‘Bite’, A. Poythress

Illustrations © 2018 Laura-Anca Adascalitei

 [ Friends, © 2018, Laura-Anca Adascalitei ] “Ah, shit.”

Li doesn’t look up from her phone. She snaps her gum. “What’s up?”

“Bit through my lip on accident.”

Another snap. “Sucks.”

“It’ll stop bleeding soon, whatever.”

After a few minutes and no new texts, Li finally looks up. She blinks, surprised. “Shit, Kats. That’s a lot of blood. You sure you’re okay?”

Kat puts her hand up to her mouth, takes it away to see it covered in shiny red. The copper taste of it has already flooded her mouth, but she figured it’d clotted up before the taste had had a chance to go away. The sight of the blood coating her fingers is almost startling.

“Should we call your mom?” Li asks. It’s surprising to see concern on her face. Li usually doesn’t emote very much.

“Nah, I think it’ll be okay. Must’ve bitten harder than I thought.” When Kat probes the raw wound with her tongue, she can feel the torn flesh. It’s sort of spongey and soft, bigger than she’d initially thought.

Kat shrugs and swallows another mouthful of blood, ignores the churning in her stomach from the taste. It’ll heal.

It doesn’t.

Kat goes to bed with a mouthful of blood and wakes up with a stained pillowcase. There’s red all over her nightshirt and some caked in her hair. When she looks in the mirror in the bathroom, it’s like a horror show come to life. The wound on her lip is still open, seeping blood slowly. Kat tongues the raw flesh and winces at the sharp pain. Other than that, it really doesn’t hurt all that much.

She climbs into the shower to wash off the gore left over from the night. Maybe she should’ve put some gauze on it before she fell asleep? Or maybe she should’ve listened to Li and called her mom the night before.

Kat brushes her teeth and watches as the pink foam swirls down the drain. The mouthwash stings, but it’s a good sting. A clean one.

When she goes downstairs for breakfast, her mom takes one good look at her and drops the plates in her hands. No one comments on the shattered dinnerware.

“Jesus Christ, Kathy, what happened?” her mom asks. She cups Kat’s face in her hands, moves it back and forth under the dirty fluorescent light overhead. Her nails are sharp, pinpricks on Kat’s cheeks. “Were you attacked? The Stevenson’s have that big pit-bull, and you always hear those stories—”

“No, ma. I just bit through it last night on accident.” Kat’s used to her mom’s dramatics. That’s why she hadn’t called her when Li suggested it.

“This looks worse than a little accident. You sure someone didn’t do this to you?” She doesn’t wait for Kat to answer. “We should take you to the Doctor’s office and get this checked out.”

“Ma, it’s fine. Stop freaking out.” Her mom’s fretfulness is embarrassing. Her dad and little sister are staring at their plates, one guilty for looking away and leaving Kat to her, the other running a finger through the leftover syrup as she chews.

Her mom clucks and wipes away a trail of blood. She snatches up a kitchen towel to wipe her hands, then reaches up to make sure her blonde bob is still in place. “No way to go around, looking mauled. Just think what the neighbors will say.” Her mom grabs the cross hanging from around her neck and twists it on its chain.

Kat grimaces and pulls away. There it is. “I’m sure it’ll be fine soon,” she mumbles as she rushes out of the kitchen, snagging a piece of toast off her dad’s plate as she goes. It’s easier to escape her mom’s clucking than to deal with it. Always been that way.

Li’s waiting for her at the end of the driveway when she leaves the house. There’s the ever-present phone in her hand, but she’s looking up from it.

“Still bleeding?” she asks, even though it’s got to be obvious with the smear of red staining Kat’s chin.

The toast is stale and tastes weird mixed with a mouthful of blood. Mealy. “Yup,” Kat says, spraying red crumbs.

“Maybe it’s your period,” Li says as she wipes soggy bread off her cheek. “Like, displaced, or whatever. You haven’t had one in a while, have you?”

