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dazed and confused
by sahaj kaur

The slow riff of The Doors' “You're Lost, Little Girl” trickled through the cinderblock basement. The Strange Days album spun on Eric's turntable, the right door left open to reveal his cautiously-crafted selection. An array of colors and bands, all organized into what Eric considered his "most prized possession." A music man above all else, you sort of admired how much he cared for the craft of careful listening. 

You wriggled your fingers through the gaps of one of the Johnson Afghan blankets, where an orange stripe turned to brown. Eric hummed along to the start of the lyrics—a low, rumbling sound. You peeked over the edge of the sofa, ratty and old and shoved down here when Mrs. Johnson bought something sturdier at the start of the decade. You remembered the day she instructed Eric's father to bring the old one down here; it was the first time you wandered into a room alone with Eric. Just the two of you, neighborhood kids neglected on the lawn. 

He asked if you wanted to play a game, and Mrs. Johnson shared a bowl of pretzels while you hunched over Monopoly. Now, the basement was your place—yours and Eric's. Four walls and concrete floor, softened by a shaggy brown rug once found in the living room, and posters and 

concert merchandise stands, and the seasonal decorations Mrs. Johnson rotated every few months. 

When it didn't smell like the linen and laundry beating against the pea green dryer, the stench of Eric's Winston cigarettes took over. It was always cold, and always home. "You're lost, little girl" Eric cooed, cigarette withering and smoking between his two fingers. 

He was lying on the hard ground, one palm pressed over his sweater-clad stomach and the other held open against the air where his cigarette waited. If he opened his eyes which were now pinched shut to marinate in the song, you knew they'd be soft. He only ever looked at you with a smile. 

So how was it that you never kissed? 

You found yourself asking that a lot lately. When he picked you up for class with a thermos full of hot coffee on bitter cold days. When he slung his jacket around your shoulders when you shivered at football games. When he popped a kiss against your cheek out of pure excitement and whirled away as if he hadn't just burned your skin in the most delightful way. A tingling delight that only appeared this year. When he started to fill out his brown leather jacket until it creaked. 

When his hands grew rough from working on the Pontiac in the driveway, inherited from his father for his eighteenth birthday. He spent the summer fixing it up, and that first scorching day you came up the driveway and saw him slicked with grease...you were done for. 

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