Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2023    poetry    all issues


Joel Filipe

B. Rosenberg
My Red Hot Cape Cod Summer

John Mort
Heart and Soul

Zoe Leonard
No Way Out But Down

Dustin Stamper
The Failure

Dan Winterson
Sit and Watch

Evan Manning
You, Me, Tomorrow and the Day Before

Brian Barrientez II

Vincent J. Masterson
Directions to the Shellback

Brandon Forinash
The Incredible Expanding Man

Corinne Tai
Eight Years

Pia Baur
Make Way for Ducklings

Craig Vander Hart
September Money

Alex Barr
Lentil Loaf and Spinach Salad

Writer's Site

Corinne Tai

Eight Years

The mountain air bit into the scrape on her palm. Icy snow soaked her sneakers and numbed her toes. Her phone had betrayed her thirty minutes ago, shutting off from the cold as if in protest of the whole endeavor. Sarah felt very small: a speck of underdressed American tourist on the Bosnian hillside. Her birthday hike was not going as planned.

“Fuck you, Will,” she said into the silence. The words felt good.

The AllTrails website had proclaimed Mount Trebevic an “easy stroll from the Sarajevo city center” and an “enjoyable hike to drag your kids on!.” She was starting to hate whatever perky parent had written that comment.

Sure, the trail started easily enough: steep, narrow residential roads, the only hazard territorial neighborhood dogs. Then the trail hit its first real hill. Now, every one of her steps crunched through the crisp top layer of snow and slid. The rubber soles of her sneakers had no purchase at all.

At the top of the first hill, Sarah stopped, panting, heartbeat in her ears. Down the hill, thirty feet of icy snow, a faint smear of blood visible where she’d fallen and scraped her hand. Up the hill, at least fifty more feet, and then dense dark green pines. If she made it that far, maybe she could use the trunks for leverage.

Her breath in her ears, it took a minute or two to register a sound behind her: purposeful, steady crunching.


She tried to feign that she was taking a break. A group of ten or so men in dark parkas trooped past her, footprints thick as tire treads. At the top of the next hill, they paused.

“Do you need help?” one of the men called. No, she realized, boys. The one speaking had a pimply face, wore a gun and a knife sheathed on his belt, and spoke with an older man’s confidence.

“Uh. Maybe,” Sarah said. He walked back down the hill towards her.

“I’m Davud,” said the boy in slightly accented English. “Walk behind us, we will clear path for you.”

Sarah focused on putting her feet exactly in his footprints. At the top of the hill, Davud said something to the other boys in Bosnian, gesticulating back at her. Then they began walking as a group.

One of the other boys hung back so that he was right in front of her. “My name is Arpino. Where are you from?”

“New York.” Sarah glanced at him briefly—he had a strong jawline, light brown hair, pale brown eyes, well over six feet—he was quite good-looking, she realized—before feeling herself nearly slip. She went back to putting her steps directly in the prints.

“Oh? New York? Like in Home Alone 2?”

“Yeah, like that.” Home Alone 2? Really? “Um, have you seen the first one?”

“Of course. We see lots of American movies. I want to go to university in the States. I want to play basketball.” He mimed dunking a basketball. “How long are you in Sarajevo?”

The next few minutes proceeded like that, the boys asking Sarah rapidfire questions about her job (software engineering); what it was like living in the States (good, except for Trump, to which Arpino had said “But Home Alone 2” in such a plaintive voice she had to laugh); was she really from America, she didn’t look like it (my mom is Chinese, that’s why), did Americans really hate Muslims (uhhh . . . .).

Even as the trail flattened out, going into a forest, the boys’ heads stayed turned towards her as she answered; at first the attention was unnerving, like seeing a security camera swivel to follow your every motion, but then she began to enjoy it. It was strange to feel like the undisputed authority on something, especially something as big as the United States.

They stopped in a clearing. Sarah ventured her own question. “Is that a real gun?”

The boys laughed.

“No. Of course no,” Davud said. “This isn’t America. It’s an air gun.”