She hasn’t, but that seems ridiculous. A displaced period? Gross. “Tastes like normal blood to me.”

“Have you ever tasted period blood?”

“Jesus, Li.”

Li goes back to her phone, but there’s a smug air of I told you so surrounding her.

They’re supposed to be going to school, but neither feels bothered to. Li’s smart enough that she can get away with it and Kat just can’t make herself care at all. They go most days, enough so that the truancy officer doesn’t hunt them down, but there’s really no point. Kat knows that Li’s going to go to some brainy school up north on a full scholarship, while Kat gets stuck working the drive-thru window on weekends or something just as dreary, stuck in this shitty town with all the other losers. Kat wasn’t meant for great things.

They head to the park because there’s nowhere else to go that isn’t school, home, or the woods. Kat doesn’t mind the woods, but Li thinks they’re gross and dangerous. Sometimes, Kat walks into the woods by herself just to get a taste of it. She’s always inevitably disappointed when it doesn’t come.

“You look like a zombie from Night of the Living Dead,” Li says when they’re both seated on swings.

Kat has a black top on to disguise any spills, but she can still feel the hot blood sliding down her chin and neck, soaking the material. She’s never seen that movie. “Maybe I am a Zombie,” she says wistfully, kicking her legs to start her ascent. “Your neck’s looking pretty tasty.”

Li snorts, pushes her black hair behind her ear. She’s not wearing makeup today and idly, Kat thinks she looks pretty. Tired, a little soft around the edges. Her neck is long and she always holds her head high, like a crane or something. She’s so smart—will really do something with her life one day, probably pop out one or two little geniuses of her own once she meets some handsome doctor. She’ll never come back to visit Kat, even though she promises she will. She’ll be too busy with her new, better life.

Kat kicks her legs harder so she can go higher, doesn’t think of anything at all.

“Maybe you really should get that taken care of.”

“Hm?” Kat rubs another circle of red into her jeans, touches her mouth with her finger for more paint. There are two flowers curled together on her right thigh and she wants a third.

“Like, it should’ve clotted by now, right? You’re not messing with it over-much, so it shouldn’t keep going, I don’t think.” There’s Li’s concerned look again.

“Maybe. I don’t feel bad, though. Like the last time I got my period, I got all woozy and passed out. I don’t feel like that at all.”


“Yeah. Is that weird?” Kat looks up from her painting, watches Li’s nose scrunch up. It always does that when she’s thinking over a hard problem. Is Kat a hard problem?

“I guess not, if you don’t feel any worse. Might want to take some iron supplements, though.”

“Mom’s gonna pitch a fit when she sees me,” Kat says with a sigh. She’ll make it into a whole thing and Kat will have to put up with it.

Li grimaces. “Sucks.”


They head home an hour after school gets out, for lack of anything better to do. They could go bother the boys from school, Kat knows a few who would be fascinated by this kind of blood. The thought of meeting up with them turns her stomach though.

Unsurprisingly, Kat’s mom flips her shit when she looks up from the couch and sees Kat’s face and clothes.

“For fuck’s sake Kathy! Look at yourself! Someone’s going to think I’ve raised a feral child! What the hell happened?”

Kat’s sister is sat too close in front of the television, watching some nature program, blue eyes wide and unblinking. A hyena rips into the side of some poor creature’s heaving flank and the eerie laughter of the pack fills the room.

“Susanna, turn that shit off!” their mom snaps, hands flying through the signs automatically even though Suzie has her hearing-aids in.

Suzie does, plunging the house into horrible silence. Kat already misses the laughter.

“We’re going to the hospital right now, young lady! Li-Mei, I’m sorry, but you should go home. Please tell your mother I said hello.” The banality of her words in that frustrated tone makes Kat want to laugh, but she knows it would come out beastly.

“Bye, Kats,” Li mumbles as she leaves.

