top of page


Delaney S. Saul is a writer, editor, and lover of the Pacific Northwest. She is the Associate Editor of the young adult literary journal Voyage YA by Uncharted. Her fiction has been featured in Gone LawnThe Molotov CocktailFast Flesh, and Barrelhouse, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from the Stonecoast MFA Program and is the former Editor-in-Chief of the print literary journal Stonecoast Review. She is currently a reader for Sundress Publications and has done additional work for other publications including ReductressCarve Magazine, and Earshot Press. Delaney lives in Washington State with her husband and their three-legged dog, Patricia Arquette. Her writing-related Instagram is @delaneyssaul and her personal Instagram is @slimegrrl.


"Someone put on a record,” Gavin says to no one in particular.

He’s an odd guy, Gavin, but he’s one of my favorite people and he lets us party in his basement. He has all this stuff stacked up against the walls. Junk, like old dusty books and boxes and pots without any plants in them. It makes the room even tighter, more crowded. Right now, the small space is crammed with people and the air is hazy with smoke, making it feel dry in my lungs. It’s real cold in here too, even with all the sweaty bodies. Earlier, Caleb asked Gavin to turn up the heat, but Gavin refused, said his roommates don’t like it because it makes the upstairs too hot.

A guy I don’t know plunks down next to me on the tan corduroy couch. He’s got an ugly mouth. I can’t really explain how someone’s mouth can be ugly but if you saw this guy, I know you’d agree with me. “Hey,” Mouth says, “Can I show you something?”

Last time a strange guy at one of our parties talked to me, I had a real bad night. He didn’t hurt me or anything, but he did slip me something and Gavin had to kick him out and help me get home, I was so dizzy and nauseated. “I don’t think so,” I say, now.

“Hear me out,” Mouth says, leaning in. I can smell his breath and it’s surprisingly minty and sober. “I think you’ll find it quite entertaining.”

I have to admit, I’m intrigued. The other degens and me are always looking for things to make these parties interesting. It’s kind of the same thing, week after week. We get together, smoke, put on records, and Mary usually does a handstand, just to entertain people, even though that trick got old a long time ago. Usually it’s the same old crowd, but it’s not unusual for people to invite outsiders, like Mouth. I grab a handful of tortilla chips from the plastic bowl on the coffee table. “Okay, what is it?” I say, crunching into one.

Mouth takes a lighter and a quarter out of his pocket and waves them slowly in front of my face. “Here I have an ordinary lighter and an ordinary quarter, but what you’ll see next will astound you.” He flicks the lighter under the quarter. The flame licks the metal, then the quarter alights and disappears into ashes, which drift down and leave traces of soot on the corduroy fabric of the couch. Then, he pulls a quarter from behind my ear. “Ta-da!” He smiles and his mouth looks even weirder.

“That’s corny as hell,” I say, but I can’t help laughing a little.

“Want to do a shot?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say. “I want to watch you pour it, though.”

“That’s smart,” he says. “I’m Akiva. Keev.”

“I’m Marley,” I say. “Marley.”

“Oh, you’re a wise guy, like me” he says. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

We shake hands and it’s kind of formal.

Across the room, there is a sticky folding table laden with all sorts of bottles. “This one,” I say, pointing to a purple bottle of vodka. Keev pours it into two little shot glasses. Who knows who else has drunk from them tonight, but oh well.

“One, two, three,” Keev says and we down them real fast. I swallow and make a face, then I shiver a little bit because the basement is so cold.

“Want my sweatshirt?” Keev asks.

I nod, looking at him and thinking that maybe his mouth isn’t so bad after all. The record spins and spins and spins until it starts to make a scratchy sound. We talk on the couch for the rest of the party.

My phone is ringing and when I open my eyes, the sun coming through my window is as bright as a solar flare. My head aches right behind my eyes and my mouth tastes dirty. As I reach out from under the covers, I see the inky blue numbers on my hand are smeared with sweat but still legible. I swig the water on my nightstand, swish it around in my mouth, then swallow. It tastes dirty too, which makes sense because it’s been sitting there for a few days. My phone is still ringing and I know it’s Gavin calling without having to look. He always likes to do a rundown of the parties the day after, I guess he’s kind of a gossip. When I answer, he already has his story spring-loaded.

