Penumbra

Photo by Anthony Delanoix : Story by Kayla King

I like to remember the way Camryn looked when she made creatures in the snow, arms spread wide like the wings of those honey bees she always loved. In those moments she seemed more wild than I could ever be. She seemed free.

“Kane’s party will be so beyond,” Camryn says. Her hand brushes the fabric of my pale pink skirt, which once belonged to a ballerina.

Late spring snow nestles in Camryn’s hair and eyelashes as we climb the steps to Kane’s place.

***

“Did I make this weird? Did I ruin your perfect last snow day?” Camryn had asked, snow settling around her.

“What about Aislyn? She’s pretty. She goes to parties. She kind of looks like me, you know?” I’d said, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

And all Camryn had been able to say was,“That’s so fucked up, Len.” And it was.

I focus on that moment as Kane hands us drinks. He disappears into a group of his party goers. He doesn’t see the way Camryn brushes Aislyn’s hair over her shoulder.

“Why do you drink it like that?” Aislyn asks when I spoon the liquid into my mouth.

I smile and stir a lime around my gin fizz, trying to mask the taste of the gin.

“It’s how she drinks her tea, too,” Camryn says. She nudges Aislyn, but smiles at me, and I wonder if it’s because of all those things I’d said.

I could never love Camryn the way she needed me to.

I knew Camryn loved me before she told me. The months between that moment and today feel so full of what I feared would happen. The knowing ruined everything. It was always so much easier to pretend things didn’t have to change, that we never had to change.

“You know I can’t do change,” I say. It’s not a real response because there was never a real question.

“You’d never try,” Camryn says, between sips of her own drink. The way she says those words sounds wrong, too sharp; too much truth for this moment.

Instead of smiling and nodding my head, I tip my drink back, and swallow the rest in one gulp.

“Len, you don’t have to,” Camryn says when I take another shot of gin from some nameless guy.

“I’m trying,” I say. “Just like you wanted.”

“Don’t,” Camryn says, grabbing my hand.

I think she tries not to hold it like she loves me, but I feel it anyway. She’s gentle, but won’t let go. After everything, I know she doesn’t want me to leave her. Camryn needs us to be together, even if we’re only friends. Even if she wants us to be more.

I wonder if I’d feel different in another time or another place. Sometimes I look at my shadow and wonder if she is in love with Camryn. And if that’s true, I hope our shadow selves are happy. But I know shadows aren’t enough because I can never love Camryn that way.

When I pull away, her hand still reaches for me, but I can’t be here with her.

I grab another drink and make my way to the other side of the living room. I take one shot, and then another. The floor shifts beneath my feet, and I understand why our friends drink. Though I don’t know what weighs them down, I know they must like to feel themselves flutter; their pulse and their limbs and their wings. Maybe they need to feel free, too.

***

“Are you drunk?” Kane asks. I wrap my arms around his neck and use him to anchor myself to this spot and this moment and this life.

“I know, Kane. And I just need to tell Camy, because she needs to know,” I say.

“Yeah? Why don’t we find Cam then?” he asks, helping me weave through the people as they drink and dance.

For some reason I can’t remember when we became friends with Kane. I wonder if he knows what Camryn said, what Camryn wants; all the things I’ve tried to forget. I open my mouth to tell him, but the words aren’t there because they’re not mine.

I try again, but only one word spills out, Camy. Her name sounds distant even though it leaves my mouth and my lips.

When I use her nickname, Camryn cries, but it’s not drunk crying. I’ve been to enough parties to know the difference between drunk crying and real tears.

“Let’s get you home, Len,” she says. She wraps an arm around my waist and we move through her words so slow like swimming underwater. “I’ve got her,” she says over her shoulder, and I know she does.

We’re out the door and on the street with the sidewalk beneath our feet. It moves in waves as we walk. Camryn asks, and I remember she was never the one to cry.

“I’m sure you want me to say I’m sorry. Maybe I am. Maybe I always will be,” I say.

“Let’s not do this, Len. Not when you’re like this.”

Her words float into lines trying to make themselves into hexagons. They close around us like dwelling walls, like honeycombs ready to keep us together.

“I remember growing up listening to I’m sorry, and it never made anything better. So I’m not sure saying the same thing to you would change anything.”

“And you hate change,” she says. She helps me up one step and then the next. I know we’re at her dwelling place because of the way the door creaks.

“They’ll only make me feel better.”

“You’ll feel better tomorrow,” Camryn says. She tucks her Gram’s quilt beneath my chin, and the flowered squares sway and grow over my shoulders.

“You said, I don’t know how to not be in love with you. Remember?” I ask.

“I’m sorry,” Camryn says.

“Well I don’t know how to be in love with you, can’t pretend everything’s the same anymore.”

“Don’t you know people change?” she asks from the edge of the bed.

All this time I think Camryn’s tried too hard to keep her heart untouched. I don’t think she ever meant to give so much away to me, because when she looks at me, I know she’s not all there anymore. I think we’re both scared of never being whole.

But I don’t tell her this.

I find the outline of my shadow self cast on the wall beyond us. I give my words to her, hoping she’ll know what to do with them.


Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on December 29, 2015.