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When the Moon was Ours
Author:Anna-Marie McLemore

He thought he knew her body. He was so sure that he could have drawn it, mapped it as easily as the lunar seas he could paint without looking at a map of the moon. But under his hands, against his own body, she was both safe and unfamiliar. She was a world unknown. She was a place whose darkness held not fear, but the promise of stars.

Even against him, she was a locked world, sealed off. Even with how she let him put his hand anywhere he tried to, even with how she took his hand and put it where he was too shy to go, she had so many secrets. He’d given her every one he had, from why he never took off his shirt, to the truth of how badly his mother had wanted a child, and the cold bargain she’d made to get one.

Miel still had thousands of secrets, small and shimmering. She held them tight in her hands, and he had nothing left that he had not given up.

bay of harmony

The day after Miel slept with Sam was the day Chloe Bonner came back.

That morning Miel came downstairs and found Aracely in the kitchen, putting on coffee and yawning at a morning so new it was still silver.

Miel set three cups she’d collected from her room in the kitchen sink. Lately Aracely had had it with Miel leaving forgotten cups of tea on counters and tables. She’d find one and say, Will you put this in the sink already? I feel like I’m living in a coffeehouse.

Even in her nightgown, without her makeup on, Aracely was a slice of color against the window. Her hair was as bright as the fruit of a nectarine. The brown of her skin looked like raw gold stripped from quartz. And she stood tall enough that she looked like she could meet the gaze of the sky out on the horizon.

The stories said that Aracely had appeared one summer along with a hundred thousand butterflies. The butterflies covered the town like bright gold scales, powdered wings shivering in the breezes. And when, early that autumn, they all flitted away, there was Aracely, this strange, tall young woman with skin like those iridescent wings.

Of course, that was years before Miel fell out of the water tower, before the water had given her back. So she never saw that cloud of wings.

Aracely handed Miel a spoon of honey, thick and deep as amber.

“Fireweed,” Aracely said, pulling her hair back into a loose bun. Her fingernails, painted the color of achiote seeds, stood brick-red against the pale gold. “Just got it from that place on the edge of town.”

Aracely knew how much Miel liked honey, how she ate it straight, every kind Aracely brought home. This woman who acted as something between a sister and mother to Miel knew every food and spice she liked and disliked. She knew that windstorms gave her nightmares, and that the light of Sam’s moons let her sleep.

But Miel didn’t know how to tell Aracely about what had happened with Sam. About sneaking out of his house before his mother came home. About the soreness in Miel’s body that felt like a thing to hold on to instead of wait out.

Of course there were some things Aracely did not know. Sometimes, she seemed about to ask Miel something. Maybe about who Miel had been before she spilled out of the water tower, or if she had ever belonged to anyone else before she belonged to Aracely. But Aracely would always open her mouth, pause, and then close it again and turn back to the sink or the stove. Aracely knew, without being told, the things Miel did not want to talk about.

Now Miel couldn’t even meet Aracely’s eyes. Aracely’s work was curing lovesickness. It was her gift to know when a heart was overrun with wanting someone. When it came to Aracely, this town alternated between gratitude and blame. At night, they came to her, asking her help for their worn-out hearts. During the day, they whispered that she was a witch, or blamed her for the powdery blight bleaching out an orchard’s harvest, or held her responsible for the storm that might rain out that year’s lighting of the pumpkin lanterns.

They gave her the same inconsistency they might give a lover, adoration at night, disavowal in the morning. How indebted they were to her meant they offered her either scorn or respect, depending on the time of day and how many people were watching.

Miel had learned to live with the self-conscious feeling that Aracely could sense the weight of her heart. This morning, she was sure if she let Aracely look at her for too long, she’d know. The fact that Aracely liked Sam made it worse. Miel imagined Aracely thinking of them more like brother and sister, recoiling at the idea of Miel digging her fingers into Sam’s back.

Aracely poured coffee into heavy mugs, and Miel flushed and looked down. She’d never noticed that the color of these cups, blue-green as eucalyptus, was only a little off from Sam’s bedroom walls.

“She’s back,” Aracely said. She half-sang the words, drawing out each syllable until it was almost a trill.

Miel licked the honey off the spoon. It tasted a little like tea, the flavor from the stalks of pink flowers that dotted scarred land after a fire. “Who?” she asked.

“La última bruja.”

Miel gave Aracely a laugh. This was one of a thousand reasons Miel loved Aracely. So often, Aracely was called a bruja herself, a witch, and still she didn’t flinch at calling someone else the word.