“Guess who’s pregnant,” he says, and I can hear the glee in his voice.

I wince at the sound, which rattles my sickly brain, but curiosity gets the better of me. “Who?” I say.

“Mary,” he says, “that’s why she wasn’t doing handstands last night, she said she’s worried that the baby will fall out her mouth. Isn’t that stupid?”

“Yeah, that’s crazy,” I say. “Look, I can’t talk right now, I’m really hungover.”

“Wait,” Gavin says, “Who was that guy you were talking to all night? He’s cute. How do you know him?”

“His name is Keev. I just met him last night—I thought he was a friend of yours.”

“Nah,” Gavin says, “someone else must have brought him. I bet it was Lee. What is it with that guy? He always invites people without permission. Keev seemed cool, but I don’t want just anyone coming to the basement, especially after that one guy snuck in. I cultivate a very specific vibe at our parties, you know, and that can be thrown off by just one uncool person.”

“Sorry, Gavin,” I say, “I really gotta go, my head…”

“Okay, later babes. Text me,” he says and makes a kissy noise into the receiver.

I hang up and fall back onto my pillow, flopping one arm over my eyes. Then, I peek out from under my arm and look at the messy blue digits scrawled on the back of my other hand.

I’m unlucky in love. I meet someone and get all starry-eyed and it keeps me from seeing who they really are. Like this guy Marcus, who I dated for three months because he was tall. He had this soft, wavy brown hair and he was a really good cook. He also collected bugs, which I thought was gross but he kept them hidden away in his extra bedroom, so I didn’t have to see them. Out of sight, out of mind, right? So, one evening I was watching him make gnocchi soup and he put in all the spices, the cream, the broth, everything that normally goes in there. But then, he took out an unlabeled jar and spooned this mushy, beige paste into the soup. So of course, I said what is that. And Marcus said it’s extra protein. And I said but what is it. It took a while of me badgering him before he admitted it was ground up bugs. I went and threw up in his toilet because I realized I had been eating bugs every time he made me dinner.

Then, there was Rachel, this statuesque blonde who wore diamond earrings to the grocery store. I thought she was perfect and I was never sure if I wanted to be with her or be her. I saw myself, my short, scrubby brown hair and chipped nail polish and told myself that she made me want to be a better person. Over time, though, I had to admit that I was more jealous of her than anything. I loved her because I didn’t love myself. Then, when I broke up with her, she asked me to help her traffic illegal fireworks over the border.

Most recently, there was the man who snuck into one of our parties. In the haze, I noticed something dissolving in my drink one sip too late. I got up and stumbled over to Gavin, slurring my words but still cognizant enough to tell him that the stranger had slipped me something. We never got his name.

All that to say, when I pull out my phone again, I don’t have high expectations, even though I still have Keev’s sweatshirt wrapped around me.

Keev? I text. It’s Marley. I have your sweatshirt.

He starts typing immediately and my heart swoops. Marley, it was so nice to meet you last night. We should probably meet in person for the negotiations.

I frown at the screen. Negotiations?

If you’re holding my sweatshirt hostage, I assume you have demands.

I smile at my phone, typing quickly. I want $10,000. And lunch.

I’ll have to move some money around. Let’s start with lunch and go from there. Meet me at Café Bleu at one?

Attracting people isn’t hard. Attracting normal people is what’s hard. Sure, Keev is friendly, charming, funny. Sure, he’s going out of his way to see me again. Sure, he is handsome in an unconventional sort of way. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I venture from my room to the kitchen which has more offensive sunlight streaming through the window. If I’m going out, I have to rehydrate and get my hangover under control. I spend the morning sipping chilled water with a cold, damp washcloth over my eyes. I keep the sweatshirt on, even though it smells vaguely of smoke from the basement.

Café Bleu is a trendy lunch spot that boasts blue everything. The walls are robin’s egg, the chairs cerulean, the tables baby. The silverware is aqua, the napkins navy, the cups cornflower, and the plates are deep and dark, like eclipses. When I walk in, I see Keev sitting at a table and he’s so blue that for a moment I’m startled before realizing he’s sitting in a pool of blue light cast by a stained-glass window. He stands up when he sees me and I make my way past the other tables. He’s wearing jeans and a green button-up which makes him look like a piece of sea glass in the blue of the restaurant. He’s wearing his crooked smile and I feel a twinge of guilt that I ever thought his mouth was ugly.

