Claudia balanced against the large double doors of the barn, painted a fresh coat of white for the wedding, to fish out the emergency Newport from inside her black sequined clutch. Behind her, the room glowed from mason jar tea lights and the fires of chafing dishes lined up against the far wall, warming aluminum trays of pulled pork and baby back ribs and mashed potatoes. Claudia pried open the metal clasp of her clutch and tilted it toward the light, patting around the satin lining with mounting anxiety.
“You one of the groom’s Spanish kin?”
Two very pregnant and freckled sisters of the bride looked at her from where they sat on the wrought iron bench. It was unclear whether the two bottles of beer on the wooden barrel beside the bench belonged to them. The brunette’s chin jutted out toward Claudia, sending a ripple of secondary chins wobbling behind.
Claudia poked a thumb at her collarbone and shrugged her shoulders.
“Dave?” she asked, as if there were multiple grooms at the wedding. “Yeah – I mean, no. I mean, I’m here for the groom but not related.”
She felt herself doing finger guns at the girls before she could stop herself.
“Friends!” she said. “Spanish friends, too, I guess. So that part is right. From New York.”
She and Dave had had a thing, the way that kids still not quite grown, but with checking accounts and guarantors living and studying in Manhattan might have a thing and still call themselves just friends and nothing more. But nothing less, either; to have called each other ‘roommates’ would have been an insult to Claudia and Dave both. Yet after three-thousand miles (“2,789 to be exact” he had texted her once), and two years of dating the nurse that dressed the bandages of his mother’s thyroidectomy, the ache of their non-relationship had distilled into a warm memory of things that never quite happened. It was in this amniotic state that Claudia, now married herself, had mailed back her RSVP to this barn wedding in Carajoland, Kentucky where Dave had promised the rest of his life to a white girl with fetal alcohol mouth.
The brunette picked up one of the sweating bottles of Heineken off the wooden barrel.
“Was a beaut of a ceremony, don’t ya think?” she raised her over-plucked eyebrow as she tipped the bottle to her lips.
“Yes,” Claudia replied without thinking. “Do either of you girls have a cigarette, by any chance?”
The blonde sister, slightly less pregnant, frowned at her but said nothing. The brunette continued.
“He done lost a shit ton a’weight, din’t he?” She tapped her middle finger on the glass as she emptied the remaining beer into her mouth. “Musta been at least thirty pounds heavier—” this word seemed to catch in her throat and she folded into a fit of coughs, her perfectly round beach ball belly seizing up and down beneath the thin jersey material of her dress.
She was right; Claudia noticed Dave had trimmed down, grown more solid in his body since she’d seen him last. Claudia acknowledged that this made her feel both proud and resentful. She remembered how warm his body used to be lying next to her on the couch, especially during sticky Manhattan summers when they couldn’t afford anything more than a plastic window fan in the airshaft. Claudia had ignored the sweat and the sour basketball-shorts-stench that came with the heat when he jumped on her bed in the mornings to wake her up, or crawled beneath her sheets in the winter months to warm his cold feet against the soft backs of her knees and talk about what they’d done the night before with other people in other beds.
She introduced him to egg and sofrito breakfast sandwiches, and he made her Tequila Mockingbird lasagna which she pretended to enjoy despite her lactose intolerance. When he tried her grandmother’s recipe for Puerto Rican arepas one night, he looked at her with wet eyes and picked her up by the waist in joy, ecstatic, he told her, at the realization that it was the fry bread of his childhood. He said his Navajo grandmother used to make these fried discs of dough for him all the time, and he hadn’t eaten one since he’d left Arizona, probably hadn’t eaten one since he was a small boy. When he’d set Claudia back down on the kitchen counter, his arms still embracing her hips, he rested his nose against the curve of her thigh and said, “Tell me why I shouldn’t marry you right now.” It was not actually a question, but it hurt Claudia all the same to leave it unanswered as he took another greasy bite and left to go on a date with a third-year med student.