“Ah, okay.” Sarah felt an unnoticed tension in her legs and back release. The entire time, for all the chitchat, she’d been poised to run.

“Yeah,” one of the boys chimed in. “Whenever I want to scare my mom, I just tell her I want to go to school in America. You know.” He made a finger gun at Davud, then stopped abruptly and glanced at Sarah.


Then—a crinkle of plastic. Davud was taking out a white package of cigarettes labeled Drina. “Do you want one?”

“No, thanks,” she said. Now most of the boys had taken out their own packs of cigarettes. She eyed them. “How old are you guys exactly?”

Davud had his hand cupped around the end of his cigarette and didn’t respond.

Arpino, who wasn’t smoking but instead bouncing from foot to foot, looked her right in the eyes. “I’m seventeen.”

“I’m seventeen,” said Sarah.

A flicker of an expression passed over Billy’s face, or perhaps it was just a shadow from a cloud passing over the sun. “I’m twenty-five.”

They were sitting on the college library steps with cups of Starbucks coffee. It was a warm fall day, breezy but sunny. Around them students clumped together with their backpacks and blue jeans. Sarah saw several of her freshman year orientation buddies towards the right of the library. They hadn’t seen her yet; she hoped they would.

“What do you want to do one day, Sarah?” Billy said.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I like music, but I’m not good at it. I like science, too, so my parents want me to be a doctor.” She shrugged, pricklingly self-conscious of sounding so stereotypically Asian. “What about you?”

“Well, you’ve got plenty of time to figure it out,” said Billy, smiling. He was classically good-looking, with blue eyes, an angular face, and dark hair. And white. “I actually want to be a musician myself.”

“What do you play?”


“Whoa. That’s so cool.” As soon as Sarah said it, she felt that same prickly sense of regret. She pulled down the bottom of her striped crop top.

She’d met Billy twice before in crowded frat parties, the kind that always reminded her of pinball machines: neon and shadows and bodies bouncing back and forth. Her friends, other freshmen girls, seemed to spend most of their time looking at other people who were dancing, and Sarah had been doing the same when she first made eye contact with Billy.

He looked like a boy from her high school, a handsome white boy who had been quiet and yet effortlessly popular. She’d had a crush on him, like every other girl in the grade. But she, one of the only three non-white people in her year, would never have caught his attention.

Yet in college, the rules were different. From that first moment, Billy looked at her as if he could look at nobody else. They’d made out against the wall and the next morning she’d gone to class with a stain of red on her neck—her first hickey.

Now here they were on their first coffee date.

Billy raised an eyebrow, then laughed. “Well, I appreciate that. I can show you sometime if you want.”

Sarah sipped her coffee, which she’d ordered black, like his. Without thinking about it, she made a face.

Billy laughed again. He held out a small sugar packet between his second and third finger. “I took this. Thought you’d want it.”

Sarah felt this motion like a pull, like a small thread between them. Something passed over his face; she wondered if he felt it too. She took the packet of sugar. “Thanks.”

From the top of Trebevic, Sarah could see all of Sarajevo. The mountains surrounded a giant bowl of city. At the base of the bowl, the chaotic mix of architectures, a meaningless jumble of grays and browns and whites; towards the rim, lines of snowy-roofed little houses.

In the cable car down, Davud and Arpino claimed the seats across from her. The city grew larger and larger through the frosted window.

Suddenly something struck her.

“There are so many graveyards.”

Davud nodded and pointed at a massive fenced-in piece of land, white narrow stones like fingernails sticking straight up in the snow, near the edge of the bowl. “That’s one of the graveyards where the snipers used to sit during the war. They could see down into the whole city.”

He gestured towards the area of the city with wider streets, cobblestone, taller buildings painted in blues and whites and yellows with dark rectangular windows. “That part is very Austro-Hungarian.” Now he pointed towards the center, with smaller streets between little coffee shops, restaurants, stores selling souvenirs, nothing taller than two stories, dark sloping roofs with a rippled texture. “That’s Old Town. Much more Ottoman.” Finally, he pointed to the part of the city with gray cement buildings, carbon copies of each other. “And over there, that part is very Soviet, ugly, yeah?”