When I’m close enough we share another oddly formal handshake, just like the night before. I start to wonder if that’s his thing or my thing.

“Most days I wouldn’t get out of bed with a hangover like this,” he says. “You’re lucky I like you.”

“I was literally dying in my bed when we were texting,” I say. “This will be my first food of the day.”

“I firmly believe a good sandwich can cure any ailment,” Keev says. I watch him run his finger down the small menu. “Whatever you want is on me, by the way. Thanks for entertaining me last night.”

“I should say the same to you. How many girls have you picked up with that little magic trick, anyway?”

“You’re the first who’s fallen for it, actually,” he says, grinning. “By the way, did you bring my sweatshirt?”

“Oh, yes,” I say, and pull it from my messenger bag. I hand it over to him and as I do, it comes close to brushing the flame of the tea candle in the center of the table.

“Woah, careful,” Keev says, taking the sweatshirt. “Don’t catch me on fire now.”

“Sorry!” I say. “By the way, you’ll want to wash that. It smells like Gavin’s basement.”

Keev presses his nose into the sweatshirt just as the waitress walks up to the table. She’s bottle blond and pearly, throwing me in sharp contrast, highlighting all the things I’m not. But Keev doesn’t pay her much mind as he orders, offering his polite thanks at the end and nothing more. He gestures at me and I order too. When she leaves, he continues as if she hadn’t been there at all.

“Do you spend a lot of time in Gavin’s basement?”

“Yeah, well, all of us do. Me, Gavin, Mary, Lee, Caleb, and a few others. And whoever they’re hooking up with, and sometimes other randos like you.” I wince at my own words. “Sorry, that was rude, but, I mean, where did you come from, anyway? Gavin says he doesn’t know you. Did Lee invite you?”

“I just popped up out of nowhere,” he says. “Just kidding, yeah, Lee and I work together. What were you guys celebrating, anyway?”

I’m grateful to Lee for having facilitated my meet-cute with Keev.

“We weren’t celebrating anything, we just like to have parties. We’re degens like that.”

“What’s a degen?” Keev asks.

“Oh,” I say, “like a degenerate. We’re miscreants, sort of, you know, losers.” I internally kick myself again. Why am I being so honest?

The pretty waitress is back holding dark eclipse-blue plates with our sandwiches. She sets them in front of us on the baby-blue table. She flashes us her straight, white teeth. “Is there anything else I can get you?” Her voice is sugary, like honey.

“No, thank you,” Keev says.

I look down at my sandwich. I got a BLT and one end of the bacon is flopping out the side like a tongue. I take a bite and instantly feel my hangover recede by a fraction. I look up and watch as Keev takes a big bite of his turkey club. He chews thoughtfully.

“You don’t seem like a loser to me,” he says.

I catch my reflection in the window near us. The girl looking back has short, tufty brown hair, pudgy cheeks, and deep purple circles under her eyes. Maybe it’s unfair to be judging myself this harshly when I’m hungover, but I’m a really messy person. I look back at Keev, who is still going to town on his sandwich. “That’s kind of you,” I say.

“No, really,” he says. “You’re funny, and you’re really nice. Most women don’t look twice at me.” He wipes his mouth with a napkin. “Can I show you another trick?”

“Absolutely,” I say, happy to play along.

“Okay, I’ll need a strand of your hair,” he says.

I side-eye him but pluck out a hair and hand it to him, careful to not let it drop on his mostly-eaten sandwich. He takes it and holds it over the small tea candle, where it alights and twists into a miniscule amount of ash.

Nothing happens.

“Is that it, or…?” I say.

“This one’s a slow burn,” he says. “The pay-off comes later.”

The waitress brings us an azure booklet with the check inside, which Keev pays.

“Thanks for bringing the sweatshirt,” he says before we part. “Can I see you again sometime?”

“Only if you have the ten thousand dollars for me,” I say.

“I’ll call my money manager and get back to you,” he says. We are about to walk in opposite directions. “Text me, okay?”

