By: Cora Brent

My town.

Hickeyville was part of me. The unsmiling ancestors captured in the tintypes hanging in my father’s study were among the Civil War era founders. At least that’s what the history books said.

I turned my head because I didn’t want to see the fire anymore. It was ugly. Plus, there were the lights of the first response vehicles and the shapes of frantic residents who’d left their homes to find out what was burning on this frigid late February night. Some of them huddled in packs and others ran around like demented puppets. I stopped looking at them too.

Instead I looked at Cecily. I could feel my dick rising as I stared at her. I wasn’t thinking about nice things, like the way she’d whistle faintly when she was sketching or how she’d press her cheek to my chest with a happy sigh for no reason.

Instead I was staring at Cecily Barnett Hickey and thinking about how hard I’d like to fuck her. Right here on the unsteady balcony. And I was in no mood to be gentle, not like the first time I pushed inside of her months ago on our wedding night. I’d held back then, easing my way in all slow and tender, gritting my teeth to keep myself from pumping too hard before she was ready to handle it.

Nope, I’d fuck her without a shred of mercy. I’d tear her panties and slam into her body as her nails raked my back. Afterwards I might be tender. I might lift her in my arms, carry her to our bed and put my mouth everywhere until she trembled. Then I’d hold her and say the words I’d been keeping to myself these days.

I love you, Cess.

I did. That was never a lie. We’d been reckless, the way we bolted to the next county and exchanged rings in a paneled basement that smelled of lacquer and pine. If the old pastor saw us for what we were – two ignorant teens trying to fill lost hopes with each other – he gave no hint. He yawned and wished us a long and happy marriage.

Cecily’s arms were crossed over her body and she shivered again as she stared out at the mushrooming orange glow.

Nothing had changed in my heart from the moment I gave her that pathetic department store ring and promised one day to do much better. Nothing had changed at all.

Except everything had changed. I didn’t know how the hell people became such strangers in a matter of months. I’d watched that happen to my parents but it was slow and punctuated by something awful that made their eventual split a relief.

Cecily didn’t deserve that. I couldn’t saddle her with a lot of terrible years as she wondered to herself whether she would have managed to make her dreams come true if we’d never gotten together. Soon it might occur to her that she’d be better off if she walked away.

And as I watched the fire rage in the distance, I had just figured out that I should let her go. I should force the hand of fate if I had to.

“Look at it,” she murmured as a pair of ambulances careened down Center Street. “I hope no one was hurt.”

I squinted at the emergency vehicles. The property my father’s house was built on sat on a small incline. That didn’t mean much except right now it gave us a better view of the factory going up in smoke. Hopefully the place was empty. Sometimes vagrants broke in there in search of refuge from the winter air. Other times kids snuck in through broken windows to drink or fuck or do dumb shit like climb up the elevator shaft on a dare. I’d done all that and more on many occasions.

“I’m sure there was no one in there,” I said, but I wasn’t sure at all. The thought made me sick. My stomach started to lurch around as if I was twisting on a roller coaster.

A light came on at my father’s house next door. He would probably appear in a moment. They all would. My father. My stepmother. Her daughter. The noise and the lights would draw them out. They might even wave to us and then try to climb up here for a better view. The thought of us all crowding together in this small space, pretending to be a unified, honorable family as we watched the fire was too much. Bile rose into my throat and I leaned over the chipped wooden railing, retching violently.

The whiskey felt like acid as it came back up and I kept heaving. I thought the flood wouldn’t end, not until I was all hollowed out and splayed on the flagstones below like the disgusting contents of my stomach.

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