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Unterberg Poetry Center

There are a lot of things her mother does not know about her, Emme thinks, the aftermath of their phone conversation still cycling through her mind. She stretches out across her bed, where she’s been all afternoon, limbs extending into an X. A groan pulls itself from her lips. It is not because she hates Vivian that she keeps things from her. It is because she does not know how to tell her mother why she has been living, not in the NYU dorms, but in a sublet room in the apartment of a middle-aged gay couple since Christmas. She can’t explain, either, that she has been frantically applying for scholarships and literary prizes and jobs and everything she can think of that would possibly give her financial compensation. And though she wants to, it would be too difficult, she thinks, to go into why she cannot come home this summer.
 
It is Friday night. She has tentative plans to meet friends downtown at the bar where her current not-boyfriend bartends, but when she thinks of how the night will go (pushing through loud college kids in a cramped, sticky-floored space; pretending to enjoy the free drinks that Carlo has inexpertly concocted; feeling obligated to wait around long after her friends have left for his shift to finish; walking back to his apartment for sleepy, unenthusiastic sex; juddering home on the bus at three in the morning so that she does not have to sleep next to him), she cannot work up much excitement. She considers calling Natalia to change the bar they’re going to, but decides against it. Emme has never been the kind of person who can talk her way past a bouncer without an ID, and since her twenty-first birthday is still six months out, she and her friends are restricted to places where they know the staff.
 
“You just have to learn to flirt with them a little, you know?” Natalia always says. “It’s not a big deal or anything. If you seem confident they’ll just let you in.”
 
But Emme has never been able to do this. She does not have the kind of effortless prettiness that gets Natalia into bars.
 
Emme shakes away these thoughts, as well as the remnants of the conversation with her mother, and stands up. Her room is small, a boxy section of the living room that has been walled off in an attempt to increase the property value (two bed, one and a half bath, crown molding, stunning views of the East River). It just fits her full-sized bed and a dresser, but it’s all she needs. It’s as much space as she’d get in a dorm, anyway, and she doesn’t have to share it with anybody. She’s never brought Carlo, or anyone else, back here.
 
Stripping off the clothes she’s been wearing since work this morning (light-wash jeans and an NYU t-shirt), she trades out her baggy underwear for a slightly nicer pair and pulls on a black dress. The dress is high-necked and tight, sexy without being too revealing (she hopes). It exposes her legs. Natalia has always said they’re Emme’s best asset, and Emme doesn’t know if she agrees, but nobody else has ever told her she has an asset. The top half of her body is safely encased in crisscrossing strips of fabric, woven over her chest like armor. Jerry and Paul are out tonight, and the apartment feels stale and silent as she shuts off the air conditioner and closes the front door behind her.
 
Emme lives on Ninetieth and York, in a fifth-floor walkup, although her mother still sends mail to her NYU address. When her friends ask why she’s so far uptown (“in the river,” Natalia always says), Emme tells a story of trying to achieve financial independence—the dorms are so expensive, and it’s not like she spends much time at home, anyway. The room and board charge has been quietly deducted from her term bill, but if Vivian has noticed this, she has not said anything. Emme pays the sublet fee by working at the bookstore and babysitting for professors’ children, supplementing from time to time with money from her savings account. It gives her a sense of fullness, of accomplishment, every time she leaves a rent check on the tiled trivet in the center of the kitchen table.
 
Her shoes clack against the pavement on her way to the bus. They are not high, the shoes, not like the line-thin stilettos that Natalia somehow balances on, but their sturdy heels are made of wood, and they make an authoritative snap each time she takes a step. She is the only one at the bus stop, hands crossed over her chest in the shivery puddle of streetlight pouring over her head. Cars whiz by. No bus. Emme breathes. She can smell the street meat cart on the corner and the tang of garbage and the faint traces of cigarette smoke from the doorway of a nearby bar, and that ambiguous dampness that drifts up from the pools of stagnant water at the curb that never seem to vanish, no matter the weather. She misses the ocean. Once she was finally old enough to refuse visits to her father in California, she vowed that she would never again spend a summer separated from the Atlantic. And it’s true that she is close now. If she was inclined, she could take a train and be at the beach in an hour; she could sink down in the sun-warmed sand and watch waves churn themselves into whitewater before flattening up the shore. But she never has. Though she can practically see boats bobbing on the East River from her bedroom window, she is always half-surprised, looking at subway maps, to see that Manhattan is surrounded on all sides by water. 
 
