A short story originally published in the Delmarva Review November 2020.

“I LOVE YOU ONCE, I LOVE YOU TWICE, I love you for always.”

He returns the sentiment with a kiss. His lips are sand against the soft curve of my stomach. His touch defines me. The sunlight rains against the window, but we don’t let it in. It bleeds through the threadbare cotton drape that hangs shabbily over a naked rail. We are accustomed now to these small signals of time passing and the distant drone of cars starting up down the block and peeling out of driveways, the engine noise mingling with the sound of the sea, eternal beat of ocean coming wave after wave.

We do not know how long we will stay here. It feels as though there was never a life before now¾before the bungalow on Indian Creek Drive. It belonged to Eddie’s grandmamma and sits between the other sherbet-colored bungalows with peeling edges and rebellious green hedges. I suggest a lick of paint to the face of the house though I know we are both too lazy to labor in the stifling Florida heat. It feels like swimming down the driveway to leave the house. I tell myself this is why we haven’t left in so long. 

Yesterday, I lit a host of candles when the sun was nearly sunken into the sea, a blazing ship. I found two dozen of them, box fresh with white folded wicks, stashed in a drawer gathering dust. I unsheathed my pack of tarot cards and lay them face down on the table. A couple of dollars from a flea market. I like to imagine the history of the cards¾perhaps they were once owned by a medieval witch in Europe. I like to imagine I have tamed their power with my empathetic spirit, calmed their supersonic wailing by putting them to regular and disciplined use.

“You keep ’em so neat, like they’re gold or somethin’.”

“You don’t mess with the spirit world.”

I place a Celtic cross on the unsanded tabletop. The wood fibers have left my fingertips smarting more than once. Things are more savage by the sea. I grew up between city walls and from time to time still find myself frightened by the howls of nature, the wind too eerily person-like when it whistles through the cracks in the rubber door lining, the same wind that could conjure up an ocean beast and end us all. 

Eddie has black hair to the pit of his collar, a sea-moss beard, eyes like hollows. The death card. He grins, has a chipped front tooth. 

WE SIT OUT IN THE BACKYARD on old deckchairs over the cracked earth.

“Could fry an egg,” I say.

“Ain’t got any.” His spit sizzles in the dirt.

It’s not much, but it’s our garden, and that makes it a whole lot of something, balding as it is. It makes me feel like something living connects us, makes us a family. These two trees and their gift of shade. Even the weeds sprouting between grass plants with their hostile barbed leaves, these plants are our too.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN. I help my mom with the gravy: I put in the granules, add the water and blast it in the microwave. 

         “Always in a rush,” she says.

         “Go on then,” I say.

         She starts the routine, the pleading. First college, now this. My mom’s a hard worker, she went gray at thirty-six. Her wiry hair has been curled and hair-sprayed for the occasion, but it’s wilted now in the heat of the little kitchen. I let her have her say, better now than in front of Eddie.

         Dad comes to collect some bottles of beer. Dad doesn’t take sides.

         We sit at the table. Me, Eddie, Mom, Dad, my sister Honor and her husband Kelly, their kid, Timothy, in the high chair. The baby sleeps upstairs. Me and Eddie look at each other, we’re thinking the same thing, how Honor and Kelly are everything wrong with middle America. I love Eddie for putting up with my family, for squeezing himself in to fit beside them.

         “I love you.” I lean in to whisper it.

         Kelly is buying a new Lexus because they’re running some great festive deals. We work our way through the turkey. We couldn’t escape if we wanted, the snow is coming down thick. Dad says it’s good luck to get snow on Thanksgiving. He spills cranberry sauce down his shirt. 

         Honor asks Eddie about his band. She tries to sound casual and not worried.

         “They’re gonna be on a radio show next week,” I say.

         “Oh, yeah?” Kelly grins. “Which one?”

         “It’s just a small one, a local Miami radio station. Isn’t that right, Ed?”

         “Well, good for you,” says Kelly. He spoons up food into little Timothy’s dribbling mouth.

         “Yeah nice work Eddie,” says Mom.

         Dad and Honor smile at us.

         Something’s wrong, I can feel it.  

         Mom wipes her mouth. “Now, how about some dessert?”

         We all lick our lips and pat our bellies and say yes, please, all except Eddie. The plastic Christmas tree sways in the next room, and a bauble crashes onto the floor.

         “Darned cat,” says Dad.

         “Nowhere else to put her,” says Mom. “Remember when she got into the turkey last year?”

