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Hollis and I reached for the salt at the same time. He drew back first and apologized profusely.

“Hey, it’s just salt,” I said. “You must have been raised Catholic.” It wasn’t a joke, but he burst out laughing.

“I was actually. Did my profuse apologizing give it away?”

I grinned. “It doesn’t matter if you actually did something wrong, right? Nine times out of ten, even if you were squarely not to blame for something going wrong, it tends to feel like your fault. Someone body-slams you in the grocery store: My bad! You accidentally drop the soap in the shower: Ahh, sorry! Literally any time there’s a brief moment of silence, you’re convinced it’s because you did something wrong. Quick!! REMEDY IT WITH AN APOLOGY.”

Hollis was laughing so hard he was almost crying. Even Mercy was giggling at him.

“Oh god,” Hollis said. “What about our need to have everyone like us?”

“Is that a thing?” I laughed, sipping my wine. He was right, though.

TSA employees definitely did not need my friendship. The same was true with DMV clerks, cable installation techs, the checkout lady at the grocery store. But that sure as hell never stopped me from relentlessly trying to please them. Cheerful conversation, being as helpful as possible, making self-depreciating jokes to make their job easier.

I liked the bond I felt with him. Ha! Catholicism bringing people together. I reached down and rubbed his leg a little, just above the knee. Catholic solidarity. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t attracted to him—he was a good-looking guy. I was attracted to most men—they didn’t even have to be handsome, just had to have that spark. And I almost always pictured myself having sex with them. Amanda was lucky … undeserving.

“More wine?” I smiled, filling glasses.

“It’s delicious, Fig,” said Jolene. “Thank you so much.” There were murmurs of agreement around the table. She turned to the others. “Fig has been taking care of us while I finish the book. She cooks and helps me with Mercy. I’m so grateful for her.”

I looked down, embarrassed, but couldn’t hide my smile. When I glanced up, Amanda was staring at me, her head cocked to the side.

“What made you go … black?” she asked.

“Oh, you know. I just needed a change,” I said. “I like to go darker for winter.”

“Me too,” said Jolene. She raised her glass. “To winter.”

We clicked glasses and I was grateful for the distraction. If I wanted Amanda to trust me I had some work to do.

How did it start? When did we officially cross the line? I can’t even remember, to be honest with you. I think I have post-traumatic stress disorder from it all. I’ve definitely blocked things out. All I know is that one day, one of us went too far. I suppose that was bound to happen when you’re playing a game of toe-the-line. Humans were sexual creatures, you could suppress it for as long as you wanted, but eventually we all resorted to our animal nature. I don’t think anyone really means to cross the line with a married man. It’s socially unacceptable. And now I had this constant elation, tempered by dread. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t this person. But, you could only tell yourself something for so long and then you were doing it again. I was this person.

Maybe it was boredom or the feeling of usefulness. Maybe you just wanted to remember who you used to be before the suburbs took over and told you that you needed to be normal and fit in. Darius spoke to me, like really spoke. Some days we’d shoot the breeze, which was always fun and made my day go by faster. Other days we’d delve into the serious shit we didn’t tell anyone else. I was lonely and Darius made me feel less lonely.

George never really spoke to me. I don’t think it was necessarily me he had a problem with, he was just the sort of guy whose thoughts never reached his mouth. Darius wanted to know about George and sex. So, I told him. Every time we fucked, George spent ten minutes working his way in, gasping and panting about how tight I was. It got Darius all worked up. We were just two frustrated, emotionally starved humans. It felt nice to know I wasn’t alone. He told me that when Jolene was writing, he ceased to exist. When he texted her it took her hours to text back. I wondered if she was talking to Ryan. Wouldn’t that be a kicker?

She often complained to me about Darius’s neediness, saying he preferred to text all day than actually talk to her when he got home. “Maybe he’s tired of talking since that’s what he does all day,” I’d suggested. She didn’t bite. Work was separate to home life, she’d said. He needed to be present for her and for Mercy. Or why bother having a family? I thought she was too hard on him. Darius always texted me during the day while he was at work. I got it. While everyone was dumping their shit on him, he needed someone to make things light and fun. Jolene was selfish.

And then one day, shortly after the tight pussy comment, he texted: I want to see how tight it is. My heart had raced uncontrollably. Of course he could see. I was his. It took me an hour to get the perfect picture: me sitting on the edge of the tub, legs spread, my two fingers framing what Darius called the prettiest pussy he’d ever seen. It made me smile, and swoon, and feel like the sexiest woman alive. I thought about Jolene’s pussy just then, how Darius thought mine was prettier, and I got so turned on.

I’ve heard you having sex with her, I fished. Sounds like a good time…

It’s good, he sent back. I was disappointed. I wanted him to tell me it wasn’t. She couldn’t be good at everything, and besides, she was too uptight to be good at sex. And then he followed up with: She just lies there, but I make the best of it.

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