Jae Steinbacher

The Pokémon Game


We were at Helen and Pete’s place outside Tokyo, and West had just told Helen that if they were stranded on a deserted island, he’d eat her to stay alive. They sat together on the couch in the living room that faced the TV, their thighs touching through her pajama bottoms and his khakis. The points of West’s canines glinted as he spoke, and I stared at them, and then Helen’s face.

She twisted a strand of long blonde hair between fingers. Her pale cheeks were bright pink. Colorful eight-bit characters danced on the screen to kawaiicore. Helen’s feet rested on the coffee table, pink sharks circling on her socks. This was the first time I’d met West. My friend Edie, the reason I was there, had disappeared to smoke on the porch.

From the other couch, I glanced across the coffee table to the cutout above the kitchen counter. Helen’s husband, Pete, watched as he poured sake. He was tall, taller than West, with thick, dark hair to West’s crew cut. They worked together at Yokota Air Base. This was the third or fourth time I’d hung out with Helen and Pete—Helen tutored with another ESL program in Tokyo and knew Edie, who had dragged me from our claustrophobic guest house hours earlier and onto a train out of Tokyo. By now it was too late to catch the last train on the Keiō line for Shibuya.

“Well, you don’t eat meat,” West persisted, sinking a finger into Helen’s waist and drawing back quickly as she squealed and doubled over.

“I eat fish now!” she screeched. Pete came around the corner with an ochoko in each hand. “Right, Petey?” She tilted her head back to follow his movements as he came near.

West accepted one of the ceramic cups, but Helen shook her head. “Do we have any more Chūhai, sweetie?”

Pete gave me a conciliatory smile and glanced at the blue can in my hands. I swapped it for the sake. Despite how little we had in common, whenever he and Helen met me and Edie out, we ended up making small talk while the other two caught up. I still couldn’t put a finger on why Edie was friends with Helen. They’d met in a sorority at the University of Washington. At the first group dinner we had, Helen made a joke about how she and Pete were meant for each other, because even though she was white she had Asian flush. It wasn’t the last time I’d had to force my face into neutrality around her.

“Gwynn,” Helen knocked the can against the coffee table and sprawled toward me on the other couch. “You are the sweetest. I can see why Edie likes you.”

I’d barely spoken five sentences to Helen that evening, but I nodded and sipped my sake. Pete sat heavily beside me and Helen’s wandering hand briefly clutched his knee. She giggled and rolled back up to West, who raised his glass. “Good shit,” he said.

Pete lifted his scotch and they clinked.

“What the hell are we listening to?” Pete gestured toward the screen. His voice surprised me every time he spoke, that of a much smaller man coming from his giant’s frame.

“All her idea, man,” West said, gesturing to Helen. Pete tossed a paper party hat at him. It was Pete’s twenty-ninth birthday. By the time Helen met me and Edie at the train station, the guys had been at the bar for hours. The walk to Helen and Pete’s house left us shivering; it was mid-April and the day had been hot, so we weren’t dressed for the chill after sunset. As soon as we got inside Helen showed us the spare rooms off the foyer, complete with tatami mats and futon mattresses. “This is like a housewarming!” Helen clutched Edie’s hands and then wrapped me in a hug. “We have all this guest space, but no one has stayed over yet!”

This was the first time I had been inside a single-family home in Japan and nothing about it felt Japanese except the toilets. Apparently Western-style homes were popular now, but I and most of my tutor friends were living in dorm-like apartments with futon mattresses. Earlier that day I’d been complaining to Edie that if I went back home, the only thing that wouldn’t give me culture shock was the apartment sizes in Brooklyn; my contract was up for renewal and I was trying to decide if I wanted to stay another year. Just then I was very, very uncertain about my future in Japan.

“What did you drag me into?” I muttered once Helen went to the bathroom.

Edie bumped my arm. “We’ll just stay a couple hours,” she said, her dark eyes ringed in heavy liner. She knew I had a hard time saying no to her, and that if she left me behind I would end up lingering over old Facebook photos or trolling Instagram. I had moments of vertigo at pictures of blooming cherry trees posted by friends in Flatbush; they were a few weeks behind our spring. “It’s good to get out of the city for a bit,” Edie added. That was before Pete and his Air Force bros got back. I couldn’t remember the third guy’s name, but he and Edie had been outside so long I doubted they were just talking.

“How was your week?” Pete turned to address me. “Any new developments between the young lovers?”