         Everybody laughs. I squeeze Eddie’s leg under the table. Nothing. He looks at everyone else but me. I start to panic. 

         When we’re all occupied, Honor and Kelly putting Timothy to sleep upstairs, me with Mom in the kitchen, Dad asleep on the couch, Eddie disappears. He doesn’t take his bag or his coat. He leaves the door swinging on its hinges.

         I trudge street after street in snow boots, crying into my scarf. It’s dark, moonlight on the snow. Dad finds me wet and shivering. My legs are numb. He puts his big hands under my armpits and hauls me out from where I’m stuck. He wants to curse Eddie, wants to beat his face in until it bleeds out onto the snow. I know he does, but he says nothing. 

         I’m a nervous wreck until the holiday is over. I’m so sad I get sick, and I’m not a sickly person. I want to fly home to Eddie, wanted or not, but Mom says something about airplanes being breeding grounds for bacteria, and do I really want to get worse and spend two weeks in the hospital with pneumonia? She wants me and Eddie apart as long as possible. My mom can be a bitch. 

AMONG EDDIE’S RARE AND PRECIOUS GIFTS to me is a name. A new name. It is Lavender Leland, a new woman, his woman. He calls me Mrs. Leland so often I forget we aren’t really married. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t. I feel more married than most folk probably do, without signing no papers. It’s something in the soul, isn’t it? I feel married when Eddie scoops me up into his arms against his bare chest etched with cheap tattoos, already fading, my butt wedged tight into the dip between one of his legs and the other. He holds my chin between his fingers and calls me his Lavender, and then he kisses me. I feel so happy I could die. Lavender is better than Shelley. Lavender is who I really am, and Eddie created her. If that’s not marriage, then I don’t know what is.

Eddie writes ‘Lady Lavender’ on our third date. He doesn’t count it, but I do. He looks deep into my gray eyes and pronounces them lavender. I fall immediately for this poetic soul. Just a plain, Midwestern schoolgirl, suddenly a rock star’s muse. Imagine that. He swings his guitar by its strap, so it straddles his chest. He always carries it, his fingers are magic, he plays these beautiful chords, he beats the hollow belly of the guitar with the heel of his hand to keep the rhythm. ‘Lady Lavender’ is two verses, it is love, better put than any attempt of Mr. Bill Shakespeare or that other fella Mr. Nicholas Sparks. 

I am lucky, so lucky to be here with Eddie, I nearly fucked it all up. I nearly lost it all. I’m so lucky, man. I entwine my fingers with his, his free hand that rests slack on the couch cushion, not the hand that moves mechanically between his lips and ashtray. I would die without him, seriously die. It’s weird, it’s fucked up, but I’m not crazy. You can die from a broken heart. You can die from loss. It’s even worse than that with Eddie. When I thought I lost him, it all went black, like someone’d got a trash bag over my head and wrapped it tight against my neck. I nestle into the bones of his chest, smell him, earth and sex, the sour stench that sweats out when you’ve had drugs in the system. He turns his head a little way to smile at me, his face lit by the white glow from the TV. I know that I would die for this man.

ON DAY TWELVE, we are apart for the first time since Milwaukee. Eddie goes to see about work. He’s got a friend who works in construction. It will be hard-won money. I wish I could help, but I don’t have any friends. All I have is Eddie. We haven’t eaten properly in days¾there are cobwebs and ants in the far corner of the cupboard under the sink that make me afraid to look inside. We’ve been living a half-life, in between things for as long as I’ve known him.

I’ve got a packet of Twizzlers ripped open and primed at my feet. A cold Cherry Coke by my side. The heat is relentless, and the AC is out. I’m restless and agitated all afternoon. Can’t relax. Sunburned shoulder blades and red-raw blisters that sting the backs of my ankles even when nothing’s touching them. I wait for Eddie to come home. At four o’clock, I use a tissue to wipe down the back and seat of the couch where my sweat has pooled between leather and skin. To shower would be an outrageous extravagance. I’m afraid of melting in the heat of the shower like a bar of soap. 

I watch so much daytime TV. A booming Hollywood voice¾maybe the same voice in each one¾announces car leasing deals and quick-fix medicines and limited edition fast-food-joint burgers. Finally, Eddie’s key turns in the lock. He doesn’t bring back a job, or groceries, but news that his band’s got a gig next Friday at an indie music venue on South Beach. They’ll be paid the grand sum of ten dollars each but it’s a win because “no one likes rock music anymore.” He’s brought something else with him: two tabs of acid. I’ve loved him in many dimensions.