On the M15, she sits in a single seat by the window. It is still early. She feels overdressed. There is a family with young children at the back of the bus, a pair of elderly women chatting loudly a few rows in front of her. But all of it is okay. One of the things she loves about New York is how easy it is to be alone. She leans her head against the window. She reads Middlesex, holding the book steady against the shuddering movements of the bus. She retreats into herself, the way she used to in middle school. It feels even more natural here than it ever has.
 
Natalia is waiting for her at their usual place: an Indian restaurant on Sixth Street, its windows almost completely obscured by blinking Christmas lights. They return here because of its delicious samosas, its proximity to the bar where Carlo works, and the wait staff’s tendency not to card. Although Emme arrives only a few minutes after seven, Natalia is already sitting at a corner table, a bottle of red wine in front of her, toying with a strand of wavy brown hair as she absently swirls her glass. When Emme met Natalia, she described her to a high school friend as “almost unfairly beautiful,” and even though Natalia is now her best friend, this descriptor sometimes floats back to Emme at times like this. When Natalia is alone, unaware of anyone watching her, she somehow manages to look as though she’s posing for a photo shoot. She’s thin, leggy, all bony angles, constantly sparkling with gold jewelry. Her face is broad, with prominent cheekbones and large eyes. When they are together, people tend to skim over Emme in favor of Natalia. Emme is used to this.
 
“Hey,” Emme says, sliding into the seat across from her. “How long have you been here?”
 
Natalia glances up and smiles. “Hey! Just for two seconds, really.”
 
Emme raises her eyebrows at the wine.
 
“Didn’t want to waste any time,” Natalia says, her grin widening. She pours Emme a glass. A hammered metallic cuff twists loosely around her wrist.
 
“Sorry I’m a little late,” Emme says. “My mom called again; it kind of fucked up my whole afternoon.”
 
Natalia makes a noise of sympathy. The waiter slinks by, eyes on Natalia, and she takes the moment to wave him over and order: samosas, aloo ghobi, garlic naan. They hand their unopened menus back to him and he bustles away.
 
“What did she say?” Natalia asks. “Your mom?”
 
“She just wants me to come home,” Emme says. She sits on her hands, staring at the paper placemat in front of her. Natalia pushes the glass of wine closer to Emme, and Emme takes a sip. It’s cheap and sweet. She frowns.
 
“I know, it’s disgusting,” Natalia says, waving a hand dismissively. “Okay. And what did you say?”
 
“I mean…I told her I have a job and I can’t just—you know, I committed to being here for the summer. Just because she gives me money, doesn’t mean I can drop everything and go home.”
 
Natalia is silent.
 
“And I don’t want to go home,” Emme says.
 
“Did you tell her that?”
 
Emme takes a longer swig of wine. “No.”
 
“Emme!”
 
“She doesn’t get it,” Emme says flatly. Her stomach burns. “You’re the only one I’ve told about—” But she can’t make her lips form the name. She looks down at her lap. “She didn’t get it when I tried to talk to her about him when I was fourteen fucking years old.”
 
“I know,” Natalia says. “I know.”
 
“It’s just shitty. I don’t even want to go back to visit, you know? And she’s taking this as some, like, slight on her. Like I’m punishing her.”
 
“Well, think of how she probably sees it,” Natalia says. “You’re not going home because you have a part-time job at a bookstore? And she’s offering to give you enough money so you don’t have to work?”
 
“It’s not about money—”
 
“But you told her it’s about money,” Natalia says. Her voice is calm and even. “I’m not saying she’s right. Just that in her mind, she’s solved the problem, so she doesn’t get why you’re still refusing to come home.”
 
It makes sense. Emme knows that it makes sense. But her memory returns, unbidden, to a conversation she had with her mother shortly after her brother Michael was in the hospital as a child. Vivian was treating her cautiously, sure that Emme’s misery stemmed from Michael’s accidental overdose. And it did, in part, but Emme still could not forget the feel of Tate Schiller’s hands closing around her wrists, and she grew so anxious at Vivian’s misguided attempts to cheer her up that she finally broke down and told her mother what had happened. Vivian listened to her, nodding, her eyes wide and (Emme recognized it even then) clueless. When she had finished, Vivian held Emme as she cried, smoothing her hair over her forehead. Then she asked,
 
“Did you tell him you didn’t want to go out with him?”
 
“I—yes,” Emme said, her confused brain trying to pin down the exact moment she had told Tate “no”. It was more an amalgamation of everything, though, her unwillingness to kiss him, her reference to wanting to be friends.
 
