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Catch and Release

Angela Thoma

Maddie leans against the steel post. She stands in shadow, and the light from the street lamp pools in front of her. If she extends her fingertips out, she might touch the rose-tinted glow. She flexes her hands but stuffs them back into her pockets.

It is humid, and the wet air causes Maddie’s hair to swell into a triangular poof. She tries to flatten the mass with her palms but soon abandons that in favor of a braid. The street lamps hum, and there are muffled shouts coming from a nearby house.

Maddie pulls out her phone from the pocket of her gym shorts and taps the screen. No new notifications. She opens Instagram, types “Finn Evans'' in the search bar, and selects the first search option. Square photos populate the screen, and she clicks on the first image to enlarge it.

A man, in his late twenties, with sand-colored hair leans over the bar to whisper something into a woman’s ear. Maddie doesn’t recognize the woman; her face is round, and soft, with wispy bangs that frame her forehead. The man’s lips nearly brush the woman’s cheek. Maddie shifts her head from side to side, until she hears the joints in her neck pop. Then, she slips her phone back into her pocket.

A dog barks, and metal garbage cans rattle as something small rummages for crumbs. Maddie straightens to leave, when she sees a man stumbling up the street. His shirt is rumpled— stained with sweat— and dirt smears the front of his jeans. Finn Evans wears a big smile stamped on his face, all teeth.

He looks lost, but is not; he is drunk, again. Finn shuffles toward her, but stops at the playground to curse the monkey bars, where he broke his elbow as a kid, swinging from bar to bar. Maddie walks down the sidewalk to meet him— her flip flops slap loudly on the concrete. Finn steps forward and trips over his shoe.

She kneels down in front of him. You okay?

He looks at her; his lips part and brows wrinkle. Whadda, are you, you doin’, here, each syllable is slow and drawn out. Finn smiles then, and tugs Maddie into his arms. Her hair smells like hibiscus and honey. He ruffles the top of her braid.

Maddie swats his hand away. You didn’t give me much choice.

He called her again, but he didn’t remember again.

She wriggles out from his arms and looks up at his face. His head flops from side-to-side, like a rag doll. Maddie takes his hands, examining his palms. They are large and covered in cuts and blood. Small pieces of stone are lodged in the scratches. Maddie returns his hands and pulls him to his feet.

Let’s clean these off. She brushes the dirt from his shirt and holds his face in her palms. Glazed green eyes, like sea glass, stare past her. She turns his head from side to side.

It hurts, he says.

I know. She drops her hands and steps back. Let’s go.

Finn doesn’t move. He rocks back and forth, heel to toe, heel to toe. Maddie offers him her hand, and he smacks it away.

Please, she says. I want to go home. She holds out her hand again. This time he takes it. His hand is warm and sticky in her palm.

Later, they lie in bed together. Finn traces the curve of Maddie’s lips with his fingertips. His breath smells of whiskey and cigarettes. He shifts, so that he is lying on top of her. She doesn’t want to, but she is tired. Maddie lets him pull down her boxer shorts. As she waits for him to finish, she hears the cicadas outside her window. They are like a symphony of maracas shaking in the night.

Finn is out cold, and she watches him breathe. He looks cherubic. His mouth hangs slightly open, and his cheeks are plump with sleep. Thick lashes brush the skin under his eyes, and a tangle of hair haloes his face. He is unfamiliar like this, serene.

Maddie stretches. The clock on the bedside table flashes, 00:45 a.m. She can’t sleep, and so she gets out of bed and pulls on an oversized shirt and her flannel shorts. The tiles are cold under her feet as she pads into the kitchen.

Where moonlight pours into the room, a table and chairs crowd the space. Appliances and cabinetry line the left wall; hanging planters decorate the right. Maddie takes the kettle from the countertop, fills it with water, and clicks on the gas. The water bubbles. She brews a cup of tea and waits for it to steep.

The bed creaks from her room. She slips on a pair of sandals and opens the sliding glass doors that lead onto the back deck. The air is cooler, and a breeze makes Maddie shiver; goose flesh springs up from her skin. She sits in a chair by the fire pit, which is warm and glowing from earlier in the evening. Wood snaps and embers fall like snow.

From where she sits, Maddie sees the dogwood tree in the yard’s center. The white bracts that blossom in spring are gone, and glossy, green leaves grow in their place. Soon, crimson berries will ripen then fall from the branches’ tips. Gold specks flicker in and out of existence around the tree. The summer’s last fireflies. Maddie watches as they twinkle, one by one, flying farther and farther away.

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