Popcorn Stars

By Cheyenne Autry

Twebhe floor is cold and stiff beneath you. You thought the comforters would provide some relief but it didn’t. You thought it’d be romantic—a makeshift fort in the living room like you were five years old, some Disney movies, maybe popcorn and snackage—but it wasn’t. Your hips hurt deep in their joints and your toes are freezing and all you hear is his heavy, raspy breathing behind you. It’s hot and wet and loud and each breath sticks to the back of your neck like dew on your car in the morning. You brush it off as you sit up, throwing the blanket off and adjusting your hoodie. You’re depressingly fully clothed, and you can feel the eyeliner and mascara from last night gooped up beneath your eyes. Some romantic fucking fort this turned out to be.

“Morning,” he says with a groan. “Sleep good?”

“Mmhmm,” you lie. You stretch your arms and crack your spine back into place. The pain in your hips screams with each turn. You consider all the drunken friends who’ve ever spent a night on your floor.

“What do you wanna do today?”

“This is your town, chief. Entertain me.”

“You’re the one visiting,” you say. “I wanna make sure you have a good time.”

“Haven’t seen you in a year, this is already a good time.”

You smile. “We could go down to the beach.”

“Sweet,” he says.

You shimmy out the fort and the bright morning light blinds you. You didn’t notice how bad the floor needed a good vacuuming and you say a little prayer that he hasn’t noticed. You check the thermostat, wondering how in the hell it got to 63 degrees. The living room is starkly decorated with pieces of mismatched furniture and eclectic wall ornaments, many of which came off Pinterest. He’s already made his way into your bedroom, no doubt sifting through his duffle bag and arranging an outfit for the day. What a glorious hipster he is, but he has six tattoos and plays the guitar so you’re willing to overlook it. He just likes looking good, he says, even if he’s just in boxers. That explains why all of his underwear is new and neat and came from J. Crew or somewhere of the like. You can’t really argue with him on it, though. Girls are the same way. I’m feeling super sexy and confident in my granny panties and period underwear, said no one ever.

You grab the first pair of jeans and t-shirt you can find, yellow skinnies and a black v-neck that reads “Kiss Don’t Kill” on the front. The hair goes back with a head band and you slip your onyx ring on your right pointer finger. You find him in your bathroom sculpting his perfect hair into its perfect slicked-back coif. His darkwash jeans are the closest you can get to dude skinnies without actually being skinnies and are rolled up slightly to accentuate his pristine high-top Chuck Taylors. His black-framed glasses match the square line of his slightly-scruffed jaw. He’s wearing a navy-and-white checkerboard button-up beneath a brown leather jacket with a wool collar. He’s two parts James Dean, one part Buddy Holly and a shot of Alfalfa, and you hate him a little for it.

“You know we’re just going to the beach, right?”

“Do you want me to change?”

You sigh because you don’t. You just know you look so unkempt next to him. “Don’t you ever just bum it? You know, not perfectly-fitting jeans or an exceptionally-well tailored outfit?”

“Of course I do,” he says proudly. “When I’m home alone and there’s no one around to see.”

*          *          *

There’s no one else out on the beach and you couldn’t be happier for it. The newly replenished sand extends out, barren, in each direction, and the sun glistens playfully off the soft waves. The air is cold but you pull your shoes off and twitch your toes around in the sand anyway. Your feet are almost numb but you can still feel the subtle sting of the grains in between your toes. It feels nice, the sting. He leans back on the towel thoroughly unimpressed. You’re not sure whether he’s trying to pose or not but he looks beautiful either way. Damn him. His Chucks are covered in sand but he refuses to take them off. He grabs a stick and some shells and starts doodling in the sand. You lean over to get a closer look.

“Kay Kay hearts Greggers” it reads. He looks up at you with a smirk and you smile coyly back. “You know it’s true,” he says. You giggle awkwardly because you know it is, too.

You walk around and look for seashells and chase after a few seagulls and stick your big toe in the water just so you can say you did. You think he’ll come up and take you by your hand and ask deep, penetrating questions about what music you like and movies you’ve seen and what you’re studying. But he doesn’t and you hate him a little for it.

“You ready to go?” you ask.

“Sure thing.”

You grab the towels and shake them out before stuffing them in your oversized canvas bag. You wipe the sand off your feet at the boardwalk and put your shoes back on. The sun is high over the water, reflecting off the sea like a shattered mirror. You think there probably isn’t a more beautiful sight in all the world.

“Look at that,” he says.

“Yeah, it’s amazing.”

“Romance moment. Face!” He leans in a gives you one gentle kiss and it makes you feel warm inside. Then you realize that’s the first time he’s touched you today.