“I’ll see you girls inside,” Claudia told the sisters, trading the escape hatch of nicotine for the possibility of better company inside the reception. At the buffet line that had formed against the far wall of the barn, she spotted Dave’s Mexican grandmother Elisa queuing up for blackened barbecue chicken.
“Dave’s grandmother, right?” Claudia asked as she approached, placing a hand on her diminutive shoulder.
“Sí,” she laughed. “But which one are you looking for? The cowboy or the Indian?”
“Oh,” Claudia cleared her throat, taken aback by her acknowledgement of the uneasy Delgado family dynamics. Dave’s father’s family was wealthy and from Madrid by way of Mexico City (and more than a few generations). They were now based in Tucson, where he grew up, and where they actively campaigned for better border patrol. His mother, who left them when he was 3, was “more or less white” except for when it was convenient to claim her Navajo maternal line. “Elisa, it’s me. Claudia. I visited you one Christmas in Tucson. Remember? With –”
“My goodness gracious, that’s right!” Elisa brought a hand to her overdrawn lips. “Claudia,” she said, the name round and examined in her mouth, Cloud-ee-ya. “I barely recognized you.” One penciled eyebrow remained cocked, her head tilted in consideration. “I was looking over at that table of David’s friends, wondering if I knew any of them, y no, you know. I guess I just didn’t recognize you.”
“Well, it’s really great to see you again. It was a beautiful ceremony.”
“Verdad,” she said, as a statement or question, Claudia was not sure. Hearing Elisa speak Spanish with her sent a thrill down Claudia’s spine, replaced quickly by a cold fear. Was she speaking Spanish as a confidant or an inquisitor? The buffet line moved forward and she took a step with it.
“Oh, yes,” Claudia said. “They both looked gorgeous.”
Elisa nodded and cut her a quick glance out of the sides of her eyes. Inquisitor.
“Entonces, are you still living in Manhattan?”
“Yes, on the Upper West Side now. Great community, lots of families. No more East Village for me. Oh!” Claudia squeezed her shoulder again. “And I’m married!” Claudia pointed beyond Elisa’s sprayed stiff curls and over towards Table 14 where her husband sat, no doubt discussing Penn State football with a bored coworker from Dave’s office that didn’t want to be there, either.
“I’m married now,” she repeated. “That’s my husband. You should meet him – I want you to meet him. Jaime is his name. Jaime.” It all tumbled out of Claudia’s mouth, she realized, much too fast.
“Oh!” Claudia watched Elisa clutch the collar of her sequined jacket closed and visibly relaxed her shoulders. She grabbed Claudia’s wrist with her free hand and gave it a little shake. Confidant. The wrinkles around her mouth worked to pucker her lips to the side as she leaned in and clucked quietly so that only Claudia could hear her say, “Thank God!”
She had never understood why Dave kept so many bibles in their apartment. The New King James, Old King James, American Standard; he had brought them all with him when he first moved to New York. Growing up in Queens, she had never met anyone her age who didn’t consider religion more than a joke or a hassle. Sometimes when he was uptown teaching his Indigenous Studies course at Columbia – a TA position he’d lucked upon while dating the daughter of an Art History professor – Claudia would leaf through the leather tomes and search for what meaning they must have held for him. A bookmark, a torn envelope, a receipt; something to explain away this part of him because surely, she thought, he could not have been a secret Evangelical who read First Corinthians before spending his nights chugging Irish Car Bombs and spreading the legs of bridge-and-tunnel girls on the brownstone stoops of city side streets. This had happened once; he’d shaken Claudia awake so he could brag about it when he got home.
One slushy January afternoon, she found a blue paperback New Testament on a kitchen shelf sitting between John Besh’s Cooking From the Heart and her mother’s copy of La Cocina Criolla. Inside the worn cover, his father had written, “Keep the words of Jesus Christ close. He will always be there for you in times of need. Turn to Him when you feel lost.”