“Maybe he misunderstood,” Vivian said.
 
“Maybe,” Emme said.
 
“If it happens again, just be more forward about it. You know boys,” Vivian said. She laughed a little. A knot seemed to harden in Emme’s chest at the sound.

Recalling this story to Natalia now, she feels uncomfortable under her friend’s gaze. Natalia is a disturbingly good listener; she nods, but not in the nervous, unsure way that Vivian did.
 
“Have you talked to her about it since then?” Natalia asks.
 
“No,” Emme says. “She doesn’t even know about the second time. You’re the only one who knows about the second time.”
 
“It sounds like she was just treating it more simplistically because you were so young,” Natalia says. “But if she knew it happened again, and that it’s obviously still a big deal for you now—”
 
“I know,” Emme groans. She drains her wine glass and Natalia splashes in some more almost immediately. Leaning her elbows on the table, she sighs, “It’s just going to take so much effort to explain. And I can barely even talk about it to you. I had to—” But Emme stops herself. There are things about this that even Natalia does not know, and she does not want to reveal more than she needs to. She focuses now on what she has definitely told Natalia: that Tate is back in East Hampton, working at his father’s car dealership, and that according to one of her high school friends, he has been asking about her. “I can’t see him again.”
 
“It’s okay,” Natalia says. “Let’s talk about something else. Okay?”
 
“Yes,” Emme says stiffly. Her throat is very dry. She sips more wine, starting to feel the welcome fuzziness creeping in on the edges of her brain. She says, “How’d the audition go?”
 
“It was really, really good actually,” says Natalia, her eyes bright. Emme’s entire body seems to sigh with relief now that the attention has been deflected off of her. “I read for the featured extra part, right? And then they had me stick around for the supporting character too—so I’d be like the ex-girlfriend before the main characters get together. So, I don’t know, but fingers crossed, right?” She is trying hard not to look too excited, but dimples push into her cheeks all the same.
 
“That’s awesome, Nat,” Emme says, ignoring the thrill of dread that plunges through her stomach. “Do you know when you find out?”
 
“They’re on a super tight schedule, so probably sometime next week,” Natalia says. “The casting guy was kind of unreadable, but the director really seemed to like me.”
 
“Nice. Do you know where they’re filming?” Emme tries to keep her voice casual.
 Natalia’s sparkling eyes seem to cool a little. She tilts her head to one side, and her hair cascades over her tan, bare shoulder. “Toronto, actually.”
 
“Oh. So would you like take next semester off if you get it?”
 
“It would depend on the part,” Natalia says carefully. “If I got the extra one, they probably wouldn’t need me long enough; I’d just miss a few classes toward the beginning of the semester.” She meets Emme’s eyes. “If I got the bigger part, yeah. I’d probably have to take a leave of absence.”
 
Emme’s stomach twists, but she makes herself smile.
 
Their food arrives and they eat in silence for a while. The waiter brings them another bottle of wine, and when Natalia tries to protest that they didn’t order it he waves her off and says it’s on the house. She half-smiles at him, running a casual hand through her hair. Emme watches the curls separate between her manicured fingernails.
 
“So what’s up with Carlo?” Natalia asks, halfway through the second bottle of wine. Emme’s head snaps up at the name. Natalia seems to be swaying before her but once Emme focuses her vision she realizes her friend is completely still, waiting for her answer.
 
“Oh, fuck, Carlo!” Emme says, her sleepy tipsiness dissipating. “What time is it? His friend is only working the door till ten.”
 
Natalia glances at her watch and her eyes widen. “Nine forty-five. Shit, how have we been here this long?”
 
They ask for the check and quickly finish the bottle of wine. Then they’re on the street and running, up past Saint Mark’s, over toward Avenue A. Emme’s ankles ache. It is nearly ten when they arrive outside the bar, but Carlo’s friend Jake is still outside, backward baseball cap pulled over his head. He wears thick glasses that make his face look small and skinny. When he spots Emme and Natalia, he waves enthusiastically. Emme starts to wave back before she sees where Jake’s eyes are trained.
 
“I think your friends are inside already,” he says once they reach him. Emme is out of breath, a stitch in her side, and she is sweating in the humid evening air. Natalia is also gasping slightly, and she hangs onto Emme’s shoulder as she adjusts the strap of her shoe. Her fingers dig into the skin above Emme’s collarbone. “I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Jake tells Natalia.
 
