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the wind will be my hands

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Rashida could get a stone to fall in love with her, she was that good. You’ve never seen someone even half as smooth as her, making you feel like you’re everything, the sun and the stars and the air you breathe. And when she turned her full attention to you - those eyes, glittering bright in her face, open and honest and true - you’re a liar if you ever said you could look away.

There’s a woman at the end of the bar - long black hair, tumbling down over her shoulders, rolling down her back, so long it’d brush the stool if she slouched over just a bit more. Rashida’s been watching her since the second she stepped into the bar. The woman’s been nursing the same beer for ages, picking at the edges of the label with blunt nails, chipped polish flaking off when she picks at those, too.

It’s too early in the day for a girl like that to be staring so hard at a bottle. The sun’s only just gone down, after all.

“I’m going over,” Rashida says, almost like she’s daring someone to stop her. She slides off the stool, rolls up her sleeves. Flashes of ink peek out from beyond the edges of folded-over plaid. A hint of flowers, here, some abstract lines, there, something that may be a tentacle, winding its way down around her elbow.

Like hell do you say no to Rashida.

She did this a lot, it turns out. Waltzed into some nowhere town, made herself at home. Picked up a friend or two. It’s how she got by. Some people go to towns like this to put down roots; Rashida goes to rip up the flower beds.

Rashida hovers close, starts talking. From a distance, it’s hard to make out what she’s saying, but from the looks of it, whatever lies she’s spewing seem to be working. The words coming out of her mouth don’t mean nothing, they’re all pretty but useless, but she says them all with a smile, a laugh, a brush of fingertips over the woman’s wrist. A hand, laid flat over her forearm, as she tips her head back in laughter.

Slowly, the woman tilts on her stool, angling herself towards Rashida.

Rashida’s already won. This girl doesn’t know it, but she’s leaving here with Rashida, one way or another.

“What’s a beautiful girl like you doing in a dump like this?” Rashida asks.

The woman glances up. Smiles. “Nice pick up line. Try again.”

“Are you an angel? Because you’ve been running through my mind all day.” Rashida flicks at the pile of peeled-off label pieces, scattering them across the top of the bar.

The smile gets bigger. “That’s not even how that saying goes. You can do better than that.”

“Maybe.” She honest to God bats her eyelashes. On anyone else, it’d look ridiculous. Rashida makes it work. “What’s your name?” she asks. While she’s waiting for an answer, she leans in and gestures at the bartender, an excuse to drape herself over the woman.

The woman hesitates. Flicks her eyes towards the bartender, who’s still a few customers away. “Raven,” she says. Tosses her head to the side; her dark hair shakes around her. Almost like feathers, spilling down over her shoulders.

Rashida shakes her head. “No, it’s not.”

“Cleopatra,” she says, to another shake of Rashida’s head. “Eurydice,” she tries again, and now Rashida’s smiling.

“Come on.” Rashida puts on her most pleading expression. “Give me something to work with.”

“Call me August, then,” she says. “Some other people do.” To the bartender, finally hovering near, trying not to eavesdrop: “Another one.” She pushes the empty bottle towards him. “And whatever she’s having.”

“That’s supposed to be my line.” Rashida’s fingertips settle lightly on August’s arm. “Whiskey, neat.”

August snorts. “Show off.”

The bartender slides a fresh bottle and a short glass across the top to Rashida and August.

Rashida lifts up her glass, tips her head to the side. Takes a sip, while August nurses her new beer.

“You’re not from here,” Rashida says.

August looks at her hands, wrapped around the bottle. “Depends who’s asking,” she says, and then, “Depends on who you’re asking, too.”

Rashida looks long and hard, then.

It’s August’s boots that give her away. The rest of her doesn’t fit here, in this particular bar, in this particular town. Her clothes look too trendy, her make-up’s too on-point. The slim-fitting jeans, the sweater spilling off of one shoulder, the chunky necklaces half-fallen behind the sweater. Maybe when the discount shops here start selling clothes that are only a few years out of style, when those same necklaces are on a rack, dusty, chains twisted, up, with a “buy two get one” sticker plastered over the brand name on the tag, when all the people wherever August came from have moved on to a new look — maybe then, she’d look like she actually belonged here. Maybe then, she’d pass better.

But it’s the boots that do it. They’re heavy, black, worn and scuffed leather. Those boots are wearing the dust and grime and shit of years spent in fields and on gravel roads in the middle of nowhere.

