Ma sits on the edge of my bed like she’s always done. Never mind I’m almost seventeen and her preach-reading doesn’t do more than put me to sleep. “Sometimes,” she says, “it feels like your mind ain’t here. Like you’d rather be somewhere else.”
Shielding my face with the sleeve of my nightshirt from her soul-searching brown eyes, I whisper a lie. “I’m here, Ma. Like always.”
“I have just the verses to read tonight.” Ma taps the book with the end of her eyeglasses, then slips them on. Crinkling the pages, she opens the Good Book to read a passage about blood, burning, and the sun. Like always, my mind runs elsewhere.
A shiver rides my arm while my brain flashes to my own memory of feeling a burning fire all shaky and blissful in bed. It was so right and so lovely, I don’t even feel wicked to let my mind wander to that night knowing full well it’s something Ma would never approve. With the fire and brimstone words of Revelation blurring in one ear and out the other, I think of Isla.
The week I slept over her trailer this past winter was like riding an infinite escalator of hoping and needing. The momentum raised eighty flights every hour. Ma was gone for the week. She and two other single lady members left with Prophet chasing for new Community recruits.
Isla was sixteen and her golden skin and cherry stained lips clenched at my heart and gave me stomach tingles something crazy. Even during prayer hours and church when I was sposed to be looking to God.
We shared her rickety twin bed and I didn’t mind. On the last night before Ma came back, the wind licked the windows as her jagged breaths in and out, vibrated in my ear. I’d been waiting all week for the last night because I figured if I was gonna kiss her, it’d have to be on a night I couldn’t tell myself “maybe tomorrow night.”
We shivered together under the blankets and over the thumping of my heart, I whispered, “Snuggle closer.”
The next second her breath warmed my neck and the next her tongue was gliding across my lips and into my mouth. Isla laughed at my jokes, she held my hand when no one was looking, and at that moment, she was reading my mind.
Baking soda mint toothpaste was still faint on our tongues and teeth. I didn’t care because we tasted the same.
Making out with Isla was a dance. Hands in my hair, lips on mine, and up and down and left and right.
A creak in the hall, just outside her room jerked us from each other’s mouths and I figured it was over. Isla padded away from her bed and I slowed my breaths until she came back.
“It was just Petey,” she whispered. “Stupid cat.” She cocooned us back under her quilt and clicked on a tiny flashlight pulled from the drawer in her night table. The light stung my eyes until I closed them and Isla sighed into my ear. “You’re so pretty.” She kissed me again. This time from my ear to my lips, harder but slower. The orange peel and honey shampoo she let me use suddenly took on the scent of want and need.
She smelled it too. “I want to do something,” Isla whispered.
“Okay.” I opened my eyes to her sliding down my torso, gripping the flashlight as she pushed up my nightgown with her other hand.
Her kisses got lower and lower and I wanted to tell her to come back up because my cheeks were burning with heart-speeding nerves and fear. But I couldn’t because the want was stronger than any nagging worry that my shower before supper was maybe too long ago.
That night was when I realized that everything down there wasn’t dirty and awful and private and just for me.
When her hot breath vibrated onto me down there. When her kiss was sliding in and around, all the best feelings in the world melted into my pores. I didn’t care about Genesis, Luke, John, or Revelation because there was no such thing as sin under our blanket.
It was spring and summer and cinnamon candy, wild rainbow flowers, happy carnivals, and TV and secular dance music and everything else we couldn’t have at The Community. It was all the good, tingling through me, threatening to pull me apart into the highest kind of heaven. The rush of light I’ve only been able to reach by my hand if I let it go any further.
Gripping her shoulders, I pulled Isla back up like I was scared my body alarm would go off and we’d be over and done. I wasn’t ready for it to be over.
I framed her face in my hands, the glow of the flashlight now somewhere at my feet, lighting her just barely.
“What’s that like?” I asked, holding my breath preparing for the worst.
“It was like this…” Then she smooshed her mouth onto mine just as I was about to ask what she meant. The baking soda mint was miles away swapped for the taste of sweat and hot summer in the middle of winter.
My hands slid to her shoulders and I almost pulled away. Our lips touching again was weird and awkward, but she kissed like nothing else mattered. So I let myself fall back into her.
Isla was the first girl I saw the day Ma pulled our station wagon onto The Community. Ma was ready for a new life, free from the heathens, the liars, and anyone else who couldn’t compare to the way my daddy was before passing. Ma was Ready for something new and the closer she could get to God, the closer she’d get to Heaven. The second I saw Isla was the second I knew every doubt I had about who I was, was for nothing. Love is patient and kind and pure. Isla personified all of that. And if Isla was love, then I was good.
With the taste of mostly me almost gone, I moved my lips off Isla. My breath needed to slow down and I didn’t know how to do it without taking up all the air under our blanket. I gasped a little and tried to make words happen. “This. Is. Good. I like this. Do you?”
She grabbed my hand and held it tight. “I like all of it, but I’m scared that–”
I took her bottom lip in my teeth and cupped her breast to stop her from saying the rest.
Our hands went wild until her fingers dipped and swirled into the place she’d been kissing earlier. And to her, I did the same. Our kisses were breathy and heaving into each other’s ears. We used hands and fingers until we turned into life blaring love hot breathing exploding fireworks into each other’s palms.
Wiggling away from her hand, I let my body ride the end of the wave. When I whispered “Mmmm…” into her mouth she breathed, “I love you too.”
Isla and I laid like spoons and I never slept so good as that night. The buzzing in my body ran from my knees to my shoulders and I felt higher than an angel watching me from the clouds.
We didn’t talk the next day. Or the next. Isla never invited me over again and I never asked why not.
But the way she’d flush and bite back the slightest smile when we’d make eye contact whilst ignoring each other in the schoolhouse told me she felt just as good about it as I did.
When spring came, Isla and her Pa left on account of the stories Prophet started telling on Sabbath. Prophesies. Stuff about nuclear war coming, famous movie stars joining the calling, and other things he swore God warned him on. A whole lotta immediate future telling never coming to fruition. Prophet said God was testing him and getting him to humble himself in front of the congregation. The Community. And we all needed to humble ourselves and follow him straightway, no backsliding or looking to the left or right lest we end up burning for eternity and missing out on all the rewards Prophet was leading us to. Some members saw through it and walked once the air got warmer and leaves started growing back on the trees.
Ma closes her Good Book with a snap. “We’ll be saying goodbye to all our earthly possessions soon enough.” Her smile is soft and certain. “But hello to Him and a choir of angels. What do you think about that?”
“Heaven sounds nice,” I say. What I don’t say is that Heaven can be anywhere you make it, because I’ve already been there. “G’night Ma.” My eyes close, and I sigh into my pillow.
Isla said goodbye with empty eyes, a stiff hug, and mailed me a letter with seven lipstick kisses and a tiny “I.L.U” in a crease. It’s been three months. It’s folded in a purple envelope into a tiny rectangle and kept beneath my sports bra, even while I sleep.
I have the address memorized and I’ll be there before the end times come. And if I don’t make it to her first, I’m either flying with angels or burning in hell with all those kisses on my heart.
#WriteLadyHeadRight Blog Hop Schedule because OH YES, there’s more! Grab yourself and/or a Valentine and get your read on…
Sunday, February 8
Monday, February 9
Tuesday, February 10
Ashley Herring Blake
Wednesday, February 11
Me! Right here.
Thursday, February 12
Friday, February 13
Saturday, February 14