TELL ME I'M MADE OF VELVET
Lacy Anne Russo slept with a stuffed rabbit named Bart until she was fifteen. I know this because Bart was the only witness to our first kiss. We were at Anna Peterson’s sleepover birthday party. I can’t sleep anywhere except my own bed. I was busy listening to the whirr of the fan when I heard Lacy get up beside me. She dug Bart out of the bottom of her duffle bag; he’d been stuffed beneath the smooth plastic bottom. His ears were squished to the side; the fabric was bare where Lacy worried it with her thumb.
“Hey, Lace?” I asked.
She jumped when she heard my voice, “You’re still up?”
“Of course, I’m still up. I can’t sleep.” I got up onto my elbows and glanced over at Anna, who was passed out and snoring with a plastic tiara askew on her head.
“I hate sleepovers,” I admitted.
“Me too,” Lacy said.
“Why’d you come then?” I asked. Lacy was barely even friends with Anna. I grew up next door to Anna and felt a weird kindergarten loyalty to her, even though we barely spoke.
“I wanted to see you,” she said.
“Really?” I felt an electric pull deep in my belly button. My heart was the elevator in the Tower of Terror, plummeting into my belly.
“Yeah,” Lacy said. I studied her pink lips in the glow of the T.V. The DVD menu for 13 Going on Thirty was still playing. I wanted to tell Lacy that she was also the only reason I came tonight, but I didn’t have the words. I tended to lose words when I was around her. The world fell away, and all that was left were her inky dark eyelashes and her silk-soft blonde hair.
She sighed, “I don’t even like Anna. What she did tonight was kinda fucked up.” It was Anna’s idea to play Truth or Dare. Birthday Girls rules, she got to go first. She dared Lacy to kiss me. I blushed so hard I burst a blood vessel. Lacy studied the floor and called her stupid. We tried to brush it off, but Anna pushed on, delighted that she was causing a scene.
“The fact that you’re hesitating means you’re lezzies. Watch,” she kissed Laura K. on the mouth for half a beat and shrugged.
“Nah, it’s not that,” I grumbled, thinking of the Miley Cyrus poster I had pinned on the back wall of my closet.
“Well then, you must be prudes then.” Anna turned to me, “I expected this from St. Lacy, but not you, Joey.”
Lacy’s dad was a minister, which meant she sang in the adult choir even though she was still only a Freshman, and she wore a gold purity ring that plinked against the faucet whenever she washed her hands.
I glanced back at Lacy, who now held Bart in the crook of her elbow.
“Yeah, that was fucked up,” I said, even though the thought of kissing Lacy sent 1,000 butterflies straight to my gut. Lacy’s sleeping bag swished as she scooted closer to me, resting her head on my shoulder. My heart started to pound.
“I mean, who would want to kiss anyone in front of like ten people anyway? That’s the gross part.” Lacy cracked her neck and winced, “I’ve got a knot. Could you get it for me?” She asked. Lacy loved it when I gave her massages. We were constantly inventing new ways to touch each other: my feet in her lap, Lacy running her fingers through my hair. She loved it when I rested my chin on the top of her head. She said it made her feel safe.
“Yeah, I’ve got it. Come here,” Lacy scooted in front of me, and I began working the knot out of her neck using my thumb and index finger. Suddenly, Lacy looked up. She kissed me. I froze for a second as my dreams came true, unsure of what to do with this new reality. She tasted like sour cream and onion ruffles and a hint of vanilla icing. Her tongue slipped into my mouth. I followed suit.
When we pulled apart, she was smiling, “It doesn’t count if we’re friends. Friends kiss all the time.”
Eating a rabbit feels like you’re eating a slipper with a conscience. There’s a lot more grit to contend with. When people think of rabbits, they don’t think of their bones, their tooth-pick thin ribs that can easily catch between your teeth. I sank my teeth in and shook, pulling the pelt free. I licked the blood off the bones and left the skeleton at the edge of the woods near Lacy’s house, feeling a wave of embarrassment sink into my gut along with the rabbit innards. I wiped my snout along the dew-stained grass and whimpered before loping back home. Being a werewolf is embarrassing enough, but a werewolf who keeps leaving roadkill at their exes’ parents’ house? That’s just sad.
The next morning I woke up, customarily sore. The night after the Full Moon always feels like I ran a marathon while hung over. I stretched and took a long, hot shower, sloughing off the layers of sweat and dirt that crusted my body. I exfoliated and shaved my legs even though I knew the hair would grow back thicker than before the next day. The hair on the back of my thighs is thick and greasy. I hate to admit it, but it feels like a pelt. Still, I applied extra lotion and took twenty minutes to pluck away my chin hairs. Lacy was back in town for Winter Break. I tried to quell the hope inside me that we’d see each other. We hadn’t talked since September.
