Chapter 25: Out for blood

     Alex turned to Myra. With the smile of conversation still playing across his face, he asked, “How’s Grace’s sunburn?”
     Myra froze. Alex kept smiling. “What?” he said, except he wasn’t asking a question.
     “You knew,” she said.
     His smile widened. “Knew what?” he said.
     “She was sobbing,” Myra said. “She looked like a burn victim.”
     His eyes glittered. “That’s terrible,” he said.
     “What’s wrong with you?” she whispered.
     “What? Nothing,” he laughed.
     “Percy and I ate the other two mushrooms,” she said.
     His smile flickered once like a malfunctioning fluorescent lightbulb. “What?” he said.
     “He found them in the grass and we ate them,” she said. “Of course he knew them. Agaricus bisporus. The common mushroom.”
     “Yeah?” he said.
     “They were disgusting,” she said. “But they sure as hell weren’t hallucinogenic.” 
     “No?” he said.
     She glared at him. “No.” 
     “You’re not angry, are you?” he said.
     “I am.”
     “Angry that I was sober?” he laughed, not admitting his deception, but fluidly changing his story like a snake.
     “You’re never sober,” she said.
     “I love you angry,” he said. “I love your wrath, Athena.”
     Her vision was shimmying like a failing engine and her hands were shaking uncontrollably. “Thank god you didn’t kill anyone,” she said.
     He took a step toward her. “I want to fuck you so badly,” he said.
     When he raised his hand, she almost reached inside her pocket, but he reached into his instead. He opened his fist and extended his palm out to her. “I made this for you,” he said. “I’ve been carving it all week. Go on.”
     She took the token from him and inspected it. It was a pendant shaped like a horse with round eyes, a strong snout, and an exquisite flowing mane.
     “I carved it out of ash from the woods here,” he said. “Do you have a chain?”
     “Of course not,” she said. “I don’t wear jewelry here.”
     He knelt on the gravel, untied his shoe, and pulled out the shoelace. “Here,” he said. He took the pendant from her, threaded the shoelace through the ring at the top, and tied the ends around her neck. The horse rested against her breastbone, but she barely felt it, the wood was so light.
     He surveyed her ensemble and said, “Perfect.”
     She touched her fingertips to the smooth pendant, then lowered her hand into her pocket. She pulled out the crumpled construction paper cutout and gave it to him.
     He smoothed it out and held up the creased yellow crown. “From the queen to the king?” he teased.
     “It’s a constellation,” she said. “The northern crown. I was watching it on the dock last night before I fell asleep.”
     He smiled softly. “Thanks,” he said. He tucked the scrap of paper into his pocket. “I was telling the truth last night, you know,” he added, as if there might be just a trace of doubt. His eyes misted. “I felt like I was communing with the gods through your gorgeous trembling body.” He reached out and touched her hair. His hand slightly compressed her curls. “And after, you were so serene, so satisfied.” He tucked his fingers under her chin and ghosted his thumb over her lips. “I was so elated I could give that to you, give you so much pleasure that you became this luxuriant kitten.” He teased her lips apart and slipped his thumb into her mouth.
     She sucked on his thumb and ran her tongue up and down its plump pad. His eyelids fell closed and he hummed a note of contentment. She kept the pressure around him and continued licking him. His eyes were squeezing shut and a tremor shook his arm. 
     She gripped his wrist to hold his arm steady as she increased the suction. He moaned. She forced her free hand into her pocket. The sound of her mouth covered the slight whoosh of the blade swinging open.
     When he felt the blade against his neck, his eyes fluttered open and he withdrew his hand. He swallowed and the knife bobbed on his throat. A tight smile stretched his lips. “Knife play?” he said. “I like it.” 
     His smile slipped when she pressed the blade harder. He was panting and his voice was hoarse when he said, “Jesus, Myra.”
     She felt a surge of possessed power. The spotlight was finally fading and she was seeing him for the first time. She twisted her wrist and the knife bit into his skin. He hissed and grimaced. A thread of blood trailed horizontally across his neck.
     She hadn’t meant to hurt him, she hadn’t begun with a purpose in mind, but she felt invincible and the red line on his throat looked like the painting she could never paint. 
     She cut again. Another line formed parallel to the first. 
     He was breathing fast and staying very still.
     “Should I do eight?” she said. “Or nine?”
     He swallowed again, involuntarily, and then let out a strangled cry when the knife caught on his Adam’s apple. “No,” he whispered. “No, don’t.”
     “Why not?”
     “Please. Myra.”
     “How many?” she said. She was panting too. “How many do you deserve?”
     “None. Myra, none.”
     She dug in the blade below the two cuts, not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough for his face to gleam with sweat and his eyes to widen like a spooked horse.
     “Is this how you feel all the time?” she asked.
     “No,” he said.