Those boots are from here, and so is August.

“You just came back.” Rashida eyes her, critical, like maybe she’s seen her before. But it’s Rashida who’s not from here, and even if she were, she wouldn’t claim it either. “You’ve been away for a while, but here you are.”

“Here I am.” August takes a long pull from her drink, “And I’m leaving again.” The admission slips and even August looks surprised by it.

“Well then.” Rashida grins. “Do you want to see something cool before you go?”

And this is where August should walk away. Say no, give up and go back to whatever farm she’s running from. Or just pack a bag and keep on running. She should do anything other than this. No one should ever say yes to Rashida.

August shrugs. “Sure.” She draws her fingers through the moisture beading up on the surface of the bar. “Don’t see why not.”

“Come on, then.” Rashida tosses money on the bar, careless, too much for her tab or the one August’s got started. August goes to add some money to the pile, but Rashida waves her off. “We’ve got to go if we want to get there before they close.”

She extends her hand. Waiting.

“Who’s ‘they’?” August eyes the outstretched hand with suspicion.

“It’s a secret. You’ll see. Come on.” Her hand pushes forward into August’s space, urgent.

Another long look from August, but curiosity triumphs and she sets her hand atop Rashida’s.

Rashida beams, like it’s Christmas.

The girls make their way outside, August led by Rashida, their hands still clasped together. “The truck,” Rashida says. She nods her head at a pickup, parked at the very edge of the unmarked lot.

The truck’s a mess, bird shit streaking the windshield, dust and mud coating it up around the wheels. Like she went off-roading because someone told her that’s what you do around here for fun. Nothing to see up in the hills but more dirt and half abandoned farms and mangled trees, but everyone does it anyway, drives off between knocked-down fence posts, no trespassing sign rattling under your wheels. You drive off through the mud to a spot where no one will find you. Where no one’ll go looking, at least.

“That’s her,” Rashida says, and she pats the gate, leaving a smear of fingerprints cutting through the grime. The words coming out of her mouth feel like another thing people around here are supposed to say, but it doesn’t fit right. She sounds too earnest by half.

“This is yours?” August sounds skeptical. “This truck, right here.” She drags a fingertip through the dirt, tracing out the big letter F-as-in-Ford on the gate. She looks at it, longer and closer than most people look at a truck. The truck doesn’t match Rashida. She doesn’t look like the kind of girl who slides out of a truck like this.

“It runs,” Rashida says. Defensive, almost. She unlocks the passenger door — actual keys in an actual lock, how quaint — and opens it for August. “In,” she says. “I’ve got an appointment to keep.”

August slides in. No hesitation. Whatever she’s running from, it must be worse than whatever could happen after Rashida puts that key in the ignition.

When she starts it up, her foot slips off the clutch and it stalls out, sputtering and wheezing. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. Tries again.

They drive.

Not far - just out from the seedy edge of town in to the city center. Half-lit bars and dried-out lawns give way to street lights and cheerful decorations, homemade signs that read “my son is an honors student” and “hoagie fundraiser saturday 8am” and “pasta benefit dinner weds 6-8pm first presby basement for julie k pray for julie k”.

August doesn’t say much on the drive. The only one doing any talking is the battered GPS propped up on the dash. “Prepare to turn left,” it says.

Rashida sneaks a glance over at August now and then, when she’s not busy looking down at her phone for the map. She studies August’s profile, the way her eyelashes fan out over her cheeks when she closes her eyes. August closes her eyes a lot on the drive, so Rashida has a lot of time to look. August looks away when going past a church, the high school football stadium, a bar, a run-down looking ranch house.

Rashida wants to ask. But she keeps her mouth shut. That’s a new one for her.

“In five hundred feet, your destination is on the right,” the GPS says.

She pulls into a shopping center. A glorified strip mall, really: discount grocery store, chinese buffet. Discount shoe store, clothing store. Dentist, a pizza place, a bank. A feed store, at the very end of the long row of buildings.

Rashida parks her truck in between two others. They’ve all done piss-poor jobs at parking; Rashida’s taking up a good two-and-a-half spaces, but so is the truck next to hers, and the one next to that.

“Need to stock up on fertilizer?” August asks. “Chicken wire?”

“Thought I’d build a coop,” Rashida says. She cracks a smile at August before fishing in her purse; she pulls out a scarf and drapes it over her hair. Next, a pair of sunglasses, perched on her nose.