THE KNOCK ON THE DOOR is immediately sinister. No stranger has ever passed over the threshold. It’s our private world. Sacred. It’s not the knock of the mailman, which I’ve come to recognize. Giving up, he raps once on the door and either posts it or leaves whatever it is on the porch to become a home for spiders and stuffing for rats’ nests. Eddie’s grandmamma must be signed up for all kinds. Every week brochure upon brochure come falling through the letterbox and onto the doormat bearing her name on the printed label, ‘Mrs. P. Leland.’ They’re mostly kicked to the side, abandoned to collect dust.

No, it’s not the mailman. I slip into one of Patricia’s nylon nighties. The thought of dressing in a dead woman’s clothes would once have terrified me, but bit by bit I’ve acclimated to this house. It feels like everything within the confines of these four walls is somehow mine, by destiny, by spirit. The static makes it stick to my legs. I tug slightly at the shutter blinds, see a flicker of black hair and think it must be Eddie. He’s forgotten his key and turned right back around to come and get it. But it’s not him. It’s a girl. 

“Is Eddie home?”

“No, he’s not. Who are you?”

The girl wears an oversized white T-shirt and nothing else. There’s a flash of silver on her tanned ankle. “My name’s Rose.” She holds her hand out for me to shake.

I ignore it.

“Can I come in?”

“How do you know Eddie?”

“We were at school together. Someone told me he was back in town. Just wanted to pay a visit,” she said.

“How did you find us?”

“Someone gave me the address. Friend from high school, can I not come in?”

“All right.” I beckon her in. Seems pointless to argue with her. What’s more the sun is at an angle, so I feel my arms start to fry just standing in the doorway.

Her eyes widen as she takes in the mess. I rake my hand through my hair, knowing I look dreadful. Unwashed, unshaved, my uncombed hair reaching my waist. Rose is pretty without trying.

“We can sit in the kitchen,” I say. 

Rose brushes the plastic tabletop with her fingertips and relaxes into the seat. I change my mind. This is wrong.

“You should go,” I say. “He might be a while. You don’t wanna wait.”

“I don’t mind.” She talks over me. “Aren’t you gonna offer me a drink?”

The counter is full of dirty dishes, a rancid thimble’s worth of coffee half-dried in the bottoms of mugs, bluish milk-cum-cheese in others. 

“We’ve got water,” I say.

“Water’s fine. Nice place here.”

“You think?”


I look for a clean glass but don’t find it. Rose gets up and opens one of the high cupboards to get at the plastic cups. She hands it to me. I fill it up from the tap. She knows the house. 

“No air-con?” she asks, taking the water from my hand.

The kitchen swelters, the walls seem to sweat. Rose adds to the heat; her eyes are blue like fire. The nylon nightie is damp with perspiration. A fly drowns in the sink basin. The floor is scattered with crumbs. I feel them under my bare feet. 

Is Eddie cheating on me with this girl? Brought here by her own curiosity, come to pity his pathetic half-wife. If I was him, I’d like her better. Won’t try and deny that. She’s got a face like someone who can sing.

I hear someone try the broken doorbell a couple times and then bang their fist on the door. Maybe Eddie’s home. Finally. 

A voice calls out, “Rose, you in there?” 

“Who is that?”

“Just a pal, he knows Eddie too. We graduated together, Eddie dropped out in tenth grade, but you knew that already. He was still at the graduation ceremony, just high out of his mind.” She smiles at the memory.

“I really don’t think…”

She’s up out of her seat and trudging to the door in flip-flops, quiet against the dusty carpet. She squeals at the stranger, laughs, and says, “Jaaa-reeed!”

He’s the same type as Eddie, rake thin. I can smell the sweat on him as he roasts inside a denim shirt cut off at the armpits. Handsome face if it had more fat on it. Perhaps this guy is Rose’s boyfriend. I stand still as she leads him into the kitchen. He ignores me. I feel no more than a bit of old furniture. He sits down on one of the chairs and puts his dirty sneakers on the table, Rose sits down in another chair. She talks about old times, how Eddie wrote a song in five minutes once. She looks dreamy and far away when she tells the story.

“Man, you remember, don’t you Jared? The lyrics about the old guy and the river, the reflections in the water. So fucking talented. Ed’s a genius, a rock-star.”

Jared lights up a cigarette and nods his head. “When did she say he’d be back?”

