June collapsed onto the coffee table. The ink smudged beneath the palm of her right hand. Her left hand carelessly sent a map gliding to the carpet. There were plenty more maps squashed underneath her chest. She covered Seattle’s metropolitan area, a panoramic of Canada, and a small-scaled reproduction of the Rocky Mountains with red ink winding through the most scenic route to the West.
“I don’t want to go back through cornfields,” June twisted her head to face Eric. Her cheek pressed up against Portland.
“But I’ve never seen Nebraska.”
“You’ve seen cornfields before. Remember Indiana?”
“I didn’t go to the dunes with you guys.”
They were quiet for a moment.
“It’s just that you always talk about that trip. Running around in the sand drunk or whatever.”
June rested her hand on Eric’s knee. The ink blotted his denim jeans, the dot of red screaming against its new, faded-blue background. June absently stroked the stain with her thumb.
“You know, we’ll talk about this trip so much that all our friend’s are going to be, like, ‘hey, shut up.’ You can exaggerate all the stories. You can say we were shooting up while behind the wheel. I’ll back you up.”
“No one’s going to believe that.”
“I’ll paint on some track marks.”
“No, hey, I took that stage makeup class. It’ll look really good.”
“Seriously,” Eric forced June’s hand away from him. “Stop.”
“Hey. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. It tickles when you do that. It’s actually really annoying.”
“No, like. You know. Months ago. The first time I did that.”
The maps scattered off the table as June leaped onto the couch. She sat quietly next to Eric, arching her brows, scrunching her face into a melancholy expression. The focus was to shape her large brown eyes into those of a puppy, or, better yet, a deer. Doe eyes. Owl eyes. Squid eyes.
Eric laughed. He pulled the giant squid over to him, running his hands through her brown hair, fingers ruffling up her bangs, crowning her head, sliding down her spine. Her petite body almost got lost in his embrace, but June reemerged with a flurry of kisses attacking his rusty beard.
They stayed in their mode of childish foreplay for hours. Occasionally a foot or elbow would bump against the coffee table, but no traces of wet ink left prints on their bodies. Suddenly they came to a stop, June’s hands twisted around Eric’s belt and buckle, Eric’s hands trapped under June’s shirt, clasped around her bra.
June sat up, dragging Eric’s lanky arms to his side.
“I couldn’t do it.”
“I’m sorry. I tried, but I couldn’t.”
“We do this all the time. Wait. Couldn’t what?”
“I tried to write you love letters. I tried so many times. I couldn’t do it.”
Hesitantly, June stood up, staring at the maps scattered on the table and the floor. It was silent as she studied the ink, noting the bright circles drawn around cities with silly names: Zap, Nimrod, Square Butt. She left the room, went down the hall, into her bedroom. Eric listened to her rummage through drawers and knock books off shelves. She swore loudly as she stubbed her toe. June returned with a stack of letters in hand, tied together with pale blue string.
The pile was three inches thick, a combination of loose-leaf, stiff envelopes, miniature notebook pages, sketchbook paper, and cardstock. The items on bottom were frayed and faded. Most of the paper had dog-eared corners, or small tears from where they were ripped from their binding.
“I couldn’t finish a single one. Some I worked on for days. Look,” June untied the string. It fell lazily to the floor, winding around the border of North and South Dakota. She pulled up the first letter, purple jelly-pen on clementine-scented paper.
“It says, ‘my darling, don’t ever shave. I love the way you smell, even at 3 in the morning when your breath reeks of Chinese take-out. I was watching a movie with Clark Gable in it, and it made me think of you, so I thought I would send you a letter because…’ and you know what? That’s it. I couldn’t think of a reason.”
June tossed the letter aside. She pulled out another one, from the middle this time. It was a small napkin with an orange stain circled. There was an arrow pointing to it, and a label, “Curry hut! Yum!”
“This one just says, “Eric,” with a heart. There’s nothing else. I wanted to be spontaneous or romantic or something. I imagined your mailbox overflowing with these cute reminders. I thought maybe, like, maybe you would start being silly. You’re always so serious now. It’s like, no matter what I do or say, you make me stop. It’s like you’re embarrassed or something. I remember when you used to be proud to have me around. You’d take me to, I don’t know, a museum or something, and you’d be so affectionate. And now you’re concerned about holding my hand in public.”
“What’s this all about, June?”
“I liked you so much. When this all started I couldn’t even believe you noticed me. And now it’s been, like, almost two years? I said I loved you after six months, but I can’t write it on paper, and you know I think there might be something to that.”
June tossed the letters onto Eric’s lap. Without its string, the stack scattered in all directions.
“I’m going on the road trip with Alex.”
Eric thumbed through the letters that had landed on the couch. One managed to exceed three paragraphs. Another only said, “Hey—” It didn’t even have his name. It could have been for anyone.
“Some guy. Well, more than some guy. But to you, a guy who lives around the corner.”
“I don’t know. He was at some party. I bumped into him. Literally, almost knocked him over. Said I wasn’t too good with directions. Somehow it segued into the road trip and he was just so enthusiastic. It was like meeting you all over again. So excited, charming. Said he loved the idea, always wanted to go to Seattle, and I was all, “me too!” He wanted to go to Vancouver, and I was like, that’s it. That’s the deal breaker.”
“Because I don’t want to go to Vancouver?”
“Because you never want to go anywhere. Not with me. Not anymore.”
“If you want me to go, I’ll go.”
“No, that’s not the point. It’s not like, I don’t know. It’s not spontaneous. It’s always pulling teeth with you. And I’m sorry. I can’t force it anymore. I tried to force this trip on you, and I tried to force the love letters. It’s a disaster. I’m miserable. With you, I’m miserable.”
“I didn’t want to make you unhappy.”
“Yeah. Maybe. You know, for fun, I tried to write a love letter to Alex. Something sweet. Innocent. Nothing too serious, just wanted to excite those flutters I get when I see him. And you know what? I finished it. It’s like, four pages, I think, and I knocked it out in fifteen minutes. I’m not going to send it. I burned it, actually. But, you know? This is important, I think. And, like, sorry, but I’m not even sorry.”
An aching silence swelled in the room. June stood across from Eric, looking away from him, down at the maps and letters that covered the floor. There were miles between them, entire states, provinces, Pacific regions blotted with red ink. Love letters swirled in the ocean, the air conditioning pulling up the frayed corners and gently sweeping them into currents. They were tattered and torn and crumpled. They drifted for thousands of miles, drifted until they were completely off the map.