My plan to win her back got derailed by the fact that I woke up on the edge of the woods near her parents’ house three days later, naked and covered in animal blood next to a desecrated raccoon corpse.
Even though I hadn’t drunk the night before, I told myself I blacked out. That was the easiest explanation.
Lacy and I dated on and off from when we were fifteen to the week after my nineteenth birthday. Lacy always insisted we had to stay a secret. I respected her wishes. She was a preacher’s daughter, after all. We used to cut class to eat lunch at the Taco Bell on the edge of town when we were in high school. If I were a sentimental person, I’d say that was where we fell in love: on grimy plastic seats beneath buzzing florescent lights, cradling chalupas like surgeons holding beating hearts.
Taco Bell was our creation myth. No one knew us there. We’d skip fifth period and transform the two hours into Super Lunch. Most kids in our grade preferred the McDonald’s the next block over. We were alone on a desert island made of tortillas and cheese. Sometimes, we’d make out in my car and lick the salt off the corner of each other’s lips as we weaved our fingers through each other’s hair, smelling like salt and girl. She’d smudge my nose with nacho cheese. We’d take two bites of the same taco and try to meet in the middle, Lady and the Tramp-style. I’d laugh so hard that flecks of ground beef would go up my nose.
She never touched me at school. She hardly even looked me in the eye. Lunch felt like a dream. The crumpled packets of fire sauce that littered the front pocket of my backpack were the only evidence I had that Lacy even knew me.
On Sundays, Lacy’s dad asked the town what we knew about heaven. No one else knew that heaven was a girlkiss that tasted like old grease and spicy ranch. I doubted I’d ever have to ask for more.
But after Lacy went away to Syracuse and I started community college, I thought we could make things work for real.
For one thing, we had a dorm room hundreds of miles away from her parents. I spent most weekends making the two-hour drive. I’d show up with flowers in hand, and we’d melt into her XL twin-sized mattress. But soon, she became distant and cold. She never introduced me to any of her friends, and while I’d expected that in high school, it hurt to see that she didn’t want to include me in a place where she could be anyone she wanted.
By the Winter of her freshman year, my visits transformed into weekend-long fights.
It was a grey winter day, the Friday before the start of the Spring semester. Lacy and I trudged along the lake a few miles outside of campus. The snow and ice formed a firm crust beneath our feet. I wore hiking boots, but for a moment, Lacy looped her arm through mine and pulled me close.
“I talked to my mom about the internship,” Lacy was a biology major. She had been selected to stay as a research assistant during the summer. She’d spend the summer tracking the migration habits of native birds. It sounded tedious to me, but she was enthralled; there was a stipend and everything.
“Oh? What’d she say?” I asked.
“She’s sad, but she’s happy that I’m happy,” Lacy said. Her mom was a classic Helicopter Parent. While my mom could barely keep track of my coming and going, Lacy’s mom hung on her every word.
“It’s almost like if she sees that something makes you happy, she’ll support you.”
Lacy stiffened beside me, “Don’t start. Please. We were having a nice day.”
“What’s the worst thing that would happen if you came out to your parents? You don’t even live with them anymore. Your aunt co-signed all your student loans. You’ve got your work-study job,” I said.
Lacy shook her head, “You don’t understand.”
“I just don’t know why it’s such an affront that you love me,” I shot back.
Lacy stopped in her tracks. It started to snow. Great, fat fluffy flakes poured out of the slate-grey sky.
“Isn’t it enough just to know that I love you? Why do you have to shout it from the rooftops?” Lacy snapped.
“Because I love you!” I yelled back, my voice breaking.
“I love you, too!” Lacy yelled back. I could feel the frustration mounting inside of her.
“Well then, prove it! Tell your friends! Tell anyone!” I begged.
“I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with what other people think all of a sudden.”
“Because I’m sick of being your secret little pet!” I howled. I wrenched myself free from her grasp and picked up my pace until I was sprinting. The winter air was bracing and harsh. Each inhale hurt. I didn’t care. I needed to get as far away from her as possible. Since I spent most of my weekends visiting Lacy, I didn’t exactly have time to make my own friends. Sequestered in her dorm room with its cinder block walls, I was transforming into another science experiment, something only she could love.
Most people would like to say they wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose. But in early September, I ran into Lacy’s dad at the grocery store, and I knew exactly what I was doing.
“Hey, Mr. Russo! How are you?” I asked, palming an avocado.
“I’m just fine, Joey. Yourself?”
“I’m great. I’m actually going to see Lacy this weekend,” I said.
His brow crinkled, “You two still talk?”
“Yeah. We talk all the time! We’re,” I grinned and took a deep breath. A few moments in my life were so crystalline. I could see every pore on his face. A tinny cover of a ’90s pop song piped through the speakers. The avocado felt heavy and squishy in my hand.