Raised part time by an atheist musician from Leningrad who toured most of the year and a Puerto Rican grandmother with an axe to grind with God after her daughter died suddenly of an aneurysm, Claudia felt confused and lost, herself. And after fingering the tissue-thin, leather-eared pages alone in that tiny kitchen, she realized, jealous. This was not the same boy she did shots of Aguardiente with until they puked together in the bathroom, she in the toilet, and he in the sink. This was not the same boy who scoped out which theater had the optimal viewing schedule for them to spend an entire Saturday sneaking from one movie to the next without being detected by ushers at Lincoln Center. This was not the same boy she followed into Smithtown Bay that first summer, wearing nothing but moonlight and stupid, young hope, arms and legs tangled under black water, reaching out and holding onto each other for life, for everything.
“The ancient Aztecs used to eat the still-beating heart of their enemies,” Dave had told her that weekend on the pebbly North Shore beach.
“Are you flirting with me?” Claudia had asked. He’d laughed and she appreciated how healthy and white his teeth looked against his shining pink gums.
Some mutual friends at Columbia had rented a house out on the Island and both she and Dave had been invited to crash for the holiday weekend.
Dave had been otherwise stuck in the city that summer teaching a course on Native Tribal Art. The text he read to Claudia on the beach was from one of the books he used in class. He closed the hardcover and balanced it on his wheat-colored thigh. He adjusted the black Ray-Bans on the bridge of his nose and looked toward the lifeguard down the shore. Claudia had never owned a pair of sunglasses that cost more than six dollars.
“There are some places in Mexico where people still believe that.”
Claudia fished through her tote for sunscreen.
“Like your family?”
Dave bent forward to refill her water bottle from a handle of Georgi vodka he’d been stashing inside an American flag-printed beach towel.
“No,” he said. “Of course not.”
With the Coppertone in hand, she flipped her reddening body over onto her back. Dave screwed her refilled bottle snug into the sand next to her.
“I barely have any family left in Mexico, Claud.” She was intrigued by this quick familiarity with her name. “I am talking remote, uncivilized areas without religion.”
“Whoa, conquistador,” she had said, massaging the cream into her left leg, held high up off the sand, she was hoping, for his appraisal. “You mean without Western religion? What are you, a missionary?”
He shifted uncomfortably in the vinyl-woven beach chair.
“You know what I mean.”
She squeezed lotion onto her recently shaved thigh and down over her knee to her ankle in one long unbroken line of white while he watched.
“You’d think with Puerto Rican blood you wouldn’t burn so easily.”
“Ah,” she said, raising a finger awkwardly to the blue sky. “And you’d think the Navajo in you would be less intolerant of different religions!”
The first night in the house they’d gone through the very New York ritual of determining everyone’s ethnicity, and while Claudia, a brown-skinned Puerto Rican with a Russian last name, was usually the winner of this special unicorn lottery, it was quickly established that Dave won this round by not just being “proper Spanish” on technicality, but half Navajo, a novelty on the East Coast.
“You know, the Eucharist isn’t much different if you think about it, pal.”
Dave leaned forward, his elbow on the arm of the chair.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, from what I’ve gathered at the handful of Midnight Masses I’ve attended, Catholics believe you are actually eating the transubstantiated flesh and blood of Jesus Christ each week. Right?” She shrugged. “So, if you think about it then… we’re all barbarians.”
He’d snorted then, or choked back a laugh of some kind and finished what was left of the screwdriver in his own Poland Spring bottle.
That night they’d slipped out of the house and gone skinny dipping in the bay, just the two of them. They were weightless in the black water, naked as the stars above them. He had pulled her close beneath the still surface and she’d wrapped her legs around his waist as they drifted out, away from the yellow windows of the beach house. In the silence, well after Claudia had begun to feel the vodka threaten the limits of her blood-brain barrier, she’d commanded herself to remember this feeling: her spreading thigh on his warm hip, his slow breath on the wet hollow of her neck, and the muted rhythm of his enemy heart beat, beat, beating against the thin flesh of her chest, the two of them alone against the massive darkness that surrounded them.
