REAL LIVE GIRLS

               There was already snow on the ground that Halloween.  My mother had forgotten to buy candy, so she spent the night handing out dinner rolls, cans of Diet Coke, and plastic containers of ranch dressing.  She was wearing an old gray bathrobe with big purple elephants on it.  A few kids asked her if she was supposed to be something, but she wasn’t.  
                The snow had caught us all by surprise, and it wasn’t going to last long.  They hadn’t salted our cul-de-sac, and Corey and I watched the little witches and superheroes and goblins slip and fall on the same spot, over and over.  We were upstairs, smoking a joint and feeling superior.  The world seemed softer and sadder.  Corey kept laughing at everything I said.
               “Hey,” I said, “stop laughing,” and she did.  Corey had been my best friend since the beginning and now she was my only friend left.  My dad used to say that she and I were the twins, instead of me and Daniel.  Sometimes when we were kids we would dress up like twins, even though we didn’t look anything alike.  Next year she was going to run cross-country for Illinois State.  I wasn’t going anywhere.
               “Okay,” she said.
               “Let’s get out of here,” I said.  I hated being at my house.  I had only agreed to it because there was a bunch of weed in a shoebox under my bed.
               “Are you hungry?” Corey asked me.
               “No.”
               “Do you want to see a movie?” she said.
               “No.”
               “Do you want to go to the hospital?”
                I looked at her.  “No.  God.  Why would you say that?”
               “You’re really edgy,”Corey said, sitting up from where she’d been lying on the floor.  
                I sighed.  “I just want to be literally anywhere but here.”
                Corey and I went to her house, which was better than nothing.  Her older brother Jay was hanging out in the basement.  We watched him play video games for a half hour or so, and then we all watched some Japanese action movie.  I had never been so bored.
               “Do you want a beer?” he asked us.
               “Yeah right,” Corey said.  “Where’s Mom?”
               “They’re both next door at a Halloween party.  Don’t worry about it,” he said.  Corey’s parents were two nice people who ate a lot of pot roast and mashed potatoes and always asked you how school was going.  Sometimes her dad would fart and blame it on the dog, and her mom would blush a little bit and shake her head.  That was all of the conflict that ever seemed to happen in Corey’s family.
               “Sure,” I said.
               “I’m cool,” Corey said.  She smoked a lot of weed but had a sanctimonious attitude about drinking.
                Jay opened the bottle and handed it to me.  I drank it quickly, letting it burn my throat.  It didn’t make me feel much of anything.  I was still so angry.  I always had this idea that I could do something to take the edge off, but I always just felt more.  I was full of hate all the time.
                I went upstairs to go to the bathroom, and then when I turned to go back downstairs I discovered I didn’t want to.  So I lay in Corey’s bed for a while.  I held one of her stuffed animals, a yellow bear missing both of his eyes.  I looked at the posters on her walls and the cracks in her ceiling.  Corey’s long red hair was all over the bed.  If I lay here long enough, it was like I was Corey.  Like maybe I didn’t exist at all.
               “Morgan?” Corey called.  I could hear her coming up the stairs.  I thought about pretending I was asleep, but I didn’t.  Corey walked past her room and saw me in her bed.
               “Oh,” she said.  She turned out the light and lay down in the bed next to me.  Her body was a presence that disrupted everything that had been happening in the room before she got there.  I could hear her heartbeat and smell the chemical smell of shampoo.
               “Are you okay?” she asked me.  I didn’t answer her.  She stroked my hair, like she wanted to take care of me.  Corey thought she could fix things.  She thought things were simple.  I turned to face her.  She put her forehead on my forehead.  I grabbed her wrist and I could feel her pulse.  And then she put our mouths together and kissed me.
                This had happened before, in the coat room at Tanya Krueger’s Memorial Day bash and last New Year’s Eve, in her parent’s basement, when we were so drunk we could barely stand.  And then recently it had started happening more and more, weird moments where we would touch each other a little too much or start kissing each other on the forehead and then kissing on the mouth.  We hadn’t ever talked about it.  I didn’t know how to make sense of it.  I wasn’t a lesbian or anything.  But somehow it seemed to make some kind of sense with Corey.  We were so close.  We did everything together.