*          *          *

You toss your bag on the couch as you walk in, kicking off your shoes and rubbing your still sandy feet on the carpet. It’s finally warmed up—a balmy 68 degrees. Stupid cheap apartments. You ask him if he wants to watch the movie in the fort or on the actual TV.

“We’ll fort it up one more time, then take it down before we get some dinner.”

You feel a surge of excitement, hoping the fort will have more magic this time around. “Cool. I’m gonna go change real quick and set it up.”

“See you inside!”

Yoga pants, gotta find yoga pants. If you’ve learned nothing else in college it’s that yoga pants are like Viagra shots to the penis and there’s a nice black pair somewhere in this closet that makes your legs as long as Giselle’s and gives you an ass like Kim Kardashian. You peel off the jeans and your lacy blue thong—why leave any more obstacles than you have to—before slipping on the pants. He already has the movie starting on your laptop. He’s changed into a black Volcom tank and gray track pants. This must be the best version of bumming it he can muster. You snuggle up next to him in traditional spooning fashion and he puts his arm around your waist. As the movie plays, you use every subtle sexual hint you’ve ever learned. You move your toes up his pants leg and wrap his hand around you so it’s placed strategically over your boobs and readjust constantly so you can rub your ass over his crotch. Nothing. Not a damn thing. It’s like this fool actually wants to just lie here and cuddle and watch this movie, and you hate him a little for it. You give up and give in and watch the movie too, and it’s actually pretty good, which makes you hate him a little more.

“I think that’s probably my favorite Wes Anderson movie,” he says as he pops the movie out of the disk drive. “What’d you think?”

“Yeah, it was pretty good. Kinda weird and quirky, but I liked it.”

“So watcha thinking for dinner? I got a hankering for some sushi.”

“Sushi sounds awesome. There’s a place me and my friends go to all the time that’s really good.”

“Woohoo! So it won’t be like the first time we went out and you suggested that sushi place that we could never find?”

“Whatever, we found it. Eventually,” you say. “I had actually forgotten about that.”

He scoffs. “Our first date? I’m hurt.”

“Guess you didn’t make an impression,” you say, shrugging.

“Guess not. Probably for the best. I was a bit of an asshole back then.”

“Probably. But you started dating Susie-talks-a lot right after that so guess I didn’t make much of an impression either.”

“Yet here we are.”

You want to say something clever and provocative about making up for all the lost time—the lost dates and make-out sessions and arousing getting-to-know each other games played in dark-lit living rooms and back rows of theaters—but all that comes out is, “Yeah, here we are.” Curses.

“I need to jump in the shower before dinner though. I feel grungy from the beach.”

“Samesies,” you say.

He leans over and kisses you, ever so gently.

“You know, if you need a shower and I need a shower, we could always just take one together.” He has a plump bottom lip that heavily outweighs the top and you nip at it lightly between your teeth. You run your hands underneath his shirt and dig your nails into his back hoping to encourage more fervent kisses. His fingers caress down your ribcage and play gingerly with the band of your yoga pants. His kisses are soft, deliberate, controlled. It’s excruciatingly tender and frustrating.

“What do you say? Help a girl out on her water bill.”

You moan lightly as he kisses that small spot beneath your right ear. You want him to pin you down and leave bite marks down your neck and tell you how bad he’s wanted you since the moment he got here, since that first moment he met you and asked you out for sushi. But he doesn’t

“I don’t know if you’ve seen your shower or not,” he says, pulling back. “But it’s pretty tiny in there. You go ahead, and I’ll hop in when you’re done.”

You lay your head back on the floor as he crawls out.

*          *          *

You stay in the towel after your shower, thinking it can’t get much more obvious than that, but just for good measure you lie on the bed hoping the hinted nudity will draw him in. It doesn’t. He’s already slipped on a pair of gray boxer briefs and polo shirt and is searching for another pair of skinny darkwash jeans before you’ve even arranged yourself in a hopefully seductive position. Then he starts on the hair, his perfect coif of James Dean hair, and you have a sudden urge to take some scissors and cut a huge chunk out of the middle while he sleeps. Just one chunk though. Don’t wanna get crazy.

“You going to get sushi in a towel or what? C’mon girl, I’m starving.”

You sigh, defeated, and pick up whatever clothes are immediately in arm’s reach. It doesn’t even matter at this point. If yoga pants and a towel don’t get you laid, nothing will.

You stomp out to the car like a petulant child denied her dessert. He opens your door as he has all weekend.

“Thank you,” you say.

“You don’t have to say ‘thank you’ each time. I know you appreciate it.”

You stare at him impassively. “Thank you,” you say.

“You’re welcome!” he yells jokingly.

He plays old school rap in the car and bops around like a fucking pinball. You just want him to be still for two seconds, just long enough for you to get in one good punch square to his perfectly manicured face.