Ami and Kotaro were two of my students I was convinced had a crush on each other. The girls in the class giggled constantly anytime the pair were within a few feet of one another, but they shyly avoided any sort of interaction.

“I gave them an assignment to write a short story about spring, and Kotaro named the fox character Ami before crossing it out and giving her a different name.”

Pete nodded, with a smile that only crinkled half his face. He wore a small diamond stud in his left ear that I’d never noticed before. “He’s got it bad,” he said. Pete was in the neonatal unit at the base hospital. I tried imagining his impossibly long arms cradling some infant.

I took another sip of sake. It was mildly vinegary. “I’m sure it’s much more dramatic to us teachers than them.”

Pete shook his head. “I was a mess in middle school. I had a crush on just about everyone in my class. Crazy hormones.”

I tucked my own sockfeet beneath the edge of the couch. My ex, Maria, used to tell stories about how when she was a kid she’d dress a certain way to try to impress the girls in her class, stealing t-shirts and hats from her older brother’s room.

Helen laughed through her nose at something else West said. I tried to remember what Pete had told me about West the last time a group of us went drinking—Pete was probably blackout while we were on the street in Ikebukuro at the point that he slung an arm over my shoulder and began breathing into my ear. I’d said something to him, too, but whether it had been about Maria or Edie I couldn’t remember.

“What’s that?” Pete asked.

Helen and West turned to him. Helen had the apple cheeks and matching accent of a Wisconsinite. West grinned and the points of his cheekbones seemed to draw wider. His big ears stuck out from his closely shaved sides. He’d gelled the longer tips of his hair up off his forehead, nineties high-schooler style, and with his full lips and more delicate, tan features, he looked a little like a boy band singer.

West’s grin widened. “Dude, your wife is crazy.”

Pete set his scotch on the coffee table and reached for Helen’s feet. His big hands seemed to swallow them, and then she kicked one foot away and he grasped the ankle he still had and tickled the flat of the captive foot. She screamed so loudly that I almost spilled my sake, and then she swung her free leg in Pete’s direction.

“I hate you! I hate you!” she shrieked between forced laughter. One of her hands swung up and caught West on the chin. Pete stopped and Helen’s laughter died out.

“I’m fine.” West rubbed his jaw ruefully and shotted the last of his sake.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Helen announced, swerving to her feet and around West.

“You want some ice for that?” Pete asked West, rising up off the couch.

“No, man.” West was getting to his feet. “I’m just going to pour myself another.”

Pete raised a hand as though to touch West, but West waved him off. “Really, I’m fine.”

Pete sagged back into the couch and then seemed to remember me. “Thanks for switching out,” he said, nodding to my sake. “She definitely doesn’t need any more of that.”

I stared in the direction of my socks and then glanced to the sliding glass door beyond the kitchen. A dark silhouette leaned against one door, the bulk of the guy Edie had gone out to smoke with. I’d forgotten his name already. He wasn’t even cute.

Pete cleared his throat. “They’ve been out there for a while, huh?”

I jerked my head up. “I guess so.”

“Helen says you guys have to decide if you’re sticking around another year. Why’d you pick Japan in the first place?”

I met his eyes and shrugged. “I heard it was safe.”

Pete chewed on that for a moment, turning his glass between his hands.

Early in my stay, two older men on the subway tried to talk to me in Japanese and then seemed delighted when I couldn’t understand. They’d begun laughing and gesturing to one another and at my short skirt. I spent the rest of the ride with my thighs clamped together, eyes glued to my phone.

“But nothing drew you here?” Pete asked, staring into his scotch.

I pulled my knees into my chest and squinted at the TV. It wasn’t like riding the subway in Brooklyn had been any better, but I hadn’t been alone most of the time. “I used to be an anime geek.”

Helen rounded the couch, followed by West. “Anime?” Her face lit up. “We have to play the Pokey-man game!”

The sliding glass door creaked open. Edie and the other guy ducked their heads as they stepped inside, though she was five-two and he came nowhere near the ceiling. Edie smoothed the lapels of her faux leather motorcycle jacket. Her cheeks and the tip of her nose were rosy. The red on her lips was faded. She brushed her lower lip with her thumb.

“I think we might be taking off,” the guy said. He had a regulation mustache and eyebrows just as thick to match it.

I bulged my eyes at Edie and set my cup on the coffee table.

“Ooo,” Helen rocked in her seat and grinned at Edie.

Edie looked at me and worried the stud in her lower lip, then slid her phone from her pocket and tapped it against her chin before putting it away. A gesture I interpreted as “text me.”