                That night it was different.  Things just kept happening.  Our bodies seemed to know what they were doing, what they wanted to be doing, and once it started, it wasn’t like it could just stop.  I didn’t know if I wanted it to be happening or not.  I just kept thinking, “something’s happening,” over and over.  Corey was sweating and panting and pulling and it was freaking me out but I didn’t want to stop.
               “Well,” Corey said when it was all over.
                I didn’t say anything and we fell asleep on opposite sides of the bed, careful not to touch.

               

               The next morning all of the snow had already melted.
                “Do you know what the truly tragic thing about my life is?” my brother asked me.
                I didn’t say anything.
               “I mean,” he said, “besides the obvious.”
               I had left Corey’s room early in the morning.  She slept like the dead.  I had gone home and taken a shower and headed over to the hospital.  It was like, if I didn’t talk to anyone, then nothing had happened.  I was supposed to be at school but I couldn’t deal with it.
                The chairs in Daniel’s room were pretty unpleasant.  We were watching some college football game that Daniel had wanted to see, but now he kept closing his eyes.  This was the room he had been moved to when things had gotten really bad.
               “What?” I asked.
                He sighed and took a moment before answering.  “I’ve never seen a naked woman before.”
                I stared at him.
               “No, I mean, like, live.  In person.  I’ve never even seen a pair of tits in person.”
               “I thought you and Amanda Teller…”
               “No, no, no,” Daniel said.  “Total prude.”
                I didn’t know what to say.
               “Well,” I said finally, “I’m not showing you my tits.”
               “Jesus Christ, Morgan!  That’s disgusting.”
               “All right,” I said.  We kept watching TV.
                As I left the hospital, I felt my phone vibrate in my bag and I knew without even looking that it was Corey calling me.  I hit ignore.  I didn’t want to go home but there was really nowhere else to go.
                I found my mother as I always did that fall, sitting in the recliner.  She had changed out of her robe into a housedress.  She was chewing nicotine gum and staring out the window.  Her hair was two different colors, half gray roots and half the rich chestnut color that I had thought was natural all my life.
               “Hi baby,” my mother said.  “Come sit with me for a minute.”
               I sat down on the armrest of the recliner.  Something smelled weird, either the chair or more likely my mother.  She touched my hair for a little bit.  It felt nicer than I expected.
               “How is he?” she said.
               “Good.  We watched a football game.”
               “I think I’m going to drop by tomorrow afternoon, bring him some clean clothes and some books,” my mother said.  She told me these things conspicuously; we never went to the hospital at the same time.  We couldn’t handle it.
               “Okay,” I said.
               “Corey called.”
                I nodded.
               “And the school called,” my mother said.  “They said you’re not going to your English class.”
                This was generous.  I wasn’t really going to a lot of my classes, most of the time.  I waited for my mother to say something, for some kind of lecture, but she said, “Maybe they’ll give you some extra credit.”
               “Maybe.”
               “I can’t believe it’s November,” my mother said.  It surprised me that she even knew that.
               She went on.  “That means it’s your birthday soon.  Eighteen.”  
               We were thinking the same thing, I think: how my birthday really meant our birthday, mine and my brother’s.  But this would probably be the last time.  And for the rest of my life, it would just be mine.  I hadn’t thought about that, about how I would get older and he would stay the same.
               “What do you want for your birthday?” my mother said, and that’s when I lost it and needed to leave.
               “I have to go,” I said and my voice sounded underwater.  I grabbed my keys and practically ran out the door.

 

               I drove.  After I had calmed down a little bit, I opened my glove compartment and took out a rainy-day joint.  I felt a little bit better.  The heat in my van didn’t work well but somehow it felt good.  Clarifying.  I didn’t want to see Corey and I certainly didn’t want to go home, so I didn’t know what to do with myself.
                I was always driving and never going anywhere.  I would always wake up intending to go to Mrs. Butler’s civics class and instead I would just keep driving, rolling and sputtering through St. Agnes until it looked unreal to me, like a backdrop in a movie.  I pretended I was someone who didn’t live here.  There were two stoplights and three churches and a paper mill where everyone who couldn’t get into college worked after high school.  There was nothing for anyone here.  Everyone was real sorry about my poor brother.  