Sarah and Arpino were both looking at him now.

Davud smiled. “I love it here. Sarajevo is my home. The city where East meets West, that’s what they say.”

Arpino shrugged. He pointed at a building near Old Town. “Look, there is our boarding school.”

“Yes,” Davud said. “Maybe you can see window where Arpino jumped out yesterday after curfew.”

Arpino punched Davud on the shoulder, who punched him back. The cable car wobbled.

“Why’d you sneak out?” asked Sarah, mostly so they’d stop shaking the car.

“I was getting snacks,” Arpino said. “Wanna see?” He took out his phone and pulled up a video on his phone of him climbing out of the second floor window and shimmying down a drainpipe. When he reached the sidewalk, two or three male voices cheered.

Sarah shook her head, smiling. Looking down, she could see the divisions Davud had pointed out: Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Soviet. East meets West, indeed, with no clear winner.

“How do you say beautiful in Bosnian?”

Lijepo,” Arpino said. With no change in tone, he added, “You are also lijepo.”

Sarah spluttered a sound somewhere in between a laugh and a cough.

Sarah never knew what to say when people threw out comments like that—so casually, as if words cost them nothing. At night she still sometimes lay awake and went back through things she’d said the previous day. Words had to be carefully doled out, especially when it came to flirting with other people.

“Have you decided on your major yet?” her dad asked.

Sarah and her parents were sitting in a dark Japanese restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. At the end of her junior year, after more than two years of dating, she was finally introducing Billy. She looked up at the lightbulbs hidden behind smoky glass.

“Computer science,” said Sarah.

Her mom and dad exchanged looks. She wished she wasn’t sitting across from them. If the lights had been flickering instead of just dim, she could imagine this being an interrogation scene from a biracial version of Law and Order.

After a long silence, her mom gave what she probably thought was a supportive comment: “You look like you gained some weight. But you look healthy.” She was carefully not looking at Sarah’s hair, which Billy had dyed blue for her a month ago in his apartment sink.

“Your hair looks awful.” Her dad had no such reservations. “Next thing it’ll be a tattoo.”

Sarah put her hand on her denim-covered thigh, right over a small tattoo of a bird she’d gotten with her friend Cam the previous week. Cam had not hesitated, the needle sinking into her pale skin, speaking Chinese with the tattoo artist. Sarah wavered. “Do you want to do this?” Cam said. Sarah nodded. “Then what’s holding you back?”

At that moment, Sarah saw Billy enter the restaurant. “There,” she said. He saw her, waved, began to walk over. She saw her parents take him in: his square jaw, his whiteness, his tattoos poking out of sleeve and collar.

“Hey,” he said. Billy kissed her on the cheek. Sarah could see her dad physically stiffen. She stiffened too.

Billy looked around the scene at the table: her Chinese mom, slight and well-dressed, her white dad, with the kind of expression he probably used with his more irritating clients. “My name is Billy,” he said, proffering his hand.

After what seemed like an eternity, her dad shook it.

“What’s that you’re drinking, Dr. Henderson?”

“I’m not a doctor,” said her dad. “And it’s a Sapporo.”

“But you’re a lawyer? Juris doctora?” And before the silence could get any more tense, he went on in a wholesomely enthusiastic. “My dad loves Sapporo too. He’s been trying to make his own beer for ages but it just doesn’t taste the same. I don’t think he knows when to add the hops.”

“Oh,” said her dad. Sarah wanted to melt into the floor, but something in her dad’s face had shifted. “I tried to make beer myself for a couple of years. Never had the time to get good at it.”

Billy gave a genial laugh. Sarah looked between him and her parents. Were they really . . . ?

“And what do you do, Mrs. Henderson?”

Sarah’s mom looked surprised to be addressed. “Well, I don’t work anymore. But I used to be a paralegal, and before that I wanted to be a violinist.”

