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When the Moon was Ours
Author:Anna-Marie McLemore

The petals of her rose skimmed his neck—she did that on purpose—and then along the inside of his thigh—she did that without meaning to. He shivered, but didn’t draw back. Even when her touching him made her rose petals flick against his body, she kept a little distance between him and her wrist so the thorns wouldn’t scratch him.

When he traced her skin, the thought of everything he told her about the moon skimmed across her, about the lunar seas and bays. Mare nubium and mare undarum, the sea of clouds and the sea of waves. Lacus autumni and sinus iridum, the lake of autumn and the bay of rainbows. The features he painted with brushes and with his bare fingers.

His hands were so sure, the pressure of his fingers so gradual and steady, that she couldn’t help thinking of his family, years ago. Their fields of crocuses. Their quick, delicate work of picking the saffron threads from the center of those purple flowers. She wondered if this was a thing that lived in his blood and in his fingers. A craft that started as finding wisps of red among violet petals, and that, through years and generations, became the skill of finding, easily and without hesitation, what he was looking for.

The one thing that marred it all, that made it anything shy of perfect, was the Bonner sisters. Las gringas bonitas. Those pale girls, pretty and perfect. One stray thought, and those threads of saffron turned to the red of their braids and curls. Just that single, unwanted thought, and the gradient of their hair swirled through Miel like fall leaves.

The Bonner girls hadn’t felt far from Miel since the first time she saw them at the water tower. She let Sam think it was just that Peyton had been holding that pumpkin she treated like a pet. But it was more than the pumpkin. The water had barely cleared from Miel’s eyes when she saw the moon, caught between last quarter and full, disappear behind their heads. Even against the not-yet-dark sky, it lit up the red and gold and orange of their hair. From where Miel stood, her eyes feeling new, blurring everything, it looked like the moon had vanished into them, like they’d absorbed it. They had taken all its light. And Miel kept screaming, wanting to warn the boy standing in front of her that the moon was a thing that could be lost.

Now the Bonner sisters were older, and beautiful, their eyes a fierce and fearless kind of open. Together, they were as imposing as an unmapped forest. Some called them witches, for how many hearts they’d broken. Some said they had hidden, in the woods, a stained glass coffin that acted like a chrysalis, turning each girl who slept in it as beautiful as every Bonner girl before her. But ever since Chloe had left town, they were no longer the Bonner sisters. It was just Lian, and Ivy, and Peyton drifting through their father’s fields. Sometimes Miel saw Lian in the grocery store, picking out yellow apples, or Peyton riding her bike at the edge of town.

Miel had never understood why, with the four of them around, Sam would ever choose her. Miel was a handful of foil stars, but they were the fire that made constellations. Her hair was the dark, damp earth under their family’s farm, and they were curling vines and scrolled pumpkins.

But the Bonner sisters weren’t the ones who’d met Sam a thousand times in the open land between their houses. They hadn’t shown him the slight differences in blues and browns of Araucana and Wyandotte chickens’ eggs. And maybe these things had made Miel look different to Sam. Maybe the time he’d helped her shear a pair of jeans, the knees worn through, into cutoffs, made him overlook the fact that jeans fit her a little different in a thigh than they did the Bonner sisters. Or maybe the deep, bright colors of her roses distracted him from how her nails were almost never polished.

Maybe the day she’d helped him paint his room the color of the ocean his father was born near, that afternoon when she’d gotten that deep blue-green all over the front of her, made Sam forget that she did not stretch out a shirt like the Bonner sisters. Except for Peyton, the youngest, the Bonner sisters filled their bras like batter poured into a cake pan.

If those things made Miel look different to Sam, if that was why he was under her now, she didn’t mind. Because she saw him as something different than anyone else did too. She had seen him naked. Almost naked. And she understood that with his clothes off, he was the same as he was with them on.

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One day, they would be no more than that fairy tale. They would be two children named Honey and Moon, folded into the stories whispered through this town.

But tonight they were not those children. Tonight, they were Sam and Miel, and he was pulling her on top of him and then under him. The way she moved against him made him feel the sharp presence of everything he had between his legs and, for just that minute, a forgetting, of everything he didn’t.