               I took a right out of town and onto the highway, passing used car lot after used car lot until I passed the only strip club in town.  And now I understood why I was driving.  It was called Louie’s Club for Gentlemen, and the boys at my high school went there on their eighteenth birthdays.  Tyler Michaelson had gotten so drunk last year he’d puked in the cleavage of one of the strippers.  I drove past, and then turned around, and then drove past it again, and then came back around and finally parked in the parking lot.  The building was small and gray and square.  A neon sign advertised Miller Lite and Real Live Girls.  There were a few scattered cars in the parking lot, none of them next to each other.  I parked in front of the building and watched a black-haired girl who was wearing a long red coat and smoking cigarettes until I felt ready to go inside.
               When I stepped out of the car, the black-haired girl called out to me.  “Morgan,” she said, and I practically jumped out of my skin.
               “Hi?” I said.
               “It’s me,” she said.  “Jessica Antonelli.  Jessie.”
                The name registered somewhere in the back of my brain, and then her face changed until her features were recognizable to me.  We had gone to middle school together.  I hadn’t known her that well, but Daniel and I had always sat by her in home room—Andersen and Andersen and Antonelli.  She used to paint her fingernails with Wite-Out and draw pictures on her notebooks of skulls and snakes.
               “Oh, wow,” I said.
                Jessie took a drag of her cigarette and smirked.  Her eyes were caked in dark makeup.  I could see the outlines of her body underneath her coat, white and thin.
               “How’s it going?” I said, which was stupid.
               “Okay,” she said.  “Are you still in school or whatever?”
               “Yeah,” I said, although it was only sort of true.
               “Wow, sounds fun,” she said.  “You must be like, the total Prom Queen.”
               “No,” I said defensively.  
               “I have to go back inside,” she said, turning to go and then stopping.  “What are you doing here?  Are you…like, gay?”
               “No,” I said.  “God.  No.”
               “I didn’t think so.  You don’t really look like them.”
                She walked inside.
               “I’m here for my brother,” I said as she walked inside, but that didn’t sound much better and she didn’t seem to hear me anyway.  I took a deep breath and I walked inside.
               It was dark on the inside and smelled like raccoon urine.  Reggae music was playing.  There were a bunch of pervy old men sitting by themselves, letting beefsteak from the buffet drip into their beards.  We were all looking in the same place, at the girl onstage, who was writhing around in a lime-green bra and panties.  Her body was never at rest, and I couldn’t help it.  I didn’t want to look, but I looked.  It was ugly but there was something beautiful about it, something about the way that she was up on that stage, alone, where none of this could touch her.
               Other girls walked around, serving drinks and offering lap dances, Jessie Antonelli included.  There were a lot more strippers than men, and so the competition was fierce.  I saw every kind of tit on display, a virtual catalog of breasts bound in tight clothing: pointy, saggy, round, flat, white, black, brown.  The women looked at me as I looked at them, and there was nothing friendly in their eyes.
               Jessie Antonelli walked up to me.  She was too skinny but she did have perfect breasts, round and perky and well-proportioned, or at least they looked that way, packed in some lacy black thing.
               “Seriously,” she said to me, “what are you doing here?  We’re not hiring.”
               “Oh, wow, God, no,” I said.  “That’s not.  I’m not.  Not that, I mean, I don’t judge people.  But no.”
               “Okay, well are you going to spend some money or something?”
               “Possibly,” I said.  “I need…I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.  I need a stripper.  Like, a stripper who can come to someone who maybe can’t come to them?”
               Jessie looked around.  “Can you meet me in the back in like ten minutes?” she said.
               It was more like fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes before she finally came out.
               “It’s freezing,” I said.
               “Sorry,” she said.  “We’re not really allowed to do outside shows.  Technically.  Mikey doesn’t like it.  But I could use a little extra cash.”
               “Okay,” I said.  “When’s the soonest we could do this?  I’m kind of on a limited-time schedule.”
               “I mean, I could do it today.  I get off in like a half an hour if you want to hang around.”
               “I’ll stay in my car,” I said, even though it was freezing.  I didn’t want to go back in there.  While I waited, Corey called me three times.  Each time I pressed ignore, I felt a little lump in my throat.  Everything on the radio seemed way too loud.  The only CD I had was one that Daniel had made me last year, which was full of the terrible pop-punk music that he loved.  I couldn’t listen to that.
