Content warning: internalized homophobia.
When Sally Gonzales calls the Cryptid Seekers Club ‘bullshit,’ Lupe knows it’s over.
“What do you mean, it’s bullshit?” Alejandra rears above the school bus seat.
“Alejandra, don’t be mean,” Lupe says.
She goes ignored. Alejandra’s gaze fixes on Sally, terrible and intense—the point of a welding torch flame. Their school bus rattles over a pothole. Sally scoots against the window to escape. Her ponytail frizzes against the glass. All of her press-on nails quiver as she yanks her backpack into her lap. Alejandra’s lip curls.
“I was fourteen when I joined your club,” Sally says. “I’m fifteen now. I’m grown. I don’t want to keep doing gay kid stuff like looking for imaginary monsters, okay?”
“How’s that gay?” Alejandra flies into a paroxysm of rage. “Why would you say that? Do you wanna tell me why you’re being fucking dumb?”
“Calm down,” Lupe says.
She yanks Alejandra down by the back of her flannel, then slips her arms over the bus seat. Sally draws her knees to her chest as Alejandra slumps in her seat, muttering to herself. People three seats away whisper behind splayed hands.
Lupe fights the dismay conquering her. Anger bays on its heels. Why can’t Alejandra ever keep her mouth shut? Why is Sally doing this now? I wish Alejandra was leaving instead of Sally, Lupe thinks. I’m sick of seeing her. She feels a stab of self loathing.
“I’m sorry that Alejandra is so upset,” Lupe says. “You know how she is. We’re just sad you’re leaving the Cryptid Seekers. If it’s because of something Alejandra said, I’ll make her apologize. I promise.”
“It isn’t because of Alejandra.” Sally stares ahead. Her throat bobs beneath her new choker. “I’m quitting because of you.”
“Oh,” Lupe says.
“You shaving your head was, like, too much for me.” Sally licks her lips. “Besides, don’t you think it’s immature to believe in cryptids when you’re sixteen?”
The bus heaves over another pothole. Lupe sits. Alejandra simmers in her seat. School bus chatter swirls around them. Pronghorn and cattle—uncaring watchers that dot the grassland—grind sagebrush as the bus passes. Endless strings of fences and prairies streak by their windows. Occasional roadside wagons and mailbox thickets flounder in the vast ubiquitousness. Lupe catches the discomfort caked into Sally’s face alongside cheap foundation and Cheyenne mall outlet femininity. A revelation knocks her temple: for the first time, Sally sees her. Sally hears the skatepark rumors. She senses Lupe’s boy shape, and Lupe’s tender, hormonal longing for girls of all kinds.
After years, their acquaintanceship dissolves, scattered beneath the bus seats. A comfortable emptiness settles into Lupe.
That Friday, Alejandra slouches on a fold-out chair in Lupe’s shed while Lupe strips a weedeater engine. Ravens croak from the nearby treeline as Mamá’s porch-bound radio squeezes waves of Elvis Crespo through the cracked shed walls. Alejandra squints into a sunbeam, looking ready to slap it away. She kicks at the rags oozing out of coffee tins and butter buckets.
“We should go camping on the ranch this weekend,” she says. “Fuck Sally Gonzales. She doesn’t know what she’s missing out on.”
“Seriously? You never want to go camping. I know you’re mad at Sally, because you won’t shut up about her, but this is a weird way to handle it.”
Lupe hunches over her disassembled weedeater, her body stocky, head buzzed, baggy jeans brushing the floor. The gold Virgen de Guadalupe earrings she received for her eleventh birthday glitter on her ears. Her brother’s Carhartt jacket blocks her torso into a square. If someone takes a protractor to Lupe’s body, they will find no soft angles. Not the ones other teenage girls cultivate. She loves that. She cradles her softness on the inside.
“What are you talking about? I love camping.” Mouthy, mousy Alejandra crosses her arms. “Don’t be a dick. Do you want to go camping or not?”
“Not really. Why don’t we go hiking in Vedauwoo with my brother?”
“I don’t want to go to Vedauwoo.”