The rhythm of forks tapping against champagne flutes and glass jars rose and echoed throughout the barn. Jaime squeezed Claudia’s hand and nodded towards the bar before any toasts could begin. Dave’s father stood at the top of the dance floor and invited the bride’s father to come join him. He took the farmer’s hand in his and raised it as he led the guests in prayer “as one unified family.” Claudia swallowed hard and leaned back against the metal folding chair to survey the bar: beer and wine only.
“They’re out of cab sav,” Jaime said, returning to his seat next to her at Table 14.
“Are we really saying cab sav, now?” She opened the small leather case that held her digital camera, despite not having snapped a photo yet.
“Do you want a beer or not?”
“Just get me a chardonnay. I’ll switch to white.”
“I have realized that no one knows me like you do, and that in fact,” Dave paused. “Maybe we are the same person.” He pushed a strand of Claudia’s long hair off her forehead.
Claudia hugged herself tighter. It was Valentine’s Day, the last one they would spend together, though they didn’t know it at the time, and she had just come back from a work trip to Vegas on the red eye. She’d hooked up with a coworker after too many free casino drinks at a marketing conference, and he’d texted that morning to tell her it was a mistake and that he wasn’t looking for anything more. She’d laughed – “HA,” she wrote – and crawled to the couch where she folded into herself playing Rachel Yamagata on loop until Dave had woken up from his windowless bedroom and padded his heavy feet down the hallway to her.
“It’s true,” he said. “I’m sad when you leave.”
“You’re just saying that, Dave, because I am literally crying in the fetal position.”
“No, I mean it.” He leaned against the arm of the futon and stretched his legs so that his bare feet could burrow underneath the fuzzy arch of her socks.
“Look, this guy was dicking you around,” he said. “I could see it from the start. You deserve someone that isn’t going to play games with you.” And he meant this, Claudia could tell, but she also couldn’t help feeling that his was a game, too.
“I’m so sick of this,” Claudia said, sitting up and balling a tissue in her hand. “I just want to stop feeling so…” she looked at his eyes, green and gold and earnest, and then down at the crumbs collected in the seam of the cushion beneath her. “I don’t want to be so lonely all the time.”
Dave leaned forward and rested his chin on her bent knees to look up at her.
“You have me,” he said, playfully. “I’m your husband right here.”
Claudia laughed and hated herself for the spark it ignited in her stomach.
“Yeah,” she snorted. “You are. You’re my surrogate husband.”
“And you’re my surrogate wife.”
He brushed his lips and cheek against her knee like a dog and its owner, and the gesture warmed her lungs that were sore from crying.
“So there.” Dave sat up and leaned his broad soft back against her shins to face the television. “Now there’s no reason for either of us to ever feel lonely, then, because we will always have each other.” He squeezed each of her feet in his hands.
“This can’t be healthy,” she said, rubbing salt from her lashes.
“Claud,” he asked, the profile of his Aztec nose in shadow to her. “When have you and I ever been healthy?”
And his question sounded like love to her, like a vow. It was an acknowledgement of the many gin-fueled nights, from Alphabet City to Hell’s Kitchen, where they collapsed against each other onto the rolling steel gates of bodegas and butcher shops, pawing at some goodness inside of each other they could never quite reach, desperate to digest and become what it was the other saw in them. He nursed her fevers and she stroked his ego inside that apartment they shared on Twelfth Street, but in the light of day it always disappeared, like fireflies.
Guests were encouraged to blow bubbles from tiny plastic bell-shaped bottles placed on their tables as the bride and groom danced. Claudia rubbed the skin where soapy bubbles had landed on her exposed arms, plopping wet and quick before she could track their descent. She felt the threat of tears build up behind her eyes, and didn’t lie to herself as to why.