West tapped Helen on the thigh and she shut up. “You cutting out, Gunner?” he asked, as though Edie wasn’t even part of the equation.

Gunner’s gaze swept over me and settled on West. “Yeah, I think we’re gonna call it.” He draped a casual arm around Edie’s shoulders.

Pete muted the TV at the same instant that I whispered Edie’s name. In the silence she shuffled her feet.

“Don’t you worry, we’ll take care of you!” Helen reached for me across the table again and this time Pete caught her. I knew my cheeks and the base of my neck were turning red.

“Really, it’s fine if you need to stay here,” Pete said, as Gunner and Edie began to move toward the door.

Helen stood to follow them and Pete helped her. I lingered behind the group as they crowded in the foyer. I should have felt happy for Edie—she needed to get over Ji, another tutor she’d hooked up with—but my stomach just twisted inside me.

West neared the door and Helen put a hand on his arm. “Not you, too!”

He sighed and scratched the back of his head. “I guess I can finish my drink.”

They spilled out onto the front porch briefly, but I stayed behind. My purse, with my phone inside, was hanging on a coat tree by the door. Edie wouldn’t have had time to text me yet. Spending the night in the guest room with Edie was one thing, but now I was stranded. At least Gunner looked nothing like Ji.

Helen was the first to come back, and she smiled when she saw me. “This is officially a slumber party,” she said. “I’m loaning you pajamas.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but twelve-plus hours in skinny jeans weakened my resolve.

“Come on.” She beckoned with her hand. I followed her up a set of stairs to the second floor.

“I’ll get you a spare toothbrush, too.” She disappeared into a bedroom—inside loomed an enormous bed—and reappeared with a matched pajama set printed with umbrellas and raindrops. “The Totoro ones are in the wash.”

I went into a bathroom on the second floor to change. Pete and West were talking in the kitchen when Helen and I descended the steps. They met us at the couch, but this time we sat in pairs by gender. It was almost chaste. Helen began to slide a laminated page from the lower shelf of the coffee table. It had gridlines on it and was as big as a classroom calendar. I recognized Pokémon from the original games on the squares, which were arranged in a spiral toward the middle of the board. By the homemade feel I assumed Helen had printed it at work between classes.

“It’s way too late for that game,” West groaned. “It takes like three hours.”

“Yeah, honey, we have to start the night with this one.” Pete stifled a yawn.

Helen sighed and shoved the board back. “Well, one game. Before this party’s over.”

“We should play a Japanese drinking game,” West suggested.

I sighed. “Is the sake still out?”

“On the counter,” Pete said. “Will you get a water for Helen?”

She stuck her tongue out at him but shrugged at me. Pete and West argued over some game that involved naming train stops. I’d actually be good at that one, a sign that it wasn’t particularly fun.

“The Pocky game!”—that was Helen.

“No.” Pete was removing a mug from beneath the coffee table that had pre-torn strips of paper in it. He handed each of us five and passed a pen around. “Five nouns,” he said.

“I don’t want to do story time,” Helen whined.

“You’re first, missy.” He chucked the tip of her nose with the end of the pen.

We returned our folded papers to the mug and Pete offered it to Helen. She lifted out a paper and squinted at it. “Totoro?” She sounded unimpressed. I gazed into my sake.

“Here, you need to roll.” Pete offered her a die. “Evens, you tell a truth about what’s on the paper. Odds, you make up a story,” he said in my direction.

Helen rolled the die on the table and clamped her hands around it before we could see the result. “Okay.” She shrugged. “Me and Totoro got drunk and did some coke and went to a love hotel together, and that’s when we decided to get married.”

Pete rolled his eyes. West jabbed him with an elbow. “That how you two met?”

“Well, I told you I didn’t want to play this one,” Helen said. “Here, Gwynn, it’s your turn.” She shoved the mug at me, and I pulled out a slip of paper.

“Titties?” I checked their faces for the offender, but the guys played dumb. “Do I have to use that word in the sentence?”

“Yeah,” Helen passed the die to me but dropped it inches shy of my fingers and it rolled beneath the couch. “Uh—”

“Just do one of each,” West suggested.

“Yeah, sure.” I found myself about to cross my arms over the satin pajama top and resisted the urge. “Uh, I knew a guy who got one nipple—sorry, one of his titties—pierced, and then it got torn out by a kid at a public pool.”

“Gross!” Helen shouted.