Kat waves at her. They’ve both gotten over trying to get her mom to call them by anything but their full first names. Her mom is on the phone to her dad, saying something about Kat spewing blood, Kat doesn’t know. She isn’t paying attention. She runs a hand over Suzie’s hair, ruffling the blonde curls and leaving streaks of red behind. Suzie grins up at her with a gap-toothed smile.

“Let’s go,” their mom snaps. There are fine lines around her eyes and mouth that Kat can’t ever recall not being there.

Kat and Suzie march out to the minivan, Suzie clambering into the back and Kat sliding into the passenger seat. Their mom frowns at Kat and reaches into the backseat to grab a towel. She throws it at Kat.

“Put this under you. We just got the upholstery done in here.”

Kat does as she’s told. She looks out the window as they drive, ignoring her mom’s bitching. It just goes in one ear and out the other; it usually does. Kat likes to imagine her mom’s voice like the adults in the Peanuts. Wah, wah, wah.

They park in a handicap spot at the hospital. They have the tag because of Suzie, but Kat figures her mom uses it because she likes people to see her there. Their mom is like that. She uses Suzie like some sort of pity trophy.

Kat grabs Suzie’s hand as they cross the parking lot. Suzie doesn’t seem to mind the red stains on Kat’s fingers. She never cares what Kat looks like or does or how her actions will reflect badly on the family. Suzie just cares that Kat spends time with her and treats her like the normal 7-year-old she is.

The ER the next town over is relatively empty on a school day afternoon. A man is snoring in his seat with a newspaper draped over his face while a young mother watches over her toddler. The mom looks tired and the toddler is excited even with a lime green cast all the way up to his shoulder. Suzie immediately drops Kat’s hand to go make a new friend. She tends to get along with young kids easily. The young mom looks a little horrified when she sees Kat, but her gaze softens over Suzie and her hearing-aids.

The nurse at the intake desk only looks slightly perturbed when Kat’s mom drags her over. She’s clearly seen worse. “How can I help you?” she asks.

“As you can see, my daughter is bleeding excessively. It’s been like this since…” her mom pauses and gestures at her.

“Yesterday. Last night, actually.”

The nurse’s eyebrows go up a fraction of an inch. A little more interesting, then. “I’ll see who’s available. Just sign in right here, please.”

They walk back to the waiting room where Suzie is laughing with delight and signing something to the toddler. It—he?—doesn’t know what Suzie’s trying to say, but he keeps handing her blocks with a smile. Suzie doesn’t seem to mind. Their mom grumbles quietly about not being seen to right away. She perks up when she notices the young mother and sits down next to her. Poor thing.

After a few minutes, the nurse says, “Kathy Hargrove? If you could follow me?”

Kat gets up and trails after her, focusing on the swish of her pants as her thighs rub together. Kat hasn’t been to this ER in a few years, so she doesn’t recognize the nurse. In her 20s, pretty, hair tied back in a tight ponytail. She’s heavy and wears it well. Kat thinks about her own harsh angles and how they would hurt against such softness.

The nurse takes her weight and height, blood pressure and temperature. She stares at Kat’s stained clothing for a minute before digging out a paper gown and handing it to her. “I’ll see if we have anything else, but for now this will have to do.”

It’s more than Kat was expecting. She changes into the flimsy gown when the nurse leaves the room, keeps her panties on but puts the rest of her messy clothes in a pile on the chair. The nurse comes back in and gestures at the table, then leaves. Kat sits and waits.

A long time passes by while Kat stares at the various posters on the walls and a doctor finally comes in. It’s been enough time that the blood has started flowing down her neck and onto the gown.

“Hello, Miss Hargrove. I hear you seem to have a spot of bleeding.” The doctor is middle aged, already balding. He looks exhausted even with his attempt at good humor. His accent isn’t local, either. Kat wonders where he’s from and why he’d choose to move down here. He looks up from his chart and smiles when he takes her in. “Well, then. I guess there’s no doubt about that bleeding, huh?”

