Chapter 20:

Gregarious (Con)Gregation (Part 3)

Pigeon on a Power Line

She whisks me along by the hand, smooth as butter, fast as the wind.

We fly in through the church’s main sanctum and enter its entrails. It’s weirdly normal inside, once you get over the crosses posted along every eggshell white wall in five feet intervals. Hall doors to the left and right reveal a study, library, laundry room, and ultimately a very corporate-looking kitchenette, into which I’m coaxed with the sudden click of the door lock.

My eyes dart over to the little window at the top of the door. But she follows them.

“When I was a kid, I once hit my head on that counter over there,” Anne-Marie says, pointing to a chipped section of marbled plastic by the coffee machine, “It took them three hours to notice me crying in the corner. We’re good here.”

For some reason, I play the idiot. “Good for what, exactly?”

“Yeah, very funny,” she replies, stepping towards me.

I backpedal, only for my butt to get neatly jammed up against what I presume is a break table.

"I get that a lot," I say, propping myself up from behind with both hands.

Her face moves within a forearm of mine. "Are you nervous?"

"No," I lie.

"What?" She asks, "Is this your first time kissing a girl or something?"

I tell the truth, with a laugh, "No, actually. Well, long story. So technically-"

Anne-Marie moves even closer, whispering. "And you think now's a good time to tell it?"

"No," I say, and I can't take it any more.

We kiss.

Our lips greet each other like opposing cavalry charges. Clumsily, energetically. I don't know if I've technically done this before, and I couldn't care less. Because it's not like anything prior could even compare. My right hand slips through her canopy of electric locks and cups the back of her head. My left meets one of hers beneath her chin. Her free hand clutches my collar strong enough to smother what remains of my dwindling oxygen supply.

We writhe. As if we're climbing each other. Mauling each other. The room starts spinning. Or maybe we do. At some point, my back hits what is now definitely a break room table with a thunderous thwack. But we keep going until all I can smell is her shampoo and all I can taste is her bittersweet taupe lipstick. There's a deafening roar of blood rushing inside my head.

And then we part.

And she pants, "Where- the fuck- did you- learn to kiss like that?"

"I practiced- on my- friends," I reply.

She chokes on thin air.

"You're- such a- weirdo."

"Works every- time."

We let our heads drop limp at the same time, our foreheads meeting with a skull-jiggling clack. But I don't feel anything except the tip of my nose touching hers. All there is for an eternity is breath, the inch-wide gap between forming into the misty depths of the fairy pit. The kitchenette lights flicker, pulsing in the sea around her widened pupils like a reflection of the aurora borealis.

“Bad time for a story?” I ask.

She presses her lips to my cheek and whispers, “The worst.”

My arm finds its way around her waist without being told to.

“It’s short, I promise.”

“That’d better be the last time I hear that.”

I kiss the side of her neck. “Not even a story about you?”

“Oh, go on.” Her voice is silk. “I love a good ego boost.”

“I lied. When I first met you, I basically didn’t even know your name.”

“That’s funny.” Her hand moves from my collar to my chest. “I basically didn’t even know you existed.”

“And now you’re making out with me.” I mumble, into her hair.

She chuckles. “No, You’re making out with me.”

I draw back, and look her in the eyes. “Group effort?”

Anne-Marie nods. Then she starts putting her weight onto me.

The breakroom table retorts with a plaintive squeal. My heart is in my mouth, and hers is held between her bitten lips. I can feel the bloodthirst again, beating against the inside of my head like a monkey off its meds. She’s pressing herself to me, arms then chest then waist. Breasts pressed to my ribcage, our knees touching. There’s no way in hell she doesn’t feel it against her stomach, not that I can be bothered to hide at this point.

“Still an angel?” she asks. “Or am I sinner enough for you?”

“Little column a, little column b.”

She can’t hide a hint of disappointment, which she tries to bury in my chest alongside her face.

“I can prove it to you,” Anne-Marie whispers. “That I’m not perfect.”

Her hands start descending along the length of my body.

“You don’t have to,” I say.

She raises her head. “If that’s what it takes to break the spell.”

It’s almost impossible for me to describe just how much I want her to. But- there’s something in her eyes that’s just the slightest bit off. As if her pupils waver on mine, for just a second. The heat between us is intoxicating, more so than any time I’ve ever snuck drinks under my dad’s nose. And yet that inkling of anxiety sobers me. Because we’re rushing along to the edge of a canyon neither of us thought we’d cross so soon, and I think I feel the same way as her.

I stop her hands. Locking my fingers with hers, I hold them between our chests.

Her face bears this sincere betrayal, a mix of hurt and surprise.

“Don’t you want to?” she asks.

What do you think? My incisors are punching holes through my lips, and I’m cursing myself for ever having dared to wear a belt.

“I do,” I admit.

“Then why break the spell? Just let me-” she starts, until I put a finger to the tip of her nose.

I shiver free of all the tension in my body, and my voice is as earnest as I can make it:

“I don’t believe in spells. Or magic, or god or whatever. So trust me when I say this. We’ll know when we’re ready.”