Jaime sidled up behind her and she relaxed against his chest, grateful for his presence as he placed a hand on her hip. Dave dipped his bride as their song ended and then made their way around the circle of guests to make polite small talk and collect cards and small gifts and when they got to Claudia she managed to say Congratulations, and You look beautiful, and I wish you all the best, but beyond those platitudes, could not bring herself to form the words, “I am so happy for you.”
Dave looked at Claudia as he shook Jaime’s hand. They had only met once before during an extended layover in Phoenix on their way back from their honeymoon in Hawaii. During lunch, Dave continuously insisted on pronouncing her husband’s name “Jay-mee” instead of “Hi-meh.” Yet still, after they drained a pitcher of mimosas, Dave had shaken Jaime’s hand in that macho arm-hug way men who are not close with each other do, and said “I’m glad she found you” in a way that made Claudia want to turn all the skin on her body inside out.
“Let’s do a shot,” Dave said on the middle of the dance floor.
Claudia looked at Jaime and back to Dave.
“It’s your wedding!”
“Exactly.” Dave hooked both of them by the arm and led them to the bridal suite. “So you can’t say no!”
Claudia felt large and out of place in the tiny wood-paneled bridal suite, adorned with lace curtains and pink-fringed pillows. Jaime immediately picked up two shot glasses for them and handed one to her.
“What about your wife?” she emphasized the word, how foreign it sounded to say these words to Dave about another woman. “Shouldn’t she be toasting with us?”
He shook his thick black head of hair, as he pawed through items hidden behind a vanity.
“She doesn’t drink.”
“This is kind of you,” Jaime said, rubbing the tip of his tie with his thumb. “Thanks for the offer.”
“Don’t mention it, Jay-me.”
Claudia cleared her throat.
“What are we doing shots of, anyway?” she asked.
Dave, having found what he was looking for, turned around with an unmarked clear glass bottle and grinned.
Both Claudia and Jaime groaned, but lifted a glass.
“This is a little on the nose, don’t you think?” Claudia asked, gesturing to a camouflage jacket that was hanging on a coat rack.
“What do you mean?” Dave asked. He must really love this girl, Claudia thought.
“Just pour,” she said.
Dave held up his clear glass, tiny in his large brown hands, and looked down at both Jaime and Claudia, taller than them by nearly a foot. His eyes were hooded with bemusement and a detached longing that Claudia hadn’t seen in years.
“To beginnings,” he said.
“Beginnings,” Claudia muttered inside of her glass, and sent the motor oil sliding down her throat, lighting each organ it touched along its way afire.
“Hurting each other?” Dave asked. “Who’s hurting each other?” His phone buzzed from a text in his hand. “We’re just having fun.”
They were both cramped inside their windowless bathroom, Dave sitting on the lip of the tub, and Claudia curling her hair in the mirror. Shortly after their trip to visit his grandmother for Christmas, Dave received news that his mother would be undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. He had already begun making arrangements to move back to Tucson for the foreseeable future to help take care of her while she recovered. They were getting dressed for Dave’s 24th birthday party where he would announce his departure to all their friends, and Claudia had not taken well to the impending separation.
“Dave, any psychologist could diagnose our extreme codependence and predilection to hurt each other in order to feed our own insecurities.”
Claudia had applied for her Master’s in Psychology and began seeing her own therapist on the west side. She hadn’t dated anyone since the coworker in Vegas, and Dave had been sleeping with a faux-hipster in Brooklyn named Pearl since Halloween solely, he claimed, for her in-unit washer/dryer.
“Again, with the psychologist.”
“Yes, again,” she clamped down on a new section of hair. “She thinks I need to look out for myself and be more protective of my feelings.”
Dave tucked his phone inside his jeans pocket.
Claudia was quiet as she released the steaming curl from the iron. In the hallway outside their apartment, she could hear girls in high heels clomp down the stairs.