Alejandra unrolls her map of Wyoming on the hood of Lupe’s truck. Marker dots litter the paper plains around Laramie. Squiggly trails vein the plains, the dots liver spots between them. Alejandra taps a dot squeezed into a crossroad’s ribs.
“This is the last place someone saw a jackalope,” Alejandra says. “It’s right next to your aunt’s ranch. If we spot one, we prove that this club isn’t baby shit.”
Lupe restrains herself from screaming ‘Stop bringing up the fucking club!’into her weedeater engine. But for the first time all week, misery doesn’t pollute Alejandra’s face. No one invites Lupe to sleepovers or camping trips anymore—not since Sally’s dad caught her kissing Brooklyn Simmons last year—so Alejandra’s invitation is tempting. Even if Alejandra previously followed everyone else’s lead.
Alejandra fidgets, looking small and uncertain. Once again, Lupe summons the spring of forgiveness inside herself. Defending Alejandra is her job. It has been since they were children chasing chickens around Lupe’s yard. Lupe cannot say she’s quit yet. No one else is itching to replace her.
“Okay. If you want to jackalope hunt, we can do it,” Lupe said. “Don’t chicken out of the camping part this time. Don’t complain all night, either.”
Alejandra grins. “I won’t. I’ll find the tent.”
She weaves to the back of the shed, then fights her way back to the entrance, tent kit in hand, swearing.
Compacted coal makes diamonds. Compacted rage makes Alejandra. She tosses the tent kit onto the floor before rerolling her flannel sleeves. Her braids scrape her shoulders. Her sweatpants pool onto her hand-me-down boots. Blood encrusts her DIY safety pin septum piercing. After a decade of affectionate tolerance, Lupe doesn’t know if she finds Alejandra endearing or obnoxious. Not that it matters. Right now, the two of them only have each other.
Alejandra dusts her hands with a huff. Then she peers at Lupe, smiling. The smile spreads wide enough to show her braces. Despite herself, Lupe smiles back.
“Let’s get ready for camping,” Alejandra declares.
By the time Lupe gets permission from her mother, packs a cooler with ham sandwiches and green chili pork tamales, and wrestles two sleeping bags into her truck, it’s past lunch. Alejandra’s mamá drops off her duffle bag right before they leave. Lupe snickers when Mrs. Ramirez plants kisses on her fidgety daughter’s forehead and calls Alejandra her bebesita.
Alejandra kisses her mamá goodbye then returns to the truck, swinging her duffle in excitement. Besides clothes, her bag is fat with cryptid-hunting supplies that the club picked out last year: their handwritten log, two flashlights, a compass, five markers, tape, a rope, three disposable cameras, a box of bandaids, one pair of cheap binoculars, state maps, several ziplock baggies, a jar of salt, tweezers, and a whistle. This bag won’t help them wrestle any lake monsters or werewolves into submission, but might let them collect evidence, snap a blurry photo, or escape fairy abduction. Who wants to capture a cryptid anyway? If they exist, Lupe knows they deserve freedom.
Alejandra bounces on her heels.
“Are we going?” she says. “Are we going?”
“Yes.” Lupe rubs her face. “We’re going.”
Alejandra leaps into the passenger seat, pumping her fists. She chants “Cryptid trip! Cryptid trip! Cryptid trip!” until Lupe pulls out of the driveway.
They putter down a dirt road for five miles before they reach the PRIVATE PROPERTY sign that marks Tía Marcia’s tiny ranch. Lupe lets them through the locked gate. She clenches the steering wheel as the truck kicks up gravel. Endless barbed wire strings partition the surrounding prairie and sagebrush. Snow-tipped mountains encrust the horizon. Tía’s land stares at the gaping expanse of sky above.
Today, clouds smear that hard turquoise sky. The wind sings about icy grass. Oppressive, jagged land smashes against oppressive, smooth heavens. Lupe’s insignificance crushes her.
“That’s where they spotted a jackalope the last time.” Alejandra points at a distant road sign. “That crossroad right outside your tía’s ranch.”
“I hope it wasn’t a hoax,” Lupe says. “Wyoming loves jackalope hoaxes. Do you think any of the jackalopes in the DuBois museum are real?”
