Torrance writes him twice a month, two double-sided pages in her neat
bubbly cursive. The envelopes always smell like fruit, gum, candy.
Cliff writes her, too. Sometimes she'll get three letters in as many days,
and sometimes she'll go weeks without one. Each of his letters is
different. A dozen napkins, covered in tiny, barely legible chicken
scratch; a folded collage made from old magazines and comic books; his
latest song; occasionally just a few ripped notebook pages, with funny
stories. He doodles on the back of the envelopes, little cartoons. The
last one had a careless map of the U.S., with a girl with pom-poms jumping
about where California would be, with the sun poking out over her shoulder,
and a boy with a hat in the opposite corner, with dots of snow falling all
They talk on the phone every Thursday. The phone bills are awful, she's
sure, but her parents are letting it go, probably because she's keeping up
her grades, for once. This semester, Torrance is Miss Time Management,
between school and cheering and everything.
Every weekend, she and Les drive back to Rancho Carne. At least, they used
to; Les has started spending more weekends on campus since he met Rick, so
lately she's been driving home alone.
Her parents seemed surprised to see her the first couple weeks, and they
still hint subtly that she might want to try and get more involved in the
college community, but she ignores them, and really, they don't try very
hard anymore. Just shrug, and go about their lives. The cretin does the
same, pretty much, stopping every once in a while to whine about not ever
getting rid of her.
She and Missy have a standing date Saturday nights. Torrance packs her bag
and heads over to the Pantones', and they have what Missy still refuses to
call a slumber party. She rolls her eyes and groans at all the stupid girl
stuff, but they end up doing it every time anyway: eating brownie batter,
braiding each other's hair, watching scary movies, playing truth or dare,
Missy tells her about the squad, and how well they're doing, and whatever
power trip Whitney and Courtney are throwing this week, and all the newest
talk at the high school. Torrance talks less, mostly because she doesn't
have all that much to say, but she tries to save up interesting things from
her week to tell.
They talk about Cliff occasionally. "How're you guys doing, anyway?"
Missy'll ask, leaning against her bed and grabbing a handful of popcorn.
Torrance grins then, ducks her head, and says, "Go-ood," and Missy laughs a
little. Or she'll ask about the new band, and Torrance will try and
remember what he told her the other day. "This one is called Headless
Chickens. They're kind of more post punk, new wave." Missy nods at that,
seemingly enlightened; Torrance has no real idea what means, despite the
dozens of records she spent the summer listening to under Cliff's guidance.
They don't talk about him very often, though. Mostly they stick to other
Torrance usually dozes off first. Missy looks a lot like Cliff when she's
It's Friday afternoon, and she's packing for home when she gets a call from
Missy, canceling for Saturday.
"But -- we do this every week."
"I know, and I'm sorry."
"I have a date."
"You have a date?"
"Is that so shocking?" Missy sounds amused.
Yes. "No, of course not. Sorry, Missy. That's great!" She tries for
cheer. "Next week, then."
"Thanks, Tor. I knew you'd understand."
Torrance stares at the phone for a second after she hangs up. She wants to
call Cliff, but that's stupid; they just talked last night, and he's busy
doing his thing in Boston.
She dumps her clothes out on the bed and wanders over to Les's room. He's
sitting at his desk, doing something on his computer. She lies down on his
bed and crosses her arms.
"She cancelled on me."
"Who?" Les doesn't look away from the screen.
"Missy. She has a date."
"Good for her! Who with?"
"I can't believe it. I mean, we had plans."
"We do this every week! There's a commitment!"
"She can have a life, Torrance. You're going out with her brother."
"Yeah. And that's why you're being so jealous."
"I'm not jealous."
Les doesn't answer.
"I'm in love with Cliff."
"Dude, Torrance, I know you are. I'm just saying you're not exactly
platonic with Missy, either, all right?"
"Missy is my best friend."
Les shrugs and continues to work.
"Maybe they can conglomerate and form you, like, an uber-Pantone."
"Shut up, Les! Not helping!"
"Well, what do you want me to say?"
"Tell me what to do."
"Who says you have to do anything?"
Torrance thinks about that. "Goddammit." She stands up and stalks out of
the room. Les shouts goodbye after her cheerfully.
When she gets back, she picks her pom-poms off the bed and stands in the
middle of the room. Not enough space to do much of anything, but it's
better than nothing, so she puts on the tape Cliff sent her and practices
There's kissing in the dreams, and sex, too, but not always. Sometimes
it's just sitting around, quiet and comfortable, with a sense of weird,
perfect familiarity that she thinks might not exist in real life.
She thinks her dreams are getting weirder, but there's not really any way
to tell. All the ones she had before were normal stuff -- flying, tests,
being naked in front of the entire school -- but who's to say that the
weirdness wasn't always there, and she just never remembered before?