“A violinist?” Billy shook his head, as if to say unbelievable. “I just saw Joshua Bell. When he was doing that thing, you know, where he busked in the subway to see if anyone would recognize him? It’s funny. Most people can’t see who someone really is when they’re not expecting it.”

“Joshua Bell did what?” her mom said.

“Let me show you . . .” Billy pulled out his phone, a move that would have earned Sarah a stern look at any other family dinner, and yet her parents were leaning forward over the table to see.

Outside the restaurant, her mom hugged Sarah goodbye and then Billy too. Her dad gave her a stiff hug, then put his hand out to give Billy a handshake.

As her parents got into their yellow taxi, Sarah and Billy stood in the warm spring air waiting for their Uber. As the taxi merged into a sea of yellow, white, and red lights, Billy took out a cigarette.

“I didn’t know you liked beer,” Sarah said.

“I don’t.” He lit the cigarette.

“Or violin.”

“Bartending taught me how to make conversation.”

“Huh,” said Sarah. Billy was good at making conversation, that was true. She thought about visiting him at the bar where he worked: dark wood, dim lighting, endless tasters of whiskey until she was euphorically dizzy. Kissing in the Ubers on their way back uptown, city lights passing over his face. Seeing him make easy conversation with the other bartenders, especially a young attractive woman named Felicity, had made her feel prickly and restless. As she did right now.

He took her hand as if reading her mind. “Let’s just cancel the Uber and walk.”

Jealous. That was it. She felt jealous, seeing him charm her parents with such easy confidence.

A month later, before his graduation and the start of her first big summer internship at Google, he sat her down and told her that he wanted to break up. It didn’t occur to her until much, much later to ask why.

At the cable car station at the bottom of the hill, Sarah and the boys exchanged Instagram handles.

“Thank you,” she said. “Nice meeting you. Drago mi je.”

Excited sounds from the boys. Arpino looked at her. “You speak Bosnian?”

Sarah smiled. “I’m trying to learn a few words.” When she had been planning their trip, she’d tried to learn a few phrases from each country. She’d hoped to surprise Billy with being able to speak in each country’s language.

She walked back to the hotel along the Miljacka River. In her room she hung her soaked shoes by the laces from the sputtering heater, alongside her jacket and socks. She plugged in her traitorous phone. It was a nice hotel: there was a big queen bed with a quilt in red and gold thread, a bronze coffee pot stocked with instant Turkish coffee.

It would have been romantic.

After the breakup, Sarah had fled to Cam’s.

“Are you still going to go to Bosnia?” Cam said. Across the kitchen table, she and her girlfriend sat side by side with their arms crossed like two concerned parents.

“I don’t know. I’ve never traveled alone before.”

“Do you want to do it?”

“Of course.”

“Then what’s holding you back?”

There was a hard nub of hot anger in the pit of Sarah’s stomach. But even a world away in Sarajevo, she was still thinking about him. She’d attempted the hike to avoid thinking about him, to avoid the feeling that always came when she was alone: that she didn’t really know anything at all, not least what she was supposed to be doing with her life.

Sarah took a hot shower, wrapped herself in a towel, and lay on the bed. She checked her phone, saw she’d gotten an Instagram DM from an unfamiliar username. It was Arpino, sending a message: “Want to get dinner?”

That evening, Sarah and Arpino met in Old Town. The sloping roofs and cobblestones were starting to accumulate layers of white powder. Under the yellow lights of the restaurants and little shops around them selling coffee and Turkish sweets in a range of colors, the snow was much prettier now than when she’d been trudging through it. Sarah found a place she’d read about online to try the traditional Bosnian dish called cevapi.

Sarah ordered a whiskey. Arpino eyed it.

“Birthday whiskey,” she said by way of explanation.

“Happy birthday!” He toasted her with his water. After a brief pause, he went on, “I have never drunk alcohol before.”


“No, never.”

“Wow.” She pushed her glass towards him. “Here, give it a try.”