“Hell no,” Alejandra says. “Dubois is a shithole. They’re all hoaxes. It’s just a big scheme to sell postcards and fake jackalope hunting licenses. I’m still sure some people who visit the museum have actually seen jackalopes.”
Lupe hums in consideration. Alejandra’s oversized jean jacket makes her scrawny. It’s a cool sort of scrawny. The jacket itself is cool: a Loch Ness Monster patch swims above the jacket hem, Bigfoot clings to the breast, and Mothman accompanies a furred trout swimming under Alejandra’s collar.
Regardless of how much her parents roll their eyes, Alejandra pastes cryptozoology patch after cryptozoology patch on her jacket, crafting it into a kaleidoscope of defiance. Lupe cannot fathom her brother ever letting her sew patches on his Carhartt jacket, even if it’s supposedly herjacket now. Lupe admires the way Alejandra strides past familial disapproval. It’s so far from the way she bristles and cowers at school.
They pass a stretch of buck-and-rail fencing. Horned Larks fly swoop across the road. If Lupe fantasizes about petting their cream chests and little black horns too long, tears blur her sight.She drives carefully. Alejandra boos when the larks swerve close.
“Dumbass birds!” She slashes across a page in their cryptid log with a thick marker. An annotated collage vanishes beneath its sprawl.
Lupe starts. “What are you doing?”
“Now that Sally isn’t here,” Alejandra says, “we don’t need to keep her favorite cryptid page anymore.” She inks over a gel pen drawing. “The Flatwoods Monster can get fucked.”
Lupe stomps on the accelerator. They leap over a bump. Alejandra screams. The marker flies out of her hand; the book bounces towards the shifter in a storm of flapping pages.
“What is wrong with you?” Alejandra snatches the book before it can fall onto the floor. “You could’ve crashed the truck!”
“I wasn’t going to crash the truck, you baby.” Lupe grinds her teeth. She hears her brother telling her to stay cool. Disbelief makes it difficult to restrain herself. “Why are you ruining Sally’s page? That’s messed up. Just because she left the club doesn’t mean we weren’t friends with her. We still might make up with her.”
“I’m not going to make up with her. So neither of us need her page anymore.” Alejandra smooths out the book in her lap, a look of betrayal fading from her face.
Lupe hates it.
“Gonzales wasn’t taking this seriously anyway. We’re trying to uncover a global, interdimensional conspiracy to show the whole school they’re stupid for laughing at us, and she thought it was a game. We’ll do better without her.”
Another big bump is coming up. Lupe is tempted to hit the gas again, but Alejandra looked a little scared the last time, so she doesn’t.
“Speak for yourself,” Lupe says. “I’m part of this club because I think it’s cool to imagine what might be out there. Sally joined the club because she’s been terrified of Mothman ever since her cousin showed her a Point Pleasant documentary when she was five. She thought hunting cryptids would help her get over it. We all joined for different reasons, Alejandra.”
Alejandra wrinkles her nose. “How do you know that’s why Sally joined?”
“Because she told me.”
They clatter over the road, Horned Larks scattering in front of them, pebbles grinding under their wheels.
“Bullshit.” Alejandra’s voice wobbles with uncertainty. “She never told me that.” Her hands creep onto the open journal pages, hiding the tangle of doodles, notes, and pasted images spread across them. Lupe glimpses fragments of her, Alejandra’s, and Sally’s handwriting mixed beneath Alejandra’s spread fingers. Ink bleeds through the back of the page.
“Even good friends don’t share everything with each other,” Lupe says.
“I guess.” Alejandra’s mouth tightens. She closes the journal to fiddle with her braids. “Whatever. I get it. Sally liked you better. You’ve always been easy to like.”
Lupe remembers Alejandra crying in a bathroom stall after her seventh grade best friend admitted they didn’t know or care about Alejandra’s birthday. Warm and heavy sympathy sits in her chest. Though a shred of irritation makes it satisfying, she doesn’t want to see the insecurity in Alejandra’s slump.
Lupe clears her throat.“You know which cryptid we should study next?”
“The Loveland Frog,” Lupe says.
Alejandra explodes as Lupe bursts into laughter.
“I hate the Loveland Frog! Fuck him!”
“What?” A smile splits Lupe’s face. She turns onto a smaller road. “You don’t like the magic rod he carries around?”
