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We are Wild Americana

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“Oh my God, sweetie, what did you eat?!” Joni shrieks as the vomit keeps streaming out of Marta, seemingly with no end.

Walt is trying to keep the dogs back, but they’re of course very put out about not being able to eat the regurgitated hot dog and potato salad off the lawn. One of them howls when Richard finally joins in and grabs for their collars, but gets some fur in the process.

“Are you okay?” Meg asks, kind of tentatively holding a hand out, but not walking any closer to Marta to provide much comfort. She stays firmly planted next to Hugh, with his hands in his pockets.

“I told you I didn’t want to play,” Marta wipes her lips with the back of her hand. Her voice shaking, she tells them, “I have to tell the truth! This is what happens if I’m dishonest.”

Linda says, “She’s got a gastric lie detector built right in,” and Jacob’s still got his phone out, probably recording the entire thing to Snapchat. Maybe he’ll caption it with “What do you do when the nurse gets sick?” or “Your tax dollars shouldn’t pay for her healthcare.” Even sarcastically thinking the phrase, You know, something tasteful makes her gag again.

Harlan is up in the house, going through plans for dessert with Fran, and the rest of them are all just still staring at her in a way that makes Marta say, “Excuse me,” before running off towards the tree line.

---

Dusk seems to come up faster in the shade of the forest.

Her mouth still tastes like puke which is less than ideal but at least it’s kind of dark and quiet and close out here. Marta takes deep breaths in through her nose and tries to ignore the fact that she’s going to have to go back and show her face to the whole Drysdale family.

It’s embarrassing to just throw up out of nowhere like a child would. To not be able to do an adult thing like look someone in the eyes and lie. She always has to be vulnerable, either by being honest or by showing her legit and actual insides.

And once people know, well, it’s usually not long before they’re asking her things they maybe don’t actually want an honest opinion on. Marta can only imagine what Harlan’s family might be curious about.

She’s thinking about if it’s time to start looking for another job when a male voice behind her says, “You didn’t really have to play, you know.”

Marta assumed that maybe Meg might come after her, or that Fran would be sent to, but she certainly didn’t expect to turn around and see Hugh coming down the dirt path with the necks of two bottles dangling from his fingers.

“I seem to recall saying I’d be happy to watch more than once.” She rubs at her arms, both uncomfortable with his presence and a little chilled. The navy sundress she put on this morning seems more and more insubstantial.

“Well, what can we say? My grandfather loves a murder mystery.” He thrusts one of the bottles in her direction. “Can you hold this for a sec?”

She accepts and sees he’s handed her a ginger beer.

Hugh somehow twists the top off the bottle he’s still holding using only his forearm. It makes her think about him at college parties. Maybe him waiting outside a bathroom door to ask a girl with damp bangs if she’s feeling better. Not that he’s asked her that at all.

“Thanks,” he says before trading with her so she’s now holding the one that’s open.

Marta takes a sip, the carbonation fizzy on the roof of her mouth. “To you too,” she tells him quietly.

“Cheers.” Hugh makes no attempt to clink their bottles together, just tilts his in her direction before taking a drink. The pull he takes is long and she watches his throat as he swallows, the muscles of his neck tan against the pure white of his t-shirt that she’s sure is ridiculously expensive even though it seems so simple.

He looks like all the American boys she’s ever crushed on, tall and broad and cocky, and it doesn’t help that he’s brought something to settle her stomach. That she’s now alone in the woods with him.

She blushes and drops her cheek against her shoulder. Tries to look at his well worn in boat shoes instead of his face.

“Is this your first Fourth of July?” he asks, and it helps to bring her back to herself and reality. Hugh may look like he does, but he’s constantly trying to ruin how attractive he could actually be.

“Wow.” She pivots so she’s no longer looking at him and they are instead staring at the same row of trees. She doesn’t want the way his face looks to distract her again.

“What? Was that insensitive?”

Marta sighs and takes another drink.

“Okay, but honestly, what do they celebrate where you’re from?”

Hugh makes her call him Hugh and doesn’t know anything about her or her family or her life and so she has to ask, “Why are you here, Hugh?”

She can see his shrug in her peripheral vision. The way he raises his bottle again to his lips.

The crickets are picking up in earnest and soon the lightning bugs will start blinking about. Marta wraps her left arm across her middle, tucking her hand into the crook of her elbow. She holds the bottle near her ear, listening to the bubbles.

Above them, a firework bursts, the shot of red just barely visible through the leaves and branches, and she notices he jumps a little too, although she’s the only one who gasps.

He bumps into her with his hip. “Scared you, didn’t it?”

She looks up at him, tall and sturdy, a human version of the trees they’re amongst. He’s got a teasing glint in his eyes and she smiles against her better judgement. “I don’t scare easily,” she says.

“And now I know you’re definitely telling the truth about that.”

Marta laughs the kind of laugh that’s just a simple puff of air and shakes her head. She can feel herself about to say something about it but he speaks again too quickly.

“Which, you know, I’m not out here trying to kiss you, right? Especially after you so spectacularly turned yourself inside out back there.”

She nods, because she has no idea what someone could say to that.

Harlan’s going to need his medicine soon but they still stand, side by side, until the ginger beer is gone.