               Jessie finally came out, wearing the same red coat I’d seen her in earlier.  She had washed most of her makeup off of her face and she almost looked pretty.  She got into my car and lit up a cigarette without asking me if she could.
               “Jesus,” she said.  “Is your heat even on?”
               “It’s the best I can do,” I said.
               “You know, you have a pretty good body.  You could work a few days a week at Louie’s and make enough money to buy a decent car in about six months.”
               “Thanks, but I think I’m going to pass,” I said.
               “Suit yourself,” she said.  “Speaking of which, I think you should give me some cash up front before we do this.”
               “How much,” I said.  I had twenty-six dollars in my wallet.
               “How long do you want this to go on?” she said.
               “I don’t know, a half-hour,” I said.  “Fifteen minutes?”
               “Fifteen minutes of a private show is a hundred dollars.  For a half-hour I can cut the price down to just 175.”
               “A hundred dollars?” I said.
               “Yeah,” she shrugged.
               “What about like, ten minutes?” I said.  “Is that doable?  Just show some tits, wiggle them around or something, and you’re out?”
               “Ten minutes,” she said.  “I don’t know, how about seventy?”
               “Fine,” I said.  “Fine.  We need to stop at my house first.”
               I had some cash stashed away from a check my dad had sent me.  He was living with some Cantonese woman in Saskatchewan.  I hoped it would be enough to cover the fee.  I really didn’t want to go back into that house, but I felt like I had put something in motion the minute I stepped into that strip club that couldn’t be stopped.
               I said a silent prayer that my mother wouldn’t be home.  As we pulled up to my house, her car wasn’t in the driveway.  Someone somewhere had cut me a break.  I got out of the car and Jessie stepped out too.
               “What are you doing?” I said.
               “Getting out,” she said.
               “No,” I said.  “Why don’t you just stay in the car.”  
               “Because your car is an icebox?” Jessie said.
               “This is my house,” I said.
               “I’m a stripper, I’m not a terrorist,” she said.  “Let’s go inside.”
               That hadn’t been exactly what I meant, but I had offended her and now I had to let her in.  I left her downstairs and walked up to my room, where I counted out three twenties from a shoebox underneath my bed.  I had enough to cover the fee and leave a tip.
               When I came downstairs Jessie Antonelli was sitting on my couch, smoking a cigarette.  With a stranger here I could see how dirty our house was.  Shit was piled everywhere, not just clutter but things like dirty plates with food scrapings on them.  It smelled weird.
               “Let’s get out of here,” I said, and she nodded.  
                We got into my car.  I put the key in the ignition, but it just sputtered and gasped.  I kept trying, but it just wouldn’t happen.
               “Fuck,” I said.  “Fuck.  Fuuuuuuck.”  I started hitting the steering wheel with my hands, like that would make it better.
               “Calm down,” Jessie said.  “Jesus Christ.”
               “Fuck!  Fuck!  Fuck!” I kept shouting, beating my hands as hard as I could.
               “Chill the fuck out!” Jessie shouted.  “Take a deep fucking breath!”
               I got out of the car and paced around.  My heart was ringing in my ears; my blood was hot.  I didn’t want to cry, but the more I tried not to, the more I felt like crying.  I listened to Jessie’s advice and took a deep breath.  I got back in the car, taking ragged, shaky breaths.
               “Jesus,” Jessie said.  “You’re really freaking me out.”
               “Yeah,” I said.
               “It’s just car trouble,” Jessie said.  “I’m sure there’s someone you can call.”
               “Yeah,” I said.
               “You’ve turned into, like, a really angry person,” she said, with a trace of admiration.  I got out my phone and dialed Corey’s number.
               “Dude, I’m in Study Hall,” she said.  “That’s actually where you’re supposed to be right now, you know?”
               I didn’t say anything, just took a deep breath.
               “What’s wrong?” she said.
               “I need a favor,” I said.  “Can you come to my house?”
               “When?”
               “Right now,” I said.  “It needs to be right now.”
