Ella and Lee Anne
“Perfect,” Lee Anne said, kicking off pink flip flops before lying face down on a bed of Florida-themed beach towels. She’d had them so long the dolphins and palm trees were starting to fade, but that particular family vacation burned bright in her memory: 14 hours in the backseat of her mom’s Mercury Cougar, crossing state lines and eating so many boiled peanuts — mostly to the soundtrack of radio evangelists and bluegrass CDs — watching woods turn into crops and crops turn into swamps and swamps turn into cities until it seemed there were only palm trees and people.
The deck her dad built didn’t give like Orlando sand, so after Florida, Lee Anne got in the habit of layering her beach towels. Every summer — on the days she wasn’t babysitting or attending cheer camp — Lee Anne would lay on that deck, covered in SPF 4 suntan lotion, reading magazines she’d bought at the grocery store. She’d lay there, reading and sipping sweet iced tea, until coconut-scented sweat coated her body — then she’d cannonball into the above-ground pool her dad built.
“I’ll vacuum it every day!” she’d promised, and she did — but she hadn’t treated it with pool shock in too long. Sometime in mid-June the lake frogs migrated to the above-ground pool — croaking and mating and swimming all night long — and Lee Anne couldn’t bear the thought of their little green bodies stewing in chlorine.
“They’re so loud,” Ella told Lee Anne the night before. “I can hear them all the way up on the hill. I guess summer’s their horniest time — I think it’s mine, too!” Ella was one of Lee Anne’s neighbors. They’d grown up attending the same schools and churches. Near the end of May, Ella and Lee Anne started taking night strolls together a few times a week. They’d wait for their parents and siblings and dogs to fall asleep, then they’d meet at the lake dock. Some nights — like last night — the girls would smoke cigarettes while their bare feet dangled, immersed in the lake’s warmth.
“They’ll sell cigs to 17-year-old’s down at that convenience store off the service road,” Ella said. “Just smile a lot and wear something you wouldn’t wear to church, and those boys won’t think twice about it.”
Lee Anne nodded, mid-puff, knowing she was perfectly content to stick with bumming cigs from Ella whenever Ella was feeling generous. Lee Anne was lucky in that way — she’d been smoking socially since freshman year without finding herself addicted to nicotine or busted by her parents.
Ella flicked her cigarette butt into the lake just to watch it land. “I like the ripples,” she said, smiling, when Lee Anne called her a “litter bug.” The girls found Sagittarius and the Big Dipper before scanning the lake’s surface for signs of life: the wiggle of a Cottonmouth, the splash of a Largemouth Bass, the plop of a snapping turtle.
“Let’s walk to the pergola,” Lee Anne finally said. “We can sip honeysuckle and swing.”
With flip flops dangling from index fingers, Ella and Lee Anne walked through grass that needed mowing — their feet too wet from lake water to notice the dew that was already forming — leaving a trail of hushed crickets in their path.
“Check this out,” Ella said while the girls were swinging and sipping. Lee Anne could just barely make it out in the moonlight: Ella had a bruise on her neck the size of a silver dollar.
“Does it hurt?” Lee Anne asked.
“Want to kiss it better?”
“Stop swinging, and I will,” Lee Anne said, letting her honeysuckle fall. With one hand on Ella’s face, Lee Anne gently kissed the bruise — not once, but three times.
“You smell good,” Lee Anne said, her lips brushing Ella’s neck as she spoke.
“I have one on the other side, too.”
When Ella nodded, Lee Anne kissed that bruise, too.
“Want to skinny dip in the pool with the frogs?” Lee Anne asked a little while later.
“Won’t that wake your folks?”
“Nah, we just can’t cannonball or dive — we’ll have to use the ladder to get in.”
The girls laid on their backs in the water, silently stargazing while the frogs sang their courting songs. After a little while, Ella and Lee Anne would practice their underwater handstands, careful not to splash too loudly when they came up for air. They’d look for more constellations and spot a few shooting stars. They’d briefly ponder their upcoming senior year. Lee Anne would try and fail for the last time to convince Ella to try out for cheerleading. “But you’d be so good at it! And I could give you a ride home from practice anytime you needed it.”
A few hours before sunrise, they’d leave the pool and dry off with Lee Anne’s faded beach towels before slipping back into jean shorts and t-shirts.
“I better get going,” Ella finally said. “See you tomorrow night?”
Liz Enochs is a writer from southeast Missouri. Her nonfiction has been published by Narratively, Leafly, Bustle, USA Today 10Best, and many others. So far, her fiction has been published in Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, Remington Review, Amethyst Review, and The Raven Review. Often, you'll find her in the woods.