We both graduated from high school that June and took jobs at the Sizzler by the mall. A year off for each of us. Your skinny arms stuck out of your Sizzler polo. When you talked, your blonde ponytail bounced and vibrated. So much energy bound up there behind the soup bar. We didn't know each other in May, but by July we were best friends.
I was seeing Chris who ran the grill. Evenings after work we turned on the box fans and banged in his little basement apartment, and afterward he fried fish in his cast-iron, naked, hot grease spitting and pinking his stomach. You and me and Torno who worked the counter all piled into Chris's tricked-out Honda, hotboxed it, and rolled up Southcenter Parkway, blasting Biggie, a glittering fireball. You rapped along, little white blonde thing. I looked at you, bouncing in the back seat, and felt all the bones in my face.
We showed up for brunch service hung over, smiling in complicity, knowing that beneath this morning—the slow families and black coffee and Gilbert sliding across the floor like oil in a skillet, glad-handing the customers—beneath this morning was a night we shared. Neon lights slick on the hood. Brown bottles in one apartment party or another. The smell of futons. Laughing your voice away.
I went to college the next fall and your year off turned into two, then three, then you were a bartender, then you were a manager at a different restaurant. When I was twenty-five, I figured out that I liked women just as much as I liked men and suddenly it made sense, like a Magic Eye emerging from colorful noise, how I would sit in Chris's Honda, my hand on his thigh, smelling of him but smiling at you. How we were high at work once, slicing open boxes in the freezer, and you said, “You know what I love about fingerless gloves?” and I said, “What?” and you said, “They keep your finger webbing warm, but they don't give a shit about your fingertips.” And I laughed and you reached out your hand, fingertips poking from the fraying yarn, and I kissed them. How they were blue and soft.
Ian Denning's work has appeared in New Ohio Review, Washington Square Review, Tin House's Open Bar, the Los Angeles Review of Books and elsewhere. He edits prose for the Lettered Streets Press and fiction for Pacifica Literary Review. Ian lives in Seattle, tweets at @iandenning85, and can be found online at ian-denning.com.