Fire is Contagious

Sitting side by side on the sofa, close enough to feel each other’s warmth without touching. She knows that if she touches him, she will burn, and he knows that if he touches her, he will burn her.

He begins to stretch, hands curled into fists, elbows bending, then reaching over head, over, out– He seems about to rest his arm on the back of the couch, but she’s in the way, and he retreats.

She folds her arms on her stomach and shivers even though it isn’t cold. She pretends she didn’t notice, pretends she isn’t disappointed, pretends she isn’t a little bit relieved, too. She doesn’t take her eyes from the sitcoms she thinks are like distant mothers whose children learn by watching their parents interact from the top of the stairs and learn about make-up by sneaking into Mom’s vanity.

When the laughter track plays, he laughs. She smiles at his laughter, not at the television.

His laughter reminds her of crackling bonfires, and she knows that if she looks at his smile she’ll want to touch it like the glowing pool of embers that look so soft when the flames fade.

Neither of them remember what’s happening on screen anymore. They don’t think they need to.

“What do they think they’re doing,” she says. She’s annoyed, and it alarms him. It takes him a moment to realize she’s still staring at the screen. Her cheeks blush with heat, and her voice is the low hiss of water about to boil over.

Two characters are pressed against each other, fingers grabbing at clothes, tangled in hair and she uncrosses her legs and crosses them again. She wipes her sweating palms on her thighs. Her knee bumps into his. She doesn’t notice. He doesn’t move.

“Stupid.” He says the right thing, apparently, because she’s throwing her hands in the air.

Praise the truth. Raise it up to the LordThat’s what his mother says. She thinks it’s funny. But he can’t stop staring at her hands.

“They’ll be broken up by season 3.” The anger has faded, fizzled and he realizes the hiss in her voice came from the water hitting the coals, challenging their right to burn. She sounds disappointed to know their fate so early. 

He shakes his head because he doesn’t care about the fictional fates of television characters, and neither does she.

But still, she’s annoyed.

“Stupid,” she echoes. “They’re best friends.”

“It doesn’t matter what they are or aren’t anymore.” He’s saying the words he’s said a hundred times, she’s said a hundred times. They curl away from his lips and hang in the air between them like smoke. “They’ll never be friends again.”

“Exactly.”

She looks at him then, for the first time all evening, and she looks incredibly sad that he looks incredibly sad. Their knees are still touching, and she quickly pulls it away. A second longer, and she might have seen the smoke rising from the hole in the knee of her jeans. He’s burning her.

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