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In the Smoking Area

Writing by Cristina Rizzo. Artwork by Juliet Richards.

“You ok?” He scares me. His voice hugged by the cushioned music from inside the club. My ears feel trapped under years of fabric.

“Yeah, I was just feeling a bit sick.”

“Oh.” He looks a bit taller now that I’m sat down. “Want me to get you water?” He’s wearing the blue shirt I haven’t seen in a year. It makes him look familiar, like something from my childhood. Like the toxic smell of plastic toys closed off into Ikea boxes.

“Nah. I’m good. I’m scared more liquid will make it worse.”

“Fair enough.” He always says that. He is so himself right now and it stings my throat. He’s retracing up the folds of my brain with his cold finger, teasing. The dark freckle under his left eye. His nails bitten to the beds. Everything is like it’s supposed to be. Except for the cigarette in his right hand, his elbow resting on his hip. His arm is so light it looks, for a while, like it’s being held by the night. I don't remember him so weightless. He has a woman’s hips. I remember the skin on his hips. And a pang hits me in my gut and brings acid to my throat.

This scene is awkward. I don’t like it. Him standing like that in front of me. Me sat down, bricks digging into my back. I wish I could scootch back, disappear into the nightclub wall. I can feel the music’s vibrations on my spine. They shake their way to my head.

“Mind if I sit?” I shake my head. He gets taller the closer he gets. When he sits we finally see eye to eye. His hair so red under the too-bright light. It’s like we’re on display, ready to be looked at. Except no one stops by to do it. We’re invisible. We’re part of the wall. We’ve become bricks.

“How are things with Kat? Heard you two were,” he hesitates, “seeing each other.”

“They’re good, yeah. Nothing to complain about, really.”

He takes a puff and lets it go. The air takes it from him.

“That’s good isn’t it?”

My head becomes lighter in the smoke and cold air concoction. I wonder if his does too. “I guess. It’s not going anywhere. She knows too, I think. I think we’re just waiting to see what happens.”

“Don’t you decide what happens?” His questions still confuse me. There’s always acid in them, a sarcasm that’s also completely sardonic.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t know what to decide though. It’s nice to just be for a while with someone.” I don’t know why I’m being so open to him. I haven’t spoken to him alone in a long time. My heart joins in with my shaking spine.

“That makes sense.” He drains one last smoke and throws the cigarette on the ground like our friend Tom does. I wonder if he started because of him. He steps on it and twists his foot, turning off that lovely red. And soon, without the smoke to fend off the cold wet fingers of the night, I feel naked, I feel tense again sitting so close to him. I can feel the blue of his shirt on my arm hair and I don’t like it.

“I’m gonna head back in.” I say before he can say it. And when I get up it’s like I’m getting up from a bed he’s still lying on. The brick wall of the nightclub his hard pillow. Me, cold and naked looking for my underwear. The night is his now, he’s taken it from me. And I’m leaving it to him like I’m leaving his room one last time.

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