Les Cousins Dangereux
by winter baby

On days like these, Maeby finds it more productive to get on a random bus than to actually go to school. The sun is bright, and on the bus, she can pretend she's supposed to be somewhere else, that this place is just a transition. It's on a Tuesday that she passes a small movie theater on the outskirts of town, and on Wednesday she pulls George Michael out of his last period study hall to go back there.

He fidgets in the seat next to her, crushing stray kernels of popcorn under the heels of his loafers. She can tell that George Michael doesn't want to be here -- he's nervous they'll get caught again -- but he gave up trying to say no to her a long time. Besides, he was the one who wanted to see this movie in the first place, and even went as far as getting them fake passports. Maeby thinks there's no law worth breaking if it means having to put up with Uncle Gob, but George Michael did that for her. Wasting a bus pass on this is the least she can do for him.

The theater lights dim and when the movie flickers on, she's annoyed to see that it's in French. Maeby didn't have George Michael pay ten bucks just so she could spend two hours reading. She could have gone to class and done that for free. Two minutes into it Maeby gives up on paying attention and slumps down in her seat. Occasionally she pokes George Michael in the side and demands loudly that he tell her what's going on. He shushes her but she doesn't get why; other than an old couple sitting a few rows ahead of them, they're the only people in the theater.

"They're cousins," he starts to explain, "and they--"

When the boy and the girl onscreen start to kiss, Maeby breathes out, "Oh, I get it." She's following along now, not to their words, but to their bodies. They're a tangle of limbs and lips. Maeby finds herself holding her breath every time they touch each other, as if breathing the wrong way will somehow tear them apart. The pretty boy has almost-blond hair like George Michael, and the slender, dark-haired girl could be Maeby, if Maeby didn't spend all her time surrounded by bananas and chocolate dip.

When the girl starts to cry, George Michael stops whispering dialogue into Maeby's ear. Maeby doesn't understand why there's a nun on screen pulling at the girl's dark hair, if this is a French thing or maybe she just missed a plot point. The movie ends with the boy dying, Maeby isn't sure how, and they leave the darkness of the theater. Outside, it's blinding.

On the bus ride home, George Michael is quiet and she can't get him to talk. They pass the beach on their right, and Maeby finds herself staring at the rise and fall of the waves.

"It was wrong what they did," George Michael says suddenly.

"Who?" Maeby's following with her eyes a pair of surfers as they trek across the sand to their jeep.

"Them," he tries to explain but she's still confused. "From the movie. They were punished."

Maeby turns away from the window to look at George Michael, and he's playing with the bottom button of his shirt. She remembers the first time she suggested kissing him, and how frightened he looked. But isn't that illegal?

She thinks that if the state allows people like her mother and father to stay together, then Maeby and George Michael can't be that bad. It can't be wrong for George Michael to be the only one who understands how lonely it can get in a large family, or the only one who tries to keep her from feeling that way.

Maeby leans into him, and she can hear George Michael inhale sharply. It's slower and sweeter than the first time; there's no urgency or malice in this kiss. When she pulls away, George Michael breathes out shakily and slowly opens his eyes.

"Who were we trying to teach a lesson to this time?" he asks with a smile, and Maeby thinks this is the closest to a joke he's ever come.

"Everyone," she answers with her own smile. "The whole goddamn world."


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