               “Seriously?” Corey said.  “You’ve totally dropped off the planet and then you call me in the middle of Study Hall to—”
               “I know, I know,” I screamed.  I was crying now.  “I’m a horrible person.  I know that. Just…never mind.”
               “No,” she said.  “I’ll be there.  Give me ten minutes.”

 

                “So,” Corey said as we got onto the highway.  “Do you think maybe you could tell me why I’m driving you and a girl who once tried to sell me meth to the hospital?”
               I looked out the window and didn’t say anything.
               “Morgan,” Corey said.
               “Do you think,” I said, and then sighed.  “I know this is ridiculous, but do you think you could just not ask me any questions?”
               “Did you say hospital?” Jessie said in the backseat.  We ignored her.
               “You’re such an asshole,” Corey said.  “You’re aware of that, right?  That you’re a huge asshole?”
               “I’m not going into any hospital,” Jessie said.
               “Shut up!” I shouted, and it wasn’t clear who I was talking to.  “Just, how about everyone just shuts up until this is over and then we never have to speak to each other again, okay?”
               Corey gave me a look.  She was wearing her letter jacket and this horribly ugly pastel-blue hat that she’d had since the fifth grade.  Something about that hat really choked me up.  Her mom had probably gotten it in a Walmart bargain bin or something.  It looked so awful against her red hair.  Corey was actually a really beautiful person, which many people didn’t realize because she tried to hide it.
               No one spoke for a while, and then as Corey pulled into the hospital parking lot, Jessie Antonelli said, “I’m really not kidding, you know.  There’s no way I’m going into a hospital.”
               “Well, I’m paying you,” I said.  “And that’s where I need you to go.”
               “Um, these aren’t slave times,” Jessie said.  “You didn’t tell me we were going to a hospital.”
               “I have a twenty,” Corey said.  “How much do you need to go in there?”
               “I don’t think you understand,” Jessie said.  “I’m not going into the hospital.  I don’t do hospitals.”
               “How nice for you!” I shouted.  “I spend so much time at the hospital because I just love them so much.  It’s not because my brother is dying or anything.”
               No one said anything.  The word hospital was starting to no longer seem like a real word.
               “I still don’t know what’s going on,” Corey said.
               “It doesn’t matter anymore,” I said.  “I wanted to do something nice for my brother, but it doesn’t matter anymore.”
               “She was paying me to show her brother my tits,” Jessie said.  “I’m a stripper.”
               “Oh,” Corey said.  We sat there silently for a while.  The hospital loomed over us.  I could see the eighth floor, where I imagined my brother.  I hated this building too.  I reminded myself that it was a good place, a place where sick people mostly got better.  It wasn’t the hospital’s fault.
               “What if,” Corey said.
               “What,” I said.  “What.”
               “I’ll do it,” she said.  
               “Come on,” I said.
               “Just boobs, right?  A quick flash?” Corey said.
               “You should pinch your own nipples,” Jessie said.  “Guys like that.”
               “You don’t have to do that,” I said.  “I mean, come on.  It’s really weird.”
               “Yeah,” Corey said.  “Yeah, it is.”  And then she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her car door.  “It’s room 814, right?” she said as she walked out.
               “Corey,” I said.
               “Never mind, I’ll just ask someone,” she said, and left me and Jessie alone in the car.  We were silent for a long time.
               Jessie lit up a cigarette.
               “Can you roll the window down or something?” I said.  I could see her roll her eyes in the rear view mirror, but she cranked the window down.
               “So,” I said.  Jessie didn’t say anything.
               “Why are you so freaked about hospitals?” I said.
               Jessie took a long drag.  “What, like I’m going to tell you some sob story, and then we’re going to become the best of friends?”
               “God.  Never mind.  You don’t have to be such a bitch all the time,” I said.
               “It’s just kind of like, my thing,” she said.  “Don’t take it so personally.”
               We were silent for a minute.
               “Okay, so my mom died in there,” Jessie said.
               “In St. John’s?” I said.  She nodded.
               “She just drank too much one time,” she said.
               “Oh,” I said.
               “Whatever,” she said.  “Bad things happen to everyone.  It was her own fault.”  
                I didn’t say anything.  I tried to picture what was happening in Daniel’s hospital room right now, but it was too incomprehensible.
