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"Options" by Emily Shawn

I’m in the passenger seat in his car on our way back from Mount Cannon, my legs feel like jelly and all I want to do is peel off my socks and stretch but I’m afraid my feet smell and my body is, or so I’ve been told, so flexible it’s annoying, too fluid to stay appropriately shaped in this Prius he’s shuttling down 93, singing along to the tenor lines in West Side Story and my brain drifts back seven years ago to high school where I played flute and he played bassoon in the pitband for West Side Story, back when I had to wear long sleeves every day to hide the scars, back when I looped rubber bands over the cuffs of those sleeves to make sure they’d stay put so no one could see.

The open window whispers goose bumps over my bare arms next to him today, a cold chill you’re never really grateful for until you’ve spent years hiding yourself from it, and next to me he’s still singing, “Ma-ri-aaaah,” and his voice is rough and beautiful and when the song ends I start crying and I finally tell him that I hate musicals.

And instead of telling me that what I hate is wrong he taps his phone and asks if I’d rather have Moana or Tangled playing instead and I didn’t even realize that asking to change the music was an option.

My bare arms prickle again and I finally do peel off my socks and yeah, my spent-the-whole-day-hiking feet do smell, but I’m realizing that when something feels bad you can do something about it and this feeling has rushed into my head like a little sliver of immortality.

“Do you want to get ice cream?” he asks me. He’s lactose-intolerant and he doesn’t know this but the last time I had ice cream I stuck my fingers down my throat after and god why can’t I just do things like eat?

His car keeps on chugging along after I say no but don’t explain why, I just say it, no, and Moana is still playing in the background and my eyes keep watering but I don’t say anything about that either and I can’t tell if he doesn’t notice or if he doesn’t know what to say or if he just doesn’t care.

When we get back to Nashua he parks and hugs me so hard I think my ribs might break, just like when we were in high school, except this time instead of hormones we both smell like the mountains and sweaty feet and when I kiss him he doesn’t blush, but kisses me right back. I wait for the tingling feeling in my belly to start but instead there’s just numbness, so much of it it’s palpable, crystalizing in me everywhere, I feel I could make an entire mountain of the numbness, a whole new numb body.

I let him kiss me again and then we’re in his bed and it smells like him, it smells like rain and earth and how he smelled at 17, and I don’t remember how we got there and I start to ask if he wants me to fuck him because I’m already in his bed and isn’t that going to happen anyway, but he shakes his head and says, “I don’t think I’m ready yet,” and I freeze and I try to feel something other than this growing, glaring numbness, because I didn’t know that was an option, either.

Emily Shawn's work has previously been published in The Mighty, Tangled Locks Journal, Grub Writes, and Introvert, Dear.

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