Arpino’s eyes widened a little bit; she realized she had stated it like an order. He took the glass, then took a long sip and immediately started coughing.

“Careful, it’s pretty strong,” Sarah took back the cup, handed him her water.

“Wow,” he said once he’d stopped coughing. “Americans are crazy.”

“Mm, that they are.” The platter of cevapi had arrived, the little meat pieces looking greasy but smelling delicious.

“Do they really drink a lot at American universities? Like in movies?”

“Not just watching Home Alone 2, are you?” Sarah said, shaking her head. “But, well, yes. The red Solo cups, for example, those are a real thing.” She realized she could say anything and Arpino—eager, open-faced—would believe her.

She went on before she could think about that too long. “I really have to thank you guys for helping me out today. I’m not sure what I would’ve done, and I don’t know if a bunch of young guys in America would’ve done that.”

Arpino considered that, spearing a piece of beef on his fork. “It was fun. We don’t meet Americans often. Only from movies and books. Did you learn about Bosnia? Yugoslavia, the war?”

“We didn’t, at all. I read up a bit before coming, but that was the first time.”

“My parents say it was really awful. In Sarajevo. With the—what’s the English—siege. Neighbors killing each other, snipers on Mount Trebevic. All these differences, no one thought about them and then the war.” He tapped a finger on his glass. “‘Cracks that never mattered until the whole thing shattered,’ that’s what my mom says.”

“Poetic.” Sarah thought about Sarajevo, a city filled with differences; the mélange of architecture they’d seen from the cable car, the churches, the synagogues, the mosques. It was so different from her hometown, where white and Christian were the norms, where someone like Will, no matter how many tattoos he got, no matter what kind of music he listened to, was normal. Where someone like her, every inch looking like ethnic mixing, an anti-globalist’s nightmare, was not.

“So her English is really good, too?”

“Yeah.” Arpino smiled at the compliment. He reached across the table; she nudged the whiskey over to him with the side of her hand and he took a careful sip. She nodded at him and he took a bigger sip, wincing. “Yes. Also. Who is “we”?”


“You said “before we planned the trip here.” But you are on your own?”

Sarah winced and tried to play it off by taking her glass back. “I didn’t plan to be.”

“So, now you gotta tell me,” Cam said. She shook out her newly short hair—a haircut she’d gotten right before going home to LA the previous weekend. “Who’d you have over when I was bursting out of the closet back in California?”

Sarah tried to laugh, studying the windows. It was the start of winter, Sarah’s twenty-third birthday, and they were sitting in a bar in Brooklyn drinking artisanal gin and tonics. Sarah had graduated with a degree in computer science and honors and begun working at Spotify. Her parents had helped her move into her first apartment with Cam the previous summer.

“Well. Actually. Do you remember Will? I mean, Billy?” And in a rush of words she told Cam about seeing him on a dating app for the first time since their breakup her junior year. How his hair was long now, and he went by Will. Drinks, a hookup, texting every day.

Now Cam was the one studying the windows.

Old Sarah wouldn’t have said anything. She would’ve just sat there wondering what on earth Cam’s expression meant and picking it apart later before she went to sleep. Now, though—“What is it?” Sarah said.


Sarah gave her a look. Cam stirred her drink.

“Well,” Cam relented. “You’re different when you talk about Billy.”

“It’s Will now,” Sarah said automatically.

“Sure, Will, whatever. You just . . . you sound more like college Sarah. Like when he convinced you to dye your hair.”

“He didn’t convince me. I wanted to.”

“Sure, whatever,” said Cam. “But that was because he said he liked dyed hair.”

Sarah winced.

“Look, I don’t dislike him, he’s fun to talk to. I just think when you’re with him . . . you trust that he knows more than you. That he knows you better than you know you.” Cam drained her glass and shook the ice around the bottom.

Sarah studied the ice cubes. She had gone on dates, hooked up with people, New York City was a glass full of lonely ice cubes bouncing around. But the collisions had all been frictionless. Nobody had made her feel the way she’d felt with Billy. It was easy for Cam to be critical; she had been in a committed serious relationship with her girlfriend for more than two years now.