“False,” Pete said.

“No, wait for the other,” West interjected.

I glanced up at the ceiling. “I got my titties when I was twelve?”

“Now that is false,” said Helen, feeling her own breasts through her pajama top. “I mean, no offense.”

“You’re a bad liar,” said West.

“Well let’s see how you do,” I tossed him the mug.

He laughed as he unfolded his. “Penis. Wow, we’re really winning the adulting game.” He flashed his celebrity smile at us. “Well, mine’s ten inches long.”

“Lies! Lies!” Helen wriggled on the couch beside me.

“You want to be sure about that?” West asked.

Pete’s eyes were fixed on the floor between his feet.

“Aren’t you supposed to do one of each?” I asked.

“Hm.” West swirled his drink and looked out the sliding glass door. “One time in basic this other Cuban guy asked if he could suck my cock after the showers.”

Pete gaped at him.

“And?” Helen demanded.

West shrugged. “He had a pretty face.”

We were silent until he broke out laughing. “I lied again!” He pointed a finger at Pete. “You should see your face!”

“Cheater!” Helen thudded the top of the coffee table with her heels.

I knocked back my sake. “Pete’s turn.”

He pulled a face at me and dug around in the bottom of the mug. The first slip he pulled out had large, looping script on it. “Asshole,” Pete said. He stared at the paper and then Helen, who turned her face toward the back of the couch. “I’m going to pick another.”

“What, you don’t want to talk about yours?” West asked.

I couldn’t read the open-mouthed smile he wore. Helen turned her head to look, and before Pete could respond I reached for the water Helen had left on the coffee table and knocked it across the surface. It drowned the papers we’d already pulled.

“Shit!” I jumped to my feet as West grabbed for his phone and Helen righted the glass. Pete followed me into the kitchen and mouthed “Thank you” as we grabbed a roll of paper towels.

We mopped up the table. West wiped his phone against the leg of his pants.

“Did it survive?” Pete asked.

“Yeah, I’m going to call a cab. I can already feel the hangover.”

I slid back onto the couch. Helen had stretched out and I had to lift her head onto my lap to fit. She put her cheek against my thigh and spoke with her eyes closed, words slurred. “Night, West.”

I didn’t get up as Pete walked West to the door but removed myself carefully and began to stumble toward one of the bedrooms off the foyer.

“Is she going to be okay?” I whispered as Pete came back in the front door.

He shrugged. “She probably sleeps on that couch once a week. She’ll be fine.” He turned to the stairs and then paused. “You all set?” He scrubbed at the base of his neck with one hand. “I guess you weren’t prepared for this.”

“I’ll be fine.” The sake was still warming me despite the change in the air. I gave him a sympathetic smile. “Thanks.”

I pawed through my purse for my phone and retreated to the guest room. The sheets smelled a little musty but the futon was comfortable. The floor overhead creaked as Pete settled in. It was nearly 3am. I didn’t have any messages from Edie. She was probably asleep by now. I shot her a text: “Don’t leave me behind! 10am train?”

Even though my head was cottony, I remembered I’d left the toothbrush Helen offered me in the upstairs bathroom. My mouth still tasted like dry sauce and onions from dinner. When the creaking above stopped, I climbed the stairs. A nightlight in the foyer brightened my way. The second floor was darker, but the bathroom door was cracked and soft light seeped out.

I cupped my palm and drank water from the faucet. I’d been letting my hair grow out and strands stuck to my chin. The woman at the salon in my neighborhood had bleached it rather than giving me lowlights, and it was nearly as blonde as Helen’s except for the parts I’d had undercut. In the glow from the nightlight it looked ghostly, like Bloody Mary in the mirror from childhood sleepover parties. I made faces at myself and stifled a giggle.

Back in the hallway, I slid the door closed and turned for the stairs. In the dark a figure moved, blocking my way. Long arms pulled me in. “Hey, bunny.” Pete brought my face roughly to his and squeezed my ass. He was half hard.

My fight or flight response kicked in late. For a fleeting second I thought of him and Helen playing cat and mouse on a nightly basis, and wondered whether that was sad or funny. Then he pressed his lips to mine. I shivered and twisted my mouth away.

“Pete!” It was a stage whisper. I didn’t want to wake Helen.

His grip loosened and his features resolved dimly. “Oh, shit.” His breath was sharp from the scotch.

I slipped out of his embrace and leaned against the far side of the hallway. His hands flew to his temples.

