Wolves out on Lavender Street

Katie Strubel


Champagne flutes sat used and muddled together in the sink.

I stood, absent and barefoot, in the middle of smooth lamplight pooling across the kitchen floor. Things had dwindled down the past hour and only two dozen of Sasha and my families were left lingering in the living room and back patio where the cigarettes were plentiful and the flames of wedding talk had died down. It was a Thursday night. I was supposed to be preparing coffee to sober up the sixty-somethings for their drives home. Keeping quiet, and always staying a room apart from Sasha.

Indignation bubbled up from my stomach like vomit. No one had spoken to me since the rehearsal dinner moved from the Waterfront to Sasha’s mother’s house, where the same fine glassware that used be off limits when we younger, as if our fingerprints were strong enough to stain the smooth surface, stood winking at me beneath the lights. My movements were deliberate and careful all night. Always in the right place when someone needed a top-off or questions answered about the happy couple or the wedding that I hadn’t even been explicitly invited to. Sasha showed up throughout the night in brief glimpses, but never close enough to reach.

The evening grew darker, more scattered, and I was so close to calling it a night, telling mine and Sasha’s mothers that they wouldn’t have to keep an eye on me as the unofficial wedding crasher anymore when suddenly Sasha was there, slipping through the sliding glass door and into the kitchenette, careful not to get her cyprus dress stuck as the door slid shut behind her.

Every time I would see her for this first time in a while, I seemed to be transported to years ago when it was just her and me—when nothing else mattered except which bed we were sleeping in that night. There was some disgust towards those memories—picturing the long years we spent practically inside each other’s thin skin. Sleeping in the same dirty sheets, sharing underwear and shower loofahs, kissing each other first thing in the morning when our exhales proved stale and cottony. But the longing for her that came with the memories seemed to overpower any other sense that came with the flashbacks of the questionable way we lived our lives.

Those thick hot summers in her air-conditioning-less bedroom, rubbing medicated balm on our festering scalps, combing dead lice from our hair from root to end, and kissing each other on the mouth in between cold showers. We never knew what the hell what we were doing. It was always her house or mine, her dad’s cigars or my mom’s “bubblicious” martini mix that turned our vomit prison-soap-pink. Bladder infections and a shared month-long battle with a case of mono that one of us had given it to the other (a fact we vehemently denied when rumors broke through the school hallways). The summer before we went to separate colleges, drinking expired orange juice and eating days-old rice for breakfast, sitting side-by-side on the fake granite countertop, elbows brushing every time one of us shifted, washing the dishes and setting them aside to dry, eating homemade raspberry compote by the spoonful and freezing the leftovers in empty ice cube trays. And afterwards, me pulling Sasha into my arms, holding her as we stood in the middle of the kitchen, keeping her close until the morning rolled into low afternoon.

“There you are,” Sasha hummed, like she had spent the entire night looking for me. “You have something for me?”

I stared at her, trying hard to pace my breathing. “What?”

“Coffee,” She said. Automatic. “My mom said you were putting a pot on.”

I shook my head. “More like heating up water and adding a few teaspoons of instant.”

Her lips peeled back over her teeth, white and brilliant. “Everyone is so out of it I don’t think they’ll mind.”

I motioned to the cabinet above the sink. “Do you want a cup?”

“I don’t like instant. Dane might want some, though.”

The name “Dane” caused a more visceral reaction in me that any homophobic slur could. He came into my life months after Sasha had left it. Arms swinging, pressed black slacks (no matter the occasion), greased hair, and a bite to the way he answered questions in drawn-out matter-of-fact statement that left everyone in the room feeling stupid and on edge. Dane was a macho man in the simplest sense. Vanderbilt and three-car garages. Close shaves and sharp accusatory fingers. Progressive on his own terms. Someone who would never want the gay tendencies of his soon-to-be-wife spilling out all over the carpet like pomegranate seeds from the ripest fruits center. I tried so hard to be civil when his Bleu De Chanel cologne followed Sasha around on her skin, but I knew nothing I did could cover up the way Sasha and I spent practically our entire lives together. She was the closest I experienced to being in love. I never figured out why Sasha told him the explicit details behind our relationship we hid beneath the cover of “best friends,” but at least I knew why I was at the receiving end of his resentment.

Everything floated to the surface two years ago, when I showed up at Sasha and Dane’s engagement party underdressed and drunk off whatever sat chilled in my hotel mini bar. Sasha danced around me the entire night, her hair catching my bare shoulders, careful not to get too close, while Dane stuck plastered to the cash-bar. The plan that night wasn’t to get Sasha back (she had never officially even been mine). I just wanted so badly to talk to her. For her to acknowledge our relationship even if it was dead and over with.