“Isn’t that love?” said Sarah. “When someone knows you better than you know yourself?”

“I don’t know.” Cam sighed. “I don’t know if anyone should know you better than you do.”

Just like in college, something about being with Billy lessened the persistent feeling that Sarah wasn’t really the adult she pretended to be. Sometimes she felt like a tiny speck in a huge universe and was overwhelmed with the feeling of existential purposelessness. In all of that, Will’s confidence felt like certainty.

A few months, a year passed. Will turned thirty-three, they celebrated with some of his coworkers at the bar where he worked one summer evening. Winter again. She was twenty-four.

In other ways, it wasn’t like college at all. When Sarah had read Will’s lyrics back then, she’d been too impressed by him to really suggest meaningful changes. Now, though, she felt like she could. It wasn’t that she hadn’t noticed issues before, lines that felt a bit flat or tunes that didn’t quite sound right, but she’d always thought he was so much better with people than she was that maybe she just hadn’t understood.

At first, he seemed to like her feedback. Then came the first proper day of spring. They met in Central Park for lunch break. Will arrived breathless and excited, the way he only got when working on music.

“Let’s hear it, babe,” she said, smiling, before he’d even said hello.

Normally, his songs followed the same pattern, acoustic guitar and him singing. His verses were creative, emotional, clever. But this one had something electronic and vaguely garbled about the background.

“My coworker showed me this new app, his friend’s prototype. You can fuck around with the sound and make your own instrumentals.” Will only ever swore when he was talking about music.

“Hm,” she said, pressing replay on the song. “I feel like the sound quality isn’t quite . . . smooth.”

Will tapped his finger against his leg. “What do you mean.”

Sarah was thinking about it like a problem at work, drawing on what she’d learned about the physics of sound waves in a class in college. “It sounds pretty staticky. Might help to cut out some of the unwanted higher frequencies.”

Will laughed without looking at her.

“It wouldn’t be hard. If you have the source code, I can try it for you.”

Will’s his lips had pressed into a line.

“I don’t need your help,” he said. “Look, music is about being genuine. Sometimes it just comes out.” Then he laughed. “I guess you wouldn’t really know. You can’t do anything without preparing for it.” Will looked at her then, assessingly, like the way he’d looked at her parents the first time they’d met.

Sarah had opened her mouth and then—nothing. Nothing came out. She had not felt so at a loss for words since those first scrambling days of college.

Will stopped coming to her for thoughts on his music. She tried her best to reclaim the ease she remembered from their college relationship—eating dinner together, going out for drinks together. Nowadays, with her Spotify salary dwarfing his bartending and occasional music gigs, she picked up the tab.

That summer Cam moved in with her girlfriend. Sarah turned her bedroom into an at home office. Fall arrived. Her twenty-fifth birthday loomed. Will had stopped coming home when he said would, sometimes got into moods where he’d answer in monosyllables or ignore her in favor of his guitar. Cam suggested therapy or breaking up, but Sarah opted instead to try something new. She made an itinerary and asked if he wanted to go with her to Europe for her birthday. She would pay. His company was present enough.

Then, a week before the trip, she’d returned home from work to find the apartment empty. No Will, adjusting his buttondown shirt in the mirror before his evening shift. No notebooks on the table by the door. The bedroom drawers were open and half-empty. In the bathroom, his disposable toothbrush lay in the trash.

In the kitchen, there was a small white envelope. In the letter, he wrote beautifully about how the eight years they’d known each other had changed his life. But there was not a single sentence of explanation for why he’d left her, again.

She called Cam, but as soon as the call connected, she found herself at a loss for words.

“Sarah?” said Cam, her voice surprised, concerned. A long pause. Sarah heard a slow exhale through the phone line.

“Is it Bil—Will—ah, fuck it. Is it Billy? That fucker.”

“We were supposed to go to Bosnia next week,” Sarah heard her own voice say the words.

