Chew by Ellie Prusko

Cherries were the most acrobatic fruit, and Maisie Beverly’s favorite food in the whole entire world. A routine of exquisite intense elegance that she had now, after ten years, finally mastered.

She loved the luscious explosion in her mouth when she first bit down and giggled at the occasional spurt of juice that would leap out from the small gap in her teeth. The mess would quickly be cleaned up by a velvet tongue and after daring herself to swallow the pit, she would engage in a dance with the stem, tying it into the perfect knot. Maisie was the best at eating food. It had nothing to do with speed or indulgence; Maisie fought for each bite. She gnashed and smashed and spun as if her mouth was wrestling a crocodile.  

Maisie Beverly was sipping her soup and staring across the kitchen table at her stepbrother. His nails were getting too long, she noticed. They were brown and flakey and he hadn’t quite mastered how to hold his spoon with the growth.

She remembered when she first met him when she was three. She found it odd how he could be so much older and yet still be her brother. Her step-mother claimed Tommy to be a boy, but Maisie even then saw him as a man. An angry man.

He noticed her stare. “What?”

Maisie shrugged, suddenly embarrassed that she had been caught. “Long nails.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“I wasn’t trying to cause trouble.”

Even though their parents were long dead Maisie still called Tommy her step-brother because she didn’t like the way he would sneak into her bed every couple of weeks.

Michael licked his spoon in a way that made Maisie feel sick. “Soup good?”

“Always is,” she said.

Maisie Beverly was six when Tommy put a bowl before her and said, “This is your daddy. You’re going to forgive him for me because I can’t.” Maisie had said that she didn’t want to, she didn’t understand. But Tommy had big hands and easily wrapped them around her tiny neck and said that if she didn’t do it he would force it down her throat.

Slowly and with shaky confusion, Maisie swallowed a spoonful of soup. It was bitter, and saltier than she had expected. Maisie wondered if she was tickling parts of her father from bites that she took.

Two weeks later Tommy’s mother stopped waking her up for school. It was Tommy’s shoulders she held as she stepped into her white cotton tights and his hands that pulled the zipper of her dress up her back. There was a bowl of soup on the table when she got home, her school copy of Peter Pan resting on her chest. She swallowed loudly, knowing who was in the bowl but not daring to ask.

Tommy’s voice was raspy and he was sweating profusely. He had been hard at work.

“Eat.”

Maisie swallowed loudly again.

“Eat it, Maisie!”

Maisie threw her backpack down and sat by the bowl. Six years old was also the age when she lost her ability to cry.

She learned the art of chewing when she began eating her step-mother. Her father had been too rubbery and tough, fighting her bites. But her stepmother had always been softer. She almost wondered why Tommy had decided to kill her. Tommy observed her watchfully with white knuckles and tears streaming down his face.

When she put the bowl down she looked up at him with hateful eyes. “Is she forgiven?”

“Yes, honey.” This was the first time when he pulled down his zipper. Maisie began biting her nails because she didn’t understand. “And you will be too.”

Their relationship made Maisie Beverly used to tastes. The ones that made most little girls’ noses scrunch up and shriek, Maisie embraced with barely an eyebrow raise. Salt. Sour. Bitter. Bloody. She was well accustomed to blood. Tommy was often covered in it and it would get on her face when he kissed her. She would fearlessly wipe it from between her legs the first time Tommy forgave her.

Despite Maisie’s silence about her home life, other little girls with perfect middle parts and clean jump ropes could smell something suspicious on her.

“You smell like a dead body,” one particularly mean spirited blonde had said. “You probably eat dead bodies for lunch.”

On this day, Maisie decided to embrace that truth. “Yes, I do,” she said simply. “And you’ll be next if you keep on talking.”

Of course, the little blonde princess burst into fits of tears and had to be escorted away by her servent friends. Maisie fought the urge to spit on the ground. She could never stoop so low as to eat that little bitch, she probably would taste too sour to even swallow. And Maisie would never ever forgive her.

“You’re so stupid, Maisie. You’re so fucking stupid.” Tommy planted another bruise on Maisie’s leg with a swing of his fist. His reaction to receiving a call from the principal was less than composed.

Maisie hated moments like this. Not the hitting, which was merely another taste and another texture she had grown used to. It was Tommy’s voice when he got like this. It was so eerily calm that it alone made her stomach churn. It was only his voice like this, that was able to get her to produce tears. Not cry, an action she wouldn’t be able to perform for years to come, but to tear up and feel the brink of an emotional explosion. She wondered if he spoke like this to their parents once. Before they were soup. 

Maisie Beverly tried to crawl away but Tommy grabbed the hem of her dress with such force that she heard the tearing of lace. He flipped her over onto her back. “Tommy, we’re very concerned, Tommy. You’re her legal guardian, Tommy, what could possibly possess her to say such a thing to an innocent little girl, Tommy?”

“She wasn’t innocent,” Maisie hissed, but was silenced with a strike across her face.

“I don’t give a shit, Maisie.” Tommy’s tone was sympathetic, as if he were sorry for her severe misunderstanding. “You threatened to eat another girl. Do you know how twisted that is, Maisie? To threaten someone like that?” Maisie didn’t know. Crossing lines was never made clear in this household. Tommy sighed then. “What am I to do with you?”

Maisie knew the answer before she even heard the belt buckle being undone. “I’m six years old, Tommy,” she said quietly, resulting in another strike to the face. She tried a different approach. “You’re twenty-one.” Another hit followed by sickening shushing. Maisie used a final attempt and winced as she felt the aching between your legs. “I’m your sister.”

To her relief, Tommy hit her so hard in the head that she was knocked unconscious.

Out of all things for little girls to love, Maisie’s favorite thing in the world was a good bath. The bathroom was the only door in the house that had a lock, and Maisie was so brave that she didn’t even use it. She knew Tommy wouldn’t come in. He never did. He stood for forgiveness, not the redemption of a cleanse.

Her best friend lived in the ocean but would visit her every time. Bean was a stunning mermaid with a bleeding tail who would come out of the drain whenever Maisie filled the tub with water. She would gently take the sponge out of Maisie’s hands and dab the blood away from around her mouth. She would scrub between her toes and between her legs and under her arms.

“How’s the tail, Bean?” Maisie would ask this every time. She watched in fascination as the blood would sway away from the iridescent tail and turn the bathwater pink.

“The same,” Bean shrugged. Her pointed ears slid up her face when she smiled. “Why’d you tell that little girl you were gonna eat her?”

“I wasn’t actually gonna eat her.”

“I know that.”

“I wasn’t lying either.”

Bean looked sad then. “I know you weren’t, Maze.”

“Sometimes I just wanna see what people will do when I tell them.”

“And what do they do, Maze?”

“They get scared.”

“And what does that make you?”

“Brave.”

Bean smiled and drummed her fingers against Maisie’s ribs so she would squeal. “Braver than anyone I know.”

“When am I gonna get my tail?”

“When you’re older, baby.”

“It nice in the ocean?”

“The trip from the drain is a little tight but it’s worth it. Ocean’s huge, Maze. You’d love it.”

“I wanna go.”

“When you’re older.”

“Do mermaids also have pajinas?”

Bean snorted then. “Vaginas, Maisie.”

“Vaginas.”

“You’ll know when you get your tail.”

“I hope they don’t.”

Bean swallowed loudly, and tapped Maisie’s chin. “Nobody’s gonna treat you like that in the ocean. Promise.”

Then Bean, as she always did, melted into the drain, leaving behind the six year old girl in the pink water. Maisie spent the rest of bathtime kicking with her legs pressed together to propel herself from one side of the tub to the other, preparing for the day when they would merge and Bean would take her down the drain too.

Ten more years went by. Maisie aged, but Bean and Tommy did not. Tommy had looked like a man since he was a boy, and Bean remained so similar that even her tail continued to bleed. Maisie always tried to help bandage it, but Bean always refused, saying that she could not avoid who she was. Who she would always be.

Maisie aged beautifully, a significant contrast to the brutality of her life. Porcelain skin and golden hair, hot sugary blood swirling beneath her cheeks. She was delicious looking, and it made Tommy an absolute lunatic. He began collecting her tampons and any dresses she outgrew would be nailed chronologically against his bedroom wall. Maisie only went into Tommy’s bedroom once, and became so disturbed and overwhelmed with fear that she was almost able to cry.

Don’t you like it, Maisie, he had said to her.

She couldn’t stand it.

“Do you know why you’re here, Maisie?” Of course she did. She sat across from the principal and her guidance counselor, although she wasn’t entirely aware who had asked her the question; she was lost in something funny Bean said the other night.

“I’m failing,” Maisie recalled.

“Almost every class,” her guidance counselor tried to put it gently. “Particularly English.”

Maisie didn’t know what to say to that, she didn’t understand how someone could fail a language they were fluent in. “Am I going to be expelled?”

“Goodness, Maisie, no.” Her guidance counselor reached out and touched Maisie’s hand. Maisie didn’t mind. She liked Mrs. Heathers. She was nice and despite being a guidance counselor, didn’t ask too many questions. “We wanna help you.”

Maisie Beverly laughed.

“Listen, Maisie,” the principal began. “The school district has been very observant of you. You’ve been a struggling  pupil even when you first came in kindergarten. Some years you perform stupendously. But others…” she pushed her glasses up her face. “Others are like this. And junior year of high school is no year to struggle.”

“I think what Principal Lawrence means is,” Mrs. Heathers could push a needle forward with her eyes. Maisie laughed again when Mrs. Heathers turned back around and winked at her. “Junior year is a very important year, and as of late your grades are once again not measuring up to just how precious you are. What an incredibly diligent student you are, Maisie.”

“So what, in your opinion Maisie, would be a good path towards improvement?” Principal Lawrence asked. “We’ve done online practices, study groups, counseling. None of them seemed to work until you come back from one summer and seem to know everything. What’s going on there?”

Maisie Beverly laughed.

“Why didn’t the private tutor work, Maisie?” Mrs. Heathers asked.

“Because we were home,” Maisie said.

Principal Lawrence looked at Mrs. Heathers.

“She doesn’t like studying at home,” Mrs. Heathers explained. “She gets too easily distracted.”

“By what?”

“Tommy,” Maisie said. “My brother. I have to help him with the chores.”

“He won’t let you study just because you have to do chores?” Principal Lawrence narrowed her eyes.

“No he does. I just feel guilty. He’s so nice to me and works so hard ever since our parents died.”

“Oh, this is what you were talking about,” Principal Lawrence said to Mrs. Heathers, who nodded slowly. “Alright Maisie, well what about an after school private tutor? Just for you.”

Maisie just nodded.

“I’m getting a tutor, Tommy,” Maisie told Tommy later that day. She had already finished her steak, eating it so quickly that she began sweating profusely. Tommy sat back, not even halfway finished; his jaw was stringy and loose as he excruciatingly and slowly chewed.

The swallow was unnaturally loud. “What for?”

“I’m having trouble in school again.”

“Why?”

“No reason. You know this always happens.”

“You don’t need a tutor, Maisie.”

“Yes I do. It’s going to help me.”

“You don’t need help.”

“I need help, Tommy.”

Tommy then stood up and very slowly walked around the table to where Maisie was sitting. With long white spider fingers he began carefully braiding her hair. Every time a nail would scratch down her back Maisie would shiver. She swallowed her half digested dinner when he buried his nose into her scalp and inhaled.

“They ask any questions?”

“Only a few.”

“They gonna send another tutor here?”

“No. I promise they won’t do that again. It would just be after school.”

“How often?”

“Once a week? Maybe twice.”

Instead of finding an elastic band, Tommy tied the end of Masie Beverly’s golden hair into a knot. “What am I to do with you?”

The braid stayed. Held against its fighting will to undo itself.

“It’s not coming out, baby.” Bean winced with Maisie as she once again tried to comb her scaly fingers thorugh the knotted braid. Maisie thrashed and growled with every tug on her scalp until Bean gently flicked her ear. “Knock that shit off.”

“It hurts,” Maisie Beverly hissed.

“Should we cut it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it’s your hair, Maze.”

“Well, you’re the one who’s supposed to be doing something about it.”

“Hey,” Bean whispered dangerously and Maisie shrieked when she felt her neck snap back and hit the edge of the bathtub. “I’m trying to help.”

Maisie said nothing for a while, playing with the swirls of blood in the water that came from Bean’s tail. “I just want it out,” she said finally.

“I’m trying.”

“I want out.”

“I know.”

“When?” Maisie pleaded.

“Soon,” Bean promised, kissing the top of her head. “Soon.”

Maisie Beverly was assigned to Percy Fitzgerald, a senior going to Columbia University for being outstanding at everything. They met in the library but Maisie had trouble finding him. She already hated being there. The students would always eye her up and down with confusion and discomfort because she was known still as the freak who threatened to eat Abby Walters. Despite her elegant aging, Maisie still stood out. Sharp boned and always looking hungry. She was used to the students’ stares but they seemed amplified by the hush of the library.

“Maisie?”

She hadn’t even noticed the skinny boy with owl shaped glasses and floppy hair standing right in front of her. He was holding out his hand. “I’m Percy.”

She had the urge to grab it and bite it as hard as she could. At least she’d have an excuse to get out of here, along with a small appetizer. Maisie gave a tiny smirk at her own joke.

“I’m Maisie,” she said.

Percy smirked. “Yeah, I know.” He dropped his hand when he quickly realized that she wasn’t going to take it. She noticed something sparkly on his left hand which he showed to her immediately. “My grandma’s engagement ring. Kinda weird on a guy, I know. But before she died about two months ago we were best friends. Kinda lame huh?”

“Why are you talking to me like I’m retarded?”

Percy swallowed loudly. The tables around them suddenly became silent. One of them snorted. Maisie jerked her head towards the sound.

“Uh… I’m not. Or at least I don’t mean to be. I’m sorry.” He scratched his head, Maisie tried not to giggle at his discomfort. “You just seem a little nervous so I’m trying to break the ice. I don’t think you’re retarted at all. In fact I don’t even like that word.”

“Do you think I’m dumb because I need you?” She was testing him now, seeing what it was about him that had Columbia swooning.

“No, what? No, of course not. How do you think I did so well on my tests?” He waited for her to answer but she just continued tapping her foot. “Tutor.”

“Good advertising.”

“Thank you?”

“Let’s get this over with, Percy.” She glided past him. “I need to be home in time for dinner.”

Once it had been established that English was Maisie’s worst subject, they began there.

“Okay,” Percy prefaced. “Since the ACT’s are coming up, I’m just gonna start by reading you some questions and seeing how you do. Sound okay?”

“I’m not taking the ACT’s.”

“How about the SAT’s?”

“You’re not taking any testing?”

Maisie couldn’t hold her laughter in then. “Nope. Too dumb.”

To her surprise, Percy seemed very angered by this. “I mean, that’s ridiculous. You have to take some form of testing. Some colleges require test scores.”

“Who said anything about going to college?”

“Well, where are you going then, Narnia?”

“The ocean.”

Percy rolled his eyes and massaged his temples. “Oh right, of course. ‘Scuse me then.”

Maisie Beverly laughed again.

The next week they focused on Math. Maisie decided to behave this time and let Percy be satisfied knowing he was at least trying to help her. She nearly aced it. The week after was European History, which Maisie did exceptionally in.

Then the week after was English again. 

“‘The first train took twenty-six minutes to complete the route, which ran from City Hall to West 145th Street in under a half an hour.’” Percy waited for her to read through the multiple choice.

“D,” she answered. “Delete the underlined portion.”

“Correct,” Percy said sharply. “Why?”

“Redundancy.”

“Good.” He never showed enthusiasm whenenver she got something right. Maisie liked that. He was being more honest with her than most.

“‘Unbricking a kiln after a firing is like a person uncovering buried treasure.”

She didn’t even bother with the letter this time. “Delete underlined portion.”

“Correct. Why?”

“The action is very obviously human-like.”

“Well done,” Percy said.

Maisie Beverly got a 97% on the multiple choice.    

“So why are you doing so shitty?” Percy asked. It was nearly five o’clock, the library was about to close and their tutoring session had ended nearly an hour ago. Yet Percy stayed seated knowing that Maisie wouldn’t stand up until he did. And he believed this to be his only opportunity to interview the anamoly. “You obviously don’t need me.”

“I’m failing every class,” Maisie explained. “Well, almost every class.”

He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “But like… you’re smart, Maisie. You know all the answers. Why do you need me?”

“Because I need help.”

“With what?”

Maisie looked down at her fingernails. Too long, she noted.

“Maisie,” Percy pushed his glasses up his nose again. “Is there a reason why we have to work in school? A reason why we don’t go to your house? Is something going on there?”

“Why are you asking so many fucking questions?” Maisie nearly gasped because she realized she was whispering the way Tommy did whenever he got mad.

Her sudden snap shocked him, and he held his hands up. “Jesus! I’m just trying to help.”

“Why are you always trying to help? Why can’t you ever just mind your own fucking business?”

“It’s not like I’m gonna call the cops or anything, I was just asking what’s going on!”

“How about you stop being such a nosy prick?”

“How about you stop being such a defensive bitch?”

That one got her. It didn’t hurt her, it took an infinite amount more to even scratch her, but it did shock her. Percy was fast paced but patient with her for the past month. Allowing her to be rude and snarky and pour her water bottle on his shoes. But not anymore. He was done playing.

“Jesus, fuck– I’m sorry.” Percy started tugging at his hair. “It’s just. You say you need help, and then when I ask you why, you say that you don’t need it. Do you see why I’m a little confused here?”

“I didn’t know Columbia undergrads got confused.”
            “Wow, you really are a bitch.” But Percy was smiling at her.

I have to be, Maisie almost blurted.

“What are you smiling at?” Tommy’s back was to her when Maisie came in. He stirred his bowl of soup softly while staring across the table at her tepid cold one. “You’re late.”

“Tutoring ran late,” she explained. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s no way to wish me a happy birthday.”

Maisie sat across from him, not daring to even swallow. “Happy birthday, Tommy. How does it feel to be thirty-one?”

“It would feel better if you were here on time like you’re supposed to.” Maisie just nodded before getting up to go to her room. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”

“I’m not hungry,” she said.

She decided to take a bath instead. Talking to Bean would help her ignore the growling in her stomach. Sure enough, as soon as she turned the water on, there Bean was oozing up from the drain. She pulled Maisie in for a hug and helped her get into the tub.

“What’s new, baby?” She asked.

“I don’t know yet,” said Maise honestly.

It was nearly eleven that night when Tommy crawled into Maisie’s bed in a slithering motion that always made her shake. She squeezed her eyes even tighter, hoping that if he truly believed she was asleep he would leave. But Tommy saw through it.

“You’re not fooling me, Maze.” He kissed her throat.

As she felt the buttons of her nightgown come undone, Maisie suggested, “Not tonight, Tommy. Another time how ‘bout?”

She knew she’d really screwed up when his palm met her cheek. “You really don’t know how to fucking treat someone on their birthday,” he whispered gently.

It never didn’t hurt. Much less than when her little girl bones were unable to support the weight or the pressure. But Tommy never made love. He didn’t love anything. He hated until he forgave that person. And while this always claimed to be his way of forgiving her, Maisie knew he could only do it one way.

“I said no, Tommy,” she said to the wall.

“Shut the fuck up,” he grunted.

She knew there was no getting him to stop until it was done. So Maisie Beverly tried to think of other things.

That funny Bean made in the bathtub. She said next time she would show Maisie how mermaids fart. Because boy do they. She thought about whether she should delete the underlined portion or replace “because” with “that.” She thought about how Percy had called her a bitch but not in the way that Tommy did because he was smiling when he said it because there was a possibility he enjoyed just how mean she was. That maybe he even enjoyed her.

“Tommy–” but she was silenced when he leaned in and sunk his jaws into her cheekbone. Maisie screamed not so much at the pain, but the surprise and boldness of his action. The tears came from the sensitivity, but were dried up and evaporated as soon as he got up and spit the piece of her cheek on the floor.

In the darkness, she heard him buckle his belt and drag the back of his hand across his stubbly face. “You taste like dirt,” he said simply, disappointed that she was so tantalizing to stare at but not to eat. Then he closed the door behind him. “What am I to do with you?” She heard through the wood. 

“What happened to your face?” Percy wasted no time loudly observing the large white gauze and tape that draped over the right side of Maisie’s face. This was the most she could do to hide it, but the blood was growing old as it seeped which caused the center of the gauze to turn brown.

Maisie wondered why Percy couldn’t just silently gawk and fear like everyone else. “What happened to yours?”

“Wow, thank you. Well you know, benzoyl peroxide can’t help you without hurting you a bit. It really is a bitch. Almost as much as you.”

Maisie snorted. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Well, neither did I,” Percy said. “Really you don’t look bad, it looks bad. On your face– not your face. I–”

“Quit while you’re ahead.”

“Excellent advice, yes.” Percy started nodding so furiously that his glasses almost fell off.

“Are you scared of me?” Maisie challenged.

“What? No! I mean, a little. But not in the way that others are. I mean–” Percy clamped a hand over his mouth. “Fuck, I’m sorry, Maisie. I didn’t mean it like that–”

“Yes, you did. But you’re not wrong. That’s okay.”

“I am not scared of you,” he said flatly. “In fact I’ll prove it to you. Come have dinner at my house tonight!”

Maisie Beverly raised an eyebrow at him. “With you?”

“Well, not just with me. With my mom and dad and little sister Agatha.”

“That’s an ugly name.”

“I know, but luckily she’s cute so she makes up for it.”

Maisie thought about this for a moment. “Why do you want me to?”

“Because we’re friends.”

“That so?”

“Where else do you have to be?”

“My brother,” she said quietly.

“Tell him to fuck off.”

Maisie’s head snapped up. The idea that someone would even think of speaking ill of Tommy besides Bean occasionally made Maisie want to vomit for reasons she couldn’t explain. She felt that since Tommy knew every part of her, had touched every inch of her, he could somehow hear and feel what she could. Her sensations were his, not her own.

“That’s my brother,” she hissed.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Percy said to the browning gauze. “Look, just come. Please? It might be nice.”

Maisie sighed and then shrugged. “What am I to do with you?” she blurted.

Percy narrowed his eyes. “What?”

“Nothing. Shut up.” She fought the urge to pull out every one of her teeth.

Percy didn’t have a car because he lived down the road from the high school. He did have a bike, which Maisie struggled to plop herself on the handlebars.

“This is the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my life,” she snapped.

“You and me both,” Percy shot back.

Once her bottom half became numb without circulation, the ride was admittedly pleasant. The wind pushed her knotted hair away from her face and tickled her legs through her dress. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back.

“I can’t see,” Percy piped up.

She snapped back forward. “Ruin the moment, why don’t cha.”

She smiled when she heard Percy laugh behind her.

The Fitzgerald house was a fairytale cottage with the biggest backyard Maisie Beverly had ever seen. She stiffened when a great large tuft of beige came sprinting through the screen door, leaving a ripping hole.

“Damn it, Trudy!” Percy lept from his bike as Maisie stumbled off the handlebars, keeping a great distance from the giant furry ball. “That’s the second screen door this month.” She realized quickly that Trudy was, in fact, a dog, a golden retriever, Percy told her, crouching down to stroke her floppy neck. Trudy rolled on her back and awaited praise. “She gets a little overexcited.”

“Truly.”

She froze again when she heard a screech, “Pewcy’s hooooommmeee!”

“Agatha,” he explained to Maisie.

And sure enough, a tiny little girl with Percy’s face and pigtails crawled through the newly made hole in the screen door and waddled all the way up to Percy’s pant leg.

She snarled at him, “I shee you Pewcy.”

“I see you, Raggy Aggy.” He scooped her up and let her scream as he drummed his fingers on her ribs.

Little sister Raggy Aggy, Maisie Beverly thought.

“Go inside,” Percy instructed as he put her down. He just shook his head when Agatha plucked his glasses off of his face and ran back into the house with Trudy with them on her head. “Don’t break them!” he called after her.

Then he turned back to Maisie, whose feet were digging so deeply into the grass that she felt as if she were ankle deep. He had brown eyes, she never noticed that. There were prints beside his eyes from where the skin had adjusted to the constant pushing. But he still looked whole without them.

“Sorry about all that,” he said. “She’s three. It’s a lot sometimes but she means well.” When he realized she wasn’t moving he walked over and gently took her hand. “We’ll take it slow, okay?”

Maisie didn’t know what else to do so she just nodded.

The house was so warm and bright that it hurt her eyes. Warm and spacious and clean. Maisie tried to think back to a time when the blinds were up in her own home. She saw two adults that looked like Percy. The woman was bent over a bowling pot while the man was pouring glasses of wine.

Mrs. Fitzgerald turned around and smiled. “Hi!”

Maisie covered her hand with her mouth when she started baring her teeth.

Percy moved fast. “Mom, Dad, this is Maisie, a friend that I’ve been tutoring. We’re very excited for dinner–” he turned to Maisie, “– which is spaghetti and meatballs.”

“Works for me,” she shrugged.

“But the fact of the matter is you’re all embarrassing despite how much I love you so we’re going up to my room until dinner’s ready. Thank you for your time.” Once he finished, he grabbed Maisie’s hand again and pulled her up the staircase.

“Well,” Maisie heard Percy’s father say. “Clear enough.”

Percy’s bedroom was a mess of chipping blue paint and clothes and posters.

“Sorry about–”

“You keep apologizing.” She couldn’t stop walking in circles around the room. It was so lived in that she felt herself becoming jealous.

Percy half smiled. “Don’t need to?”

“No, it’s just annoying.”

“Oh. Sorry.” It was silent for a while and Maisie could feel Percy starting to get uncomfortable. “That gauze is starting to look really gross. Whatever’s under there will probably only get worse if you don’t change it. There’s stuff in my parent’s bathroom.”

“That’s okay.”

“Maisie, let me help you.” He wasn’t forceful or desperate, he just seemed to be testing the boundaries. Maisie growled when he followed her out of his room. He took the lead when they reached the hallway.

The Fitzgerald’s master bath looked like a place where angels went to get massages. Everything was white and pristine and untouched until Percy started ravaging through the cabinets.  Finally, he came out with gauze, tape, and vaseline.

“Thanks, I got it.” Maisie snatched the materials from his hands. She stood in front of the mirror, staring for a long time at the brown tape across her face.

“You sure?” Percy peeped quietly from behind her.

She sighed, starting to get used to his persistence. She didn’t say anything, only wincing as she pulled the tape off. A few fibers of the gauze seemed to inject themselves into the wound, so Maisie hissed and spat when it felt like she was removing a part of her skin all over again. She dropped it to the sink, her nose crinkling at the smell.

The wound was shiny, the newly exposed flesh stinging from the light. Maisie’s eyes began to water.

“Hey, I got it.” And before she could protest Percy was washing his hands at the other sink next to her. He examined it carefully, which she let him do. “Looks like it’s infected. You might have to go to the hospital.”

“I’m not doing that.”

“Okay,” was all he said. She started counting tiles when he started looking at it for too long. “Did something bite you? That’s kinda what it looks like. Or a burn.”

“Just a burn.”

“Okay,” he said again, although he didn’t seem entirely convinced.

“Curling iron,” she tried.

He finally admitted it. “You know I don’t believe you, right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

Percy was as gentle as anyone could’ve been with a bite wound. He let her spit on his glasses when he spread the vaseline with his thumb and was only mildly surprised when she tried to bite his hand as he placed clean gauze over his face. He was stronger than her, and Maisie was used to being stopped. But Percy wasn’t condescending or controlling when he held her head or her arms back each time she fought. It was a defense move, and Maisie could only sympathize with that.

“There,” he said finally, his thumb gently brushing over the freshly taped bandage. “You look like a new woman.”

“Why are you okay with me?”

Percy furrowed his brow. “What?”

“Being me. How can you be okay with that?”

He shrugged. “I still don’t know what you mean. I like you. You’re weird as shit but… I think that just because bad things happen to you doesn’t mean you’re a shitty person for it. Even if you tried to bite me while I was cleaning a horrible… terribly infected wound.”

Maisie tried not to smile.

“Pewcy dinnew!”

They both looked out the doorway. “Is it okay if we go back downstairs?” He stayed in the same position until she nodded, then he took her hand again. “They’re not so bad, I promise. Also Mom’s meatballs are amazing. I hope you eat meat.”

“I do,” said Maisie Beverly.

Percy smiled. “Good.”

She wondered if it was.

Despite them being a family of four, the table was so loud that Maisie fought the urge to cover her ears with her hands. Even though it was horrendously loud, she didn’t hate it. Laughs and hand holding. The family said grace before they ate which confused Maisie so much that when she looked to her left she could see Percy laughing into his hands, the engagement ring glitttering from the chandelier. Agatha sneakily dropping noodles to Trudy from her high chair.

Maisie’s meatballs were gone within seconds. The Fitzgerald family watched in awe. She realized the behavior was potentially inappropirate. “I’m sorry.”

“We’ve got ourselves a carnivore!” Mr. Fitzgerald proclaimed. For reasons she didn’t know, Maisie felt her face turning red.

Mrs. Fitzgerald elbowed her husband. “Al,” she hissed.

“What?”

“I’m sorry about him,” she apologized to Maisie. “He lacks social awareness.”

“Shoshal awaweness!” Agatha echoed. “I shee you, Pewcy!” She pointed a chubby finger at him. Maisie swallowed the wonder of what it would taste like. Percy ignored her, he was looking at Maisie.

“Well, I’m so happy you love the meatballs so much!” Mrs. Fitzgerald explained. “I wish you could pass the love onto Aggy here, only three and she’s already a vegetarian.”

“It’s animals,” Agatha whispered intensely. “We’re animals!”

Maisie nodded slowly.

“I can get you some more if you’d like!” Mrs. Fitzgerald said to Maisie.

She ignored her growling stomach and attempted at politeness. “Oh, really that’s–”

But she was already up. “I insist.”

Maisie looked over to Percy, who just shrugged.

She served four more this time which Maisie nearly finished before Percy’s mother sat down.

“So Maisie,” Mrs. Fitzgerald started. “Percy a good tutor?”

Maisie nodded.

“He sure as hell should be,” said Mr. Fitzgerald. “He’s going to Columbia in the fall!”

“Dad,” Percy growled. Maisie narrowed her eyes at him, wondering why he was always embarrassed about the school he was going to around her.

“Where’re you thinking of going, Maisie?” his father asked her.

“Oh, well I’m only a junior,” she said.

“Still probably have an idea of where you’re going, though,” he protested.

“Al, not everyone goes through the college process like we did,” Mrs. Fitzgerald reminded.

“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it,” she admitted. “I’m planning on going to the ocean at some point.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely!” Mrs. Fitzgerald gasped. “When?”

She didn’t know.

“One day,” Agatha explained to Maisie. “I will learn how to swim!”

The small child confused Maisie greatly, but she kind of liked her.

“I’m gonna teach her this summer,” Percy informed her. “Isn’t that right, Aggy?”

“Pewcy can bweeth undewwatew,” Agatha exclaimed to Maisie. Then her eyes found the bandage. “What happened to youw face?”

“Oh, Aggy don’t be rude!” Mrs. Fitzgerald cried. She turned to Maisie again. “I’m so sorry, she’s only three.”

“Curling iron burn,” Percy blurted. Maisie just nodded.

“That must’ve hurt like hell,” said Mr. Fitzgerald.

“It did,” Maisie said, trying to smile. But she couldn’t.

After dinner Percy wanted to take her to the backyard and show Maisie Beverly something. They walked in silence for a bit up the hill, Maisie silently not believing how they could own so much land.

Percy seemed to notice her disbelief. “My grandmother lived here,” he said. “This was her childhood home, and then she gave it to my parents after they got married. Just as long as she could live there with us.”

“You were okay with it?”

“My grandma wasn’t like most. She was a nonstop machine until about a month before she died. Constantly moving.” Percy smile then. “Sometimes it was even annoying. Like we always had to be up and doing something.” He pushed his glasses up his nose, having been able to snatch them from Agatha at dinner.

“It sounds nice.”

“It was,” Percy said. “She died when Agatha was only one. But even with having a granddaughter, she wanted to give her engagement ring to me.”

“Why?”

“We just always understood each other. She would know I was going to cry before I was even about to. And I could do the same for her. I don’t even know if we talked as much as we just thought to each other.” Percy started to smirk. “Pretty dumb, huh?”

“No. My best friend’s a mermaid.”

Percy swallowed loudly but that was the only form of surprise he showed. “Is that why you’re gonna go to the ocean instead of college?” he asked.

Maisie nodded. “Are you excited for Columbia in the fall?”

He shrugged. “Sort of. I’m honestly still just trying to believe I got in. I mean, it’s an insane school.”

“You’re smart.”

“So are you, in fact you’re so smart you could probably get into Columbia in a heartbeat.”

“Hardy har har.”

“I’m serious Maise. I’ve been reading your essays for over a month. They’re brilliant. You touch upon stuff that I don’t even think of. That’s why it drives me so crazy that you’re not doing well in school and don’t even wanna bother with college.” Maisie Beverly shrugged. “Why are you doing that to yourself?”

“Because I need help,” she whispered gravely.

Percy’s eyes were wet under his glasses “With what?”

Maisie swallowed something hard that made her eyes burn but the sensation only lasted for a moment. Her mind was at the time planted on the little three-year-old girl who wanted to swim and had a brother who tickled her and when he put her to bed he got into his own and stayed there. She chose not to eat meat and was allowed to protest without it being pushed down her esophagus with a long spoon when she was especially bad.

“Maisie.” She snapped out of it. Percy was trying to smile. “We’re here.”

As far as she could see, fat hearty trees extended in beautiful columns all throughout the grassy plain just over the hill. Maisie wondered if fairies would come out.

“What is it?”

“Cherry orchard,” Percy said. “My grandma’s first real kid before my dad. This is what she spent her free time doing her entire childhood. My great-grandfather first started planting them.”

“They’re gorgeous.” They truly were. Percy took her hand and pulled her forward.

“When I was little, my dad and I used to play tag here. Only you were only It if they hit you with a cherry.” He plucked one off of an oncoming tree and handed it to her. She sniffed it which made him laugh. “Checking for pesticides?”

“I’ve never had a cherry before,” she said.

Percy widened his eyes. “Really? What do you eat at your house, just raw steak all the time?” He stopped laughing when he saw that she wasn’t. “I mean if you do, that’s okay. Maybe a little unsanitary but–”

“I don’t,” she growled. Percy held up his hands.

“Okay, okay. My bad. Just try the cherry.” And so after she was done glaring at him, she did.

She nearly gasped at the juice that leaped from her mouth. The sweetness and chewyness that made her nasal passageway expand. In that moment it became her favorite food of all time. It wasn’t bitter or salty or metallic. It came from the trees and was untouched by any animal but herself and Percy.

She chomped down again and cried out in pain.

“Oh shit yeah,” said Percy. “The pit.” Maisie let out a throaty growl before spitting the pit at Percy’s cheek. Instead of reacting the way she expected, he laughed. “Ew!”

Maisie took off running. “You’re it,” she said.

After their surprisingly energized game of tag, they lay in the center of the Fitzgerald Cherry Orchard, swallowing cherry juice and sucking on the pits before making shapes with them in the grass beside their heads.

“Do you have any friends?” Maisie challenged.

“Yeah,” Percy retaliated.

“Then where are they?”

“Around. I have a group of guys that I like to pal around with. My two closest friends are probably  Jim and Harry.”

“Why don’t you hang out with them?” she asked.

She heard the grass move as he shrugged. “We’ve all been busy. I’ve been tutoring and Harry’s building houses in Kenya, which is a total stereotype of college applications but his parents are just like that. And Jim’s freaking out because he doesn’t have enough extracurriculars to really impress any of his top regular actions so he’s going around town kissing major ass.” He started chewing on a grass blade. “It’s just how things get around this time of year.”

“Ever had a girlfriend?” asked Maisie Beverly.

“Once. For three years. We broke up this past summer.” He turned to look at her. “Why? You got a boyfriend?” She shook her head. Percy started smiling like a boy with a bad idea. “So I take it you’re a virgin, then? Unless you’re wild?”

Maisie bit so hard on her cherry pit that her jaw cracked. She just nodded. “Virgin.” She diverted quickly. “What about you?”

“Nah,” Percy said. “Lost it oh… last year or so? I was with Jenny for so long that sometimes I forget what happened when.”

“Why’d you guys break up?”

“She was really pushing to stay together forever in college and at first I was all for it. Like totally in. Parents loved her. Even Agatha and she’s picky. But then she started getting angry, really angry. You’re going to cheat on me, call me three times a day. Once at seven, again at two, once more at seven again. It got to the point where I wasn’t me to her and she wasn’t herself to me. Emotions falling through and slipping away. And who wants that? So I ended it.”

“Must’ve been hard,” Maisie tried.

“That’s the thing,” he was looking at her now, reading her face to see what she’d feel. “It wasn’t really. In fact it felt like the most correct thing I’ve ever done in my life. Does that make me awful?”

“Definitely not. I’ve seen worse.”

“Have you ever been kissed, Maisie?” She saw his cheeks bleeding red even through the huge round frames of his glasses. Strangely enough, this question did not make her feel any sort of way.

“Why?”

“Because I’m wondering if you’d be any good at it.”

Maisie Beverly liked to play and she never got to when she was home. So she rolled on top of Percy and leaned in, only to drop a cherry from her mouth to his. “Hey!”

She stood up and dug her toes into the grass. “You’re it.”

“I don’t want my tail just yet,” Maisie confessed as Bean scrubbed under her arms with a sponge.

This came as a surprise to the bleeding mermaid. “Why’s that?” Maisie told her everything. “I wouldn’t want it either,” she agreed. “Luckily you’re not old enough yet.”

“I still want it more than anything, I just wanna say goodbye to Percy first,” she explained. “Before he goes to Columbia.”

“A real friend,” Bean said gently, and Maisie could not properly grasp just how much she loved Bean. She always understood exactly what she felt.

“Yeah,” she said. “He really is.”

Dinnertime with Tommy was more silent than usual. Maisie stared at the bowl and tried not to wrinkle her nose from the sound of Tommy’s slurps. When there wasn’t anyone to be forgiven, Tommy would pick off of tourists. Bike riders and motorcyclists and people waiting for the bus. The town they lived in was as quiet as the dinner they were having, and disappearances that included people who weren’t that memorable made for easy ingredients.

It exhausted him, since confusion was more violent and defensive than betrayal. The people he forgave still had a certain degree of trust in Tommy even as he was killing them.

“Soup good, Maze?” he asked. Tommy didn’t like the dinner to be too quiet. The sound of Maisie chewing could only drive him crazy for so long, but she wasn’t even doing that. She nodded. “Why don’t you talk, Maisie? It’s very rude not to talk to me.”

“I just don’t have anything interesting to say, that’s all.”

“How’s your face?”

Maisie felt her mouth go dry and start to feel like sandpaper. “It hurts.”

“It looks ugly.” He took another spoonful. “Do you feel ugly with it?”

“I don’t know if I’ve ever even felt pretty.”

Tommy sighed. “This is why you’re so stupid, Maisie. You were beautiful. Absolutely stunning. But now with that shitty little spludge on your face, you look ugly.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why aren’t you eating?”

She knew even though he was calm, he was furious. Tommy prepped, and Maisie was the angel of forgiveness. That’s the way it always was. But her bite mark made her look like the devil and she didn’t have any forgiveness left inside of her.

“I’m just not hungry.”

“Where did you go last night?”

“Just to my tutor’s house. I had dinner with his family.”

“Did you eat there?”

“I had dinner.”

“So you’ll eat at a stranger’s house,” Tommy processed. “But not at your own with your brother who slaved in the kitchen to make you food.”

“I’m just not hungry, Tommy. I’ll heat it up for breakfast tomorrow.”

“I’m getting really angry, Maisie,” he whispered. “You always eat your dinner. Only very naughty little girls refuse to eat dinner.”

Maisie clenched her fists when she saw Tommy get up. She stared at the bowl, watching the perfectly cubed meat calmly bob and float in silence. She wondered who they were, what they felt when Tommy came for them. When he came back with the wooden spoon, she thought of Agatha and Percy playing checkers sharing a bowl of Grandma Fitzgerald’s finest cherries.

Bean was already waiting when Maisie stumbled into the bathroom and collapsed into the tub, the undigested meat spilling out of her mouth that had been forced to her stomach. Bean held her hair. Maisie tried to apologize for getting any vomit into her bleeding tail but Bean just shook her head, already knowing as always.

“Just let it all out, pretty girl,” she said gently. Maisie let it all out for five whole minutes feeling anything but pretty.

“I’ve never done that before,” she panted. “Not since I was six.”

“I know. I remember.”

Maisie shook her head over and over again. “I hate that spoon,” she wailed.

“I hate the one who’s holding it more,” Bean growled.

Maisie wiped my mouth. “He’s my brother.”

“How can you forgive him every time?”

“Because he’s my brother. He loves me and feeds me.”

The tendons in Bean’s jaw were moving rapidly. She slowly melted through the drain with a screeching sound. When Maisie looked to the side, there claw marks etched into the tub. Even though Bean had done it, Maisie’s fingernails were off and bleeding.

Friday afternoon came with a knock on the door against the Beverly household. Maisie slowly glided across the kitchen, confused. Tommy was out hunting and had a key, and always let her stay home from school the next day if she had endured the wooden spoon. They never got mail. She nearly screamed when it was Percy.

“Oh… my god,” he gasped. “Maisie, what the fuck happened to you?”

“I’m sick,” she whispered.

“Why didn’t you call me? We were supposed to meet today I got worried!”

“How do you know where I live?”

“School directory– hey, can I… come in?”

Maisie wedged her foot in the door with so much power that Percy jumped back. “No.”

“Maisie…” he was searching as hard as he could for something to say. But even a striaght A student who was the president of the school debate team had no argument, no sentence fragment to form. “Please let me help you.”

“I love my brother,” she breathed. “He loves me and feeds me.”

“He sounds very nice,” Percy said. “But did he do that to you?” He pointed to his own cheek. “Is he the reason why you feel sick?”

Maisie felt her bottom lip shaking violently. No tears, of course. Just the uncontrollable plea for help. It was why she played dumb in school every other year and argued with Percy. She couldn’t cry, but she cried for help in any way she could. “Yes.”

Percy stepped forward. “Then let me help you.”

“You’re just my tutor,” she snarled. “Help me in school. That’s it.”

His hand stopped the door from slamming. “I’m not just a tutor to you,” he snapped. “You know that.”

“Yes, I do,” Maisie Beverly said. “You’re my friend. And that’s why you can only be my tutor.”

He let the door close. “I’m not afraid of what’s scaring you so much!” he shouted as it shut. “I know you know the kids say you eat dead bodies. So what? Everyone in our school is a bunch of dumb fucking kids. And Maisie, even if a rumor as insane and childish as that were true, I wouldn’t fucking care. I don’t fucking care. But I care about you.” He waited for something, whatever it was. Maisie only moved to put her head against the door and rest it there, her arms dangling under her rib cage. “Can you please come over for dinner tomorrow night?” he pleaded. “You could even spend the night. Away from here. I don’t like it here, Maisie. And I don’t think you do either. I’ll cook for you. Wear a dress, if you want. It’ll be fun.”

Maisie Beverly kicked the door as hard as she could, before telling Percy that she would be there at seven.

“I got invited to Lily Johnson’s birthday party.” Maisie’s heart was so loud she could hear it. She had never in her life lied to Tommy before. “It’s a slumber party.”

Tommy stirred the pot with the newly washed wooden spoon. Maisie stood by his side, trying not to stare at the arm on the counter. She rarely ever watched Tommy cook, she hated it. “Where does she live?”

“Just down the road from the school.”

“What’s the address?”

“I don’t know. We’re all walking as a group. It’s eight girls.”

“So then why did you get invited?”

“I helped her ace a Biology quiz.”

“I thought you were doing badly in school.”

Maisie swallowed loudly. “My tutor’s making me better so now I got to help Lily.”

Tommy put the spoon down and turned to her. She felt her stomach rotating in her ribs. “Why are you so fond of your tutor all of a sudden?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“He’s all you hang out with.” His eyes were slits. “Are you in love with your tutor?”

“No.”

“Do you let your tutor fuck you?”

“No, Tommy.”

“If he helps you ace a test, do you suck his cock as a thank you?”

“I’m just going to a slumber party tonight. That’s all.”

Tommy let out a sigh that was so long and ragged Maisie felt horrified goosebumps rise on her arms. He walked towards her and buried his nose in her scalp. “I’m losing you, Maisie,” he said.

“No, you’re not,” she promised. “I’m just making some friends. It’s just one night.”

Tommy pulled away and traced Maisie’s bottom lip with his thumb. “Just tonight.”

“Thank you.”

She tried not to sprint to her room to pack. When she was ten, she had snuck into her parents’ bedroom and stolen a blue silk evening dress from her step-mother’s closet. Even Tommy never went in there, the space still greatly respected for who was now forgiven. A memorial, almost. They were still their parents after all. So the little ten year old girl in the night felt the silk between her fingers and tried not to trip on its length as she tiptoed back to her room and shoved it as deeply as she could in her closet.

Maisie Beverly first smelled it when she took it out to see if it smelled anything like the woman who used to tie her shoes. Then she took off her clothes and stepped into the dress.

In the mirror, she looked strange with her matted blonde hair and hungrily sharp features. But she also for the first time in her life, looked like a woman. A human. A person. Not something for Tommy to indulge in. And in an embracing moment, she ripped off the gauze and tape on her cheek.

There was no infection, the flesh stretching together to reform Maisie Beverly’s face. The scar was very present, the healing redness deepening in the areas where Tommy’s teeth had been. She turned away from the mirror before she could get too upset.

Tommy was in the garage and Maisie heard the saw going, so she darted out the door without another word, not even bothering with shoes.

She knew the way by heart.                       

Maisie raised an eyebrow when she stepped into the Fitzgerald household and saw that the only light was coming from the candles on the dinner table. Two small filets. Two glasses of red wine. Amy Winehouse. And the centerpiece… a large bowl of cherries.

“They’re organic,” Percy exclaimed proudly in his suit as he watched her eye the cherries.

“Fancy.” Maisie Beverly whistled. She lifted up the dress as she stepped down the two steps into the kitchen.

“You look…” Percy stammered. “I mean… wow. And the gauze is off. Like it doesn’t even look that bad. And you don’t look bad. I mean– you never look bad. But you really look–”

“I know,” Maisie Beverly said, with a smile that she truly meant.

She thanked Percy when he held out her chair for her to sit. “Looks really good,” she said.

“At most it’s mediocre,” Percy admitted. “I’m not the best on the grill.”

It was the greatest meal she had ever eaten. Maisie was unaware there could be so many flavors to meat. The sweetness of the sauce and how hard it was to swallow so much richness. She’d chase it with the warm red and had polished off two glasses before even finishing half of her steak.

“You really love to eat.” Percy couldn’t hide his amazement when he poured her third glass. Then he realized he might’ve just fucked up. “I don’t mean that in a– like you don’t look– shit.”

Maisie laughed so hard her stomach hurt.

Percy had made a fire in the living room which is what they sat in front of on the carpeted floor, both having lost count of the number of glasses of wine they’d had with a bowl of cherries between them. Maisie found herself giggling furiously with Percy, her entire body filled with nervous uncertainty and undeniable giddyness.

“Where’re your shoes?” Percy asked.

“Where’s your family?” Maisie shot back.

“Rhode Island. They always go. They let me stay. Where’re your shoes?”

“I left them at home. It took so much convincing of my brother to let me leave the house that I just ran out before he could protest.” Percy started shaking his head which for whatever reason Maisie found hilarious. She put another cherry pit on the napkin. “What?”

“I know you hate it when I say it,” he began. “But I really don’t like your brother. I know I haven’t met him but–”

“I know,” she said. She took another sip of wine before she could let herself continue. “Sometimes I don’t either.”

“Did he do that to you?” When he reached over to touch the scar on her face, she let him. The wine had made her softer. Very slowly, as slow as she could, she nodded. “He bit your cheek?” Another nod. “Jesus.” He sat back.

Maisie suddenly felt very tired. “Are you afraid of me?”

“No. But I can understand why you’re afraid of him.”

“You won’t tell anyone,” she commanded.

Percy sighed, adjusting the pant legs of his suit. “Maisie, I want to.”

“I know. But don’t. Because he’s the only one who’ll let me be me.”

“What does that mean?”

Maisie stirred the remaining wine in her glass with her finger. “It means that I’m really fucked up but can’t do anything about it. And he’s the only one who understands.”

“What about me?” Percy cried angrily. “I understand you! I like you! Doesn’t that count for anything? What kind of person understands you and then bites off a chunk of your face?” Percy wrapped his arms around his legs, twisting the engagement ring on his finger nervously. “I mean god, he’s an animal.”

“We’re all animals,” said Maisie.

“Oh, shut it.” Percy then began trying to calm himself. “I’m sorry, I get really angry when I’m drunk.”

“You’re drunk?”

“So are you,” Percy snapped, something that Maisie again found hilarious. Percy started laughing too. “You absolutely are.”

“Am not,” Maisie giggled.

“More than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

“Wine’s delicious.”

“You’re beautiful in a way that I can’t explain.”

“I eat dead bodies.”

“I fucking love you, Maisie Beverly.”

And with that, watching herself in the reflection of Percy’s glasses, Maisie Beverly leaned forward and put the stem she was sucking on in Percy’s mouth as they kissed. Their tongues dancing and fighting and laughing until when they pulled away, a perfect knot had formed.

There was no gnashing of the teeth when Percy kissed her. He was hungry, but in a different way. A way that wasn’t animalistic or forceful even when she allowed the zipper of her dress to be pulled down, it was entirely him and him alone. Maisie wondered if she should’ve been afraid of herself for allowing someone to see her like this, but then she remembered that that someone was Percy.

When the dress was off along with Percy’s shirt, he kissed her from her face to the scar to her neck and chest and stomach and even kissed every bruise on her legs. He held her hand and told her that she just needed to tell him to stop and he would but when he put his head between her legs Maisie could only gasp and forget what the word “stop” even meant.

The experience was shocking, terrifying, and caused needles to shift under her skin as her hips twitched without her control. This had never happened to her before, and she had her other hand in Percy’s hair to remind herself that it was him, a person, that was causing this. Switching between his tongue and his fingers, Maisie found herself expanding her arms outward and feeling the fibers of the carpet in her back and tickle the palms of her hands. She wanted to feel something else besides the overwhelmingly wonderful sensation. She needed to feel something ordinary so that way she could snatch this moment and remember it.

Maisie gasped again when she suddenly felt the wave crawl up her legs and stop at her hips when she cried out and felt everything leave her in one outburst. When Percy came up she grabbed his head and smashed his mouth into hers. He had set something off. Something that wanted to show him that she could do it to him too. So she helped him undo the belt and when the pants were off she climbed on top of him.

“Wait,” Percy panted gently, kissing her scar again. “I wanna tell you that I’m a virgin.”

Maisie narrowed her eyes. “But–”

“I know, but I lied to you. We never did it, she was too nervous, which is fine. Anyway– fuck. I’m sorry I did it but I just wanted to be impressive. Which is dumb. But yeah, I am. A virgin, that is.”

Maisie Beverly smiled and kissed his forehead. “It’s okay,” she said. “So am I.”

To her surprise, there was no pain. She watched Percy gasp and have his breath shake as she lowered herself onto him but moved slowly to allow him to get used to it. What also surprised her, was the fact that she found herself breathing hard too. Instead of the usual holding of the breath and embracing of any distraction that came around, Maisie Beverly could only think of this. What was happening right now. And it was the only thing she wanted to focus on.

It was glorious madness. Panting and snarling and pulling as she was on top and then Percy was and then Maisie again. Percy let her bite him across the neck and chest and when she snarled at him instead of getting scared he growled back.

Up until that point, Maisie Beverly was a virgin, absolutely.

When it was done, they lay together on the carpet watching the fire go out.

“Wow,” Percy breathed. “Sex really is amazing.”

For once, Maisie had to agree. She looked at all of him, still not sure if she should believe it. “You’re alright with me.”

Percy tucked some hair behind her ears, his fingers getting caught in the knots but neither of them cared. “Of course I’m alright with you.” He adjusted the blanket on her back that had been resting on the couch earlier. “What if instead of the ocean you came to Columbia with me?”

“I didn’t apply.”

“But what if… I don’t know, you just came?”

“You’re hearing yourself too, right?”

“Now you know how I feel when you say you’re going to the ocean.” Percy laughed when she elbowed him. Then he sighed. “I guess it’s pretty selfish of me. Who knows?” He started tracing the scar on her cheek with his finger. “Maybe I’ll just go to the ocean with you.”

The next morning Percy made poptarts and coffee in the kitchen naked while teaching Maisie everything there was to know about Amy Winehouse. She could’ve stayed there the entire day, and wanted to, but Percy’s family was coming at eight that night and Tommy would only believe the slumber party story for so long.

Percy grabbed her hips in the blue dress when she started stepping out the door and kissed every part of her face. He tapped the diamond of the engagment ring against the tip of her nose.

“One day,” he said. “I’m gonna give this to you.”

Maisie couldn’t find her vocabulary so she only smiled and nodded when he said he would see her on Monday.

Tommy wasn’t hunting when she came into the house, he was sitting in the living room waiting for her. Having spent the enitre night in a house filled with love and scented candles, Maisie Beverly finally got a grasp on how despicable her own home smelled. She accidentally let out a cough as she stood in front of Tommy, frozen. Her throat to thick to swallow as he scanned her body in the blue dress for far too long.

“That’s my mommy’s fucking dress,” he whispered.

It took Maisie Beverly a long time before she found her voice again. “I– I didn’t get anything on it,” she stammered. “Look! It’s clean, see? It was just a dumb girl’s thing. Dress up and have a dinner party and then do a girl’s night, you know how girls are.”

“Yes,” Tommy hissed. “I know how girls are. But I also know how you are. And you, are a dirty whoring thief.”

To both of their surprise, Maisie was able to strike Tommy across the face when he lunged and got a fistfull of her hair. They both stood like satues for a moment, until he swung her like a rag doll across the main floor of the house with a roar that made Maisie’s ears pop. She felt a scalding hot pain as the corner of the wall shot into her back and she collapsed onto the wooden floor.

“Did you just hit me?” he rasped. “I’m your brother. I love you when no one else will. I give you food and a place to sleep. When our parents died, I could’ve kicked you to the curb, refused to be your guardian. But I didn’t.” He was stepping over her now. Maisie grunted when his foot met her ribs. “I knew the monster you were and the monster you’d become as you got older. So I kept you, because I was the only one that could love you. And this is how you thank me, Maze? You hit me.” She coughed when he kicked her again, but was still able to kick violently as Tommy ripped the dress off of her. “You don’t deserve to wear this,” he snarled. “How dare you steal from her?”

For the first time, Maisie protested with rage when she heard the belt being undone. “I don’t want it, Tommy,” she growled. He grabbed her hair to try and hold her back, but she was still able to kick. Tommy yelped and bent forward when she shot her knee up between his legs. She got up, sprinting naked into the bathroom and this time locking it. She started running a bath and tried to let the running water drown out Tommy’s kicking of the door.

“You come out here right now, you little slut!” The voice was no longer his, but some indescribable monster with pointed teeth and red eyes. “You come here so I can forgive you for what you’ve done to me. You’re a monster, don’t you understand, you whore? You’re disgusting scum and I’m the only one that can accept you!”

Maisie Beverly panted until Bean came out of the drain and wrapped her arms around her. The pounding and screaming of Tommy went on for nearly twenty minutes until it downgraded to violent sobbing.

“Please, Maisie,” he pleaded. “I love you, I can only love you. I don’t want to lose you, and I know I am.”

Maisie swallowed her heart again and again, not leaving Bean’s arms even when she heard footsteps walk away from the door and the sobs quiet. She closed her eyes, feeling the bleeding mermaid’s soothing scaly fingers stroke her hair, and fell peacefully asleep.

Maisie Beverly was awakened with a gentle knock on the bathroom door. When she sat up, she realized she had fallen asleep beside the tub, the water still gently running.

“Tommy?” she croaked.

The voice was apologetic. “I’m sorry I woke you, Maze. There’s some clothes outside the door. Dinner’s ready if you want it.”

Maisie turned to the tub, Bean was nowhere in sight. She probably went back down the drain once Maisie fell asleep. She crossed her arms and tried to ignore the growling in her stomach. She couldn’t tell whether it was the bruising that was spreading across her ribs or hunger or both, but she was too tired to keep this protest up any longer.

“I’ll be at the table in a bit,” she said.

She could hear Tommy grin through the door. “Good. I’m really glad, Maze. I really wanna have a nice dinner.”

Maisie Beverly opened the door a crack when she heard the footsteps walk away again, and snatched the folded clothes, getting dressed with the door locked.

Maisie sat at the table as Tommy was stirring the pot in front of her.

“I feel really bad,” Tommy said genuinely. “You know how much I love you, and how hard it is.”

“I know.” That’s all she could say. The panging in her ribs made her confused about how to feel about her brother.

Tommy turned the stove off and poured the soup into two bowls, leaving his at the counter before walking towards her with the other one.

“It’s real special, Maze.” He put the bowl in front of her and a spoon in her hand. The same salty sweetness and copper stench swirled up to her nose. But there was something oddly familiar to it. Horrifyingly so. “Make sure you give it a good stir.” His hands her on her shoulders now, gripping so tightly Maisie knew he would leave prints.

Maisie Beverly gave it a good stir, the cubed chunks of meat rising to greet her.

But then there was something else. Something that hadn’t been cut into cubes. Something that still had a fragment of who that person was before they were in the bowl. She knew he had done it on purpose. So she would know that Tommy was God. Only he could choose who to forgive. The finger that had curled a strand of her knotted hair. That was kind enough to even touch her, find her worth touching. That touched her and didn’t leave prints or bite marks. That reminded her that she was a human and not just a piece of meat. That finger that always had his grandmother’s engagement ring on it. Because they were best friends.

Maisie couldn’t hear herself screaming but she knew that she was. She screamed while picturing Percy’s face, she had seen him. Just this morning. Just twelve hours ago. He was there in his house with parents who were married and a little sister who needed to be taught how to swim in the summer. He was ready to turn in a science paper. Because Percy was always ready. He was a tutor, he had to be. He was secure enough to be a student and a teacher all at once. How could he not have been ready for this. Maisie then concluded to herself that no one fucking could. Ten years she had endured this and every time she was never ready.

“Eat it, Maisie,” Tommy said ever so gently, peeling sticky strands of hair away from her face and tucking it behind her ears. All she could think about is how confused the Fitzgerald family would be when they came home at eight tonight with no Percy in sight. 

“Why couldn’t I keep him,” she wailed.

“Because he did something unforgivable. And this is how we forgive.”

“He just wanted to help.”

“He fucked you Maise,” he spat the word out. “He fucked you. That’s disgusting. And he made you lie about it. But we can forgive him. You can forgive him. You just have to eat it.”

“No,” she whispered.

He tugged at her hair a little harder. “You’ll eat it or else I’ll make you. I’ll shove that fat fucker’s finger right down your throat. I’ll get the spoon I’ll do it.”

“I don’t need to forgive him.” Maisie was tasting her own blood from how hard she was biting her tongue. Percy, she cried out in her head.

How could I forgive you when you never in your life did anything wrong?

She looked up at Tommy. “Why did you do this?”

Tommy was getting agitated. “Stop talking. Eat it. Before it gets cold, Maze.”

“I can’t,” she screamed. She was thankful for the slap across her face because it made her ears ring and the situation grew fur all around it. Like a big dumb cat.

“He fucked you, Maisie.” She could hear Tommy sobbing behind her. “I can’t believe he fucked you.”

Maisie smiled then. Wanting to torment. Wanting violence. Wanting to tear and chew and spit. She looked up at him with hateful eyes. “You fuck me all the time. What do you care?”

Despite her best efforts, Maisie Beverly had to scream when her brother slammed her face into the scalding bowl of Percy soup. The salt of it made her eyes water when it shot up through her nose in stabbing throbbing sensations. She choked on the chunks when she inhaled as they clambered down her throat. She refused to taste any of it, she wouldn’t dare disrespect him like that. Percy Fitzgerald. Columbia. Her tongue didn’t deserve to know his flavor. She felt the smooth diamond of the engagement ring across her lips. In a brief moment of tranquility, she kissed it.

Maisie Beverly knew at that moment with absolute certainty that she was going to die. She knew this when her need to breathe slowly decreased and her head began feeling tight. There was no fight or flight in her anymore. She had given up fighting and stopped believing in flying ten years ago. Maisie Beverly became okay with dying very quickly. She didn’t believe in anything until the thought of possibly seeing Percy crossed her mind. She closed her eyes, growing tired of the blank brown and red that consumed her gaze.

Maisie was okay with dying. With closed eyes, she waited. And…

And…

And suddenly she was breathing and puking and sneezing and… crying. Ten years had gone by and suddenly the drain wasn’t clogged anymore. It was all pouring on out. Maisie Beverly sobbed and sobbed until she vomited again and then sobbed some more. She felt the arms around her. She didn’t know who it was but she didn’t care. It wasn’t until she recognized the voice.

“You’re finally crying, baby.”

Bean had curled her tail around Maisie’s chair to support herself as she held the girl. Part of Maisie wanted to stop, but there was another, smaller cherry pit part inside of her stomach that was so relieved of everything from the past decade being released that she cried for nearly an hour.

When she was finally finished, Maisie finally blinked away the brown and fallen pieces of her own flesh before looking into Bean’s hand and then Tommy’s body. Bean clutched a piece of Tommy’s broken china bowl. The blood was still oozing gently from Tommy’s throat, but there wasn’t much left.

“Bean,” Maisie whispered, both of them staring. “I thought you were only in my head.”

“Your nightmare was real,” Bean replied simply. “Why can’t your dream be real too?”

“Your tail’s not bleeding anymore,” Maisie noted. It wasn’t. The cuts and blood were nowhere to be seen as the white tail had a blue and purple iridescent sheen. “It’s beautiful.”

“So are you, precious. Even with a burned up face.” She kissed Maisie’s forehead and pulled away when she winced. “Ocean will cool that right off.”

“We’re actually going?” She looked down to see if her legs had merged yet but instead she just found that she was holding the bloody china piece now instead of Bean. She couldn’t remember when it had been handed to her.

“You’re old enough now,” Bean explained. “Plus, my daddy’s got a cherry farm in the ocean. Has the best cherries in the entire world.” She poked Maisie’s nose very gently. “I know they’re your favorite.” Bean noticed that Maisie had not taken her eyes off of Tommy in a while. “You can forgive him if you want. We’re in no rush.”

Maisie stood up and walked towards her brother, towering over him. His eyes were bulging and there was a little blood in the corner of his mouth. She wondered if, in his last few seconds, how shocked he had been to have seen a mermaid, let alone have a mermaid kill him. Then she turned to Bean. “You’d really let me do it?”

“I don’t agree with it. But I love you. And I know it’s a part of who you are. Who am I to stop you from doing it one more time.”

Maisie turned back around to look at Tommy. It was a part of who she was. She ate this type of meat. She salivated at it, as much as she hated herself for it. It had become so ingrained in her that it stopped being a person and more a decadent concoction of copper, salt and stringiness. He wasn’t her brother anymore. They stopped being people when they were soup.

Maisie Beverly gave Bean quite a surprise when she kicked Tommy’s skull in and spat on his face. “I could never forgive the motherfucker,” she said quietly.

Bean could only agree. “Neither could I.” She stood up then, her tail acting as a spring as she hopped towards Maisie. “You ready to go then?”

“Almost.” Maisie darted back to the bowl of Percy soup and fished around until she found what she was looking for. “I wanna keep the finger,” She said honestly. Percy’s bone was a gorgeous polished white sticking out of the finger, and she couldn’t believe how beautiful he was on the inside too.

“The ring will be enough.”

Maisie agreed, and gently slid the ring off and onto her own finger.

“I would’ve married him if he asked,” Maisie said.

“He definitely would’ve asked. Probably would’ve given you that ring too.”

Maisie smiled. It looked like it belonged.

Bean extended her hand. Maisie took it. Bean traced circles around the ring with her thumb. “You ready to finally go to the ocean?”

“Yeah,” said Maisie Beverly. “And eat some cherries.”      

       Ellie​ ​Prusko​ ​is​ ​a​ ​twenty​ ​year​ ​old​ ​novelist​ ​who​ ​prides​ ​herself​ ​on​ ​her​ ​chocolate​ ​eating​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​being​ ​an​ ​outspoken​ ​mental​ ​health​ ​advocate​ ​in​ ​writing​ ​and​ ​in​ ​speech.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​most​ ​certainly​ ​her​ ​most​ ​exploratory​ ​story​ ​and​ ​she​ ​looks​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​creating​ ​more​ ​original​ ​and​ ​hair​ ​raising​ ​stories​ ​in​ ​college​ ​and​ ​beyond.​ ​Her​ ​books​ ​can​ ​be​ ​found​ ​on​ ​amazon.com

Ellie Prusko, Author