Jessa smiles the first time that she runs away from the hospital—the same smile that always wins Amelie over, bright and wild. She stands in Amelie’s bedroom like it’s the only place she belongs as Amelie muffles a yawn behind her hands and says, “Jess? How’d you get here—I thought you were supposed to still be at the hospital?”
“It’s okay, I’m way better now. Like a whole new person, you know?” Jessa says and something inside Amelie sinks because Jessa has fed her those exact same lines at least a hundred times. “And anyway, I didn’t really like it there. I’d rather be here with you.”
Amelie pushes down her doubts as she climbs out of bed and wraps her arms around Jessa. Her body feels so light, like a strong gust of wind might carry her away into the wide prairie sky.
On their first date, Jake watches Amelie eat—fork and knife slicing her meal into tiny pieces. There’s only one restaurant in town, so they slide into the corner booth that has belonged to Jake and his friends for as long as Amelie can remember.
“Has Jess come back from the hospital yet?” he says. Amelie blushes every time he speaks—tall and broad-shouldered, he is so beautiful that sometimes she forgets to breathe.
“Yeah, the hospital signed her out this morning.”
“I’m glad she’s back. But let’s go, we’re late for the movie,” he says, blue eyes drifting up to the clock hanging on the wall. When Amelie glances back down at her half empty plate, he says, “You weren’t going to eat all of that anyway, right?”
“What? Oh—no.” She shakes her head and pushes it away, although the smell of food still makes her hungry stomach grumble.
Later, his hands cover her body—fingers running across the smooth grooves of her bones.
The next time that Amelie visits Jessa, it feels like she is barely there at all—brown eyes huge in her delicate face. They sit quiet on the floor of Jessa’s bedroom as sunlight falls through the open window. White curtains blow in the breeze.
“So you’re feeling better?” Amelie draws her knees up to her chest.
“Yeah, I feel great.”
“Why do you do it?”
“Do what?” Jessa blinks, thin cotton shirt clinging to every curve of her vertebrae. They stare at each other in silence before Amelie says, “Never mind. I just—I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too.” Jessa hesitates before she takes Amelie’s hand. Amelie closes her eyes and wishes that they could just stay like this for the rest of their lives.
Jake meets Amelie late at the party out in the country—loud music thrumming like a second heartbeat deep inside her body.
“Want to dance?” He smiles, slinging an arm like an anchor around her shoulders.
“Okay,” she says and he takes her hand, pushing through the milling bodies as she drifts in his wake. They dance through several long songs—his heavy hands wander from her waist as they sway in slow circles.
When he goes outside to smoke, she glimpses Jessa through a brief gap in the crowd—thin, almost ethereal body moving to the music as people watch like they can’t look away. Amelie doesn’t blame them.
She waits, but Jake never comes back from his smoke break and so Amelie pushes through the crowd until she reaches Jessa. They dance the rest of the night away and when Amelie places her hands on Jessa’s waist, she can feel her hip bones, sharp beneath her clothes.
Later, they both crawl into an empty bed, heads heavy from exhaustion. Jessa falls asleep almost immediately, despite the pills that she has been popping all evening—body warm beneath the sheets. Amelie stays awake, listening to the sound of her breathing.
The second time that Jessa runs away, Amelie also stops eating. She cuts her meals into small bites and pushes the pieces around on her plate until it grows cold, and then she throws it out. At night, she lays awake in the dark, waiting for Jessa to tap on her window, demanding to be let inside. When she sleeps, she doesn’t dream about anything.
“Are you on a diet or something? You’ve lost a lot of weight,” Jake says one morning, sitting half-dressed at her kitchen table.
“No.” Amelie sips black coffee, taste bitter in the back of her throat.
“Well you look great.”
“Thanks.” Amelie stands, pushing back her chair—its legs scrape against the kitchen tiles. When she shrugs into her jacket, he says, “Where are you going?”
“Out to look for Jess. No one’s seen her since she ran away from the hospital.”
She kisses him on the cheek before she leaves.
Amelie visits all of Jessa’s favorite places, always expecting to find her waiting—smiling like it’s some kind of game. But she returns home alone as the sun sets, feet sore from walking all around town.
Up in her bedroom, Amelie shuffles through all the clothes in her closet, picking a few potential outfits to wear on her next date with Jake.
“Hey, could you just say something?” She sends the message to Jessa and waits for her phone to vibrate. When it stays silent, she tosses it down on the covers of her bed and bites her bottom lip. Her head hurts, a dull pain pulsing at the back of her skull.
She tries on the outfits in front of the mirror, spinning in slow circles to study the way the clothes hang from her body. Then she strips down to her underwear and runs her hands along her rib cage—feeling all the empty spaces between her bones.
On their next date, Jake drives far out of town—parking the truck on the side of a deserted dirt road, headlights brightening the night. They sit in the open bed of the vehicle, passing a bottle of wine back and forth beneath the stars.
Amelie only takes small sips, eyes tracing the constellations in the heavens above as Jake curls his thick-muscled arm around her waist. When she checks her phone, screen highlighting the delicate contours of her face, he says, “Have you heard anything from her yet?”
“No.” Amelie knows who he is talking about without even asking.
“Well, she’s got to show up eventually. But it’s kind of nice that I’ve got you all to myself right now,” he says and kisses her, mouth rough and hungry.
When he pulls off her loose cotton shirt, he grins at her skinny body. Amelie wonders if it’s possible to become thin enough to just disappear completely.
She showers after Jake drops her off at her place, shivering beneath the slow-warming water. Crawling into bed, she pulls the pillows over her head and breathes deep, like maybe the scent of Jessa’s hair still lingers caught in the fabric. But it doesn’t smell like anything and so she reaches for her phone on the nightstand.
“Please say something.” Amelie sends another text to Jessa, slender fingers tapping against the smooth screen. Stubborn, her phone stays silent and she sighs, closing her eyes.
In her dreams, Jake is eating her—skin, bone and marrow. Bright blood smears the corners of his mouth and she wakes with a start, heart hammering as she stares into the dark.
And this might also be a dream, but later Jessa taps on the window until Amelie stumbles out of bed to let her inside. They fall asleep together, Amelie holding Jessa close enough to feel the bones beneath her clothes.
When she wakes, her stomach aches.
About the Author: Ashton Noone writes short fiction from Calgary, Alberta. Ashton's work has been a finalist in the In Places Between: The Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest and has appeared in the Aurora Award-nominated anthology Enigma Front: The Monster Within.