The doctor, Dr. Carl as he tells him to call her, asks her all sorts of questions. Her eating habits, whether she’s anorexic or bulimic—”It’s okay to be honest with me, you’re old enough that we don’t need to tell your parents, but we can still get you help.”—if she’s a virgin and if she’s sexually active.

Normal, no, no, no, not really. She’d fucked Adrian on a whim and hadn’t really enjoyed it. Li had done it with Stuart and she’d said it was fun. Kat didn’t get the hype, hadn’t wanted to do it again. She’s fooled around a bit with a few other boys at school, but none of that was good, either. She hasn’t done it in a while.

Dr. Carl nods and hums and writes things down. “Time for the physical exam, then.”

He uses a lighted scope to look into her nose and ears, listens to her heart and lungs with a cold stethoscope that gives her goosebumps.

“Onto the main event.” Dr. Carl smiles like it’s all a joke.

She opens her mouth and he prods around. The taste of latex is sharp and bitter on her tongue. Worse than the blood.

“How did the initial wound occur?” he asks. He pulls back so she can answer.

“Bit through it on accident.”

“And how have you felt? You’ve been bleeding continuously since the bite? That’s a pretty significant amount of blood.” He doesn’t sound like he believes her.

She can see his gloves are streaked with her blood and spit.

“I feel normal,” she tells him. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“No nausea, either? That’s why you’re not supposed to tilt your head back during a nosebleed. Swallowing a lot of blood makes you throw up. None of that though, huh?”

Kat thinks about it. “Maybe the first mouthful. It felt gross. But nothing after that.”

Dr. Carl hums thoughtfully and asks her a few more questions about disorders and diseases she’s never heard of. Then he waves it off and says they’ll check her bloodwork while they’re running a pregnancy test.

The words send a sick shock through her system.

Pregnant. Wouldn’t that just be a kick in the fucking ass. Her mom would never let her live it down. Oh, how the neighbors would talk. Suzie would like a baby, but Kat doesn’t even want kids. She’s never wanted them.

“Don’t worry, though,” Dr. Carl says as if picking up on her internal panic. “That’s unlikely. But we have to check, just to make sure. For now, let’s stitch that cut shut so you can have some peace.”

The thought of stitches in her mouth makes her feel queasy. “Will it hurt?”

Dr. Carl grins. “No. We’ll give you an injection first, then the stitches. Doesn’t hurt but a slight sting from the shot. Now lie back, we’ll have you fixed in just a moment.”

Kat does as he asks. She closes her eyes and listens to him move around, leave the room for a few minutes, before coming back. The footsteps of another person follow. Not her mom or she’d start harassing her.

“Okay. Just a little prick from the needle, then we’ll give it a minute to activate. You ready?”

Everything goes about as well as could be expected. The needle sliding into the raw skin of her lip hurts, but that goes away quickly enough. What remains is the sensation of tugging every time a stitch gets tied off. She’s had stitches before, but never in her face. It’s different. Weird. Not any weirder than bleeding everywhere, probably.

“All done!” Dr. Carl says cheerfully. He removes his gloves with a noisy snap. “Nurse Laura got you some scrubs to wear home. Those stitches dissolve, so you don’t even have to worry about coming back in here for removal.”

He keeps droning on about aftercare and keeping everything clean, but Kat isn’t paying him any mind anymore. She probes at the sewed-up gash with her tongue. The whole area is numb still, but the stitches are rough and prickly against it. Once Dr. Carl leaves the room, Kat puts the scrubs on. They’re too big and the neon frolicking puppies give her a headache, but it’s better than going home in bloody clothes.

She bundles everything up and holds it under her arm as she walks out of the room. Retracing her path to the waiting room is easy enough. Kat smiles when she sees Suzie signing to a guy in scrubs, a delighted smile on her face. Not many people know enough ASL to hold actual conversations with her. She’s acquired some smiley face stickers in the time Kat’s been with the doctor and they’re all over her dress and cheeks and there’s even one hanging from a curl.