“God, that absolute fucker—hold on one sec.” A rustling on the other line, then Cam’s voice again, gentled. “Wanna come over?”

“I’d really like that.” Sarah swallowed around the lump in her throat. “Why don’t you sound surprised?”

Cam’s voice gentled even further. “Why don’t you?”

Sarah opened her mouth and stopped. On some level, she’d always known he could leave her. She’d always known he would.

The check came and went; Sarah insisted on paying. Arpino had hung on her every word, asked her so many questions about her life in America, found even the smallest things fascinating.

Shrugging on her coat, she asked him: “Walk me back?”

They walked together back to her hotel and stopped just outside the lobby. He was stumbling, she noticed, just a bit, drifting slightly to the right, and so she took him by the arm to guide him. A cold fog had settled over the city, which gave the speckles of lights in the hills a faint twinkle. It felt like they were standing on a stage and only their portion was illuminated—this little slice of Sarajevo, around them steep narrow roads and churches and mosques and synagogues and half-broken buildings with bulletholes in them.

“I really like nights in Sarajevo,” she said. “The lights from the houses up on the mountain look like stars.”

Arpino nodded. He was wearing a hat and pulled it down slightly over his ears, his flushed cheeks. The air smelled of woodsmoke.

In silence, Sarah looked at him.

She thought about the look on Arpino’s face when he’d tried her drink. She thought of the moment earlier that day when during the hike, the boys had told her about their 10 PM curfew and sneaking out to get food. She thought of the slight stumble, how she’d had to steer him on their way back to avoid walking too close to the river.

Then, strangely, she thought of Will; or no, Billy, he would always be Billy to her. Billy her first boyfriend. Billy, who had taught her to drink coffee black and whiskey neat, who had charmed her parents by simply talking with them, who had bought her dinners and drinks because her company was present enough (for it was him who’d said that to her first, she remembered now).

Who had left her twice: first when she got the Google internship, and then after she’d challenged him on his music. Billy, who at twenty-five (her age now), had gone to parties with college freshmen. Billy, whom she would have done anything for. Billy, who had seen her drunk for the first time, too.

“How do you feel?” Sarah asked Arpino, as she’d been asked so many times before.

“I feel . . .” Arpino said a word in Bosnian she couldn’t identify. “You’re pretty.” He learned towards her, as if trying to find his balance. His amateur drunkenness was like watching a video of a baby deer try to walk.

She thought of the first time Billy had kissed her. What a dream, she had thought at the time, that someone so much older and wiser and whiter had wanted her. She thought of the first time they had sex, after the whiskey bar, woken up the next morning with the night in patches and such a headache she barely made it out of his building before puking on one of the trees on 98th Street. She hadn’t remembered a thing, but Billy had told her later—apologizing, explaining with his eyes intent on her face, that she had wanted to—they’d had sex.

She thought of how she had felt when Billy had messaged her after so much time, how she had tried not to respond, putting her phone away, but had kept thinking about it, finally given in, met him, slept with him, dated him again. Helpless in the face of her own feelings for him.

What an idiot she had been. Sarah had thought he’d known what to do, always, and maybe, maybe—and this was the worst part of everything—that’d been what he’d liked about her.

Sarah looked at Arpino and made a decision.

“It was very nice meeting you,” Sarah said, sticking out her hand. “Best of luck with your basketball.”

“Happy birthday.” Arpino shook her hand, then looked down at it strangely. “What’s that?”

She pulled her hand back and glanced down at her palm; there was still dried blood from her scrape, the one she’d gotten when she’d fallen on Mount Trebevic. “It’ll be fine.”

Arpino looked at her with head tilted, as if to say really?

“Yes,” she said. She breathed in the cold air. “I misjudged.”

Corinne Tai has spent the past three years avoiding adulthood by working a remote job across five continents, a period which will conclude with the start of graduate school in August. Key parts of Corinne’s creative process include spreadsheets, paper notebooks, bugging friends for feedback, and candy. Corinne loves reading science fiction, learning languages, hiking, swimming, and drawing.

Dotted Line