               “You’re really different,” Jessie said.  “You used to be, like, one of those shiny pretty girls that I hated.”
               “Thanks,” I said.  I hadn’t felt shiny or pretty for a long time.
               She cleared her throat and said, “So your brother.  He’s really really sick, huh?”
               “Yeah,” I said softly.  “He’s really really sick.”
                We didn’t say anything else until Corey ran back into the car.  She was panting and her cheeks were pink.
               “Well, I got kicked out by a nurse, but mission accomplished,” she said.  “I think Daniel was pretty freaked out, but I think I saw the slightest hint of a little boner.”
               “Oh my God,” I said.  “Don’t tell me anything more, please.”
               Corey started laughing and then Jessie coughed and started laughing a little bit too.  I cracked a smile.
               “Okay, let’s go home and never talk about this again,” I said.
               We dropped Jessie Antonelli off at a townhouse complex on the shitty side of town.
               “Okay, have a nice life,” she said.  I felt like I should say something to her, but I didn’t know what so I just watched her go.
               “You know,” Corey said, “that’s what’s going to happen to you, if you flunk out of high school.  You’re going to become an angry stripper.”
               “Shut up,” I said.
               “Everyone’s always like, asking me where you are.  There’s all these rumors.”
               “Okay,” I said.  “Is there something you want me to say?”
               “No,” she said.
               We didn’t talk the rest of the drive until she pulled up to my house.
               “Well, thanks,” I said.  “Thanks for the ride and thank you for flashing my brother.  I know it’s perverted but I’m sure it meant a lot to him.”
               Corey didn’t say anything for a minute, and I turned to go.  And then as I put my hand on the door she said, “I didn’t do it for him.”
               “Oh.”
               “I…what happened yesterday, was,” she started.
               “You don’t have to,” I said.  “We don’t have to, um.”
               “It meant a lot to me,” she said.  “You mean a lot to me.”  She started leaning in toward me.  I leaned back and jerked the car door handle with my hand.  The door opened and I nearly flew out.
               “Morgan,” she said.
               “I have to go,” I said.  I stood up and go out of the car.  Corey rolled the window down.
               “Morgan,” she said, and she looked up at me.  I forced myself to look at her blue hat, to think about how ugly it was.  Both of our voices sounded weird, like maybe we were trying not to cry.
               “We shouldn’t,” I said.  “Not anymore.”
               “Why not?” Corey said.  “Why not?”
               And I hated her in that moment because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t have what she wanted, because I was the only bad thing that had ever happened to her, because she was going to go home and everything was going to be fine for her.  My life was like a third-world country she was visiting on vacation.
               “What,” I said, “we’re going to hold hands and go to prom together?  Corey, I’m not, like, a lesbian.”
               She just looked at me.
               “Fuck you,” she said.
               “You can’t be mad at me,” I said.
               “Just because your brother is sick doesn’t mean you can just act like nothing matters.”
               “It was just like…physical, you know?” I said, and I didn’t look at her face.
               “Fuck you,” she said again.  “I don’t want to know you.”  And then she drove away.

 

               The next day, I went to visit my brother.  My car still wasn’t working, so I took the bus.  Even after only twenty-four hours I missed him.  I was always missing him.  When I walked in the room, a nurse was putting an IV back in.  I stood in a corner and watched until she left.
               “So,” my brother said.  “Corey came here yesterday.”
               “Oh, really?” I said.  “How interesting.”
               “You’re so strange,” he said.  “Do you know that?”
               “I just…I didn’t want you to miss out on anything, you know?”
               “It was sort of anticlimactic,” he said.  “I never thought it would happen like that.”
               I climbed out of the chair I was sitting in and lay down in the bed beside him.  He scooted over to accommodate me, and I could feel how little his body was.  I bet he weighed twenty-five pounds less than me.  My brother had been popular, and good-looking, and a football player.  Dying a virgin wasn’t supposed to happen to him of all people.
               “Can I talk to you about something?” I asked.
               “Sure,” he said.
               “It’s sort of weird.”
               “Okay.”
               I looked up at the ceiling.  “I think…I had sex with someone.”
               “You think?”
               “No, I mean,” I said.  “I did.  I had sex.  With someone.”