“Protecting yourself from me, Claudia?” His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat and she wanted to cover it with her mouth, to push it back in with her tongue, or to rip it out with her teeth, anything to stop this conversation from continuing.
“You’ve felt hurt by me?” he asked.
She hated that he’d asked the question directly.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Be hurt by what? You doing laundry?” she attempted a laugh.
She wanted Dave to laugh with her, to ruffle her hair, to tell her she was acting crazy. Instead, he frowned. He stood up, leaning his weight against the pewter tile of the shower and looked down at her with heavy lids, his hazel eyes glowing green in the vanity lights of the mirror.
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” he said, the ground already feeling like the floor of a treadmill getting away from her. “Least of all by me.” He lowered his hand and instead of fixing her hair or pinching her earlobe, this time, he slid it inside his back pocket.
“I’ll stop,” he said.
“You’ll stop what?” Claudia asked.
“I’ll stop thinking of you as a possibility.”
She’d knelt on his bed only once in the month after that, waited for him to come out from brushing his teeth in the bathroom after coming home from a weekend at Pearl’s, wasted from too much prosecco at her gallery opening. Claudia had grabbed for him and he’d let her, he’d kissed her back, and she was grateful for the roughness of his chin against her own. She’d nuzzled his neck, that familiar pawing hunger, to recognize one last time whatever it was he saw in her that she’d never been able to find herself, and reached for the waistband of his pants when he moaned and called out for Pearl.
She’d frozen, her wrist poised over him, waiting to see if he would open his eyes and realize what he’d said, or if he was already gone, adrift in a sea of drunk sub-conscience. She lay there, in that awkward position, and knew that if she continued she would forever have accepted being only a surrogate, a substitute for all the girls he’d ever truly love. So she curled her arms up between her breasts and huddled against the trunk of his body for warmth, negotiating that while she wouldn’t sleep with him, this would be the last night she would allow herself to share a bed with him. Just before the far-off blue of dawn began to creep under his bedroom door and lift the shadows that surrounded them, she prayed for sleep, too, to lift the memory of that night, and for a tissue-thin god to absolve her of the shame she’d now realized she’d been carrying for the past two years.
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen,” the DJ bellowed, tiny holograms in the shape of musical notes shimmering against his blue bowtie. “It’s time for the Money Dance!”
Half the room cheered and turned to search for their pocketbooks, while the Appalachia folk and East Coasters among them looked around for explanation. “Is this like the Nickel dance?” Claudia asked Dave’s grandmother. “One cent, five cent, ten cent, dollar?”
“No,” Elisa waved a dainty, liver-spotted hand at her. “The Money Dance!” she smiled. “It’s a thing we do back home to raise money for the honeymoon. You pay to dance with the bride or groom. Oh, it’s great. Diego and I got almost twelve hundred dollars at our wedding!”
Claudia accepted the explanation with a shrug and a polite smile, but turned to Jaime once the grandmother was out of earshot. He was agape.
“Finally,” he said. “Something we really did miss out on by not having a wedding.”
He smiled at her and his milk chocolate eyes danced in the light underneath his crow’s feet. She kissed his nose.
“I regret nothing.” She turned back around to where the crowd was being divided by gender: men for the bride, women for the groom. Before she knew what she was doing, she’d opened her purse and begun digging around for a ten dollar bill she’d remembered spotting at the airport lounge earlier that day.
“You’re not actually going to do this, are you?” Jaime asked, his hands still around her waist.
“Yeah,” she shook her head. “Let me just do this one thing, and we can split, okay? Make our way back to civilization and cell service.”
“Thank god,” he said. “I’ll go grab our things.”
He kissed the back of her neck and she watched him walk to their table as her fingers wrapped around something delicate in her purse: the single, stray cigarette, wilted in a credit card pocket.