Alejandra groans. “No, I don’t! Frogs are creepy. Also, the Loveland Frog would definitely stick his magic rod up your butt.”
“Gross!” Lupe wrinkles her nose. “He would not! Don’t slander him.”
“Yeah he would,” Alejandra says. “Why else would he have a creepy magic stick meant for poking?”
“I’m not listening.”
Alejandra lowers her window. She leans out of it. Lupe’s protests fall on uncaring ears. The wind whips Alejandra’s hair and jacket.
“The Loveland Frog is a creep!” Alejandra screams into the vast nothing.
Lupe bumps her forehead against the steering wheel in exasperation. It doesn’t unwind the laugh curled in her chest. She may as well enjoy this. She lives here. And over there, a thousand miles away, a seat away, lives Alejandra, her stupidly entrancing face crashing against the wind.
They set up camp next to a sprawl of clay. Alejandra dubs the spot their personal desert. Prickly pears and quartz stud the soil. Cow skeletons pierce the space between them. Stained ribs, femurs, and vertebrates trail to the base of a defunct windmill, where they dwindle into a thread of rawhide and teeth. Animals reside in the marrow maze too. Horned lizards hunker beneath skulls. Ants trickle across the cacti. A Northern Harrier watches from the windmill until it spots the girls. Then it sourly takes flight. Lupe blows a kiss in its direction when Alejandra looks away.
“This is the perfect habitat for jackrabbits,” Alejandra says, a mouthful of tamale muffling her words, “so it’s the perfect habitat for jackalopes, too.”
Do jackalopes eat the same things as jackrabbits? Why would one be out here with a raptor nearby? There’s zero reason for Alejandra’s confidence. Still, it’s better to experience her brash happiness instead of her mopiness, so Lupe says nothing. If the self-assured fire in Alejandra’s voice plucks at something deep, deep in Lupe’s stomach, that’s her business.
The problem with cryptid hunting is that after they set up camp, it is waiting upon waiting. Lupe scrawls notes about jackalope habitats into the log while Alejandra chases lizards. As afternoon seeps away, they eat several tamales, then take a jackalope-spotting walk with their binoculars. They see nothing besides a few fence-hopping Savannah Sparrows. Alejandra grumbles in disappointment.
Though time crawls, the last two hours of daylight flee quickly. Evening spreads periwinkle darkness on the prairie. Dull stars prick it soon after. While Alejandra combs the grass with a flashlight one last time, Lupe retreats to the tent. She flicks her flashlight on, grabs the Cryptid Seekers log, sits on her sleeping bag, and flips to their favorite cryptid pages.
The journal is wrinkly. Its pages are bent. Lupe traces her old handwriting. My favorite, her scrawl says, is THE YETI. Puffy snowflake stickers tack photographs of the Himalayas and giant footprints to the page. Lupe doesn’t need to reread her list of reasons to know why the Yeti is her favorite: it’s mysterious, buff, and unbothered.
Alejandra’s page is a clusterfuck of brilliant flame doodles and bullet-pointed facts. The name “Mongolian Death Worm,” written in heavy metal font, dominates a fifth of the page. Beneath statistics about the Gobi desert, Latin names of predatory worms, and a paragraph of speculation, lie Alejandra’s reasons. The death worm, she wrote, is a badass. It spits acid when it’s threatened and hides from the rest of the shitty world when it’s not. That’s cool.
Lupe’s heart sinks when she spies the meticulously drawn worm in the lower left corner. Sally’s signature still swims in the centimeter of sand beneath it. Her page across from Alejandra’s—once a beautiful, organized grid of Flatwoods Monster drawings, flowy cursive, cutesy stickers, and taped-in UFO pictures—is now a sea of black. Lupe huffs. She wants to beat Alejandra with their log. Sally worked so hard on that. How can Alejandra destroy things that take so much time and effort?
Not all of Sally’s work is covered. Lupe drags her fingers down the page, feeling the shapes of heart stickers and stars. Segments of pink gel sentences glimmer between Alejandra’s scribbles. Sally’s fractured writing is unreadable, but Lupe remembers her reasons. The Flatwood Monster is creepy and gorgeous, Sally had written. She wears whatever she wants. She goes wherever she wants. If nosy people get scared that’s their problem. I wish I could explore outer space too.
