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Ashley thinks thoughts about Madeleine that she knows she ought not be having.

She caught Johnny masturbating once, and swore she heard Madeleine’s name on his lips as he came all over his hand. He looked up at her like an angry deer caught in the headlights as he slammed the door to the bathroom shut, wiping his palm down the front of his jeans, but she didn’t say anything, didn’t hint that she might have heard the contents of his moan.

She figured since he did it first, it wouldn’t hurt for her to give it a try. One night, while he was out working on that old car that never was going to run again, she slid the picture she usually held, the one of her and Johnny back when he’d still loved her and she’d been happy, into the drawer of her bedside table and instead closed her eyes. It was hot in the room, and she kicked the covers off and slid her hand under the loose waistband of her sleep shorts, straight through tickly curls and between her legs. In her mind she saw Madeleine, stepping out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her, drooping slightly where it met in the front to hint at a bit of cleavage, with steam billowing out at her back. Her short hair was slicked back, and she looked almost like a boy, with her slim hips and her lack of curves.

She thinks it was the way Madeleine’s hair curled against the bottom of her neck, so boyish and pretty, and the way her eyebrows arched up with attitude. Sometimes, Ashley imagines her as a human greyhound, with her sharp cheekbones and her runner’s legs, and she thinks about what Madeleine would look like if she stopped one room short, leaving George alone in the other as she closed the door behind her, looking at Ashley laying there on the bed as she dropped her towel to the floor with her skin still slick and flushed from her shower.

From her memory, she draws the muffled sound of gasps and keening cries Madeleine makes when George fucks her, thinks back to the one time when she hadn’t been able to hold back a short scream. Ashley can still hear George murmuring to her, “Quiet now. I’m serious. Serious.”

She could have told them the walls were paper thin, that it didn’t matter. Might as well have screamed to the top of her lungs. Everybody heard it plain as day, anyhow.

But then she thinks she would have liked that, watching Madeleine try to stay quiet as Ashley slid her hand between her sister-in-law’s thighs and touched her the way she touched herself. Ashley had never been with another girl, or ever really thought about it until she met Madeleine, but she figures there can’t be much difference. Girls are all built the same.

Usually when she touched herself, she never bothered with taking her time. Things between her and Johnny weren’t what they used to be, and she was used to the relief provided by her own hand. She saw it as a kind of utilitarian event, as a way to bring a 5-second flash of pleasure to life. Wasn’t any need to stretch things out, to tease herself the way Johnny had after he’d learned what she liked and still cared enough to give it to her.

She takes her time when she thinks of Madeleine. Ashley figures Madeleine would be thorough, that she would know the world and a sight more than Ashley herself, and surely she wouldn’t be able to show her everything real quick like. So she brushes her fingers over her nipples, draws short nails down the sensitive skin on the underside of her forearm. She draws her thumb over her bottom lip, nipping at it with her own teeth, flicking it with her thumb. When she finally does touch herself, she’s so wet she flushes with embarrassment and pride, wallowing in her naughtiness.

She figures Madeleine would be pleased.

Instead of circling her fingers just so, the way she’s learned to do with time and practice, she brings herself close to the edge and backs off. It makes her heart race fast then stop, confused and anxious, and she waits until she can almost feel the pleasure fall away before she starts again. By the time she comes, she’s wet with sweat and the bedding is damp, and she wants for Johnny to say something about it one day but he never does.

Some days, when she’s feeling particularly morose, she wonders if God knew what she was thinking before she did, and if that’s why he took her baby. Because surely it can’t be right, to be laying there on the bed, sweating in the heat and her passion, biting her bottom lip so nobody hears her trying not to whisper that name. It can’t be right to be thinking of Madeleine that way. Her sister-in-law. A woman. She’s a good Christian, even if she does say fuck every now and then and covet lots of things she knows she’ll never have.

Like Madeleine.

But it’s sinnin’ all the same, all the way around, any way you look at it.

Because it makes her feel better, Ashley pretends it’s not.