“Finally,” their mom snaps, standing up. She brushes her hands down her jeans. “You don’t look like some murder victim anymore. Let’s go.”

Kat holds a hand out for Suzie. No more red? Suzie signs with her free hand while she mouths the words. No more red, Kat signs back with a smile. The Doctor sewed me up like your teddy bear. She’d had to sew Suzie’s bear’s arm back on after it’d gotten ripped off.

Suzie nods and grins. She swings their arms all the way to the car and Kat decides to slide into the back with her, ignoring their mother’s grumbling about not being a chauffeur.

The rest of the night is boring. Kat texts Li for a while, but she had AP coursework to finish. Kat could do her homework, surprise her teachers for once, but she spends the night coloring with Suzie instead. It’s a much better investment of effort.

Suzie has another nature documentary on, something bloody and violent. Kat doesn’t mind it—it’s a representation of the real world, one Suzie doesn’t get to have much access to with their mother’s constant hovering.

At some point their dad gets back home and he runs his hand over Kat’s head. He looks exhausted, brown hair ruffled like he’s been running his fingers through it a lot. His suit is rumpled, too. “All better?” he asks softly. Kat flashes him a thumbs-up but doesn’t bother saying anything to him. He quickly wanders away, brown eyes glossy, off in his own world that Kat doesn’t have any access to. Not anymore.

She goes to bed around the same time Suzie does, more from boredom than anything else. Her mom hasn’t been in to change the bloody sheets or pillow case, but Kat doesn’t mind it. She curls up facing the stains, probes at her lip one last time before shutting her eyes.

In her dream, there’s something pulsing inside her. It’s throbbing, beating, alive. Whatever it is, it crawls up into her throat, trying to push its way into the open. When it can’t find an exit there, it moves further up, filling her mouth with something sticky and hot. She can feel it behind her lips, clawing for a way out. She opens her mouth when it becomes too much, and it rushes out of her, dribbling down her mouth, dripping down her throat, covering her in its red embrace.

 [ Blood, © 2018, Laura-Anca Adascalitei ] Kat sits up with a start. When her eyes adjust, she sees blood all over her covers. Had her period come during the night? No. She lifts a hand to her mouth and winces at the salt against her open wound. Her lip, bleeding again. How? Kat goes to the bathroom and inspects her lip in the mirror. No stitches where they’re supposed to be. Just a bleeding, gaping wound.

She goes downstairs, lets her mom get one good look at her.

“What have you done?” she shrieks.

They head back to the emergency room. A new nurse is at the desk, but when Kat is led back, she’s surprised to see Dr. Carl still there. Does he live at the ER? He frowns when he sees Kat, sees the blood all down her throat. He’s angry, at first, admonishing her for ripping stitches out when her cut wasn’t healed. Kat insists she didn’t, and he clearly doesn’t believe her. Why should he?

But when he puts on a pair of gloves and inspects her mouth, he frowns. There are no holes where the needle punched through her skin to stitch her up. They can’t have healed, it’s not been nearly enough time. It’s like he never made them in the first place.

“Bizarre,” he murmurs.

He gets out a tube of something he calls medical glue, wipes up her mouth with a gauze as best he can, and squirts it into the cut. Kat can’t see, but she feels something wet plop into her lap. When she looks down, there’s a puddle of clear goop on her sleep pants. Dr. Carl swears, something he probably shouldn’t do in front of a patient. Not that Kat really cares. He picks up a wad of gauze and folds it carefully over her cut, tapes the whole thing onto her face.

“I’m not sure what’s causing this, but hopefully your test results will come back with some definite answers. Until then, you’ll have to keep it covered and change the gauze when it soaks through.” He sounds as mystified as Kat feels. She nods her ascent and makes her way back to the waiting room and her impatient mother.