How could Sally want to explore the infinite, terrifying reaches of space when she couldn’t even handle a person on Earth being different? Lupe slams the book shut. She sheds her jacket, then buries her face into it. The cologne lingering in its seams soothes her. Is Sally thinking about them? Losing even the façade of a friendship stings.
They could actually be friends if Lupe wasn’t too much to handle. She’sthe problem. A millisecond later, Lupe’s compassion shatters. Its shards stick in her palms when she tries to regather it. Each prick summons fury instead of guilt. Why should she apologize for existing? Sally deserves more, but not that. Fuck this. Their acquaintanceship can stay dead unless Sally says sorry. Lupe throws the cryptid log at the tent wall. It tumbles onto Alejandra’s duffle.
Lupe’s brother texts goodnight. Lupe texts him back. As she idly scrapes polish off her nails, a circle of light hits the tent flap. It unzips. Alejandra crawls in, extinguishing her flashlight. Scratches cross-hatch her hands; a look of intense, broody disappointment dampens her face. Alejandra collapses on her sleeping bag. Lupe restrains a laugh.
“C’mon.” Lupe picks a burr off Alejandra’s shoulder. “You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”
“Don’t make fun of me,” Alejandra spits.
“There’s still time left to see a jackalope,” Lupe says.
Alejandra rolls onto her back. She stares at the tent ceiling. Her brows knit together. The downturn of her lips creates a perfect Cupid’s bow. In this fragment of silence, Lupe realizes—again—how gorgeous Alejandra is.
“You’re right,” Alejandra says. “It’s not sunset yet, and we have morning tomorrow too. We’ll get that jackalope. Gonzales will be sorry she ever dipped on us.”
Lupe’s neck itches. The way Alejandra says Sally’s name renders her invisible. Lupe spies another burr on Alejandra’s arm. She opts not to pick it off. Alejandra can take care of herself for once. Lupe curls up on her sleeping bag.
For half an hour they do nothing. Gusts buffet the tent, creating a stormy sea of canvas. Lupe watches the off-orange waves thrash above. Wind whistles around the tent corners. Alejandra unzips the tent window to stargaze, an act she abandons when the star-soup grows cloudy. Lupe hears a zipper whir. The breeze in their tent dies.
Alejandra returns to her spot next to Lupe before hefting herself onto her side. Lupe feels uncomfortable. When girls press near like this, they want something. Tamale tinges Alejandra’s breath.
“What?” Lupe says.
“Why did you shave your head?” Alejandra says.
Alejandra’s eyelashes are thick, black combs that frame her eyes. Lupe curls her fingers into her sleeping bag.
“Because I could,” she says.
Lupe squirms when Alejandra squints at her.
“I can’t figure you out. Do you want to be a boy or something?”
“No.” Lupe chews the inside of her cheek. “Hell no.”
Even if she’s ungirly, she’s no boy. Lupe covets her brother’s swagger, chunky wristwatches, the way he drapes himself over women, not his manhood. Femininity falls short of Lupe’s desires. Being thick-limbed and masculine while loving girls, however, intoxicates her.
Wind slaps their tent.
“Don’t you have any questions about me?” Alejandra says.
“No. I know you. There’s no point in asking questions.”
Alejandra’s mouth snaps shut. Her brow furrows. Lupe’s stomach sinks.
“What did I say wrong?” Lupe says.
“Nothing. Do you really feel like you know everything about me?”
“We’ve been friends since we were toddlers. It’s hard not to know a lot about you.”
Lupe starts when Alejandra grabs her hand and says, “Have you ever thought about making out with me?”
“No,” Lupe lies. “No. Never.”
The disappointment on Alejandra’s face guts her as much as it surprises her.
“Okay, I’ve thought about it,” Lupe concedes.
“Don’t lie to make me feel better.”
“Does hearing that make you feel better?”
The constellations in the sky turn backwards. South morphs into north. Lupe flounders. Alejandra hungrily considers her.
“Yeah,” Alejandra says. “You should kiss me.”