“I will,” I say.

At home, I’m naked in the shower, under the hot water. I run my hands through my hair and dozens of coins rain down around me.

The next morning I wake up to a torrential downpour hammering the roof. I tap the snooze button on my phone’s alarm and cover my head with my pillow. I’m not a morning person, but at least I’m not waking up sick like yesterday. I hear my phone vibrate. It’s Gavin again.

Morning Lambchop, it says, wanted to make sure you’re still alive. Is your hangover gone?

I brush my hair out of my sleepy eyes and type back. Yeah, I’m all better. I send it and think for a moment. I grabbed lunch with that guy, Keev. It was Lee who invited him. They work together, so it’s all good.

Just be careful, Gavin replies. Don’t forget last time.

I set my phone back on my nightstand and listen to the rain, thinking that it’s like hundreds of coins hitting the roof. I hope maybe this time I got lucky.

All day I’m itching to text Keev, but I don’t want to look desperate. Every time my phone buzzes, I jump on it, hoping it’s him, even though I know he’s waiting for me to initiate. My remote desk job does not hold my attention at all. Finally, near the end of the day, I decide enough time as passed.

Thanks for lunch, I text. I’m casual. I’m a casual girl who doesn’t really care that much whether she gets a text back.

I stare at the phone, then remind myself to breathe, toss it on my bed and go to the kitchen, where I create a rule that I have to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich then eat all of it before I can look at my phone again. I dart around the kitchen, throwing together a sloppy sandwich as fast as possible. I wolf it down then gulp some water before returning to my bedroom. To my delight, there’s a notification on my phone.

My pleasure, he texts, although I think that café is a bit too red.

I smile to myself. How did you pull off that trick, anyway?

Maybe I’ll show you the next time I see you, he writes.

And when will that be? I ask.

Tonight, he says, let’s go bowling.

20th Century Bowl is loud and bright. The sound of clattering pins echoes in the cavernous building and the whole place smells like buttered popcorn and fried food. Keev is waiting for me just inside, next to a bulletin board that advertises bowling balls for sale, leagues to sign up for, and available jobs within the bowling alley. Keev opens his arms, offering a hug, and I close the gap between us. I breathe him in; he smells clean, with a touch of cologne.

“Ready?” he says.

Together, we walk to the front counter. A teenage boy is wiping it down with a ragged cloth. He stops when we approach. “Two?” he asks. “What are your shoe sizes?”

The shoes are dingy, the soles very flat. They squeak against the linoleum floor as I follow Keev to lane two. He inspects the racks of balls and I copy him, unsure.

“What’s wrong?” he asks when I don’t pick one.

“Oh,” I say, “I’ve never bowled before.”

“Really?” he says, incredulous. “I didn’t know that was possible. Okay, wait here. I’ll be right back.”

I sit down in one of the plastic, bolted-down chairs in front of lane two and watch as Keev goes back to the front counter and confers with the teenager. The kid nods and I hear a whirring. I look behind me and see little walls coming up along the sides of the lane.

“The bumpers are usually for kids, but the counter guy made an exception for you,” Keev says when he comes back, smiling his crooked smile.

“Oh, thank God,” I say. I see my name appear on the screen above the lane.

“You go first,” he says.

I’m awkward at bowling, even after I watch Keev demonstrate. He always blasts it straight down the middle, but when I try, it hits each bumper, ping-ponging from side to side before finally reaching the pins. But Keev doesn’t make me feel weird about it, in fact, he offers words of encouragement as I fumble slow rolls down the lane.

“Woo, go Marley!” he says, clapping. His hands are big, and I want them on me. I do a little curtsey on my way back.

“Would you drink beer if I bought a pitcher?” he asks, after the first game.

“Yeah,” I say as I sit down on the plastic chair, “but you can expect my talent to decrease once I start drinking.”

“Don’t say that,” he says, “maybe you’ll get lucky.” He pats my shoulder as he walks by and I feel all foamy and giddy inside.

There’s a restaurant attached to the bowling alley. It sells corndogs and greasy cheeseburgers with really thin patties and chicken strips all in little yellow plastic baskets lined with red and white checkered wax paper. While Keev is getting beer, I pull out my phone and find a text from Gavin.