They thank him and head inside. The bar is full and noisy, and they spot Neil and Clara and Victor at a tiny table in the corner. Though they have been here many times before, all their friends have a guilty look about them; they stare around self-consciously, cradling their drinks as if they are expecting to have them snatched away.
 
Natalia, giggling, grabs Emme’s hand and pulls her around the back of their friends’ table, so nobody can see them approaching. She puts her mouth close to Neil’s ear and, keeping her voice low and authoritative, growls, “ID, please?”
 
Neil jumps spectacularly and spills half his drink over the shiny fiberglass table. Natalia cackles and hugs him. “I can’t believe that works every time. You guys need to loosen up! Who wants shots?”
 
Hugs are exchanged all around before Emme finds herself being dragged to the bar to collect the shots. Her legs and vision feel wobbly from the wine. It takes her a moment to register that Natalia is the one leading her across the room. Before she can stop herself, she groans, “Why do I have to come?”
 
“Because you’re sleeping with the bartender,” Natalia says cheerfully. Her face has the wide, unguarded look it gets when she’s drunk and happy. She stares around the crowded bar, nodding at men who make eye contact with her. Emme tightens her grip on Natalia’s hand, and then they are pressed against the bar, the hard edge digging into Emme’s ribcage. She lets herself feel, for a moment, Natalia’s warm shoulder pressing against hers. Then she remembers she’s supposed to be looking for Carlo. Bright blue lights in the liquor shelves behind the bar dazzle her eyes. She is not sure he’s here.
 
Then his shape sweeps into her vision; his hand grabs hers over the bar. Emme looks up at him; his features are indistinct, but his silhouette is sharp, outlined by the lights.
 
“Hey!” he says, and Emme is able to focus on him: the curtains of straight black hair that hang on either side of his face, the bandana tied around his forehead, the stubble stippling his long cheeks and pointed chin. He has very dark eyes, and right now, it looks like he doesn’t have eyes at all, just gaping sockets that crinkle when he smiles. His eyebrows furrow. “You okay?”
 
Emme feels Natalia nudge her.
 
“I’m fine,” she says, in a voice that sounds louder and higher than her own. “How’s it going?” She thinks of what Natalia would do and leans across the bar to kiss his cheek. The stubble beneath her lips is rougher than usual—he hasn’t shaved, she thinks—
 
Her chest tightens, vision blurs, but she forces herself to smile as she pulls away from him and says, “Can we grab a round of shots? Uh, tequila, I guess?”
 
“Comin’ right up,” Carlo says with a grin. He is pleased, she knows, with the open display of affection; how many times has he sulked because she won’t hold hands or lean against him in public? She has made him happy. She feels nauseous.
 
They carry the shots back to the table, limes balanced on top of the glasses, and their friends look more relaxed, having finished their first drinks. They all toast to something Emme can’t quite hear, but she shouts along with them, trying to coax her body into a state of excited anticipation, trying to chase away that awful horror that tugged at her chest minutes before. The house tequila slides sluggishly down her throat, and she sucks her lime longer than anyone.
 
She is just thinking she might be done with drinks for the night when another round of shots appears. Her friends pounce on them, but she hangs back, still breathing through nausea. When she takes the shot, the taste of vodka stirs a panic inside her. She gags.
 
“Everything okay?” Natalia asks.
 
“Yes,” Emme says, and Natalia is drunk enough that she doesn’t press her. She slings one arm over Emme’s shoulder and one arm over Victor’s and says, “Guys, let’s dance, come on!”
 
The dance floor isn’t really a dance floor, but a small stretch of open space in a gap between two tables. The music is something Emme vaguely recognizes but doesn’t know the words to; Natalia, of course, is belting out all the lyrics, her eyes closed. Emme feels her stomach calm, her racing heart slow, and she laughs at her friend’s enthusiasm, her carefree enjoyment. Natalia spins Neil around like he’s her ballroom partner, bumps hips with Clara. A sexy R&B song comes on and she drapes herself over Emme, starting to jokingly dance with her in imitation of a kissing couple next to them. Their friends all laugh. Emme laughs. Natalia is pressed close to her, her bony body warm against Emme’s, their bare legs brushing.
 
She isn’t sure how long they’ve been dancing like this, but she’s lost track of the couple Natalia was making fun of. Clara has started dancing with a guy Emme recognizes vaguely as a senior from one of her English classes. Neil and Victor are suddenly all over each other, grinding to the beat of the music. Emme is about to point this out to Natalia, who has been vocally pro-Victor-and-Neil since last semester, when she realizes that Natalia’s face is very close to hers. Her eyes are more serious now, lips parted to reveal a sliver of straight white teeth.
 