Lupe’s million teenage fantasies clog her throat.
“As a joke.” That addition flies from Alejandra’s lips like an arrow. “It would be crazy to think we did this, right? Something funny to laugh about later.”
Tears sear Lupe’s eyes. She refuses to cry. Her brother never cries. He’s too macho for that. So is she. Lupe cannot let a girl like Alejandra break her.
“Well?” Alejandra props a hand on her hip. Her voice wobbles.
“Yeah.” Lupe digs her nails into her palms. “Yeah, we should make out. It would be really fucking funny.”
“Then whatever. Let’s do it.”
Alejandra worms close quickly. Lupe almost laughs in her mouth. How pathetic! Her bloody heart beats fast. Alejandra’s desperation stifles her cruelty.
Alejandra’s lips are plush. Clumsy. Her safety pin piercing scrapes Lupe’s face. She darts her tongue into Lupe’s mouth, then squeaks in fear when Lupe returns the favor. Her breathing seesaws. She death-grips Lupe’s collar. Her braces bump Lupe’s teeth.
Lupe holds Alejandra tight. Even if Alejandra sucks, she shouldn’t kiss anyone with fear. Lupe almost cries when Alejandra pecks her cheek. It is the sole good kiss in this whole make-out session. It reminds Lupe of her own five hundred fears. A girl like Alejandra won’t shield Lupe from those, or hold her like she matters. The attention satisfies her anyway.
Alejandra and Lupe break apart. Alejandra wipes her mouth. She latches onto Lupe’s side. Lupe awkwardly hooks an arm over her waist. Alejandra nestles her face into Lupe’s jaw.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Alejandra whispers, “but I’m glad I kissed you instead of Sally.”
“It’s our secret,” Lupe says.
They sleep in an awkward jumble atop Lupe’s sleeping bag.
The next morning, Lupe wakes up groggy. Alone. Alejandra’s sleeping bag is gone. When Lupe exits the tent, she spies Alejandra unwrapping a ham sandwich on the truck tailgate. The two girls watch clouds split beneath blades of sunshine. They sit far apart.
“Do you want to look around more? We could still see a jackalope today,” Lupe says.
Alejandra takes another bite of sandwich. “No.”
They pack the tent together. Anxiety wrings Lupe’s guts as they do. Every fumble makes her flinch. Alejandra swears every other sentence. Fifteen minutes elapse before they finish cramming the tent into its bag. Alejandra heaves it onto the truck bed. It crashes into the back. She spits. Lupe, hot with terror, halts the imaginary conversation looping in her mind.
“I want to talk about last night,” Lupe says.
“I don’t care, Lupe. Not everything is about you.”
“You’re the one who suggested making out.”
Alejandra turns on her with clenched fists. Anger squares her shoulders. She stomps towards Lupe before halting two feet away. Pity overwhelms Lupe instead of worry.
“This is why I hate camping with you, Lupe!” Alejandra waves. “This is why Sally is gone! You scared her off with your bullshit.”
“It’s not just my bullshit,” Lupe says. “Saying ‘no homo’ doesn’t change what we did.”
“Fuck you! I’m not gay!”
Alejandra explodes into tears. Swears boil from her mouth. Lupe shrivels. Alejandra leans on the truck, tears dripping from her safety pin. Diamonds of sky glitter above. A tumbleweed bounces by their feet. Alejandra stoops like a gnarled tree, one petrified by wind and high altitude sun. Lupe’s head and hands grow cold. As ravens call, she walks away. Alejandra’s sobs bounce against her back. Lupe watches her feet step faster.
When they get back she must quit the Cryptid Seekers. She and Alejandra can never hang out again. Lupe needs to cry. She needs her brother to tell her everything will be fine. She needs Sally to promise her they can be friends. She needs anything but this. Lupe pockets her hands. Sagebrush after sagebrush passes by. Alejandra’s voice fades. Lupe looks up, gulping air, trying not to come undone.
She is scanning the foothills when she sees it.