KEEV IS LYING TO YOU, LEE DOESN’T KNOW HIM!!!! He’s probably some kind of rapist, do not hang out with him!!

My heart falls through a trapdoor in my stomach. I feel like I could throw up. How could I be so stupid? I’ve been tricked and it’s all because I refuse to see what is right in front of me. I’ve fallen for an asshole, yet again. I stand up and grab my purse, an old purple carpet bag that had belonged to my grandmother.

“I have to go,” I say to Keev, who is returning with the pitcher of beer and two pint glasses.

“Really?” he says, looking crestfallen. “Why?”

“You lied about Lee inviting you,” I say, “you’re just some rando creep. I bet you were going to roofie that beer.” I brush past him and head for the door, still wearing the leather bowling shoes.

“I’m sorry, Marley, wait,” he says, following me. “At least let me walk you to your car, it’s dark outside.”

I ignore him and push through the front doors into the night, leaving him behind in the bright entryway next to the bulletin board, where I had found him earlier.

20th Century Bowl is along a side street in the downtown area. There’s street parking only and my car is several blocks away. I pull my jacket tighter around me and walk down the sidewalk. I’m such an idiot. I should know better than to trust a guy who has any interest in a girl like me. I know I come off as weak, an easy target, because I’m a loser and it shows. I pass a man on the sidewalk and his head swivels as I walk by.

“Hey,” he says, stopping.

“Now’s not a good time,” I say, without stopping.

“I know you,” he says and starts to follow me.

I refuse to turn and look at him again, but he’s tall, with pockmarks and a big, red face, like the guy who really did roofie me, that one night when Gavin had to help me get home. “Leave me alone,” I say.

“Don’t be like that,” he says, walking beside me. He’s taller than me, his strides much longer, and I can’t shake him. “Let’s hang out, come to my place.”

I don’t know what it is. There’s the fact that I was drugged, but I’ve also just had a really hard day. A guy I really really liked and got along with ended up being a creep, another creep in a long long line of creeps. And I’m tired, and I have bags under my eyes even when I’m not tired, and my hair is weird, and I’m short without being little. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes me do it, but I push him. Hard.

The guy isn’t expecting it and he takes a hard fall on the cement. I take off running, my bowling shoes pounding the sidewalk and my coat whipping out behind me. I can hear him getting closer and closer until he grabs the back of my coat and yanks me backward.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he says, twisting me around to face him, pinning my arms at my sides. He shakes me and his face gets even redder. His eyes bulge madly in their sockets. “You’re gonna pay for that, you stuck up bitch!” I try to squirm out of his grip, but he’s too strong. He pulls me closer and licks the side of my face. His tongue is warm and it leaves a moist trail going up my cheek.

“Ew,” I say, still writhing against his grasp. I want to scream, but somehow I can’t bring myself to. It’s like if I do, I’m admitting something is wrong. And if I scream and no one comes…well, the thought is just too terrible.

“Shut up,” he says, shaking me again. “Shut up or I’ll—"

“Marley!” I hear from the direction I had come. “Get away from her!” Keev is running toward us.

The guy puts his hands up before turning around, like he thinks Keev might be a police officer. Then he sees Keev and books it, running from us, but Keev is faster. Keev pulls something from his pocket as he sprints. His lighter gleams in his hand. Keev catches the guy by the wrist and introduces the flame to the guy’s hand. The guy is instantly one hundred percent completely engulfed in flames, he’s a total fireball immediately. He screams as he is burning but it doesn’t take long for his voice to die out as his body burns so hot that Keev has to take several steps back. Then, when the fire can’t seem to rage any brighter, the guy dissolves into ash and thousands of coins shower the cement. They roll everywhere, clinking and clanking all down the sidewalk.

“Wow,” I say.

Keev puts the lighter back in his pocket. “Please, just let me explain.” He’s panting a little. “I heard Lee at the grocery store talking on his phone about the party and thought maybe I could make some friends. I was just trying to meet people, and if you think that’s creepy you’re probably right but it was worth it because I got to meet you. I’m sorry I lied, I just didn’t want you to know what a loser I am, but I’m not trying to roofie you, I’d never roofie anyone, I promise—"

I press my lips against his ugly mouth.


bottom of page