Leave it alone, my mom had hissed cautiously in my ear towards the end of the reception, her eyesight landing on the person at the end of my own. My mom knew about Sasha and me. Of course she did. I could feel the aftermath of purple bruises forming beneath the grip she had on my inner bicep—an injury I would poke and prod until the achy feeling made me just nauseous enough before I let it heal. Just leave them alone, honey.

I know, I told her. I’m just going to congratulate her.

Congratulate them, She urged but there was no venom in her words. I’m too tired for you to cause a scene.

I shoved away, feeling the curl of fingers attempt to grip the fabric of my dress, and followed Sasha and Dane down the back corridor of the ballroom leading to a dark patio. They stood with their backs to the door. Dane’s arm held itself around Sasha’s waist but instinctively tightened after I made myself known through an exhale of her name. Sasha.

If I had been anyone else in that moment, witnessing firsthand the way they whipped around at the sound of my voice could have moved me to tears. Their bodies moved in sync, holding on to each other as if some evil entity had called her name instead of me. No exchange of words took place, only Dane charging at me through the unfolded patio chairs with Sasha attempting to pull him back with French tipped fingers. He caught me by my throat and pressed the strength of his thumb tight in the space between the slope of my chin and the base of my neck. Not hard enough to cut off airflow but just enough pressure for the sour taste of panic to pass through my heaving veins. He cursed at me through gritted teeth, flecks of his spit mixed with Malbec-aftermath which flicked across my face and upper lip. Sasha circled us like an injured bird, clawing at Dane’s wrist and the base of my head, desperate for any form of grip to separate us. His hand tightened the more Sasha fought to get us apart, hard enough for me to see white spots in the edge of my vision. Dane only let me go when Sasha’s father found us outside and half-tackled him to the concrete. By the time he calmed down, I had already slipped out of the emergency exit with a bruised throat and the feeling of Sasha’s hand imprinted hot on my neck.

The night of the chokehold proved to be the last time I was allowed to be around both families for a while. Things need to cool down, my mom told me the night of my twenty-fifth birthday when Sasha never came around. Your stunt at the engagement party really took it out of her.

This night, the rehearsal dinner before her wedding the next day at 2PM, was the first time I had seen any of them since the engagement. No one expected me to show up. I knew that from Dane’s reaction when he caught my eye from across the row of dinner tables three hours earlier. He stared at me perplexed but stagnant, as if he left all of his fight with me the night he wrapped his clammy fist around my throat.

“Dane likes you better now,” Sasha mused, tangling her fingers around the slope of my forearm, pulling me from memory. A fake show of comfort or her way of calming the waters. “He sees you how I see you.”

“What do you see—” I began, suddenly so close to a conversation that was six years in the making, but then Sasha’s mother found us. I yanked my arm out of Sasha’s soft palm, an act of shutting the closet doors.

“My little wolves,” Her mom mused, taking my hand in her own solid grip. She smiled at me but it didn’t reach her eyes. She pulled a bottle of pink wine from the fridge. “Don’t keep Sasha for too long.” And left the kitchen without another word.

The phrase “little wolves” struck something in me I had not let myself feel in half a decade. Sasha and I each shared one sharp canine tooth in our separate mouths, hers on the left and mine on the right. A defining characteristic our families used to theorize why we seemed to be connected at the hip. Sasha’s grandma coined the phrase “little wolves,” often peeling our top lips up with her manicured thumb and touching each tooth’s tip, as if she believed they were actually sharp enough to draw blood through her papery skin. My little wolves, she used to say through lips blistered from the chemo. She barely drank anything those last few weeks of her life, only the occasional yellow Gatorade or swigs from an expired bottle of Mylanta that left her tongue with a chalky white film. I remember Sasha and I taking turns reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to her during the good days and the radio silence that followed on the bad ones. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder at her funeral and ate Hasselback potatoes at the service afterwards before sneaking away to the backyard and taking turns puffing mouthfuls of smoke from the last pack of cigarettes her grandma ever bought. The nickname seemed to die out with Sasha’s grandma until that moment then when her mom said those two words out loud for this first time in almost six years.

“Little wolves,” I murmured before I even realized the words were bubbling out me.

“What?” Sasha asked, busy, pulling a cup from the cabinet. “What’d you say?”

“I think I’m gonna’ head home,” I told her, close to being sick all over the linoleum.

“You can stay the night. You know, like you used to—” Sasha cut in, leaving the cup forgotten on the counter. “You’ve been drinking—”

“I haven’t,” Shaking my head. “I don’t want to be here the last night before you’re his.”

