,” I’d say. Then he’d slide my underwear down to my ankles.

Sometimes though, Marco would just fall asleep and it wouldn’t happen. And then I’d think, why? Part of me wanted it to happen and then when it did, again, I’d think I willed it to.

Frankie never had a dad but she understands how the thought of him walking through the door at any second could make you come. In Frankie’s bed, I’ve had dreams about Marco. We’re in the supermarket, embarrassing everyone with the lettuce. Or we’re underwater, can’t tell that we’re kissing, our throats filling up with bubbles. In the waiting room, he comes out in a white coat. The supermarket, the kissing, the white coat, night after night. In the white coat, he looks desperate and he’s coming to tell me something important but it always stops right there.

Andrew has his arm around my waist as the sun drops fast. He’s stroking the skin above my jeans with his thumb. And then I start laughing, hard, and I’m truly afraid I’m going to pee. My deranged fingers cup my cheeks as Andrew watches me, amazed. Frankie says my eyes sparkle when I laugh and that it’s evil and contagious. No one will ever know me like she does. I’m laughing so hard that I do pee a little and then I swipe up the leaves by my side and tear them to pieces and toss them into the abyss and lie on my side where I attempt to catch my breath. Andrew lies next to me, our noses touching, that same, stupid-ass amazement in his eyes. I blink slowly so he can notice mine when they open and say this instead: “I love you.”

***

We say it the whole ride home. Him kissing the insides of my wrists with one hand on the wheel, at the toll, grinning at each other dopily while we wait for change, cars honking behind us, at the diner we stop at, the taste of grape jelly on my tongue.

“Can I call you tomorrow?” he says, the car idling outside my apartment. It’s midnight.

“You’re great, I say, “but you can unlock this?” I bend down to the window because I need a place to lean. Any light between us goes out like last call. I walk away, knowing what I am. Liar. Daughter of a God but where’s he been? I’m a car no man can rent.

***

I climb into Frankie’s bed, getting beneath the covers where she’s buried. I cling to her pillow, caffeinated from the diner, awake until it’s light, the birds making frenzied, electronic sounds outside her window.

When I wake up, Frankie is sitting at her vanity, curling her hair for class. She looks at me in the mirror, our eyes catching in reverse. I fling the blanket around and lie at the foot of her bed while she twists her hair around the heat of the iron. The room fills with the scent of her hairspray, thick lacquer like the rooms of a new house.

I close my eyes, flipping onto my back where Frankie can’t see my face.

“Francesca,” I say, ascribing her real name when I’m dreaming, “we should drive somewhere. It’s not that hard to rent a car and just move to LA.”

I can see the corner of the mirror, Frankie pulling the curler away, a section of her thick hair bouncing all tame up by her shoulder.

“We could become actresses or something. No one would even know us.”

I can hear Frankie putting on her backpack and zipping up her boots. I want to tell her, I need you like a Tylenol PM.

Or something more, I’d carve your name into my arm.

I’m a fucking evangelist for your love.

Instead I say, “You should skip class.”

“I can’t,” she says.

She lays her palm on my forehead like she’s checking my temp. She acts like some guy is going to strong-arm her out of the muck. When have I ever not been enough? She moves her palm to my neck where my pulse jumps, wet and receptive. “Stop being sad,” she says.

“I can’t,” I say.

My eyes are still closed but I can feel my own tears streaking in the wrong direction like rain scattering on a window, behind my ears and my neck and onto Frankie’s sheets.

I can hear the keys on her carabiner jangling off her hip as she skips down the steps. Why does she do this to me? Now I can only think about Frankie’s keys against her hip all day long, other people watching the way she moves. I want to rip open the window and scream at the birds. I want Frankie to rip open the window and scream at me. But I stay still and stiff. I listen to my own heart beating two skips too fast.

Hear it? Frankie. Frankie.

Kate Wisel is originally from Boston. Her fiction has appeared in New Delta Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Bartleby Snopes as “Story of the Month,” where she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry has appeared in decomP Magazine and Neon Magazine, where she was nominated for The Forward Prize, as well as on the Boston subway. She has received scholarships to attend The Wesleyan Writer’s Conference, The Juniper Institute, The Squaw Valley Writer’s Workshop, and The Writing by Writers workshop. She teaches writing and rhetoric at Columbia College Chicago and is working on a linked short story collection.