“I don’t know what you think you’re trying to pull,” she hisses as they make their way back to the van. She’s got a pink house robe on that she keeps clutching to her chest as she looks around, afraid someone will see them. Her other hand is clutching Kat’s arm, nails pressing in hard enough to hurt. It’ll leave bruises. “What must those people think of us, back here two days in a row like this? I’ll not have you pulling stunts for attention.”

Kat ignores her hissing the whole way back home. Instead, she watches in the side mirror as a small spot of red appears in the center of her gauze, spreading slowly.

“I thought you went to the hospital,” Li says when Kat joins her at the end of the driveway a few hours later.

“I did,” Kat says. “Didn’t stick, I guess.” She’s already had to change the gauze once since coming home. It’s like her wound doesn’t want to be covered up or something.

“Are you sure we should go to school? I’m okay with skipping again.” Li pushes her hair behind her ear. Her eyeliner is smudged at the corners, makes her eyes seem narrower. Her lip gloss is a sticky peach.

“It’s fine.”

Kat didn’t put any effort into her outfit today, didn’t even bother brushing her hair. She already looks a mess with the gauze taped to her mouth. The kids in the hall stare at her and whisper as they walk by, but she just can’t bring herself to give a single fuck. It’s not like any of their opinions matter to her whatsoever. She’ll be graduating in a few months, then she’ll never have to interact with them again.

Jonah Ross is waiting by her locker. He grins when he sees her, adjusts his stance so she can see his muscles through his letterman jacket. “Get up to some trouble, kitty cat?” he asks in his drawling accent. He reaches out to hook a finger in Kat’s waistband, trying to pull her closer. All Kat can see when she looks at him is his blatant hunger.

“Fuck off,” Kat mumbles as she pulls away. Jonah’s been trying to bend her over since sophomore year. He only wants her because she won’t let him have it, and everyone knows. He’s the reason half the nasty rumors about her even spread around town in the first place. “I’ll see you at lunch,” she says to Li. She can’t deal with this right now.

The day doesn’t get any better. Kat gets sent to the nurse’s office twice by two separate dismayed teachers because she forgets to change her gauze. Her classmates stare at her with horror mixed with glee as she continues to bleed. Li’s a comforting presence at the lunch table, but it’s little good when people keep coming over to gawk at her and ask inane questions she can’t answer.

Melissa Parker corners her after last period, blocking her escape from the classroom. “I heard you’ve been bleeding for two days,” Melissa says. Her skirt goes past her knees and she’s got socks that go all the way up to meet it, leaving no gap to show any skin. The cross at her neck is shiny and gold and Kat knows she wears it with more devoutness than her mother does.

“So?” Kat asks. Li is probably already at their lockers.

“You should come talk to the Reverend,” Melissa says. “I think this might be a sign from God.”

Kat looks at Melissa. “Are you serious?”

“I’m going to tell him about it after school, and I’m sure he’d love to talk to you.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Kat pushes past Melissa, ignores her shouts about Jesus and miracles, ignores the stares she’s getting from people who have heard about her throughout the day. More rumors.

Li is waiting at their lockers, texting someone. She looks up and smiles at Kat, one crooked canine peeking out past her bottom lip. Kat feels a painful throb in her mouth.

“Let’s go.”

Nothing about the next few days feels any more normal. People in town stare at her and whisper when she walks Suzie to the small public library that threatens to go under every other year. Suzie doesn’t notice them, doesn’t seem to notice anything’s different about Kat at all. She’s happy to skip along, hopping over cracks and grass while she signs to Kat any stray thought that breezes through her mind.

Kat feels their stares like a physical thing, sliding down her skin with more presence than the blood that keeps dripping. She tenses up anytime someone opens their mouth around her.

People seem to have three theories about Kat: that she’s some sort medical marvel that has doctors confounded, that she’s been touched by the Lord, or that she’s faking it by hurting herself for attention. Dr. Carl called to tell her the results that came in were all normal and he’d like her in for more, but Kat couldn’t be bothered to actually do it. It’ll either stop on its own or it won’t. Simple as that.