At dinner, he eats the salad with the chopsticks because he’s cultured that way. You opted for a fork. You’re good, but you’re not that good. You talk about the weather and skim over politics and music and touch briefly on work and school. He pays for your dinner like he’s paid for everything else since he’s been here. You thank him for it and suggest getting some Froyo for dessert.

He coats his vanilla-chocolate swirled frozen yogurt with Fruity Pebbles and marshmallow bits, and you offer to pay because you’re cool like that. You walk back out to the car quietly, taking small mouthfuls of your fat-free cake batter, rolling the bits of strawberry and kiwi around your tongue. The kiwi-strawberry tang is sharp and refreshing.

Maybe he’s just been trying to be respectful and sensitive, you think, and that’s why he hasn’t made a play for your lady bits all weekend. Maybe he’s gay. Maybe he’s a secret virgin and is scared shitless of vaginas. Maybe he’s just really fucking stupid. But what the cuss are you supposed to do about that?

He opens your door and you slide in silently. He shuts it and stares at you through the window. “You didn’t say ‘thank you’!” His yelling is muffled but the smirk on his face makes you laugh. He can be so adorable when he’s not trying to be. Such rare occasions they are.

“Well I think this has been a pretty successful weekend.”

“Yeah it’s been fun. I’m glad you decided to come down.”

“Me too,” he says. He reaches across the center console and takes your hand. “You know what, I like you.”

“Yeah?”

“A. You’re cool and pretty and all that jazz. B. You’ve got a good sense of humor and tolerate mine. C. We listen to the same music which is major bonus points. If I have one more girl get in my car and ask to put on Luke Bryan, I don’t know what I’d do.”

“But I like Luke Bryan.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I can get down to some country music. I’m talking about what you primarily listen to. That kind of below-mainstream rock, like me.” He’s right. Sharing mutual interests is pretty important stuff. “And we’ve been able to lay around most of the weekend, not really doing a lot of anything, and we haven’t killed each other. That’s a little test of mine.”

“Ah, so I passed.”

“Yep. A whole weekend together and no deaths. Pass.” You think you deserve a kiss or a hug or a fucking gold star or something, but he turns the radio back up instead, and you hate him a little for it.

*          *          *

You throw on a pair of shorts—underwearless—and climb in bed next to him. You’re dog tired but willing to rally. He’s leaving first thing in the morning and you’re more than willing to be more than a little tired during your 8 a.m. class. He’s lying on your bed in his gray track pants, shirtless, exposing four of his six delicious tattoos. His glasses are sitting on your nightstand and his hair is slightly ruffled. He twirls a piece near his temple around his right pointer finger and for the first time all weekend, he looks like an honest-to-God genuine person, and you love him a little for it.

You lean over him and bite on his full bottom lip, stroking the tuft of hair below his navel. You trace a line down his chest, swirling your tongue over his ribs and nibbling his hip bones. He lies there stoically, messing with your hair absentmindedly every now and then. You pause as you reach the happy trail and then make your way back up to his mouth. His right arm hangs off the side of the bed and his left is curled around you as it’s obligated to be. You kiss his neck and his collar bone and suck on his ear and moan just loud enough for him to hear you. All the while he’s just lying there like a cold, dead fish waiting to be gobbled up. You start to laugh because you’re just so pissed off you don’t know what else to do.

“What is it?” he asks.

You have to keep it in check now because you’re about two words shy of just going off. “It’s like you’re just lying here waiting for a blow job.”

“Well, geez, you’re not supposed to call me out on it.” He smirks and giggles and you imagine how good it would feel to take a pillow and smother out that stupid giggle so you’d never have to hear it ever again.

“You know, I’ve never understand why it’s called a job.” He’s trying to be sarcastic and funny and ironic. He looks at you with those big blue eyes of his, waiting for you to laugh or make some equally acerbic comment back or just simply acknowledge what a wonderful sense of humor he has.

“I’m hot,” you say, rolling out of bed.

“What?”

“It’s hot. I just need to change.” You shuffle into the bathroom, knocking over the dirty clothes hamper, dumping handfuls of lace underwear and t-shirts across the floor. “Shit.” You sink down. The yellowing linoleum is cool against your thighs, your shoulder blades, your wrists.

You stare up at the off-white popcorn ceiling. The clumped bits are scattered like little stars, stretching from one corner of the room to the other and further on, forming constellations across your apartment. Orion over the sink, Perseus by the toilet, Cassiopeia looking down on the bed, the Big Dipper in the kitchen, some that don’t even exist in this galaxy. You think there must be more popcorn bits up there than all the stars in the universe.

___

Cheyenne Autry was born in New Bern, North Carolina and received her B.A. in English from North Carolina State University in 2011. She is currently at work on her M.F.A. in Fiction at the University of Arkansas. This is her first publication.


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