I didn’t say anything. Blood beat in my ears and my arms trembled. I was glad he couldn’t see how red my face was. It wasn’t the only part of me that felt warmer after the kiss, but I was drunk, and that had to be the explanation for that.

“I should go,” I said.

Pete nodded. His head and shoulders were slumped now. I put my hand on the top of the stair rail.

“Are you in love with her?” he asked.

“What?” The word came out involuntarily loud, and I pressed a hand to my mouth.

“Edie,” he said. “Are you in love with Edie?”

I laughed then, and in the dark it sounded like someone crying. “Is that what we talked about before?” I whispered. “Is something going on with you and West?”

His eyes glinted briefly. He shook his head and turned for his bedroom.

The house was silent except for his soft shuffle. He sighed. The bedroom door was open.

In the dark all of my senses seemed sharper. I took a step across the hall and then another into the bedroom. Through the blinds, light fell across the walls and king-sized bed. Pete sat on the edge of it with his knees apart, his face criss-crossed with light.

“It’s not a mutual thing,” he said.

I hovered on the floor, my bare feet cold on the wood.

“He wants Helen.” Pete swallowed. “I can only really get it up after he comes by.”

I was as tall as Pete now. A passing car hummed by, the sound lonely. “Edie’s straight,” I said.

A month and a half ago, at the beginning of March, Edie and I went to Ueno Park together. We ordered takoyaki at a stand and took turns popping the fried balls into our mouths, our gloved hands clumsy on the chopsticks.

“The squish in the middle.” Edie shook her head as if she could rid herself of the sensation. “Something about the way it squeaks between your teeth. It’s like biting down on someone else’s tongue.” She wrinkled her nose and shook her dark bangs out of her eyes.

“Gross,” I said, though I didn’t really mind. I tossed the paper basket and took up a spot beside her overlooking Shinobazu Pond. Joggers and couples pushing strollers crossed the wooden platforms before us. A seagull came to a frantic landing not far from where we stood and Edie kicked halfheartedly in its direction. It rose a few feet into the air, crying before settling again on the ground.

“It sounds like Mickey Mouse,” she said. “Like the old racist Mickey Mouse, except I’m imagining him yelling, ‘Help! Help!’ as he gets pounded in the ass.”

She was still watching the bird, and I said her name. She had turned slowly like she knew what it was about, and she let me kiss her, just for a minute, before she pulled away.

“I like you, Gwynn,” she said. “But let’s not fuck up this friends thing we’ve got going.”

I moved to Pete’s side, then between his knees, not looking at his face but at the dark spot where his chest was. His whole torso disappeared in the dark of the room. Maybe I disappeared in the dark too.

Pete buried a hand in my hair and found the freshly buzzed parts. He gripped my head so hard I knew it would leave bruises. I placed his free hand against the satin pajama top. His palm warm as a bowl of tea.

As I pressed against him through our clothes, I pretended it wasn’t him but a very expensive toy. We kissed like we were drowning and couldn’t decide if we wanted to keep our heads below the surface or gasp for air.

“Do you have a condom?” I whispered.

He fished in the drawer of a bedside table.

I don’t do things like this, I told myself. I don’t fuck men. I don’t fuck married people. I don’t sleep with someone’s husband when they’re a floor below. The litany continued up to the minute that he entered me and we both sighed separate breaths.

After, Pete and I lay apart on the bed, clothes back in place. We hadn’t even gotten under the comforter. I faced away from him, my mind utterly dark.

“West’s crazy about Helen,” Pete was saying, his small voice soft. “He’s been after her since the first time she visited out here, before we were married.”

“Why did you get married?” I mumbled.

The bed flinched as he stiffened and turned onto his back. He spoke up into the air. “She was so persistent. She knew I slept with men, but she wanted to do it anyway. She’s always wanted children, and I guess I do too, someday. So she agreed we could keep things open.”

I felt a twinge of guilt and turned my head to my shoulder. Maybe Helen would accept Pete sleeping with West, but if she found out about this… “Do you love her?”

“I’ve known her since we were kids,” he said. “Our families are close. She’s been a really good friend,” he trailed off.

“What about that Asian flush shit?” I whispered. “I mean, aren’t you half-Japanese?”

Pete laughed humorlessly. “My grandmother was Filipina. And it’s a dumb joke I made once.”

“Oh.” Helen parroting back Pete’s words. Their joke. After a silence, I sighed. “It’s not Edie.” My heartbeat seemed to bloom and contract within me. I imagined fireworks.