     “I know it is,” she said. “God, no wonder.”
     He saw her eyes flash and he flinched right before she cut the third line. She went deeper than she meant to. A trickle of blood ran down his neck at the deepest point, perpendicular to the lines she’d cut.
     “Damn it,” she complained. Keeping the knife up with one hand, she licked her free index finger and wiped away the superfluous mark. She brought the bloodstained finger to her mouth and sucked it clean. “There,” she said.
     Three clean red parallel lines embellished his throat. She admired her art as she tasted metal. “Very nice,” she said.
     He was staring at her, his breathing ragged, his bangs sticking to his damp forehead. “I love you, Myra,” he insisted. “I love everything you do.”
     The blood welled up at the same spot. When the droplet became too large, it spilled over and ran down his neck. 
     “Fuck,” she said. “Hold still.” She moved the knife to the side of his neck, out of the way. She tipped his head back slightly to expose his neck more, and then she licked away the errant rivulet. She pressed her mouth over the deepest cut to sop up the continually welling blood. She felt his pulse thudding on her tongue.
     When she withdrew, he gazed at her, almost smiling. In response to her searching stare, he said, “You look like you’re wearing makeup.” He studied her mouth and then said, “Wait.” He touched one finger to his neck. His eyes tightened in slight pain for a moment, but then he used the drop of blood on his finger to dab at her lips. 
     “There,” he said. “Perfect red lipstick.”
     She still had the knife to his throat, but as he licked his blood from his finger and admired her red lips, the power rush drained away and she just felt foolish. She let her hand fall. She clicked the blade closed and pocketed it.
     “You look like a movie star,” he said. “So glamorous.”
     “You look like a cat scratched you,” she said.
     “A glamorous cat.”
     They went inside. Myra collected the crayons in the plastic tub, which went back in its place by the games. Alex gathered up scraps of construction paper and tossed them in the trash. They left the table bare. She asked him to put away the volleyball. When he left, she returned the aloe bottle to the closet before tying up the last trash bag.
     She took the trash out to the dumpster. He’d put the volleyball in the storage shed. They met up and walked back to camp together. 
     “What’s left?” he said.
     “The boys’ cabin is empty?” she asked.
     She shrugged. “Nothing’s left.” 
     They were back. She stopped next to the picnic table, arms crossed. He was close behind. “The van will be here soon, I’m sure,” she said. She uncrossed her arms and announced, “I’m going to the bathroom to wash up.” Eyeing his blood-streaked neck, she said, “You should too.”
     He caught her wrist. “The boys’ side smells a thousand times worse than the girls’ side,” he said. “Don’t make me go in there one more time.” He laced his fingers through hers and said, “We’ll go say goodbye to the lake.”
     They walked down the hill and kicked off their shoes. Alex had sweatpants on and Myra was wearing jeans. She glanced sideways out of the corner of her eye, then quickly unbuttoned her jeans and tugged them off. She waded into the shallows in her underwear. She heard him following suit behind her. 
     She bent, scooped up a double-handful of clear lakewater, and rinsed her lips. She saw tendrils of red swirling through the water. She spread her fingers and the liquid in her hands plinked into the lake.
     She repeated the rinsing twice more, then wiped her mouth on the hem of her t-shirt. The shirt came away wet but unstained.
     She sloshed over to where Alex was attempting a similar technique, except it was clumsier with a neck than a mouth. He was dribbling water down the front of his shirt, but the blood was rinsing away. At last he straightened up and said, “How’s that?”
     Apart from the dark wet streaks on his gray shirt, and the three raw pink lines on his neck, he looked normal. “Fine,” she said.
     “You too,” he said. “Except you’ve got something just”—he rubbed at the corner of her mouth with his thumb—“there.” He let his hand fall. 
     “Thanks,” she said. 
     “My pleasure,” he said.
     She splashed one more handful of cool water on her face, then waded out.
     The jeans stuck to her wet legs as she wrestled them on. She shoved her hands into the crumpled empty pockets to smooth them into place. Alex waded out and pulled his sweats on over his boxers. They both looked respectable, with water-spotted clothing but their skin washed clean of visible blood. 
     Myra stood on the beach, gazing out at the calm blue lake, the dock jutting out, the ring of trees guarding the lake’s perimeter. The water lilies were in full bloom. Their white flowers floated on the water like pale faces.
     A low rumble vibrated from far off. The engine noise was a jarring anomaly in a place where frogs were usually the loudest sound. The van was approaching the camp. 
     Myra and Alex walked up the hill side by side. His shoelace was knotted around her neck and his neck was marked by her hand. The day was already hot, and the sun was making her drowsy. She yawned and thought about napping on the ride out.
     When they reached the crest of the hill, she turned back to catch one last glimpse of the lake shimmering behind them.
He clasped his hand over hers. “It’ll all be here next year,” he told her.