At once, the electricity is sapped from Anne-Marie’s gaze, replaced with gentle warmth. Her smile is like summer rain, over with a stifled sob before you even realize it started. Or maybe it’s a sad chuckle. No matter. I won’t mention it if she doesn’t. Because the sky in her eyes is clear now.

Anne-Marie’s forehead presses into my chest. The heat of her breath hits me in waves as it stabilizes. Her fingers press into my back, curling around me like she’s simultaneously holding on for dear life and ready to fall asleep with me in her arms.

“Thanks,” she says. “I don’t know why, but I felt like I had something to prove.”

I’m at a loss for words. So I rely on my dad’s- or at least an approximation thereof:

“Life’s all about making bad decisions that feel good. Right or wrong, doesn’t matter. But if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right for you, y’know?”

“You’re right.” She sighs. “But as much as I hate that, I kinda love it.”

We move apart, but remain hand in hand. Anne-Marie takes a seat with me on the whiny breakroom table. The flickering fluorescent lights and the gurgling minifridge are like mosquitoes and cicadas at the end of a summer night. It’s peaceful, like a little corner of the world untouched by anything other than curious roaches. But silence isn’t really my strong suit, and her expression seems weighed down by thoughts that pull her face down to the grimy linoleum.

“Isn’t it kind of funny,” I say, “In a fucked-up way, that is.”

“Hm?” She looks away from the floor.

“I mean, we almost did it in a church.”

Anne-Marie chortles. But my dumb little gamble works, because she replies:

"I almost forgot you're always- what was it again? Horny and drained?"

"Hormonally horny and emotionally drained,” I correct her.

"Mhm.” She scoffs. “You're pretty comfortable being a degenerate within praying distance of god. Guess that makes two of us, though."

"God schmod.” I throw my eyebrows in a loop. “If we're all god's children, then wouldn't that make us incestuous?"

She blinks, as if encountering the thought for the first time, and says, "Gross."

I have her on the ropes.

"If you think that's gross," I smirk, "Then what would you say if I told you that as of this year, our state had the highest proportion of step family smut per 1000 internet searches?"

"I'd say, 'what about Alabama?' And then I'd probably call you gross again."

I frown, not having gotten the sheer disgust I was looking for.

"I never understood it," she continues, "The step family stuff. Like, I can't imagine anyone who enjoys it actually having a real stepsister."

"Not that it's my cup of tea,” I say. “But as an only child, my guess is that when there's a degree of separation from it, the unfamiliarity makes it exotic."

"Yeah. That's the only way it would make sense to me. Because let me tell you, siblings are the absolute worst. I don't even want to be around them, let alone create mutant babies with them."

"What?" I ask. "You wouldn't want to add a couple of new initiates to your death cult?"

Anne-Marie puts fingers to her chin. "Hmm. I have no idea where I'm going to end up in life, but it might not actually be all that bad to raise a few of those little goblins someday. Non-incestuously, of course."


“Why do you look like that?”

“Like what?”

“Surprised. Astonished. Flabberg-”

“Got it, I got it. Idunno, just didn’t expect you to have already thought through stuff that far ahead.”

“Like I said. I have no idea where I’m going.”

“That’s a mood. Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d be making out with that cute blonde from first period.”

She guffaws.

“Two weeks ago,” she resigns herself with a laugh hidden in a sigh, “I didn’t know I’d be spilling my guts to some cute nerd like a ninja committing sepaku.”

“It’s seppuku,” I reply, unable to hide my disgust. “And it’s samurai that did it.”

“Do I look like I know anything about Japan?”

I look her up and down, all five-foot-nine inches of her platinum blond preppy mug and modest collared church blouse.

“Good point.”

As I shrug, her eyes follow my shoulders, wandering down along the length of my arms.

“Were your arms always this big?” she asks.

They’re the same old guns I’ve always had. Except for the fact these atrophied muskets start crying out in pain the moment I remember they exist.

“Brian made me work out with him,” I explain, “It’s not my fault.”
Anne-Marie smirks. “You? Surviving a whole workout with Brian? Yeah right.”

“Where do you think I got these clothes?”

She puts a finger to her lips. “Good point. I didn’t think you’d have it in you to dress like a born-again fuckboy. Not without foreign interference, at least.”

“Yeah, well,” I waggle my eyebrows, “I’ve finally caught up on my Brianese, A-dog.”

Anne-Marie flicks my bony nose, promptly recoils at the recoil, and whimpers, “Never call me that again, Goggles.”

“What?” I whine. “It’s not fair that you forced a cute nickname on me but I have to say your whole name like a dweeb.”

She cackles. “Then come up with something, or it’s Og-dog for you.”

I mutter, “Hmm,” under my breath. “Anne-Marie. AM…”

Glancing at her face, it radiates the kind of sunshine warmth that makes me lose my free will. If Raisa was a gentle, evening snow, then Anne-Marie is a blinding, sunny-

“Morning,” I say.

Her facial features curl up like shrimp. “Excuse me?”

“You know, cuz you’re like. ‘A’ and ‘M’.”

“Oh my fucking god,” she balks, physically rocking backwards. “You’re so corny.”

The most I can do is offer her a raised eyebrow.

“But,” she continues with a smile. “I think I like that about you.”

I can’t remember the last time I was able to feel this way.

Kya Hon
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