“Nat,” Emme says, and she’s trying to make herself tell Natalia about Neil and Victor, but Natalia has put a hand on the juncture between Emme’s neck and shoulder, and now they’re kissing. Emme feels a thrill in the space beneath her ribs. Natalia’s lips are smooth and soft, her tongue gently coaxing Emme’s mouth open, her fingers pressing into Emme’s hips and shoulders. They share breaths. Emme lets her eyes close. She cannot imagine anyone kissing her like this but Natalia.
 
And then she feels a solid body, a male body, pressed up behind her. A hand snakes around her abdomen, separating her, ever so slightly, from Natalia. She wants to protest, but Natalia breaks the kiss, steps back. There is a wild look in her eyes, an unbalanced, uncertain look that Emme has never seen there before. But then it is gone, and Natalia is laughing, saying something to the person behind Emme. Emme cranes her neck around and sees Carlo smirking down at her. The dread returns. He is holding her so tightly, and as he spins her around, Emme watches Natalia slink away toward Neil and Victor.
 
Now Carlo is leaning down toward her, and Emme thinks with sudden horror that he’s going to kiss her, but he puts his lips close to her ear and murmurs, “Putting on a little show for me, huh?”
 
It wasn’t for you, Emme thinks. Her brain feels disoriented, her lips cold after Natalia’s kiss. She doesn’t say anything. Carlo’s hands are creeping over her, toying with the hem of her dress.
 
“How come all your dresses are like this?” he asks as his fingers move to trace the high neckline. Emme stiffens.
 
“I just like them,” she says. One of Carlo’s hands is moving lower, against the curve of her breast. Instinctively, Emme tries to move away.
 
“What?” Carlo asks, and his other hand keeps her pressed against him. “What’d I say?”
 
“Nothing.” Emme can barely hear her own voice. “Aren’t you working still?”
 
Carlo glances at his watch. “On break for another fifteen minutes.” He starts to pull her off the dance floor. Emme is dimly aware that he’s leading her toward the bathrooms, and her feet are following him, the clacking of her heels growing more and more audible as they navigate away from the crowd. He has begun leading her through the door of one of the restrooms before she stops moving. She sees the pattern of tiles through the open door, black and white alternating rectangles that burn themselves into her retinas as she stares at them.
 
 “What?” Carlo asks again.
 
“I—” Emme feels her brain whirring very fast. “We’re in public, Carlo, I—”
 
“That didn’t stop you from making out with your girlfriend.” Carlo’s eyes are angry now. His grip on her slackens. “It’s her, isn’t it?”
 
“What are you talking about?” Emme asks. There are people shuffling through the thin hallway behind her, and Carlo puts a hand on her waist, draws her gently into the bathroom and shuts the door behind them. Emme’s heart starts to race again, the black and white tiles pressing in on her, and she gasps, “No, wait—”
 
“Calm down,” says Carlo. “I just want to talk to you where I can hear you.” He is far enough from her so that Emme can feel the air between them. The pounding music and drunken shouts from the bar are muffled.
 
“Are you sleeping with her?” Carlo asks.
 
“No,” Emme says at once. For a fleeting moment she imagines Natalia’s naked body, smooth and tan, all those bones and angles, pressed against her own, and her breath hitches. She swallows and meets Carlo’s eyes.
 
“But you want to,” he says.
 
“No,” Emme insists. He moves toward her and she steps away, so that her back makes contact with the wall. As the cold tiles press against her skin, suddenly she is sixteen, in her sophomore year of high school, dragged to a party, and she is standing in the bathroom, washing her hands, the black-and-white tiled wall visible in the gilt-framed mirror in front of her. She can feel the sensation of the cold water on her hands, hear the squeak of the taps as she turns them off, and then the door opens and Tate comes in. She has no time to move as he strides toward her, pins her to the wall, and starts to kiss her. Tasting the sharp tang of alcohol on his lips, she tries to push him away, but he won’t let her, and all she can focus on is keeping her mouth shut as his invading tongue tries to pry it open. He doesn’t say a word to her.
 
She blinks and Carlo is coming toward her in the dingy bar bathroom. When he reaches out to touch her shoulder, she pushes past him, out of the bathroom, her breath coming in hyperventilating gasps. She thinks she might be crying, but when she brushes her cheeks they’re dry. Her face is hot beneath her fingers. All she can do is keep walking toward the door, which suddenly feels unattainably far away. Her vision swirls. She feels Tate’s hands crushing her ribcage, easily pulling the low-cut v-neck shirt from her body. As she pushes through the crowd, she sees Natalia dancing with a handsome, sandy-haired man, her lips pursed into a seductive smile. Emme moves faster, breathes harder.
 
