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Tell Me About Yours
by Gregg Kleiner

He is seventeen, a senior, and she a year younger, and neither of them have ever before gone out with anyone, for reasons that are obvious. But he'd worked up his courage and asked if she would join him for a walk in one of his favorite places, and he is now driving with her in his pickup truck on the narrow, blacktop road that snakes up the canyon west out of town to where it passes an old apple orchard. The orchard is in full bloom – a cloud of white petals tinged pink and supported by rows of dark trunks that could be springs holding up a massive mattress amid the greens of the steep valley. He slows the red truck and turns in at the near end of the orchard where an old barn leans hard on its stone foundation. The shingles on the gambrel roof are weathered grey and cupped and in some places missing altogether so the roof rafters show through in spots like the ribs of some strange bird where the feathers have been torn out.

He parks behind the barn and they get out and walk side-by-side through the low tunnels of blossoming trees. A few petals are already falling, like the first snow in late fall, he thinks, except the sky is a blazing late-April blue and the blossoms murmur with the buzzing of honey bees. He can feel his heart, so loud he is sure she must hear it, too. He wants to take her hand but doesn't trust himself, afraid she might pull away, think him too fast, demand he take her home. So they just wander through the shaggy grass and dandelions that carpet the orchard, the airy roof of flowers and sky and black branches gliding past overhead.

At one point he catches a falling petal out of the air and presents it to her on his open palm. She blows on it and the petal tumbles away and when she grins, he notices that the scars on her face blanch white.

Since she moved to town last fall, he has watched her from a distance at school but has never noticed this. He knows what others call her behind her back: Scar-Face. One-Eyed Susan. Frankenstein's Step-Sister. He also knows what they call him. Van Gogh's Twin. One-Winger. Earless Ernie. He found her attractive from that first day, her shiny dark hair and milky skin and a gap between her two front teeth that is no wider than a sheet of typing paper. More than once he has imagined gently slipping a piece of paper between those teeth, being that close – so near he can feel her breath on his ear, touch his tongue to that narrow absence, feel the skin of her throat. He no longer notices the scars, and he knows which eye to look at. Her right one. The one he looked into when he finally summoned the courage to ask her out. She hadn't answered right away, and he was sure she would turn him down – a walk was a stupid thing to invite a girl for. But she hadn't. Instead, she'd blinked a couple of times, grinned a little, and said, "That sounds like fun. I like apples." So he'd started quickly explaining that the apples weren't actually ripe yet, but that the trees in the orchard were just blooming and it was one of his favorite spots in the whole county. "I know apples ripen in the fall," she'd said, and he felt his face go hot, the skin beneath his shirt turn sticky.

Now he has to pee, but he isn't comfortable excusing himself, and where would he go, anyway? The trunks are all too narrow to hide him. And what if when he returns she is gone? What if he loses her out here in these acres of apples, this maze of cotton candy trees where they are finally together alone – away from the hallways and locker slams and hurled words? He wonders if she might have to go, too, since they have been walking for what seems hours. Then he remembers a rotting outhouse he's seen before at the far end of the orchard, so when they are close he makes himself ask her. "Do you need to…use the facilities?"

"I'm not sure I'd call that a facility," she says, then smiles and he sees the scars pulse pale again. "But yes, I do. Thank you."

Heat breaks and spreads under his skin, so he hurries ahead, calling back to her over his shoulder. "I'll check it first. You know, for spiders and stuff. Hang on." He clears away cobwebs and wipes the seat with his sleeve, then returns to her and says, "It should be fine now. You go first. I'll wait way over there."

She goes, and then he does, and when he comes out he is relieved to see her still there, standing off a ways at the edge of the blossoms, her back to him, hands clasped behind her. As he gets close, he notices scars on her knuckles and stands in the silence looking at them and at her hair down the back of her dress, the dark strands tossed by the breeze that has suddenly come up.

She turns. "Better?"

He nods. "Thank you for waiting."

"Where would I go?"

"No, I mean, it's just that…." His words tangle. "It's a pretty big orchard," he manages. Then they enter the trees again to as the breeze buffets them.

Soon, the wind is blowing hard, whipping handfuls of blossoms from the branches. A row of thunderheads noses up from behind the ridge and he says, "Maybe we should run for the barn." She turns and looks up through the branches at the clouds that are edged with silver but smudging out the sun. He notices a scar he has never seen before running out from the hairline behind her left ear.

"Let's hurry," she says. "I hate thunder." He thinks he hears an edge of panic in that word.

Soon the first fat raindrops start to pelt and they run through blossoms being battered and blown so hard it is like running through a spring snowstorm. Again, he wants to take her hand and help her along, but he doesn't. She runs more slowly than he does, and he notices a slight limp when her right foot hits, so he slows his pace, but tries to look as if he isn't. Thunder cracks loud and close and she lets out a cry and stumbles and nearly falls, but catches herself and keeps going. The sky has broken open and rain pounds down. She stumbles and nearly falls twice more before they make the barn and stand soaked and panting in the doorway below the hay mow. Petals are stuck to their wet clothes and hair. He notices one on her face and reaches out a hand to brush it away but she pulls her head back, inhales quick.

"I'm sorry," he says. "It's just that there's one on your skin, and…" As soon as he's said the word he regrets it. She puts her hand to her cheek and keeps it there. A strand of wet hair is plastered across her forehead and for a split-second he wonders what if scars were dark instead of light – green, or bright blue. Her face is flushed from the run, making the scars more visible, like when she had grinned, but even more now. Several petals cling to the back of her hand, the scars running jagged across the knuckles. The rainwater on her face makes it look like she could be crying.

"I'm sorry," he says again.

"It's okay," she says, and takes his hand.

Up in the hay loft, he sees more – on her upper arm, down one side of her rib cage, along the inside of her knee all the way down to mid-calf. Before he can stop himself the words are out. "Tell me about your scars."

She doesn't reply, and he is afraid she might grab her damp clothes hanging over a joist and run. But she doesn't. She turns toward him. "Nobody's ever asked me that way," she says, and goes on to tell him the story.

It wasn't abuse by a stepfather, or a knife fight, or being pushed into a grain auger. It wasn't cutting herself with razor blades or a shark attack or jumping from a Ferris wheel at some county fair or any of the other things the kids in school whisper about her. It was a horse that threw her through a glass window during a thunder storm when she was seven. That is all. A paned window. A black horse. A white farmhouse. A little girl flying through the air.

The sun breaks through outside the barn and beams of light slant down from old nail holes and where the shingles are missing. One beam the size of a telephone pole lands on the hay near them and she turns her head toward it then reaches a hand out into the pool of light that is so bright it makes her hand luminous.

That is when he sees another scar, this one running across the inside of her wrist, faint and barely visible. "This one, too?" he asks, touching a thumb to the network of pale blue veins. "From the horse?"

"No," she says, folding her hand toward her wrist. "That one's from later. It's my secret."

"I wondered."

"It was dumb. I'm better now."

"You're great," he says. "Thanks for coming here with me. I was sure you'd say no. It's just an old orchard."

"I told you, I like apples." He watches the narrow gap between her teeth.

Getting up, she takes his wrists and pulls him to his feet and they stand in the beam of light spilling from the ruined roof, a light so brilliant they have to squint. Bits of dust float through the column of sun, glinting like tiny needles.

She leans in and whispers, "Tell me about yours," her breath warm on his good ear.

And so he does.

 

© Gregg Kleiner, 2017
For more info on the author click here. This story was read by Amber Bogdewiecz.