The jackalope leaps high into the wind. Lupe gasps. The jackalope is scruffy. Handsome. She boxes with nothing, playful, hurling her snow-white feet at the grasslands. Burrs line her belly. Tiny pronghorn antlers wreath her head. The jackalope’s hazel eyes catch the sun. Lupe watches her pirouette one last time before she bounds away over the endless, bone-sprinkled plains: mythical, resilient, real. Then she disappears. Lupe stands in the grass, frozen but warm, alone in her illumination.
Her phone buzzes in her coat pocket. Lupe scrubs at her nose. She remembers that she must leave the same way she came.
She also must talk to Alejandra.
When Lupe gets back, Alejandra is stiffly sitting on the tailgate. She tightens her fingers around the edge when Lupe approaches. Lupe notices that her sleeves are soggy. The last ravens leave as the girls stare at each other. Sun slashes through the last strands connecting the shredded clouds.
“Look who’s back.” Alejandra’s voice is a hoarse grind of barbed wire.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Lupe lies. “I shouldn’t have called you a lesbian. I didn’t mean it.”
“You’re stupid. Don’t bring up last night ever again. I don’t want this to become chisme.”
Lupe frowns. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone. Why would I?”
“If the school thinks we’re both freaks,” Alejandra says, “they’ll attack me too. I bet you’d love it if someone else got made fun of.”
A Horned Lark calls from the grass. Lupe imagines herself sitting at a cafeteria table, alone, listening to Alejandra talk shit from another table. Her hands shake. How does Alejandra believe in the Loveland Frog more than she believes in lesbianism?How can she expect such horrible things from the one girl-friend who’s kissed her? Lupe only withstands this when she thinks of the jackalope. Everyone wants to survive.
“I would never out you. Or make fun of you to hide myself. Whatever. Let’s go home,” Lupe says. “We’ll never talk about this again.”
The monumental heartbreak in Alejandra’s face matches her relief.
Since the prairie is vacant, Alejandra drives this time. Her hands clench the steering wheel. Stray hairs stick to her temple. For once, she doesn’t spew words to fill the silence. Her jacket engulfs her more than usual. No one else can fit in the wounded atmosphere around her. Lupe doesn’t try to. She hangs out of the window to soothe her nausea. The air stings her scalp. Her lungs burn. Above her, the sky runs cloudless forever. Below her, streamers of dust run behind their wheels. Sage scent blankets the grass. Western Meadowlarks sing from a faraway fence.
Again, her phone buzzes. Lupe feels its thrum against her skin. She reluctantly plops into her seat and digs it out. Maybe her brother needs something. Lupe starts when she sees Sally’s number.
Hi. Lupe, are u there?
I’m really sorry abt what I said. I’ve been thinking about it.
Can we talk on Monday?
Lupe glances at Alejandra. Her cellphone, a clunky hand-me-down covered in scratches, sits mute in the cupholder. Their coverage is identical. Alejandra never silences her phone.
Yeah, Lupe texts back, her numb fingertips stumbling over the buttons. Let’s talk then.
A smile threatens to inch across her face. Alejandra stares straight ahead, icy, unsure. The divide splitting open between them pains Lupe. She relishes it. They are not two vertebrae in an aching back, forever knit together. If Alejandra pulls away it isn’t her duty to follow: the prairie is vast and they both have far to go.
“Hey.” Alejandra speaks quietly without looking at Lupe. “Can I ask you something?”
“What?” Lupe says.
Alejandra drums her fingers on the steering wheel. She works her jaw. Lupe sees her chew on a million questions before picking just one. They rumble through a pothole. One of Alejandra’s braids comes loose. Her hair blows back in the wind, revealing the changing contours of her face—the acne, the deeper distrust in her eyes, her sharpening nose—and for the first time, Lupe struggles to recognize her. One aspect remains the same: Alejandra has hair the color of jackalope antlers.
“Before we left, you ran off.” Alejandra glances at her. “You came back with a weird look on your face. Did you see something?”
Lupe braces her hands on the door. The empty prairie stares at her. Momentarily, she considers the truth; next, she wonders if Alejandra will take it. Lupe sits back in her seat.
“No,” she says. “I didn’t.”
About the author
Samir Sirk Morató is a scientist, artist, and flesh heap. Some of their work can be found in Catapult, The Hellebore, and Prismatica. They are on Twitter and Instagram @spicycloaca.
Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash.