SPF

Apricot died, three days into the heat wave. She had just turned three, with no underlying health issues, but temperatures had soared to 120 degrees that weekend, and not even the full strength of Dani’s air conditioner could keep the cat cool, much less alive. One minute, Apricot was a spry thing, young enough to live forever, and the next, she was gone, immobile under a bed sheet, claws still clinging to thread. Hugh, however, decided to blame no one, not Dani, not even the heat. It did not matter that thousands of pets died in the city that year, and it wouldn’t matter how many more would die in the next. Even as Apricot’s owner of three years, he would just fall back on his platitudes about the circle of life, hold back his tears, and talk about how her time had run out.

“What now?” Dani had said during the funeral in Hugh’s Brooklyn backyard, while they were still digging up the plot. As a show of respect, Dani showed up in a black dress and a matching pair of sandals, while Hugh opted for an old-looking shirt with flowers splattered across the chest. In California, he insisted—though he’d only been a handful of times—people lived and thrived in their vintage finds, as if worn-down fabric could protect anyone from heat stroke.

“Who knows?” said Hugh. “Maybe she goes to the great beyond.”

“The kind with white sand?” Dani asked, eying his god-awful shirt.

Kokomo, baby.”

“This is no time for The Beach Boys.”

“There’s always time for The Beach Boys,” Hugh said.

“Not when a blizzard strikes in Zambia,” Dani said, “and definitely not when the second one hits a month later.”

Although Hugh never yelled, there came a crack in his smile as she brought up Zambia, an inscrutable knit in his eyebrows. He dug up the rest of the plot. When he buried the cat, he did not take his time in lowering her into the ground; he dropped her in with a quick plop that made Dani wince, then picked the shortest prayers to recite. Their moment of silence lasted a breath, a fraction of that, and then the service was over.

She walked home, he biked to the bodega. When she called later, Hugh insisted he was too busy to talk, and that he was getting ready to leave town for training camp again on the west coast. Dani knew better. The cat might have been at rest now, soon to be forgotten under the barren earth, but she would not die waiting for Hugh to admit the sky had been falling for a while now.

By next spring, Dani moved out from Brooklyn into her own apartment, west of Times Square. Rent in Hell’s Kitchen was higher than she would’ve liked, the price of living alone on an island about to sink into the ocean, but she figured there was no better time than now; another heat wave was approaching this spring, with temperatures climbing to 125 degrees, and apartments were hot enough without another roommate or an extra cat taking up the space. Dani spent her nights mostly alone, content to bask in the air conditioning until the blackouts made them moot.

On one of those nights, Dani woke to the sound of her phone buzzing from the dresser.

“Dan!” It was Irene, the night before her shotgun wedding to a man who still bothered to take at least four kinds of daily multivitamins. She always missed the second syllable of Dani’s name when she was excited about something. “Did the blackouts hit you?” she asked.

“Yes,” Dani said. “About an hour ago.”

“Oh you poor thing,” Irene said with a click of her tongue. “Wasn’t it only scheduled for the Upper West Side tonight?”

“They just keep getting worse,” Dani said. “I have a theory, actually—that they’re not planning them anymore. It’s just everything going to shit.”

“You’re in a mood. You better not bring that to the reception.”

“If I remember correctly, you just said I had to bring the napkins.”

Irene laughed. “Well,” she said, “why don’t you sleep on my couch tonight? That way, you can just help me get ready in the morning.”

“Sure,” Dani said, “if you’re sure Tom’s still going to be there in the morning.”

“That’s not funny,” Irene scolded. “I should just let you melt.”

Dani laughed and the two of them made plans to meet up in about an hour. She got dressed, made sure her dress was still wrinkle-free in its garment bag, and slung it over her back. She packed away a few toiletries, deodorant, a toothbrush. Irene had makeup at her place. Hopefully tampons, too. In her pocket, she made sure to pack her 150 SPF sunblock, which she’d need when the sun rose.

Out on the street, a block party sprawled out up the street, to the edge of the intersection. They always followed the blackouts, in the neighborhoods where people didn’t need or want enough to riot. Hell’s Kitchen brought zeal; if they were going to be the next neighborhood to collapse into the river, they thought, let’s just dance until doomsday. Residents brought out their battery-powered speakers and played thirty songs all at once, creating tunnels of bass so deep it felt as if this was the thing that might sink them. They danced from the fire escapes and rooftops in nothing but their underwear, while some even came naked with their pendulum genitals. They drank from their red plastic cups, spilling drinks onto the sidewalk in waterfalls. When things got really rowdy, people dropped various appliances from their rooftops, from toasters to TVs. People drove drunk in their chosen vehicles, racing their bicycles and mopeds at top speeds.

Tonight, the speedster was a tandem bicycle on the corner of fifty-second and tenth. Dani came within an inch of meeting her end when someone yanked her by the ankle and pulled her back towards the sidewalk. She let the cyclists curse her for trying to cross on a red light. In return, she delivered a middle finger in their direction, towards the horizon line, as if she were cursing it directly.

A laugh emerged in the air, close enough that it rose above the general noise. Maybe Dani knew the sound too well.

Hugh remained seated on the curbside, in a navy blue suit and a bloodied nose. Despite the starchiness of the fabric, the outpour, his smile grew with each passing millisecond, until it stretched past the crumpled napkin he held at his nostrils.

“Thought it was you,” Hugh said, making a waving motion with his hand that lasted from the top of his head to the bottom of his chest.

Dani shrugged and pushed her hair back behind her shoulders. “I haven’t had a chance to cut it.”

Hugh stood up to meet her eye-to-eye, though he was a solid six-two to her five-five. Dani resisted getting on her toes to match him.

“How have you been?” he asked.

“Fine,” she said. “I’m on my way to Irene’s.”

“Oh, that,” Hugh said with raised eyebrows. “I’m staying at their place, actually. Can you believe they’re actually getting married? Don’t you think they’re rushing into things?”

“I don’t think so,” Dani said. Shotgun weddings were the norm in all her friend circles, even if the couples in question had been only been dating as little as a month. “It’s—you know.” She took one look at Hugh and remembered Apricot, the blizzards in Zambia, the new heat wave upon them. “Crazy little thing.”

Hugh frowned at this for a moment, just like he had at Apricot’s funeral, then nodded along as if to accept the answer. “Love,” he said, as he removed the napkin from his nose.

“Anyway.” Dani noticed the crusted blood at the edge of Hugh’s nose. Pre-Apricot, she might have gone over to clean him up herself. Tonight, she would stay on the other side of the plot they dug up last spring, no matter how long it’d been since they filled it. “Isn’t it a little early to put on a suit?” she asked, changing the subject. “The reception is tomorrow.”

“I was on a date,” Hugh said. “We were at a Broadway play a few blocks over. Then she said she wanted to walk along the canals.”

“Horrible idea,” Dani said. “People are always falling in.”

“Some might find it romantic.”

Just a year ago, the canals stretching across the odd streets were simply troughs filled with muddied water, an emergency measure to alleviate rising sea levels. Romantic was an attempt at outdoor seating, lampposts, and brick-lined sidewalks, enough to the point where people were calling the city New Amsterdam again.

“Did you know gondola drivers need medallions now?” Dani asked further. “Five million dollars a year.”

Hugh made the sign of the cross. “God bless them.”

“And where is she now? That poor woman?”

“She said it wasn’t going to work out between us,” Hugh stated with a sigh.

“Why’s that?”

“She says I have nothing in my head.”

“Well, that’s wrong,” Dani said. “You had blood ooze right out of it.”

Hugh laughed again. From the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen, illegal fireworks emerged like there was something to celebrate, and the two of them decided to make the cross-town trek together, along the canals.

#

In the morning, Irene put on her wedding dress and braided Dani’s hair. She always insisted that Dani was the last girl in Manhattan to keep her tresses, and that it was a wedding gift in itself to be able to play with them one more time.

“I don’t know how you do it,” Irene said as she tied it up at the ends. Including the bride, every girl in the wedding party had some sort of short bob, or a pixie cut, while Dani had enough hair for it to hit the bottom of her breasts. “I mean, the length is easy to miss,” Irene said, “but I always just have to tell myself that it’s a chance to show off my collarbones.”

“Like I said to Hugh last night,” Dani said, “I haven’t had a chance to go to the salon.”

“Uh-huh,” Irene said. “Weird that you ran into him, though.”

“Yeah,” said Dani, “like he just so happened to stay over the same night you invited me here, too.”

“I had nothing to do with that.” Irene yanked at a tuft of Dani’s hair in retaliation. “In fact, he was the one to turn down this ritzy place his team was going to put him up in. He even told his manager, ‘Stevie, I’m going to take the subway to Yankee Stadium. See you at batting practice later.’”

“What a waste!” Dani said.

“It’s not everyday you get to have a wedding,” Irene said, “and mine is going to be with a man I’ll love until the day I die.”

Dani looked out towards the living room, where she found the remnants of last night’s sleep situation: two unmade couches, divided by a coffee table and a few errant coasters. Dani had taken one side while Hugh took the other, and the two of them had spent the night catching up, hushed under the rattle of the air conditioner.

“Tired of Brooklyn?” Hugh had asked, presumably about the Hell’s Kitchen move.

“My roommate kept complaining about her ice cream melting. It was time to go.”

“Oh?” Hugh said. “And how are you liking it now?”

“Well enough,” Dani said.

“Enough to stay?”

“Sure. Where would I go anyway?”

“Jupiter?”

“Be serious.”

“Out west,” said Hugh. “Venice.”

“Italy? That’s east,” and sunken at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea. Dani didn’t say that last part.

“California,” he clarified.

“I hardly have it in me to walk across the island,” Dani said, “and you want me to move across the country.”

“It’s really not so bad.”

“That’s a shame,” Dani said. “You’ve become one of those LA people.”

“Oh, Dani,” Hugh said.

“Yes, Hugh?”

“You should see me out there,” he said. “I’m on TV every night.”

Dani tore herself away from the couches, her time with Hugh. She found herself gritting her teeth. When Irene asked what she was thinking about, Dani merely called it the usual lack of sleep.

There were some people that electrified the rooms they walked into, and Dani knew countless girls that thought of Hugh in this way, and millions more would fall prey to him in Los Angeles. To Dani, it was more of an electrocution—teeth-gritting, lip-biting, shivering-in-a-heat wave sort of nervous system failure. He fried her, cut her, braised her for extra effect, even when he was merely asleep in the same room; memories lifted her into sleeplessness, soul out of body.

On the desk lay a few of Hugh’s baseball cards, where he was featured as a backup infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Irene tossed them over to Dani when she caught her looking at them from the bed.

“There’s no point in fighting with someone who’s in town for a few days,” Dani told her. She couldn’t help but scoff. “Baseball! The island is flooding, and all he cares about is batting practice.”

Irene sighed, tucking a bit of hair behind Dani’s ears. “You know how it goes. Some people are stupid enough to get married in this heat. Others run right in the sun.”

#

The groom collapsed en route back to the apartment, just a few hours before the ceremony. The coroners called it heat-induced cardiac arrest, which made some sense: joggers everywhere were warned not to exercise out in the heat wave, but Tom kept on running just as he did every morning. It also didn’t help that he’d been born with a defective heart, a fun fact he told Irene on their first date, but now all she could do was mumble about it in regret, as if she should’ve known she was marrying a man on borrowed time.

Hugh had been there. In fact, he’d encouraged Tom to go running that morning, even though he was hung-over from his bachelor party at the bar down the block. As Dani comforted Irene on the couch a few nights later, letting her wail into her lap, she stared at Hugh from the other side. It was Apricot all over again. The platitudes came like the eventual rain at the end of every heat wave, this one broken too early and for nothing: he’s in a better place, just know that he loved you until the end, things happen for a reason. This only made Irene cry harder, so Dani asked to see Hugh in the hallway.

“How did he die?” Dani asked.

“Come on now, you heard Irene before,” Hug
said with a swallow. “Cardiac arrest.”

“You’re missing a part of it.”

“I mean, we don’t know for sure it was caused by that.

“Say it,” Dani insisted.

“Who cares if it’s hot?” Hugh said. “I mean, god, all those drills we run everyday on the field? No one breaks a sweat. Everyone’s fine. We’re always fine.”

“It’s not fine.”

“He had a bad heart, okay?” Hugh’s voice broke as he said this. “What more do you need to say about this? Just—he’s gone to a better place. A better place than this.”

“So you admit it, then,” Dani said. “You know how bad it’s gotten.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Then explain it to me.”

“It’s why people leave New York,” he said. “We don’t have blackouts in California. We all still go to the beach and watch baseball after work. You know why I think Tom died?” He paused for a moment, making sure Irene was still inside the apartment. “It’s because you’re all counting down to it yourselves, like you’re going to drop dead at zero.”

Hugh took Dani’s hand, which stunned her enough to hold his back tighter in competition. He kept his thumb pressed into the softest part of her palm, like he was trying to excavate her lifeline, or rip it apart with his fingernails. He let go and brought that same hand to Dani’s cheek, where his fingers sifted through strands of her unwashed hair.

“You’re not like them,” said Hugh. “I remember Apricot. You put on your sunblock and you do all the things you have to. But you’ve still got it,” he said. “And this city is going to rip it away from you if you don’t do anything about it.”

“What is it that I have?” Dani asked.

Inside the apartment, Irene stopped wailing, and all that remained were two people trying to breathe through the heat. Hugh held onto her, not by the hand, or a hug, but by the slight tug of her hair, looped between his fingers. Dani wondered, at that moment, if she should’ve cut her hair like the other girls. There’d be nothing to hold onto then, and Hugh would’ve had to settle for their natural distance.

The lights in the hallway flickered in and out until they went out altogether. Another blackout had arrived, and the people in their apartments began to holler and blast their music. Dani did not budge. In the darkness, she could still follow the lines of Hugh’s body, upward to the arch of his nose and his sky-high cheekbones. She followed him until she was close enough to trace those lines herself. She pressed a thumb over his cheek, then the tip of his nose, his upper lip. She kept it there. Other people might have seen the blackout as some excuse to take off their clothes and consummate even the most fleeting of unions, but Dani knew not to push things. Irene and Tom had, when they first met and made love at a blackout down the street two years ago, and then when they decided to get married not two months after. Tom certainly pushed things, when he decided to go for a run in the middle of the city’s worst heat wave ever. Dani knew better than to touch his face. This was not a consummation of anything. Repeating this to herself, she held the thumb over Hugh’s lip like the lock to her old apartment, always jamming.

Hugh bowed his head, something Dani could feel when her thumb brushed back up the bridge of his nose. He embraced her, something he hadn’t even done when Apricot died, or when Dani’s father died. They remained that way as the tenants poured out of their apartments.

“Come to Los Angeles,” Hugh said at last. “I’m tired of looking at you in the dark.”

#

A downpour came after Hugh left, enough to render lighters useless and dampen any other plans for partying on the roof. Dani pawed her way back inside, where Irene busied herself by collecting all the balled up tissues she’d spent the day crying into. She didn’t ask about Hugh, or where he’d gone in this storm, which was fine because Dani didn’t feel like talking about anything at all. She merely followed after Irene in tidying up the apartment, lighting the tea candles that were supposed to sit next to name-cards and utensils, and cutting up her wedding veil into confetti. That was the nice thing about the dark, even the candle-lit kind. Dani could comfort with the best of them, all without letting Irene know that she had things to cry about, too.

Lastly, Irene mounted her portable speaker on the windowsill. She started “Come on Eileen”, moved the couches to the opposite walls, and skipped around the coffee table. Her hands went up in the air as the chorus dropped. “Come on, Irene,” she sang with her hands over her heart, making Dani laugh. “At this moment, you mean everything!”

Dani could not help but dance, too. As she turned over and over around the coffee table, she let herself fall into dizziness, one that lasted hours and hours, and continued on until they were sure sunrise was coming.

#

In life, Dani’s father had adored the New York Yankees. This was something he never had to prove to anyone, given the yearly pilgrimage he made to Florida, by car, where the team regularly held spring training. Dani thought this never made much sense, since the Yankees played in New York, plus the fact that the city hardly ever stayed cold enough to warrant a migration. Manhattan usually got one winter storm, the devastating kind with six or seven feet of snow and comet hail, before it all melted away as if it’d never happened by early February. Still, Dani’s father never hesitated in packing a backpack, throwing on his favorite jersey, and leaving first thing in the morning. Then Dani would call him from the road, five minutes, maybe an hour later, and warn him of that year’s approaching hurricane.

“Dani,” he used to say, “there are just some things you shouldn’t give in to.” He insisted upon this even when the hurricanes needed new categories like seven, eight, sometimes nine. It was something Dani’s mother used to say too, even in the throes of her skin-cancer-induced hospice care. Her Chinese family had a funny attitude about this: that no matter what, one had to keep good tidings, or everything else was going to catch up with you. This meant blessings from every elder before a flight, and the insistence that Dani should never frown on her birthday, even on the year her mother’s hospice care turned into an empty bed in a hospital ward.

On her twenty-fifth birthday, the year after Tom’s death, Dani found herself in a parking lot somewhere near the beach. She stretched her arms up to the sky after days of driving. Irene sat on the hood of her car, content to scarf down an extra large order of French fries. They’d been on the road for what felt like years, east coast to west, and all Dani could feel was a lingering queasiness, all the way up to her nostrils. She rushed behind the car and vomited right onto the pavement, where she remained crouched over her own mess.

“We reached the end,” Irene said. “How could you still be car sick?”

Dani shrugged. She got progressively more and more nauseous the closer they got to California. “It’s the fire,” she said. “God, it was like driving through hell.”

The entire state of California had been engulfed in what experts called the infinite drought. Everything from the air to the pavement to the rolling fields dried up, as if the entire region should’ve been cremated by wildfire. On the highway, inflamed skylines rose over the horizon, rising out of the trees and soaking into an orange sky. Out a rolled-down window, she had let her bare arm roam free in the open air, to sift the soot and ash. Her palm came back gray. In the constant light, she thought she look jaundiced.

Dani wiped off any remaining spittle and looked ahead, towards the wilted palm trees, the waves. The locals marched out towards the sand in their burnt skins, past the point of a supple pink. Fault lines formed across their faces, stretched and tight to the point of fissuring. Dani watched them—how they could still strip off their sun-safe clothes into bikinis and swim trunks. They bathed in the sea, not their sunscreens. The girls here still wore their hair long, longer than Dani’s; they spread their arms open to the world, still with everything to give.

They drove further up the road, where they spotted a series of semi-attached apartments, all painted a shade of coral pink. The complex was called The Ridley. Dani had read on their website that it was named after the now-extinct Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, and that one percent of the rent paid here would automatically go to some marine life charity the landlord designated. Dani doubted the credibility of this, but it was enough for Irene to justify the move across the country and claim she was doing all this for the greater good.

That night, when the two of them finished unpacking, Irene insisted on taking Dani out to dinner. Dani suspected this was out of pity. It wasn’t like she’d had many people left to celebrate with in New York, since more and more of her friends had escaped to cooler cities like Boston or Toronto. Five months after Tom’s death, Dani’s own neighborhood had been re-zoned into sunken wasteland, thus ending her lease, which left Dani wondering why she was even playing this game of musical chairs with the other surviving Manhattanites. She imagined the lot of them, circling their ever-shrinking island, competing over apartments the size of linen closets. The whole endeavor, even the thought of it, was enough for both her and Irene to pack their bags and go.

“I’m glad we picked this place,” Irene said, though she was the one who did all the deciding. She took in a deep breath as she locked their front door for the first time to drive to dinner. “It’s going to be good things from now on. Making the most of it.”

Dani inhaled, too; the air went down thick, balling up like a stone at the base of her throat.

“I wonder if it’s why people wear vintage. It’s bad, but in a good way. Like making the most of what you’ve got,” Dani mused. “Like that one time Hugh wore this ugly Hawaiian shirt to a funeral.”

“Hugh,” Irene said, leaving her lips puckered. “Who needs him? All that boy does is hit baseballs.”

Dani laughed, remembering their conversation the morning of the wedding never-to-be. She wrung an arm around Irene and kissed her on the cheek, thankful for her. For a moment, she pondered if all she would need here was Irene, and maybe that would be enough to sweeten the air.

#

At the restaurant in Santa Monica, Dani realized this was not going to be a dinner between the two of them. At the bar sat all the friends Dani once knew, most of them from college, meandering folk that only knew her through occasional social media updates and the rumors she once fancied Tom their sophomore year. No one could remember what she did for a living, or that Tom had died just before his wedding to Irene. No one recalled anything. They just sipped their drinks and nodded along, lost in the haze of forgetting something just as soon as they’d heard it.

Her birthday party stretched on for several nights; each reigned more sleepless than the last. One man who’d sympathized with Irene about Tom was now dancing close to her, to the point where it was inevitable they’d share a kiss. Dani braced herself for this, yet found herself nauseated when they made contact: she watched how their mouths fit so perfectly together, right at the start, then completely fell out of alignment. Irene yanked at his bottom lip like hardened taffy; he accidentally smattered himself across her cheek like he was trying to slurp a hot soup.

Dani ran out of the bar and threw up again, right on the curb. She cursed wildly, out loud, twenty five times for twenty-five, and sat by herself on a bench. Her mind drifted to good tidings. As she peered up into the hills, fire lit up the peaks, a light of the worst kind. She let the sight of it mesmerize her, until she got three taps on the shoulder from behind.

It was Hugh. He smelled of spearmint gum, hair still wet from a shower, all of which Dani got to know up close when he hugged her briefly out of nowhere. She thought she was dreaming. On the car ride over, all the way from New York, she’d imagined bumping into him somewhere in the city. He’d be married to a model, or drinking a beer he’d be sponsoring on billboards. Instead of a cat, he’d have a bouncing golden retriever, appropriate for California. But this was no new moment. It was a moment that decided to pick itself up where it left off, as if Dani had pressed pause on it all the way in the East Village, carried it with her, and decided to let things play out on the other side of the country.

Dani shuffled her feet back and forth in silence. Hugh spit out his gum on the sidewalk and kept his eyes on the cement.

“Food poisoning?” Hugh asked.

Dani shook her head. “I’m not sure this city likes me that much.” She pressed pause again, merely by stepping back from Hugh altogether. “What are you doing here?”

Hugh dug out a small box from his pocket and handed it over to Dani. Inside, there was a collectible pin, a “2” the size of a postage stamp. It was painted a simple white with navy blue pinstripes, the mark of the New York Yankees—and most importantly, the number of her father’s favorite player when he was a kid. Dani resisted the urge to vomit again. Maybe it wasn’t that. But she felt something in her was about to burst, so all she could do was shut the box and bow her head.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s been weird, hasn’t it?”

“Doesn’t have to be,” Hugh said. “We can pretend it’s New Year’s. Birthdays already feel like that, when you think about it. Whenever I break a resolution, I think, ah well, I’ll just wish for things to get better when I blow out the candles.”

“And does that ever work for you?” Dani asked.

“Maybe not all the other times,” he said. “But you came to California, didn’t you?”

#

That night, Dani abandoned her own party and drove away with Hugh with the top down, the city still burning above them. They ended up at the beach, where Dani encountered a west coast strain of those blackout partygoers. They were much the same with their red cups, their portable speakers; some things, like the need to dance, were universal. It was just the way they did it that felt foreign. In New York, the residents embraced dancing in the dark, feeling their way through the rest of the night, while the Los Angeles breed huddled around towering bonfires, as if the infernos had become part of who they were.

Hugh sat in the sand with her. Dani felt dizzy, just watching the people link hands and dance around whatever they could burn.

“I should be happy for her,” Dani said. “I know I should.” It was one of those things that rested, top of mind, like a book at the edge of a shelf. Normally, she pushed a thought like this back into place, to be forgotten like all the others, but she found herself unable to put it away. Maybe it was because Hugh wasn’t dancing like all the others. Between them, there was a stillness she could speak into.

“But the whole time,” she continued, “all I wanted to tell her was to slow down. Slow down, why don’t you? You just met him. Tom just died.” She peered out towards the shore, where she spotted the silhouette of a girl, dashing between the fire and the darkness of the waves. Dani thought someone should stop her, because she’d either get burned alive or swallowed up by the tide, never to be seen again, but no one did, and she kept running back and forth until the sight of her was a blur.

“I hate this place,” she said. “But I can’t hate you.”

Dani let her eyes grow wide, impossibly so, and let out a childish yelp, something she used to do with Hugh when she couldn’t make up her mind about certain things. He used to roll his eyes at this version of Dani, the silly Dani, but the sight of her this time made him smile, then wider, until it broke his face from the strain. She always knew when he was about to cry: the air currents around them changed, all by his attempt at a deep exhale, while he mashed his mouth closed so tight you couldn’t see his lips anymore.

Dani, in turn, let their hands crawl towards each other until they were held. This was enough for Hugh break down altogether. He cried, ugly, then soft, until all he could do was smack himself to stop.

“Do you remember when we last met?” Hugh asked. “In Hell’s Kitchen? My nose was all busted and that girl said I had nothing in my head?”

“Sure I do.”

“Well, it didn’t go like that. Not quite. She said she liked me, I think, but then I said I couldn’t ever go out with her again. She asked me why.”

“Why?” Dani mimicked.

“I didn’t even know at first. It just fell out of my mouth. She was a perfectly fine girl, pretty, smart. Baseball fanatic. But I couldn’t see her again. I just couldn’t. So I told her, ‘there’s this girl who killed my cat last year, and I’ve never been able to forget her.’ That’s when she socked me in the nose and called me a pig. But I didn’t care. I thought, Dani has to come to California—not because I was avoiding the end of the world. But because I wanted you at the very end of it.”

“But then we walked the canals,” Hugh continued on. “The way you belonged out there, like you knew every street still worth walking. The more I saw it, the more I thought, I have to save her. I have to save her. But then I knew there was no one to save. That that was the end of your world. And this here is mine.”

Dani peered out towards the sea. The darkness seemed to stretch out forever, tides climbing higher and higher like they came out of the underworld itself. The girl, who’d been running between the light and the dark, had stopped altogether. The party stopped when they realized the girl was nowhere to be found, and that she was nowhere near the fire. She’d gone to the waves. Screams arose from the shore, with calls of a name Dani would soon forget, need to forget, for the sake of not counting another loss.