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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Joe Meno

Carrie Seagal kisses so hard that she loses her breath and she won't take her white plastic asthma inhaler with her wherever we go to make out, like in the woods, where I have felt her small, sharp tongue dart into my mouth as she hums a song from some musical, because she was in the drama club before she had to quit because of her blackouts--that's when she started following me around. People think we are retarded, but we're just in love.

The only thing I've got going for me is good teeth. If you put your hands over your eyes and look at me when I smile, you wouldn't think the rest of my face could be so bad, but it is, or so I've heard since practically fifth grade when I started getting pink rashes on my neck and cheeks from feeling guilty about always laughing at exactly the wrong time. I can't help it. I get nervous and I laugh and then people look funny at me.

Carrie cuts her hair herself, her bangs slanted and uneven across her forehead with terribly dyed red and black streaks held over from some goth phase in junior high. We will kiss standing up, leaning against a tree, and push all the air out of each other's mouths and this is what she likes, to black out. I don't mind that she is using me. Her parents say she is not allowed out of the house with me alone -- they have an idea of what we are doing -- so we started going to hang out at her grandmother's nursing home two buses away. We will sit in her grandmother's room, behind the white and starchy dividing curtain, and I will feel her collarbone pressing against my own and her trying to kill herself by making out with me. She kisses with her eyes closed and her hands will be wide open like a drowning victim's and I know what she really wants isn't me, because I'm not anything but her lousy Spanish tutor, and two years older already. She wants to die kissing. It could be anyone, as long as she dies like that, romantically.

The first time she lost consciousness for like over a minute, I knew she was the one. We were at her grandmother's nursing home, on the sofa behind the white privacy curtain, and I had my hand up Carrie's tight black top and her grandmother was on the other side of the room, out of it, lying in her bed sleeping or worse maybe, the sounds of her respirator thrumming mechanically in the air. The door to her grandmother's room was closed, the TV on some soap opera and you could hear the weird things people said to each other: "Well, Brant, I never thought you were the one I'd fall in love with", "Kiss me, you stubborn girl", "Oh, Brant", "Oh, Kate." I was working to unhook Carrie's bra but there were thousands of hooks back there and just as I got it undone, I noticed Carrie's eyes were closed and she trembled and I said, "Should I not do this?" and she said, "No, go," and I slid my hand under her bra and touched her there and it's like the wind got knocked out of her, her eyelids twitching. I stopped. But she shook her head and I didn't know what this girl wanted me to do. She grabbed my hand -- beginning to wheeze already, her chest rising and falling -- and forced it down the outside of her jeans and I thought, She couldn't want that, she couldn't want that with me, and I could hear the respirator across the room going up and down, up and down, like us, the sound we were making.

I got up the nerve and put my fingers on the cold brass button of her pants and slipped it out of its button hole, and she gasped, and just then everything went dark for her, she blacked out.

I didn't know what was required of me, so I buttoned up her pants quick and began poking her in the cheek. "Carrie? Carrie? Hello in there," I said, now nervous because I was shaking her, holding her face and shaking her shoulders and she still wasn't talking. The lights came back on in her eyes finally, and she wheezed, really wheezed, but kind of laughed, too. She looked up at me, blinking, you know, focusing.

And then she said something I'll think about for like the next million years or something: "You have eyelashes like a girl." Right away, we both started laughing.