Running Red
Elizabeth Ellen

There were boys in our path. I'd positioned them between us to make the man jealous. I was full of clichés. The boys made it so easy; like shooting fish in a barrel or taking candy from a baby. They had hair soft as down, long, heat-resistant limbs. Nothing with the man was ever easy.
"Dance with me," I told them in the middle of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Families brought folding chairs to watch the fireworks; sat their children on the hoods of their minivans and cars. The man belonged to one of those families; had a wife and three kids, a Saturn coupe and a Pontiac Montana, two daughters and a son.
I was dancing with Ace. His older brother, Kip, was already in Iraq. Ace said he was up next, soon as he turned eighteen. Someone passed us a bottle of Nyquil Cherry and we each took a hit. Kip's mouth probably tasted like sand; Ace's would too.
Another boy tried to pull me away, but Ace wrapped a forearm around my abdomen. I looked for the man. I wanted him to see. I wanted him to know this was how I wanted to be handled, like he was going off to war in the morning, not back to his wife.
"If you were mine, I'd never let you go," Ace said. I smiled, pushing my cheek deeper into his mouth.
Over the hill, somewhere behind the high school, the fireworks began. My eyes were still closed but I felt the crowd turn. Ace didn't seem to notice. His forearm was still wrapped around me. I opened my eyes, searching for the man. I couldn't come within fifty feet of him without all hell breaking loose. We had to resort to public events: parades and street fairs, the fucking fourth of July for chrissake.
I sat in the back of a pickup truck on Ace's lap, my bare feet dangling over the side. The man was in a green and white lawn chair diagonal from me; the younger of his daughters stood between his thighs, leaned back into him, stared up at the sky. I envied her her vantage point, the ease with which she ingratiated herself to him. There was a popsicle in her hand, running red down her arm, and without taking her eyes from the sky, she offered it to him, elbowing it up overhead, toward the idea of her father. I watched as he bent, accepting the dripping, sticky mess and the fingers that held it into his mouth. I no longer cared about Ace or the rest of the boys. I slid off the truck and lit a cigarette. The sky was full of color. The grand finale. But I barely noticed. I sat crosslegged on the pavement, watching. I didn't dare move.