The first thing Bo ever said to me was that I had a face like an alarm clock—resplendent enough to wake him up. He and his younger brother, Cash, ran a garage on the shitty side of town. My car was always busted. That's how we met.
Since then I'd been living with both of them—driving Bo's old truck whenever I wanted and kissing Cash when Bo was at work. Bo knew about the kissing, I just didn't do it in front of him. I slept in Bo's bed most nights unless he really pissed me off. I loved them both equally. I used to make a peanut butter and jelly joke about it but no one understood what I meant. Bo kept his shoulder-length hair slicked back and Cash kept his short. See? They were different.
Bo had been teaching the blue-eyed shepherd puppy to howl and that's what they were both doing—sitting on the floor, howling at the ceiling. Bo was picking leftover bits of tobacco from his tongue and I reminded him again that he shouldn't smoke in the house. My hair was still scented with woodsmoke from the fire we made out back the night before. Bo stood and stuck his nose against my neck and sniffed me real good. I was at the stove stirring the baked beans.
“Mercy,” he said. Soft. It was the name my mama had given me and he always said it a lot. It made me feel special how it got both meanings coming from his mouth. My name, a begging blue prayer. We kissed. Bo's kisses were feathery, Christmas-sweet. Cash hungry-kissed like a soldier on leave.
Bo stuck the puppy underneath his arm and stepped outside. I watched him through the screen, howling up at the sky. The puppy was licking his face.
Cash came through the front door and gently kicked my boots aside to make a path.
“I thought it was my night to make dinner,” he said, clinking a six-pack on the kitchen counter.
“You can tomorrow. I made fried chicken, potatoes and baked beans. Biscuits are in the oven. I got Bo to open the can since it scares me so bad when it pops,” I said.
“Well at least he's good for something, right?” Cash said, barely laughing.
“He's out back teaching the puppy to be an asshole,” I said, pointing with the wooden spoon, careful not to drip.
“Will you cut my hair tonight?” Cash asked, taking off his ball cap and opening a beer.
“Why? You got a crush on some girl you wanna look cute for?” I asked.
“Yep. Some girl named Mercy,” he said, smiling. I twinkled.
The sunset light ached at the windows. The puppy let out a brushy itty-bitty howl that went on forever. It just kept right on crackling. I'm telling you, I thought it'd never stop.
Leesa Cross-Smith's debut short story collection Every Kiss a War will be published early 2014 by Mojave River Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in places like Midwestern Gothic, Carve Magazine, Word Riot, SmokeLong Quarterly, Little Fiction and Monkeybicycle. She and her husband run a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. Find more @ LeesaCrossSmith.com.