Josie met him in a used bookstore, the smell of gently read words and coffee all around them. He was holding a copy of Watership Down, the rabbit she assumed to be Hazel looking at her from the cover. He was paging through it.
“It’s my favorite,” she told him. “It wouldn’t be a mistake.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked, dubious. “Rabbits…I dunno.”
“C’mon,” she said. “It’s two dollars. A steal if you love it, and a tiny loss if you don’t.”
“True,” he said. He tucked it under his arm. She smiled at small victories and browsed past him.
They met again at the coffee counter and he held up a bag that she supposed was Hazel’s temporary home. “You owe me two dollars if the rabbits are stupid,” he said, smiling. His teeth were perfectly straight.
“Oh sure,” she said. She ordered a mocha. He waited for his drink. She fumbled with her bag of new-to-her books and her wallet, and when she finally got situated, her drink was ready. The girl behind the counter watched her take it with a look that made her ask, “What?”
She shrugged, and said, “Lucky.”
An hour later when she went to throw the cup away she saw ten numbers written on the cardboard sleeve, and the words “Fiver had it right.”
Since she was only brave around books she couldn’t imagine calling, so she texted the number, “He did, didn’t he?”
“Smart rabbit,” the reply said. “Hazel wants to know if you’ll meet me for dinner?”
She told him to tell Hazel yes.
She met Adam properly over eggrolls and wonton soup, then again for ice cream and a stroll through the walking mall where they laughed at Boulder’s rabbit statues and tried not to drip ice cream on the floor of a toy store. Then again at the movies, though neither of them watched it.
“Josie,” he would say. “Where have you been?”
She didn’t know, but she wished she’d been with him.
In a month they were catching. She caught his breath and he caught hers and they were lost in lungs and eyes and hands. He was beautiful even though he was impossible and she didn’t care because he made the impossible seem like a gray area that she would grow into. And she wanted to. She was brick in the sea, falling into the depths of something she couldn’t name. Heart on a hooked line, waiting in the ocean’s current.
He reeled her in, and he took it, her heart. He held it in his hands, his fingers a cage around it. Salt water dripped from it onto the sand, the color of rust, and she felt the burn in the hollow of her chest. She thought it was safe with him.
“Josie,” he would say, “You’re amazing.”
She would laugh and shake her head and say, “No, you’re something else.” And he would hold her until they wouldn’t remember which was which.
But he was like the ocean. Fighting against himself like the waves fight the pull of the moon. Sometimes he was smooth as glass, gentle, with waves that shhhhhhh’d like a lullaby. Other times he was wild and harsh, with waves over her head.
She stood on the sand, watching, too afraid to cross her fingers for the two of them, too afraid to cross them for anything other than a lie. She kept her toes out of the reach of his waves. If she could catch her breath, she would have thrown it out to him like a net, reel him in, and hold him. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t catch her breath. She was pulling apart while he was trying to pull together. She couldn’t be anchored to the bottom of an unknown sea. She was a kite dying for a lightning storm, anything to shock her out of what had left her mouth frozen against him.
They tore apart. No more hand and eyes and weighted breaths.
He threw her heart back into the sea, and she went in after it. She’d swim to Atlantis to get it back. She thought of the Watership rabbits carried out of hell by the river, she she thought Fiver and Hazel would have been proud.
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