“She just looks like someone. Like Maria,” I forced myself to say the name. “I even told her she looked like my ex. That was a mistake.” And later, after I had kissed her in the park, Edie made her move on Ji like she was proving a point. But then she fell hard for him, and he told her he had a girlfriend back home.

“I asked Helen… if she’d let West fuck her. If she could get him to agree to a threesome,” Pete said. “That’s why she was all over him tonight.”

“Oh.” I curled my hands into little helpless fists. “Would he do it?” Suddenly I didn’t care to know the answer. I recalled the weight of Helen’s head in my lap, the desperate persistence of her flirtation.

Pete shrugged. “Probably not. It’s already getting weird.”

I waited for him to say more but couldn’t bring myself to ask questions. When Pete was silent, I sat up.

He didn’t move. “Is Edie going to come back for you in the morning?”

“I’ll meet her at the train station.” I slid off the bed and landed lightly on my feet. The condom wrapper crinkled on the floor, and I hid it in my fist.

“Will you tell her about this?” Pete asked.

I paused in the doorframe. “No. I won’t tell her. It doesn’t have to be weirder than it already is.”


In the morning I left the futon covers rumpled and the pajamas balled beside them. I hoped Pete would be the one to launder everything. Edie had gotten my message. I waited until the absolute last moment to leave the spare room so that if I was stopped I’d only have time for a rushed goodbye. I glanced at the back of the couch but couldn’t tell if Helen was still passed out. Guilt throbbed in my chest as I closed the door behind me.

Outside the chill was gone. The sun shone unrelentingly and my head pounded behind my shades. After I left the neighborhood I dug the condom wrapper from my purse and shoved it into a trashcan. The walk hadn’t seemed long the night before, but as I passed an overgrown park it went on and on. Fifteen minutes later I stood by the train tracks with Edie and stared at the silhouette of Mount Fuji lost in cloud while she sighed at her phone screen.

“What?” I asked, not ready to look at her full-on.

“Gunner,” she said. “He’s already friend-requested me on Facebook.”

“I guess it gets lonely out here.” I wanted to make a joke but ended up chewing my lip.

“How was your night?” Edie asked. She didn’t add, “You look like shit,” but I knew she was thinking it.

“Weird,” I said. “I think I need a Helen-and-Pete break for a while.”

“Noted.” She pedaled her knees anxiously before putting her phone away. “Did you decide if you’re staying another year?”

“I’m not sure yet. You?” I wouldn’t tell her, but I’d been waiting to see if I felt any differently than when I’d left Brooklyn and Maria behind. I’d been waiting since I got to Tokyo.

She rolled her eyes and looked down the tracks. Distantly the chime of the train sounded. “Well, Ji’s leaving, so I won’t have to see him anymore.”

“Is this your way of saying you want me to stay?”

She squared her shoulders and faced me. “I’m sorry I left you behind last night. You know I don’t want to date you, but I like having you around.”

I nodded. Edie was utterly unsentimental. It was the closest she’d come to admitting she enjoyed our friendship. Then she hugged me, squeezing the air out of me.

“I like having you around, too,” I whispered.

The warning tones for the train began to sound. Edie let go of me and pulled her purse strap back onto her shoulder, stoic again.

I gave her a nudge. “Was it worth it?” I asked. “Gunner?”

She smirked. “Mustaches, man.”

The train pulled up and Edie and I stepped inside. The car was empty. She spun around one of the poles and grinned at me. “Next time I’ll be your wingwoman. We can even find you a lesbo club.”

“You might regret that.” I sprawled across a row of chairs, still wearing my sunglasses. “You’ll be the one getting all the pickup lines.”

Edie rolled her eyes and came to sit by my head.

“Wake me when we get to our stop?”

“Fine,” she sighed.

I flicked my shades up to squint at her. “You okay?”

“The weird thing is, I don’t feel shitty,” she said. “At least, not yet.”

I nodded. The seats smelled of industrial fiber and glue. The fabric roughed my cheek like stubble. Right then everything I’d ever done seemed small, so much smaller than the train we were on or the island we were on or the planet, for that matter. I took one of Edie’s hands and fell asleep that way, like I was with Maria riding the B Train, going home.




Jae Steinbacher is a queer, non-binary writer. Their work has appeared most recently in the anthology Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up to No Good, the Overcast podcast, and LandLocked Magazine (under its previous incarnation as Beecher’s). They won Flyway Journal‘s Sweet Corn Fiction Contest in Summer 2018.