Rose turns to me.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I told you already, I don’t know when he’ll be back. He went to sell a guitar.”

Rose shakes her head, tears forming, “So sad, man. People just don’t appreciate real talent these days.”

“Preach,” says Jared, feeling for a doggy bag in his pocket. He starts to roll a joint, his cigarette still held lightly between his lips. 

I don’t know what to do, but their chatter makes me relax. When it’s ready, Jared offers me the lit joint. I’d been wrong¾these are friends, not enemies. Eddie’s always been a great judge of character. He saw through to the beating core of me when we first met. The twenty-four-hour diner with the flickering neon sign, the waitress with the pink apron cutting across the middle of her flesh. He put his fingers on my heart, the middle finger and the index finger. Right on my heart. I’d never been touched by a guy before, least of all there. 

He’d been so angry after that Milwaukee. Thanksgiving, and I was so sorry. I can be so insensitive, so stupid. I made his radio gig sound small. I made Eddie sound small. He’s a sensitive soul, a poet, with all his emotions right at the surface. Sometimes it’s hard for him to keep them under control. But he’s an artist, and that’s the way things have to be. When I made it back to Indian Creek Drive, he wouldn’t let me in the house, I climbed the hedge into the backyard, scuffed my knees in the bushes. I slept on the dried-up grass, brown and scratchy under my cheek. There hadn’t been rain in a while. 

The joint makes me feel weird. “What kinda weed is this?” I ask them.

I seem to be invisible again. I go into the next room to lie down on the bed. Our bedroom is crystals and dust and an overpowering smell like lilies in the bedsheets. My head reels, my throat cloys up. I twist the sheet up in my fists. My fingers are numb except for blood pumping. I claw my way out of Patricia’s nylon nightgown, which tangles around my legs, sticking to the sweat there, threatening to drown me. One leg outside the covers to keep me from burning up. I see a wave of color like something digital or electric, but also like an ink spill on a photograph printed from an old school Kodak. An acid purple exposure spot hangs above me like a cloud. Sweat pours from my brow like I didn’t know it was possible to sweat. I think I’m going to die.

Eddie comes home, I know his footsteps. I can’t move from the bed. Any second, he’ll come in and find me, hold me, be furious with Rose and Jared. He’ll wipe my forehead with a T-shirt dampened in the sink. He’ll cool me down. How much time is passing? I wait and wait for him to come through the door. Outside the window is the stray cat who prowls our lawn each night at eight o’clock. Ugly, scrawny thing. Her scratchy wail splinters my thoughts as she crawls by. I feel myself losing grip of my body.

I try to meditate on the distant ocean sound, put myself in the blue. My skin is on fire. 

Someone is whistling, I can’t be sure who. It occurs to me how much whistling is a genderless thing. The notes come together; the melody rings clear. It’s my song: Lady Lavender. My arms and legs are like butter in a pan. My stomach contracts, a bubble of vomit in the back of my throat. I can’t move, I can’t get up. Why hasn’t he come?

I remember Thanksgiving night. How Mom watched me bathe, brushed out the knots in my hair, bundled me into a warmed-up towel. A cup of warm milk on the dresser, wedge of honeycomb cut into it as a treat. I wish they’d understood; I would die for this man. I’m going to die for this man. I feel each pump of my heart, a rickety bit of machinery, slow and irregular. I’ve loved Eddie in many dimensions, and I’ll love him in the next. I call his name. And then I let go.

I WAKE TO EMPTINESS. Light streams through the threadbare curtains. This is too lonely to be heaven. Wrapped in the bedsheet, I drag my aching body around the bungalow. Everyone’s gone, everything’s gone. Every last bit of junk. The dusty TV, clunky and black, has been pulled out by its socket and leaves a black patch in the middle of the gray shelf. There’s no cutlery in the drawers, the ornaments are gone. Back in the bedroom, I check Patricia’s jewelry box, a vast home for my final piece of unpawned treasure, a gold, oval-shaped locket with a picture of Eddie inside. It’s been taken, too. 