She's not remembering the whole things now, either, just flashes and tiny
images. Cliff, head resting on her thighs, smiling up at her, big
calloused hand wrapped around hers, and he squeezes gently. But then it's
not Cliff after all, but Missy, and they stand close. Missy's hand is in
Torrance's hair, and Torrance is touching Missy's belly, where the skin is
soft and creamy, but she can still feel the muscle underneath, like hers,
except better somehow. Another flash, and she's being kissed, and she can
feel breasts pressing against her own, and then she hears Cliff whisper her
name in her ear, and they're on his bed again. When she looks up, she
doesn't recognize the face there, just dark hair and dark eyes and an
uneven smile, and she breathes out softly.
They're kind of starting to freak her out, the dreams.
Missy's barely two feet away, sitting on the floor, propped up against the
couch with the bowl of snacks between them. It's just like every other
Saturday night they've spent right here doing exactly this, except it's
different, because Torrance gets it now.
Missy takes a handful of pretzels from the bowl above her head, eyes never
leaving the television, where the stupid video's playing. Torrance has no
clue what's going on there; she lost track of the plot and characters
pretty early on.
One of the girls, the pretty red-headed one, is screaming as Torrance asks,
too casually, "So, how was the date?"
Missy swallows with a gulp. "It was okay. Pretty fun."
"You gonna go out with him again?"
Torrance watches the part in Missy's hair as she speaks.
"I don't know. He's a nice guy and all, but not really someone I'd really
get into, you know?"
Missy twists away from the screen, towards Torrance, and flashes her a
quick grin. "Great kisser, though," and she faces the video again. The
red-headed girl has escaped, apparently, and she's crying in the arms of
For a second, Torrance imagines sliding off the couch, down to the floor,
next to Missy. Placing her hand on Missy's arm, saying her name softly
until she turns, lips parted. Torrance would lean in quickly, kiss her,
and Missy wouldn't even hesitate, just kiss her back till they're lying
tangled on the floor.
Except she knows Missy wouldn't do that. Missy would push her away, and
Missy would be disgusted, and Missy would say, "You're dating my
brother." She'd say other things, too, probably, and Torrance knows
she'd be completely right.
And even if she didn't push her away, let it happen, that wouldn't be any
better. Torrance can already see Cliff looking at her, the way he looked
back with the whole Aaron thing, only a million times worse.
Torrance stretches a little, then curls up tighter in the corner of the
couch. She takes a pretzel of the bowl and starts nibbling at it, even
though she's not really hungry, even though she feels slightly nauseous.
The worst part, Torrance thinks, is that now that's she's figured all this
out, she can see all this stuff in retrospect. She's pretty sure if it was
a year ago, and she did what she wants to do, Missy would kiss back, and
everything would be okay. Everything would be good, except....
Well, she'd have Missy then, but she wouldn't have Cliff.
She slumps against the back of the couch a little and tries to watch the
movie. The red-headed girl's boyfriend is having family troubles, apparently.
Torrance wonders if kissing Missy would be like kissing Cliff. If it'd be
like kissing her dream person.
Seeing Cliff again is completely different than she thought it would be.
She'd expected more awkwardness, but instead she's too busy clinging to him
and squealing and kissing for any deep angst to have time to make itself
"God, Torr, I missed you so much." He laughs into her hair, holding her in
a tight hug.
"Me, too," she says, and she doesn't think she could stop smiling if she
It's only later, when they're in her room, sitting on her bed, that she
notices the differences. He's paler, for one thing; she can see the
contrast of their skin where their hands are clasped together.
She raises her gaze to his face, and yeah, there, too. She starts to say
something about the California sun, but then her breath catches in her
throat. Cliff's leaning forward, and his hair has fallen all around his
face and neck.
Cliff looks over at her and catches her look. "What?"
He raises his hand to his head, patting it briefly. "Yeah, I was kind of
ignoring it at school. I'll probably go to the hairdresser's tomorrow."
"Don't." Torrance scoots closer to him. She takes a lock in her hand and
plays with it. "I like it."
"Yeah?" He grins at her.
"Okay. I guess long hair it is."
"Yay," says Torrance. She kisses him again and pushes them down onto the
bed. Deja vu, and a memory so clear it feels almost real, and she
"Would you do something for me?"
Torrance decides to interpret that as a sign of love and romance, rather
than teenage boy hormones. "Would you let me put make-up on you?"
Cliff pulls away a little to look her in the eyes. "Make-up?"
She nods. "I want to see you in it."
He looks at her a few seconds longer, and Torrance thinks she can almost
see him think 'What the hell.' "Okay."
She sits up. "Really?"
He braces himself on his elbows. "Sure. Why not?"
Eyeliner first. A bit of eye shadow, some blush. Cherry lip gloss till his
Cliff's face is too masculine to ever look really androgynous, but he does
look ... different. Softer, somehow. Cliff still, but Torrance can see
the hint of something, someone else, too.
She leans in to kiss him again, tastes the gloss and feels the hair brush
her face, feels beneath her hands Cliff, strong and solid wherever she
touches, and she thinks: this is as close as she's going to get.
And she thinks she could get used to that.