Someone from school—Kat suspects that Melissa Parker bitch—posted about her online on some stupid Christ blog, so more people come to town to try to gawk at her. There are people in front of her neighborhood with signs and cameras, waiting to catch a glimpse of the mysterious ‘girl who bleeds.’

There’s even some man who grabs her as Kat and Li are walking home from school. He tries to touch her mouth and Kat flips out, punching him and yelling until people start coming out of their houses to stare.

“I just wanted to see!” the man shouts, cowering away from the gathering crowd. “If I get her blood on me, I’ll be healed! I’ll be anointed!”

Someone had obviously called the cops since they show up then, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Kat and Li get out of there before they’re detained and questioned about some crazy dude’s rambling. Neither of them want to deal with it, especially not with the other Jesus freaks starting to make their way over to join the commotion.

“Girls bleed all the time,” Li says from the couch later. She’s got Suzie in her lap, braiding her hair while they watch another nature documentary. “You don’t see people freaking out about that.” Kat doesn’t want to leave the house and run into any of those people again and Li’s been good enough to come over to hang out instead.

“I guess they only care when it doesn’t come from your cunt.”

Li laughs and signs for Suzie when she waves her curiosity. “You shouldn’t swear around the kid,” she says, even as she signs to Suzie what Kat said. Suzie grins, uncomprehending.

“Not like she doesn’t see worse with these fucking shows she’s always watching,” Kat grumbles. On the television, a shark is ripping a seal apart, blood spreading cloudy in the water. A shark would be able to smell her from a mile away, Kat thinks.

“Nature documentaries are important for developing minds,” Li says mildly. She props her chin on top of Suzie’s head to watch along once she finishes the braid.

Kat can’t help but watch Li instead of the screen. She’s signing with Suzie even as they watch the documentary. Li was the only one of Kat’s friends who learned sign language when Suzie had her accident and lost the majority of her hearing. Everyone else just hovered around awkwardly, unsure what to do. When Kat asked why Li had done it, Li rolled her eyes and said Suzie deserved to have a lot of people to talk to. It’d be too boring to only have her family’s voices all the time.

That was the day Kat realized how different Li was to everyone else. She cared. She was funny and smart and pretty and she gave so much of a shit while Kat usually felt hollow with indifference, like the world could end and it wouldn’t even matter.

“You should probably change the dressing, Kats. It’s dripping.” Li’s voice pulls Kat out of her thoughts. She’s peering over Suzie’s head at Kat, making a silly face that makes Kat’s heart lurch hard once. “You’ve already ruined enough shirts to last a lifetime, right?”

Her eyeliner has gathered unattractively in the corners of her eyes, and the gloss is all gone from her lips, leaving them chapped and slightly cracked. Li usually worries what other people perceive, that they’re staring at her, but she’s never minded Kat seeing all the different sides of her. Kat’s never minded looking.

She always wants to be looking.

“Oh.” The word escapes Kat’s mouth before she can catch it and hide it away.

Li tilts her head. “You okay?”

“I’m good.” Kat gets up and goes up the stairs to where she’s left her supplies. She ignores them, peels the tape away from the gauze and pulls it away from her mouth.

The gash is gone, just a smear of red left behind in its place.

Kat touches her lip, prods at it with her tongue, but there’s nothing there. She smiles at herself in the mirror, notes the soft flush that spreads over her cheeks, the new light that twinkles in the depth of her eyes, the way her brown hair looks shinier than usual.

“Well, then.”

“Everything going okay up there?” Li’s voice drifts up the stairs. Suzie’s giggle is a faint melody under her words and Kat wonders what they’re doing to cause that happy sound. Her heart pounds quickly at the sound of them.

Kat switches off the light in the bathroom and heads down the stairs, gripping the banister tightly as she goes.

“Everything’s okay.”

© 2018 A. Poythress

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