“It’s dark,” August points out.

“Those fluorescent lights inside.” Rashida adjusts the sunglasses. “Murder on your eyes. Come on.”

August opens her mouth. Closes it. Hops out of the truck; plenty of room for her to get out, thanks to no one trying too hard when they park. She veers towards the feed store, but Rashida quickly catches her elbow, steering her towards the bank.

“You wanted me to see the bank?” August says. “I was just in here. Closed out an account. I promise, this place isn’t cool.”

Rashida grins. “It will be.”

She pulls open the door, leads August in, their fingers looped lightly together. The place is dead, just one teller manning the desk. No customers. One light on in a back office, but no other signs of life.

“Just sit here,” she says, guiding August to a group of chairs in the waiting area at the front. She picks one at the end of the row; August brushes up against a cardboard cut-out of some cookie-cutter looking model, advertising new lows on 30-year mortgage rates. “It’ll only be a minute.”

Rashida scoops up a magazine from the table and presses it into August’s hands. It’s a sticky, dog-eared copy of National Geographic. Someone already got to all the good parts of it, drew glasses and mustaches on glossy photographs of scientists investigating the melting polar ice caps.

She looks up, at the ceiling, then back at August. Nudges the cut-out to the right a bit, so it’s pressing against August’s knee. “Just a minute,” she says again. “I promise.”

August watches all of this with a mild amount of curiosity. Suffers through the cardboard sign being in her personal space. “Whatever makes you happy.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Sit tight, read a bit. You can tell me how to save the whales later.”

Rashida walks away, towards the lone teller left at the front of the bank. August watches her go. It’s a sight, always is, the way Rashida plants one foot in front of the other. She owns this bank, with its grubby orange carpet and nicked-up countertops, just as much as she owns every other room she’s ever walked into.

August watches as Rashida adjusts her sunglasses again, fusses with her scarf. Opens her handbag, peers down into it.

She fishes for something inside; August sees a glint of metal as Rashida buries one hand in her purse and leaves it there.

Rashida glances back, just once, before she reaches the teller. Grins. Hand still buried in her purse.

August’s heart starts to speed up.

Rashida leans in to talk to the teller. August can’t make out the words, but she can hear the tone, read the body language. It’s the same way she talked to August in the bar: low, flirtatious. She laughs a lot. Not too loud, but enough that her shoulders shake with it. The teller smiles, too. She’s got pink cheeks, a dusting of freckles across her nose. Her brown hair’s highlighted blonde, curling once it gets down past her shoulders. She looks like every other woman who lives here, every other woman who’s never tried to leave.

And then: the handbag goes up on the counter, tilts towards the teller.

The teller’s smile falters. There’s a flash of fear in her eyes before she plasters that retail-perfect smile back on.

August almost feels bad for her.

Rashida scoops up a stack of bills from the counter, then another, another. More money than August can count up in her head that quick. She’s already stumbling over the math: those are twenties, with the purple bands, at two-thousand a pop; that brown band is fifties, so five-thousand there. She blinks and loses track of what Rashida’s shoved into her bag, and by then, Rashida’s already coming back up the aisle.

One foot after another. Click, click. Her shoes aren’t good for a get-away, but she sure does look nice.

“Don’t look up,” Rashida whispers as she approaches August. “The cameras haven’t gotten your face yet. Head down, nice and easy.”

August rolls up the magazine and sticks it in her back pocket. Combs her fingers through her hair, changing the part so that at least part of her face is obscured.

Head down, nice and easy. Slow, calm walk through the front door. August is very careful not to touch anything. Not the glass panel of the door, not the metal frame. Nothing.

In the parking lot, Rashida starts walking faster. The scarf slips off her hair as she pushes the sunglasses up; the ends of the scarf trail and flutter behind her as she fishes around in her bag.

Hard to find anything, around all those piles of money. It’s a tough life.

August catches up with her, steps away from the truck. Curls one hand around Rashida’s arm. “Did you have a plan?” she asks. Urgent.

Rashida doesn’t look up; she’s still reaching for the keys. There’s the tip of the key just there, half-hidden by a bundle of twenties and a flash of metal. “Meeting up with my brother, up past the county line, in the mountains, he says.” She laughs triumphantly as she finally shakes the keys free. “Other than that, no.”

“Give me the keys.” August tightens her grip on Rashida’s arm.