And now she’s outside, running to the curb, all thoughts of the bus forgotten as she waves for a cab, willing someone to stop for her before Carlo is able to catch up with her. She scrambles into the first cab she sees, unsure if Carlo or Natalia is actually behind her or if she’s imagining the sound of her name the way she heard it in high school, seeming to seep from the walls as she walked through the hallways. Coupled with Tate’s at first, then with those of boys she’d never even spoken to, much less slept with.
 
“Ninetieth and York,” she gasps out to the driver. Ninetieth and York. If she still lived in the dorms she could walk home from here. Straggling and loud with other students, all laughing and stumbling in a group so large that other pedestrians would roll their eyes. She had done this freshman year, arms linked with Natalia’s as they huddled together against whips of frigid winter air that cut through their tights and numbed their ears. But then Emme’s roommate began dating a transfer student who had been friends with Tate his freshman year of college, and so she retreated, as always, to somewhere else, somewhere safer. She doesn’t know now if the roommate is still dating that guy, or even if he is still friends with Tate. It doesn’t matter. She feels safe up there, alone, unattached, a person who shouldn’t really exist in the lives of the couple with whom she shares a home.
 
The cab lets her off a few yards short of the corner on Ninetieth. As she traipses toward York, she sees something strange on the surface of the street. It looks almost like a heat haze, a kind of shimmering movement rustling over the asphalt. She squints. She takes a few more steps.
 
When she finally reaches York she understands what she’s seeing, and it’s such an odd, unsettling feeling that she finds herself distracted from thoughts of Tate and Carlo and Natalia. The avenue is being repaved. The road has been stripped away, revealing a gritty, striated texture beneath. When cabs shoot by, they raise dust that swirls and glides like water rushing up a beach, a kind of unstructured motion that Emme does not associate with the hard edges of the city. Was it like this when she left the house earlier this evening? It must have been. It looks like the shallow water she waded through when she was younger, and she almost believes that if she walked out into the street, she would feel the dust licking her shins like the chilly, early-summer Atlantic of her childhood, that first biting thrill of cold that numbed her feet. She and her sister Zara would run toward and away from the ocean, squealing, as the waves came in and receded, only allowing it to nip at their ankles at first, then bravely venturing in up to their knees, their feet sinking into the cold, wet underwater sand. One of them would dive first, and Emme remembers so intensely that shock of frigid water rushing through her hair, making her scalp freeze and tighten. After that initial blast of cold, everything felt okay, and they could swim and splash until their adrenaline wore off and the water grew icy again, and they would stumble up the beach, both blue and shivery, to where their mother waited with big towels.
 
After a few moments, the real memories come back—she and Zara fighting in the water, trying to hold each other down under the waves; her parents yelling further up the beach; Michael crying at the edge of the water because he was too small to go in; Vivian reprimanding them for staying in the ocean too long; Zara throwing herself into James’s arms and telling him that Emme was being mean to her. But Emme lets those recollections slide past her, a wave retreating back into the sea.
 
She isn’t sure how long she stands there, watching the dust. Her phone rings in her purse and she jumps. It’s probably Natalia, she thinks, wondering when she left, or Carlo, trying to make amends by inviting her over. She reluctantly pushes away the feel of summer sun on her neck, of sand clinging to wet legs, and pulls the phone from her bag.
 
It isn’t Carlo, or Natalia, or any of her other friends.
 
It’s her brother. It’s Michael.
 
Confused, she flips the phone open and presses it to her ear.
 
“Michael?”
 
There is a shaky, not quite silent pause on the other end of the line.
 
“Emme?” Michael’s voice, so much deeper than Emme is used to, issues from the phone. He breathes static into the mouthpiece.
 
“What? Is everything okay?” Emme’s eyes are still following the drift of the dust. She still feels drunk, cannot quite focus on the swirling dirt and Michael’s words slipping through her mind.
 
“Where are you?”
 
“I’m in the city,” she says, “what are you—”
 
“But where?”
 
“Michael—”
 
“I’m here. I’m in Manhattan.”

Originally from Connecticut, Eliza Kirby is a graduate of Oberlin College's creative writing program. Currently, she lives in New York City, where she works in publishing.