I sit at the kitchen table, naked of its tablecloth. Only one chair remains. I don’t think, I don’t wonder, I’m trained only to wait like a faithful dog. I am Lavender Leland, and Eddie created her. I’ve lived for years in the echo of this man. I fall asleep and wake up face down on the table in a pool of my own dribble. I am swimming in the world with no Eddie-shaped anchor to cling to. I wait for the mailman. This time I pull the door open before he has a chance to knock it, and he almost jumps out of his skin. He says he thought the owner was dead. Today’s delivery is a clothing catalogue, didn’t know they still made those things, the models look transplanted out of the eighties. I sit wrapped in the bedsheet on the floor against the wall and flick through its pages, rough with cheap ink. I find the nightgown, tear the skirt off at the knee. There’s no mirror, but I like the feel of it. Frothy against my knees like water. Water, the ocean. Could I? Maybe not, at least not yet. In the back of the toilet, I have twenty dollars, emergency money. It’s all I have in the world. My college tuition all went to Eddie. I invested in him, one of his ideas, he’s had so many I can’t remember which. I should go to the store. That’s what people do isn’t it? 

I pause at the front door, my hand over the handle. It should be simple: out and over, cross the street, into the 7-11. There’s a guy there, Ricky or Ross or something. He was nice. But I haven’t been to the store in months, and he’s probably long gone and been replaced by someone else. Retail has a high rate of staff turnover, doesn’t it? But there’s nothing to eat here, not even Twizzlers. I grip the handle, pull it down. The door swings back toward me. I step down onto the driveway. Though the concrete is hot under my bare feet, it’s not unbearable. The street seems huge, everything is engorged. At the end of the road, I can see passing trucks, buses, cars. Hundreds of faces blinking down at the world below. A billboard looms over the city like a giant. Concentrate. A Latin-looking man washes his car on the drive. His wife wears a fluorescent sun visor and puffs on a cigarette. Children chase each other on tricycles. The palm trees are static in the humid heat. A bead of sweat trickles down my back between my shoulder blades. I grip hard on the folded twenty-dollar bill in my fist, and then I start the route to the 7-11 one more time.

The woman in the sun visor watches me pass, her face distorted into an inscrutable scowl. The little boy on the tricycle ignores me while his sister stops still, gangly legs in pink Velcro-strap sandals flat on the concrete, “Are you a princess?” she asks me.

I’m startled by the directness of her question. Her eyes are intense and earnest, soulful brown.

“It’s a nightie,” I say.

She turns to her brother, disappointed. The two of them continue their game. Someone, I’d wager their mother, watches from inside a nearby house, squinting through a gap in the curtains. I walk on quickly.

I find the cement slabs grow hotter as I make headway down the street, turn right, and keep going. I’m on the busy road now¾and it’s almost unbearable. There’s nothing to do but focus on the dingy window notices posted up on the glass from inside the 7-11. Can’t be more than 500 yards. Two men jog past in brightly coloured spandex. One of them wolf-whistles at my legs in the torn-off nightdress. 

The other elbows him in the ribs “You all right, miss?” He slows down.

“Fine,” I say.

“Are you lost? Where do you live?”

“She said she’s fine man.” His friend frowns behind sporty-looking sunglasses.

“I’m fine,” I say.

The kind jogger shrugs and jogs on, an even huff as he pumps his arms with each stride. 

Before long, I’m at the door of the 7-11. I push the door open slowly and peek inside. A Hispanic lady in her thirties leans over the till, her acrylic nails long and polished cherry red, the overhead light gleaming off them as she leafs through a magazine. The radio is fuzzy, and two stations overlap, operatic music comes through amid the hip-hop. There’s also the noise of the fan. Propped up on the counter, it rustles the aluminium packaging of foodstuffs in the nearby aisle. 

The woman looks up as I step inside, smacks her gum as she takes in my bare ,feet, torn dress, long tangled hair. 

“Is, um, is Ricky here?”

She looks concerned, yells out “Rick!” into the seemingly empty store.

Before long he emerges from a store cupboard, “Yes, Maria? What now?” He does a double-take as he catches sight of me in the entrance, “Lavender? I thought you moved back to Wisconsin.”

“No.” I blush, find myself wanting to tell this familiar face everything that’s happened. “I’ve decided to stay.”

He blinks. “Where’s Eddie?”

“Gone,” I say. “Will you…will you help me find some things?”

“Sure, what do you need?”

Maria pretends to read her magazine but watches us over the top of it. Rick shows me to the cheap plastic flip-flops, and then to the candy section.

“Is this what you’re having for dinner?” he asks me, kinda horrified but also like he finds it funny.

“I’m not sure.” I’m not sure of anything anymore.

“Here.” He hands me a microwaveable meal, chicken and cheesy pasta.

“I don’t have a microwave,” I say.

“Okay, no worries, how about this?” He holds out some precooked chicken skewers, “Just add a salad and you’re away.”

