Quinn is afraid of her. Lana can see it in the way his head is bowed underneath his floppy hat and how he straightens his back when he sees her on the beach. The waves lap at her toes and instead of looking at him she looks up at the sky, which is splattered with stars and looks like the color of a blue velvet dress. His boat reaches the shore.
“Hi, Lana.” He stops paddling.
“Nice night. Very romantic,” she says. His complexion reddens. She chews on the end of her cigarette and leans forward and puffs a cloud of smoke into his face. Then she steps onto the boat while he’s still coughing quietly.
“You’re probably wondering why I called you out here, right?” He looks at her, twitching eyes behind the lenses of his glasses. They look out of place compared to the rest of his body, which is otherwise the body of an olympic rower. Every time he moves a paddle his arms ripple, almost in sync with the rippling of the waves.
“Let’s say I am,” she says. She had known why he called her out there. But she wouldn’t tell him that. If there is one thing Lana has learned it’s that boys, good-looking as they can be, are stupid creatures who thrive on thinking that they’re right.
“We can’t keep doing this, Lana. Avoiding each other, I mean. And not talking about our feelings.”
Lana takes her cigarette out of her mouth. Smoke wafts from it. “Who says we have to talk about anything?”
“You almost shot me, Lana. I think we need to talk.”
“I see,” Lana says, narrowing her eyebrows. “You brought me out here in your boat so that if you say something I don’t like I can’t escape. Clever, Quinn. Very clever.”
“That’s not what I meant by it at all! Fisherman’s honor, Lana.”
“Scout’s honor I’d buy, but fisherman?” She chuckles.
“It’s probably the most honorable thing that a person could do right now.”
“You’ve got a point there.”
Quinn stops rowing. They sit in silence underneath the sky. Lana tosses her cigarette into the ocean, watches it sink underneath the black water. She knows it’ll make Quinn mad, but he won’t say anything, because he doesn’t want to make her mad. And in truth, she doesn’t want to throw cigarettes into the ocean either. But she wants Quinn to be mad at her, to be angry at her, to not be afraid of her anymore. She almost wants to beg him to touch her, on her arm or her thigh or her neck or anywhere, because if that was all he wanted to do than she’d know how to deal with it. But instead he treats her like a statue in an art museum. And she’s tired of it.
“If you’re going to kiss me…”
“D’you want me to?”
“Sure,” she says. “Sure I do.” And she leans towards him and when she wraps her arms around his broad, strong shoulders he trembles. It’s only for a second but she feels it. So she only kisses him once.
When he draws away he asks “Do you like me, Lana? This is what I mean by talking to each other. ‘Cause I don’t really know whether you really like me or you’re just playing with me.”
Part of her does. Part of her wants him to wrap her up in his arms and protect her. But she remembers how Quinn the Fisherman shook under her touch, and thinks that she might have to be the one doing the protecting.
“The only person I really like is myself. Take the boat back to the shore, Quinn.”
Dekka’s mattress is thin. Lana can almost feel the wire of the bedframe digging into her back. She keeps telling herself that she’ll lie there for one more minute, then she’ll get up and go back to the Clifftop. But the warm, soft light Dekka’s lamp casts across her room is almost comforting.
Dekka herself is sitting against the backboard with her legs crossed, her expression utterly blank as she stares off into the distance. Lana props herself up from her lying down position and lays her head in Dekka’s lap. Dekka’s hand comes down and strokes Lana’s hair, her fingers running through its thickness. But she doesn’t look at her.
Lana and Dekka are the tough girls. The stony, untouchable ones. “You’re thinking about Brianna,” Lana says.
“We’ve got a psychic on our hands,” Dekka deadpans.
“I could just not come. I’m better than nothing, you know.”
“I know,” Dekka says. “But you don’t come here just for me to think that you’re better than nothing.”
Lana doesn’t really know why she started spending nights at Dekka’s lodging. She just thought about it and started doing it. Lana had always thought girls were beautiful, always wanted to touch one. And until now she hadn’t felt like they were an option. The FAYZ had really taught Lana some crazy things about herself, hadn’t it? She smiles wanly.