Rashida stops. Looks up and fixes August with a hard look. For once, she looks angry. Not cute, not flirtatious. “It’s okay,” Rashida says. “We don’t have to meet him ‘til late.”

August makes a frustrated noise. “Did you think about how to get out of here? The police chief lives a mile that way.” She jerks her head toward the left. “Plus at least three volunteer firefighters.” She inclines her head the other way. “The mayor’s three miles that way, up the hill. County courthouse, keep going around the bend, through the park, there you are. Police station, dispatch, all that, ten minutes if you go through town. And there’s only one way in for the feds, when someone calls them. Give me the fucking keys, Rashida. I’ll get us out of here.”

No one’s ever talked to Rashida like that before. She blinks, then drops the keys into August’s palm.

August knows this place, knows its secrets and its shortcuts and its back roads better than Rashida and that GPS ever could. She even knows this truck better than Rashida does: knows the way the gearshift sticks, the way you have to feather on the clutch just right to get the whole thing to go.

No one speaks until they’re out of the heart of town; out via a winding route through half-built housing developments and trailer parks and service roads; out without a single siren heading their way.

Only once they’re clear does August say: “So, you took my daddy’s truck, too?”

“Your daddy?” Rashida raises her eyebrows, then shakes her head, runs her hand over the dash. “I bought this fair and square, paid him cash. There’s been a for sale sign on it for weeks.”

August snorts. “Should’ve stolen it.” She reaches up and brushes her hair back from her face. “Did you know, when you saw me?”

“No.” Rashida puts her hands back in her lap. When she speaks again, something about her voice is softer. She sounds honest, for once. “He never talked about a daughter. He didn’t talk about anything except the truck. All I guessed, when I saw you was that you were trying to get away from something. That’s it.”

August doesn’t say anything. Just stares straight ahead. The needle on the speedometer pushes up. Sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five. Just the long, flat road stretching out in front of them, mountains looming in the distance. Not even a double yellow painted down the middle, nowhere to pull off, just miles of corn, split-rail fences, Monsanto signs warning you to keep out.

“Are you trying to get away from him?” Rashida asks. She sounds soft. Gentle. Like she cares. August isn’t sure if it’s an act.

August doesn’t answer. Headlights from an oncoming truck cut across her vision and she winces.

“It’s none of my business,” Rashida says, cutting through the silence between them. “I don’t—”

“He’s dying now,” August cuts in. “I ran from him a long time ago. Came back. Knew I shouldn’t have, but I guess I needed to be reminded I made the right choice.” She flexes her fingers, one hand at a time, before gripping the wheel again. “Nothing else to it.”

Rashida unfolds from her seat. Presses one hand to August’s wrist. “I didn’t steal the truck, but most of the bills were fake, so.”

A ghost of a smile crosses August’s face.

She doesn’t say anything, then, not for miles and miles. Rashida doesn’t push it.

“Another twenty, we’re at the county line,” August says, once the farms give away to nothing, just overgrown grass, wildflowers. A half-knocked down building or two. Mostly nothing but gently rolling hills threatening to get steeper.

Rashida makes a noise, pulls out her phone. It’s an old one, a flip phone. So, not really Rashida’s, after all. She taps on the keys, then drops it back into her purse a few moments later.  “We’ve got time. He says there’s an old RV park, a few miles past the county line. That’s where we’re meeting him.”

August nods. More silence.

“You never asked,” Rashida says, once she spots the “now entering” sign off in the distance, almost at the border. “You never asked me why.”

“Why what?” August says.

“Why anything. Why I’m here. Why I robbed that place.” Rashida pauses and looks down at her lap. “Why I picked you.”

“You so desperate for someone to know?” August presses down harder on the gas, rocketing down the road. “You have your reasons. We’re all running from something. You keep your secrets. It’s not my business.”

“Do you want it to be your business?” Rashida asks. The words rush out before she can even think twice about it. “I’ve been doing this alone for a long time, just my brother on the other end to take the cash. I’ve got a few days before I’m supposed to head a few towns over, hit another bank. Maybe past the state line?” She lifts up the flip phone, gestures at it uselessly. “I haven’t looked at a map in a while.”

“Well,” August says. She speeds past the county sign, narrows her eyes as she searches the roadside for the entrance for the RV park. “I saw you stall this out. Brutal. I’m sticking with you until you find an automatic, at least.”