Typical, she thought. She briefly considered stepping outside to smoke rather than pay for her last few moments with Dave, but it was then that she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, that the ten-dollar bill had fallen out of her purse during her search and, pressing her knees together, she bent down to pick it up. Clenching the bill inside her fist, she stepped onto the line with the rest of the women waiting to pay for thirty seconds with the groom.
When it was Claudia’s turn, as if he knew, the DJ began playing a Bonnie Raitt song. Dave used to play Bonnie Raitt constantly in their apartment, to the admonishment of Claudia, who could not stand country music. Dave shook his head when he saw her, and Claudia wondered whether it was because of the song or because the sight of her made him nervous. She snapped the bill taut between her hands as she two-stepped her way to him. He laughed and pulled open his pants pocket for her to slip it inside, like a stripper.
“This feels… illegal,” she said. He laughed again, louder, as if to prove something, and placed both hands firmly around her waist to dance. Surprised at the casual intimacy, she deliberately rested her forearms wide on his shoulders and laid her hands carefully at the top of his spine, also, as if to prove something.
“How do you feel?” she asked. The music was wrong; it was too fast-paced for a slow dance, but they moved anyway, lurching from side to side and turning in tight revolutions around each other.
“The moonshine helped!” His laugh was hot against her cheek. “Good. I feel good. I’m so tired, though. Now I understand why you didn’t go through with the whole big party.”
She stiffened, aware of her entire physical body, and his, and most crucially, the space between.
“Yeah, but now it’s all over, right?”
“Basically.” He looked around the room and back at her. She could smell traces of his lavender-scented aftershave mixed with the faint sour sweat of his suit. She didn’t remember him wearing aftershave.
“You’re right,” he said, training his eyes back on her.e, “It is a relief to be done.” Claudia strained the muscles in her neck away from Dave so that her chest might not appear so close to his.
“Thank you so much for coming down,” he said. “I know it wasn’t easy.”
“Yeah,” she looked down at her feet and then back at him, shaking off the hair that had fallen over her eyes. “You chose about as difficult a place to get to as possible.”
“Right?” he blinked at the walls of the barn. “I know.”
“Well.” She tucked the sweaty strand of hair behind her ear and sensed another woman approaching. Her time was up. “You guys looked great. Really wonderful. I’m glad you found her.” They had stopped moving. “Enjoy this.”
“I will,” he said. He leaned in then, and kissed Claudia full on the cheek before wrapping her in his arms, sweat and beating hearts and all. “I love you.”
It was quick and it was reflexive; something Dave had been repeating all night long, she was sure. But it hurt again in spite of herself, in spite of all the years between that dance floor and the futon where he licked her wounds and called her his wife. It hurt slow and far-away, like a shard of glass stuck inside the ball of your foot that you don’t feel until you’ve already left a trail of blood into the hallway.
She choked back a laugh or snort of some kind in response, and smiled.
Breaking apart from him, she felt dizzy from the quick slow dancing, or the shard of glass, and found her way to the sidelines. She didn’t look back to see who was next in line for a dance, or to see how long the line had grown, but searched instead for Table 14, for a bottle of water, for her husband sitting back there, outside of the heat of the spotlight on the dance floor in this barn in God-only-knows, Carajoland.
Christine Kandic Torres is a writer born, raised, and based in Queens, New York. The child of first generation (im)migrants, she was brought up in an apartment that perpetually smelled of sazón and saffron by her Puerto Rican mother and grandmother.
Her short stories have been published in Newtown Literary Journal and The Sonder Review. Her personal essays and non-fiction work have appeared on Ravishly, On She Goes, and in the forthcoming print anthology, States of the Union, for which her piece, “The Devil We Know,” won the Editor’s Choice Award.
In 2017, Christine was the recipient of a Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship for fiction. She currently lives in Jackson Heights with her husband where she is at work on her first novel. When she is not writing, she can be found wasting time on Twitter (@christinemk) and Instagram (@christinekandictorres).