I thought this would be the defining moment of my life. Three weeks later, I l felt the damp grass on my back for the first time as I drank the moonlight, blood still drying beneath my chin as I flexed my hands, feeling each digit elongate into a claw.
“We’re seeing each other. We’re dating,” I clarified, popping the avocado into my basket. Before he said anything, I walked away.
When Lacy called me that night, I could already feel the fury radiating through the phone. We fought for an entire week. I screamed until my throat turned raw. When Lacy finally suggested we break up, I agreed. I was exhausted, begging someone else to want me.
I ordered a quesarito the night we broke up. I didn’t know what else to do. I sat on the bed of my truck, holding the tube of soft sludge between my hands as I stared at the splooge of the moon. I pierced the waxy film that coated the top of the cup of nacho cheese with a greasy tortilla chip and slipped it into my mouth. I didn’t flinch when the sharp corner of the chip pinched my gum.
I saw a therapist for free at college. She was technically an intern, and she was not a fan of Lacy.
“You don’t understand! She’s my whole world!” I wailed on her ratty couch during the agonizing week before we finally called it quits.
“That’s not true. What else do you like?”
“I can’t think of anything!”
“Try. Make a list.”
I peeled back the tinfoil firmament of the quesarito, and I decided to try and think about what I liked other than Lacy. I liked the hotel-pool blue of a Baja blast. I liked the moon. I liked things that stayed the same.
Lacy hated stagnancy. She wanted to see the world. She remained unconvinced that the moon could be beautiful when it hung over the Taco Bell Parking lot, grazing the familiar neon sign. Lacy could never see the good that was right in front of her. When I visited, we went to parties where she introduced me as her friend, only to spend the rest of the night wishing we were at a different party. This, I reasoned, was why we could never work.
My attempts at logic didn’t lessen the pain.
I eventually learned from several Xanga-powered “Lupine Living” websites that “The Change” is often prompted by extreme emotions associated with cataclysmic life changes such as death or divorce.
The next week, my body was wracked with pain. My hamstrings screamed as they stretched. The hair between my eyebrows grew thick. I stopped eating. Nothing sounded good except for sashimi. I ate it by the handful at night as I tried to figure out what was wrong with me.
First Lesbian break up. Extra bad.
Queer heartbreak, but it feels like you’re pooping out your heart.
The only person I’ve ever loved doesn’t love me anymore, and now my heart’s trying to eat itself.
Can a breakup kill you for real?
My tailbone throbbed like it was growing a new asshole. When I showered the next day, I noticed the nub of bone that had appeared above my tailbone. It was smooth and hard, almost like a tooth.
I sleep-walked through the day. The next morning when I woke up, my clothes were in dirty tatters around my ankles. I was caked with mud. The inside of my mouth felt filmy, and the coppery taste of blood was thick in the back of my throat. I ran my hand over my mouth. It came away red. I wondered if I had a nosebleed, I used to get those in high school sometimes when I was stressed.
Lacy would always hand me a tissue and instruct me to keep my head between my knees. She’d scratch her nails along the back of my neck and sit with me until it subsided. That tenderness was gone now.
Lacy had forgotten I was still on her close friends story. When I opened my phone the next morning, I was confronted by a blurry photo of a rabbit corpse. The eyeball was still dangling out of the socket.
LRusso444: Anyone in Upstate NY dealing with coyotes? Something keeps leaving … treats by my parents’ house.
I spent the rest of the day trying to keep my mind off Lacy. I did my English homework. I got the oil changed in my car. It was just past six. I could see the smudge of the moon in the sky. I hated myself as I texted Lacy, “Hey, are you in town for Christmas?”
There was no response.
That night, I came to as I was running along the road. Bits of ice cooling the calloused pads of my (paws)? (appendages)? It took me a couple of months to realize what was happening, to inhabit my human consciousness in a decidedly inhuman state. It didn’t help that I was prone to making terrible decisions either way.
Lacy was afraid of loneliness. She never said so, but I could see it in the desperate way she kept me around for all these years. She knew that I would answer her call. She was afraid to let it echo.
I spotted the tree line that separated Lacy’s parents ’ house from the rest of the forest. I angled my jaw to encompass a larger portion of the still-warm squirrel. My nails clicked against the slick concrete as I placed it at their door before stalking away, alone but content.
Rosie Accola is a queer guido, writer, and editor who lives in Michigan. They graduated from Naropa University with their MFA in Creative Writing in 2022. They published their first poetry collection, "Referential Body," in 2019 with Ghost City Press. They're currently working on a lyric novella about a wily group of queer guidos, attempting to film a reality show during the dulcet summer of 2009 (out w/ Bullshit, '24). You can follow them on Instagram @rosieaccola.