Dekka’s hands are rough and her fingers are thick. Lana gets up again and kisses her. Dekka’s lips are chapped.
“Use some chapstick,” Lana says when they pull apart. She wonders what Dekka thinks of her, because she can never tell. She can read most people like books, but not Dekka. Dekka could think she’s a fool, a lackadaisical girl experimenting who’s not worth her time; But it’s the FAYZ, so Dekka plays along because she takes what she’s given. Or Dekka could be in love with her, with every night bringing her farther from the dream of Brianna and closer to the reality of Lana.
Lana hopes it’s the first one.
“Talk to me about chapstick when we’re not in the middle of a war.”
“You think it’s war?”
“Yes. Zil wants war. But the medic always survives, Lana.”
Lana sighs and lays her hand on Dekka’s thigh, rubbing her skin softly, trying to draw the conversation away from the topic of Perdido Beach politics. Dekka never flinches when Lana touches her, and that almost scares Lana. There are times when she feels like she’s touching a machine.
Dekka lies down, inviting Lana to lie beside her and pulling the blanket on the bed around them. She’s wearing a loose, long t-shirt that once had a logo on it that’s now eaten away by time. It makes her body seem square, but Lana thinks there might be curves underneath the clothes Dekka hides them with. She kisses Lana on the forehead, a rare affection that ends as quickly as it starts, and turns out the light. They lie there in silence until Lana is sure Dekka’s asleep by the hoarse, quiet sound of her breathing. Then Lana gets out of the blanket and pats it down around Dekka’s sleeping body, slips a partially unbuttoned blouse over her camisole, and starts to walk back to the Clifftop.
Sanjit makes breakfast. There’s not really much to make--”breakfast” is the remains of dinner’s canned cherries. “They look like blood and guts,” Sanjit says cheerfully as he puts the paper bowl down in front of her.
“How charming,” Lana says, taking the silver spoon that must be a souvenir from Sanjit’s previous home and digging into the tiny lump of cherries and juice. He’s eating with a spoon that’s practically identical, but he’s using it more like a shovel.
“Sleep well?” Sanjit asks.
“I want a cigarette,” she says pointedly.
“Sorry. No can do.” He has scarlet juice dripping off the corner of his mouth. She takes a paper towel off the table and dabs at it. “Aw. I was hoping you’d kiss me. To get it off. You know.”
“Now why would I do that?” Then Lana kisses him. “I want a cigarette,” she repeats.
“As I said: No can do.”
“I have a shotgun, Sanjit.”
He makes an over-exaggerated tsk noise. “Smokers make bad kissers.”
“Oh, do you smoke?”
Sanjit hoots with laughter, a sound that reminds Lana of the squacking of a parrot. “Touché, Lana,” he says, and pats her shoulder as he takes her now empty dish from the table. She never knows how to respond to those touches, the ones that aren’t sexual or romantic and are almost like the ones a parent would give a child. Lana does want a cigarette, her mouth almost burns for the feeling of one between her lips. She would never call herself an addict, but if she was, who could blame her?
The bed they share is unmade, and Sanjit is making it. She figures the reason he plays the housekeeper for the Clifftop is because he really doesn’t have much else to do. Maybe he wants to feel useful. She had tried to make him leave. But he was here, and he was making her bed and giving her breakfast.
The Clifftop had been her refuge above the chaos below. But then there was Sanjit. And then there was Taylor. She walks away from Sanjit and pushes open the French doors. The air is stale and unmoving. Yes, there was Taylor to think about. Sam would come knocking at her door soon enough and demand to know what was going on with Taylor. Maybe he’d bring Quinn with him. Wouldn’t that just be great.
Sanjit’s arms are around her shoulders. He kisses her hair like they’ve known each other their whole lives. She stays rigid, but the urge to fall back into his arms is stronger than it’s ever been. He rests his chin on top of her head. His body is gangly and puberty has given him some chub on his stomach, an enviable trait in the FAYZ.
“I found a one of those little tea tablets you can heat up under the sink. Do you want it?”
“Sure.” Then she stops herself. “No. We’ll share it.”
“Works for me,” Sanjit says. He unwraps his arms from around her. One day, she thinks, she will be able to fall back on him.