               “Oh,” my brother said.  “Oh.”
               We didn’t say anything for a little while.  I felt guilty and wretched.  I didn’t want him to think I was already moving beyond him.  I wondered if he was jealous.  When you’re a twin it’s always a big deal who does what first.
               “I don’t know what to do,” I said.
               “Um…” he said.  I had stupidly expected him to be equipped with the wisdom of the dying, but as I lay there I remembered that he was just my brother.
               “It’s okay,” I said.  “You don’t have to say anything.  It’s okay.”
               “Do you…I mean, is it someone you like?” he said.
               “It’s…I don’t know.  It’s complicated,” I said.  “It’s someone I really care about.”
               “Does he care about you?” my brother said.  I didn’t say anything for a long time.  I kept hearing the word he over and over again in my head.
               “The person…who it is…yeah, the person cares about me.  A lot.  Like, really a lot,” I said.  “Like maybe too much.”
                “Well,” my brother said.  “I think…I think you should be happy.”
                I started crying a little bit.
               “Don’t cry, Morgan,” my brother said.  “Everything will be okay.”
               “Just…pretend I’m not crying, okay?” I said.
               “Okay,” my brother said, and he turned on the TV, which was just what I was hoping he would do.  We watched some show about solving crime.  I was too distracted to pay much attention.
               “What if that’s not possible?” I said.  “To be happy?  What if that is just not a possibility?”
               “Well, I don’t know about this kind of stuff,” Daniel said softly, his voice full of sleep.  “I’m a virgin who lives in a bed.  Maybe you should just talk to the guy you had sex with.  Or talk to Corey.”
                I opened my mouth to say something, I don’t know what, maybe the truth.  But when I looked at my brother he had his eyes closed.  I kissed him on the forehead and took the bus back home.

 

               When I got home from the hospital, Corey was sitting on my doorstep with a shoebox.
               “Um, hi,” I said.  She stood up and handed me the shoebox.
               “Here,” she said.  I opened the box and saw a bunch of random crap: a chapstick, some DVDs, a headband.
               “It’s your stuff,” she said.  “I couldn’t have it in my house anymore.”
               I looked at the box.  “Are you serious?” I asked.  “Is this like something you saw in a movie once or something?”
               “God,” she said.
               “I mean, it seems just a little bit overdramatic.  We’re not, like, breaking up,” I said.
               Corey looked down and shook her head.
               “I mean,” I said.  “This all just happened a few days ago!  It’s not like this was some really long and complicated involvement.”
               “Yes it was,” she said softly.  And she looked up at me with tears in her eyes, and I stared back at her, and things started to make more sense.
               “Corey,” I said.  “I’m sorry.  I don’t get why everything has to be different now.”
               “I have to be going,” she said and started walking away.
               I followed her to her car.
               “Hey,” I said.  “Hey, stop.”
               “No,” she said.  “I don’t want to listen to what you have to say.”
               But she had stopped walking and turned to face me.  I was still holding the shoebox.  She held her hand out as if to tell me to just say it.
               “I don’t know,” I said.  “I can’t make sense out of any of this.  But…I care about you.  More than anyone.  You’re my best friend.”
               She didn’t say anything.
               “I’m really a very fucked-up person,” I said.  “I know that I am.  And I’m sorry.”
               She sighed and I touched her wrist, just lightly.  I felt that familiar thing, that vibration that I felt when I was touching her.  It felt good and bad.
               “It doesn’t have to make sense,” she said softly.  “It doesn’t have to make sense to anybody besides us.”
               And we crawled into the back of Corey’s car, sober and in the light of day.  I didn’t know if it was the right or wrong thing to do, but my body felt pretty strongly that it was right.  
               The sun beat down on us through Corey’s backseat window.  Go be happy, that was what Daniel had told me.  Everyone was always talking about being Happy, like it was a proper capitalized thing.
               Afterward I turned to go, and she said, “Stay.  For a while.  It’s cold outside.”
               I did not feel happy, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be happy, possibly ever, and I knew that I would eventually get out of this car and my brother would be another half-hour closer to dead.  But I could wait a while before I got out of the car, so I did.
                She was right.  It was cold outside and every day getting colder.  From now on we would have to make our own kind of heat.