“His?” She repeated

“Yeah,” I stopped her. “His.”

“Hold on,” her voice blanketed me. “Where is this coming from?”

“It’s not coming from anywhere,” I spoke under my breath. The murmur of conversations from the living room floated around us like smoke. “You knew this was going to happen sooner or later.”

“Now?” She leaned forward. “You want to do this now?”

I shrugged, feeling more bitter and defeated than the night she announced the engagement. “Might as well.”

Sasha looked at me for a long moment, brown hair falling in thick curls over her shoulders as she breathed in and out, and then she was pushing away from the countertop and down the hallway to the front of the house. She opened the screen door carefully, not making a sound, as if we were under the threat of childhood punishment if either of our moms saw us leaving together before the nightcaps were finished. The damp grass felt humid beneath my feet as I followed her down the front lawn until the warmth melted into rough concrete. “Okay,” she said, stopping a few houses down. Far enough for things to be left said and unsaid. We stood across from each other under the dim streetlight. I wondered if anyone in her house would hear us if screaming began. “What do you want to say?”

“You’re getting married,” I said, dumbly, and then motioned to the space between us. Do I dare disturb the universe? “You’re getting married to someone who isn’t me.”

“Yeah,” Sasha nodded. “That’s the point.”

“The point?”

She waved me off. “You know what I mean. It never would’ve worked. You and me. We were kids.”

I stepped away from her, the familiar feeling of disgust coating my tongue in pungent sour. “What are you still trying to prove?”

“I’m not trying to prove anything! You’re the one making a big fucking deal about everything. About nothing!”

During the lost years, when we rarely spoke, whenever someone asked me what happened between me and Sasha, nothing became the easiest response.

“You know what your families been doing all night?” I circled back, blood rushing to my ears. “Making sure I stay away from you.”

A car drove by, drowning us both in yellow and lighting up the outline of Sasha’s silhouette. She was looking down at the dark street, peeling the skin from her bottom lip between her canine and bottom row of front teeth, arms crossed tight over her chest. I could smell smoke on her clothes and the thick scent of Chandon on her breath.

“Because they knew you’d do something like this. Because you can’t let go of what we did!”

“They don’t want me around you because they know this is bullshit. Because they know I’ll talk you out of it.”

“You know that’s not true,” Sasha said. The cicadas buzzed against the dark. “You just want to believe that because you think some ninth grade fantasy will make all of this easier.”

Years ago, before we really knew the extent of what we were doing sexually and a moment I tried so hard to bury in the deepest pits and valleys of my brain, Sasha’s mother came home and found us shirtless and pink-cheeked on the couch. She stood in the doorway, watching us scramble apart, before throwing us our balled up T-shirts from the floor and watched as we got dressed in her silent horror. I’ll keep this between us, she told us coldly. But only if stays here in the house.

“Jesus,” I exhaled. “Is this how you’ve felt the entire time?”

Sasha dropped her eyes to the pavement, bottom lids pooling with white-hot tears. Years ago, on days when Sasha’s house was truly empty, it wasn’t hard to pretend that we lived there together on our own. Sleeping in late on hot mornings, laying on the living room floor in a post-lunch haze, strips of leftover sunlight cutting across their stomachs through the curtains, hands finding each other in the light. Everything felt safe and a secret. “Since the beginning.”

Down the street, people began trickling out of her house and into their parked cars. Sasha stepped backwards onto the sidewalk, careful not to be seen with me. “Okay,” I said after a moment, though I wasn’t. “Okay.”

She exhaled, drawn-out and easy, before letting her arms drop to the sides of her silk dress. Her eyes were no longer glossy, and it was as if she had never been on the verge of tears at all. “Are you still coming tomorrow? I want you to be there.”

“Yeah,” I managed to say. That question was the worst thing she had ever said to me. “I’ll be sitting in the back.”

“Waiting for me to run?” Joking now.

“No,” I said, the disbelief settling somewhere deep within me, too far gone to grab hold and bring to the surface. “I think I’ve done enough waiting for now.”

I left her standing in the downpour of the streetlight, scuffing my toes on my walk back to Sasha’s house shining a soft yellow glow. Blood trailed from my toes up the driveway, into the foyer and down the hall and into the kitchen where I stood, unmoving, in my previous position.

Coffee steeped into a waiting mug and the champagne flutes sat drying upside down in the dish rack.

Katie Strubel (she/her) is a queer writer from Idaho. Her words have previously appeared in The Southern Quill and Route 7 Review. She is a recent creative writing graduate and is at work applying to MFA programs. You can find her on Instagram @orangesorbay and Twitter @lemonsorbay.