She looks over at Rashida. Smiles, a flash of teeth cutting through the darkness.

“I always wanted to be like Bonnie and Clyde,” Rashida says. She takes a chance, reaches up and brushes her fingertips across August’s cheek.

It’s too dark to see if August blushes, but Rashida hears her sharp intake of breath.

“I’m just the driver,” August says. “And they die in the end. Let’s skip the hail of bullets.”

Up ahead, the headlights bounce off a crooked piece of metal, It’s a sign, dented and half grown-over with weeds, for the old RV park. August turns off the road and slows as she comes to the entrance. There’s a gate, padlocked, rusted. What clean spots of metal are left cast off flares in the headlights. “You good at picking locks?” August asks.

“Not good enough,” Rashida admits.

“Not as good as the truck.” August pats the dash, then throws it into reverse, backing the whole way up to the road. “So we go through.”

“Are you sure?”

August revs the engine in response. “We go through.”

She throws the truck into gear and shoots forward; there’s not much distance to the gate, but the metal’s just brittle enough and the truck’s just sturdy enough that they break through in a hail of sparks and a screech of twisting metal.

Rashida laughs, high and wild, as they peel down the overgrown path. “You scratched up your daddy’s paint job, I bet,” she says as she glances in the rear-view mirror at the remnants of the gate behind them.

“Fuck it,” August says as she downshifts, eases the truck around fallen logs, sheds listing to the side, abandoned equipment. “Fuck him for—” She trails off and shakes her head. “It’s not important.”

When the truck’s deep in the park, where the only road in is obscured by trees, August kills the engine. “Now we wait?”

“Mm-hm.” Rashida swings her door open. “Come out with me?” She hops out of the truck without waiting for an answer. By the time August’s even undone her seatbelt, Rashida’s already unlatched the gate and has hopped up to sit on the bed of the truck.

“Daddy’s truck sure never saw shoes like those,” August says when she comes around.

“Not even from you?” Rashida scoots back into the bed of the truck so she can stretch out.

“Please.” August snorts. “It’s like you just met me.”

She’s got one knee up on the gate, hauls herself in.  As she crawls up, she passes her fingers over the stiletto heel of Rashida’s shoe, then, further up, to rest on her ankle.

Rashida just hums under her breath and pats the spot next to her.

August lets go of Rashida’s ankle and settles next to Rashida. “What are you going to do with the money?”

Rashida lifts one shoulder, then lets it drop. “It’s never about the money.” She stretches out, nestles closer to August. “It’s about the rest of it.”

“The thrill of the steal?”

That shoulder rises and falls again. “Something like that.”

August doesn’t shift away when Rashida takes up her hand, links their fingers together between them. “Why’d you pick me?”

Rashida’s answer is immediate. “You looked lonely.”

August laughs. “Girl, if you picked up every lonely woman you saw in towns like this, you won’t have the time to go out robbing banks.”

Rashida rolls over, looks up at the sky. She’s got August pressed up against her side, their clasped hands resting on her stomach. Up above, it’s endless sky, just past the canopy of trees they’re hiding under. It’s all stars twinkling, clouds swaying. A lone plane cutting through the night.

Not a single siren for miles around. Not a single other living, breathing soul.

“But you’ll really come with me,” she asks. “For whatever’s next.” Rashida holds her breath, waiting for the answer.

August lifts up their hands and presses a kiss to Rashida’s knuckles. “You need a partner,” she says. “I need someone who actually sees me. No one in that place ever has.”

A smile, a real one, from Rashida. “You were all I saw in that bar,” she says, and then she rolls in, one hand tangled with August’s, tucked up between them, the other cupping August’s face, holding her just so.

The world doesn’t end when they kiss. Shooting stars don’t go rocketing across the sky. Birds don’t sing. No fireworks, no explosions.

Just a soft sigh from August, the sound of her lips parting, her body shifting in the unforgiving metal bed of the truck, a knee sliding between Rashida’s, hands on soft curves, claiming, for just a little while.

It’s just a kiss, between a lonely girl and a girl running out of time, and maybe which one is which doesn’t even matter. But they fit together like they were made for just this one moment, in the back of this truck, under this specific moon and these specific constellations, gliding past overhead as the rest of the world spins on.

In the distance, there’s the crunch of gravel, a breaking of branches. The rumble of a motor.

“Stay,” Rashida says, soft, whispered against August’s lips, almost like a prayer.

August stays.