“Thanks,” I say.

“That everything?”

“Some shampoo,” I say.

He points in the direction of the toiletries. I pick up the cheapest they’ve got and a hairbrush. Then I find a pair of prim-looking polyester underwear briefs and a roll-stick of deodorant. Then I have a thought. “Ricky?”

“Yes, Lavender?”

“Do you have cat food?”

“Yeah, um…I’ll grab some for you.” He disappears into the stockroom and comes back with a pouch full of cat food packets. The gray striped tabby on the cover looks chubby and pleased so I take that as a good sign.

“Thank you, Rick,” I say. I knew he was nice. He’d even remembered my name.

I start to unfold the crinkled bill in my hand, but he holds up a palm. “It’s on me today, Lavender.” He gathers the items into a blue plastic carrier. Maria raises an eyebrow. Ricky writes something down on the back of the receipt, “You take care of yourself, alright? Here’s my number just in case, you know, if you need anything.” He scratches the back of his head, flashes me a Colgate grin. 

I’m grateful for the flip-flops because the ground is scorching now. I start home with my goods, twenty dollars in my pocket still, a successful trip. I take a shower, lather up my hair with the budget shampoo, and sit out in the garden to let it dry in the sun. I brush it over and over. Watch the sky turn overcast, the trees swaying side to side in the growing wind. This time at quarter to eight, I’m ready. I’m glad Eddie left the cat bowl behind. I fill it up with the contents of one of the food packets. It stinks like rotting fish, like something caught in a drain. I hope she likes it. I go out onto the front lawn and deposit the cat bowl behind the bush. I think she’s more likely to eat it if it’s private. I pull the front door to and watch through the crack. Eight o’clock comes, and she twitches across the garden. She moans. Her head swivels left to right, and she approaches the cat bowl low on her haunches. Take it, take it, I urge her under my breath…please. Her scraggly chin hovers over the bowl, and she takes in a sniff. She’s thin, very thin, barely sustained on her feast of city mice too slow to escape even her elderly prowling. 

She’s an unlucky cat, like me. Her first good meal in ages is interrupted by the start of a downpour. She jumps as the raindrops, heavy and globous, fall onto her tiny head. Poor kitty. I open the front door and she startles again, lower on her legs as she spreads her claws into the dirt. I crouch down in the doorway,

“Come on, girl,” I say. “Come into the dry.” I try to click my tongue in a way that is comforting and encouraging. “Please,” I beg her. “Please.”

She considers my offer, turns to look in the other direction, and then, just before the rain starts to fall in a sheet onto the earth, she picks her way across the lawn and scuttles up the path toward me.

“That’s it,” I say. I move aside to let her in. 

I rush out into the front yard to collect the bowl of food. It’s runny with rain water, but the cat doesn’t seem to mind and chomps up the bits in her small but mighty jaw. When she’s finished, I kneel down and she lets me stroke her. She even seems to enjoy it. She and I are alone together. Eddie’s not coming home.

I call my parents from the old landline, the white handset faded to a dirty cream color with a curly cord. They answer after two rings. I feel like someone has reached out to stop me falling deeper into the nothingness. The cat circles my legs, her tail curls around my knees.


“Shelley? Honey, don’t cry. It’s Shelley, love!”

I hear my mom in the background, her warm, maternal mutterings. I cry uncontrollably into the receiver. Press it hard into the side of my cheek as if it’s a portal that’ll whiz me right to Mom and Dad. The cat sits up on her back legs and cocks her head, watching me with yellow eyes.

“Dad, I…”

“I know,” he says. “I know.” It’s strange to hear my dad break down, imagine that great hulking dude holding tight to Mom’s cardigan, overcome with floods of tears. I’ve never heard him cry before, sort of figured maybe he couldn’t.

THE RAIN IS HARD AND HEAVY against the roof for the next few hours. When it stops, the heat has dissolved. The air is cooler. I am relieved to be out of the white heat of love, severed and spiralling, unshackled. Eddie is gone, and he’s not coming back. Mom and Dad are coming to get me. I’m going to go back to Milwaukee to become Shelley again, but tonight, here on Indian Creek Drive, I am Lavender for a little while longer. I take myself to the beach, empty of tourists. It’s dark out and smells like rain. I wade out into the water, my own salty baptism under a black sky. The waves are ragged in the wind; they crash into my chest. I feel like I’m sitting in the storm. I leak more saltwater into the sea. Lavender Leland was born to die. I’m alive.