With the summer sun beating down, Miles escaped to Jericho’s loneliest movie theatre. With most of the town’s youth escaping to liquor stores or pools, he found the line for tickets short. A small, elderly couple bickered over the senior discount as Miles swayed on the balls of his feet.
The selection, as was always the case with the Gleeson Cinema 6, was slim. The theatre’s minor fame stemmed from the owner’s choice to include the same Western in their line-up that they had had since their opening day. In these early hours, it was a nostalgic choice. Later, it would be peppered with ambivalent teenagers eager to find a place in the back row.
Miles scanned the marquee, finding a sampling of action, romantic comedy, and children’s films, all at least three months too old. Everything in Jericho was recycled: the movies, the people, the prejudices.
Miles reached the cashier, handed her the necessary bills, and selected the Western. When he looked up, he recognized the cashier from his science class the previous year: all blonde hair that she’d scrunched up into a ponytail, with heavy eyeliner and a withering look behind her cat-eye glasses.
She didn’t look at Miles. She printed out the ticket and thrust it toward him, and only when he was stepping away did she pause to smack her gum.
“Say,” she said, “you’re Jay’s brother, aren’t you?”
Miles sucked in a breath and nodded.
“Is he here with you?”
She fluffed up her curls with her hands, peeking past a new set of elderly residents that were straining to read the marquee.
“No, he’s still at home.”
She sank back into her chair, rolling her eyes.
“Why didn’t you bring him?”
Jay was currently sleeping off a night of liquor and women, no doubt drooling on the comforter he had nicked from Miles’s room. This had left Miles with the scrappy blankets that had tears and smelled of mildew. But Miles had been out late, and seeking out the comforter would bring up questions Miles didn’t want to answer.
“You guys still living on Questhaven?”
“Nice part of town. Your parents must be doing well.”
The woman behind Miles tapped her heels and cleared her throat.
“Say, does he ever ask about me? Megan Kelly?”
Miles tried to turn away, but the girl leaned forward again. She lit up, rapping her talon-like nails on the counter.
“Really? Well, you tell him that anytime he wants to take me out, I’m there. But don’t make it sound desperate, you know? Tell him you saw me at the movies, and you recognized me, and you remembered how he’s been asking for me… Make it sound cool, you know?”
“Sure,” Miles said, and he disappeared into the theatre, followed by the clucks of the couple behind him.
As he entered the theatre, bright lights flooded over the pocked maroon seats; dancing popcorn and talking car cartoons bopped along the screen. The white-haired couples had settled themselves into the corners of the theatre, so Miles found a seat in the middle and a row to himself.
Darkness fell, the titters around him slipped away, and the desert rose up before him, immersing him in its vastness.
After the last horse had fallen and the lights had returned, Miles slipped out the back door. Each step sounded louder against the concrete, and even though there was only a small stretch of alley leading to the exit door, Miles quickened his pace. He put his hands in the pockets of his jeans and kicked at the door when he reached it; it whined but gave way, and the sunshine that met his eyes burned.
The fire stung his nostrils before he saw it, and the smoke led him to her. Mara was leaning back against a sign covered in anti-Native graffiti, her legs crossed before her, wearing one heavy brown boot she’d stolen from Miles. She was weaving a small flame around a patch of weeds, letting each bit of green catch and burn before she’d stomp it out with the other boot that she clutched in her hand. As she moved, she turned her hand over, letting the flames follow her fingertips, lapping at the air, obedient to her command.
Her hair was getting long. It fell over her shoulder blades, swept back by a pin behind her right ear. She had braided some of the fading red with the dark, but the hairs fought to get out and ended up around her face anyway.
“Hey,” Miles said.
The fire crackled on, but she smiled, turning her green eyes on him.
His heart dropped, slipping past his rib cage, tumbling into his stomach, falling somewhere on the floor. She throttled the last of the flames with the boot, and he saw that she’d left a patchy dandelion amidst the ash. She then pulled on the other boot, wiggling her toes into the leather. He remembered how she’d found them before and claimed hers from his closet, ignoring his half-hearted protests. If he was honest, they looked better on her, anyway.
Now, sitting before him, she threw out her hand to him as she dusted bits of gravel off of her legs.
“Help me up, will you?”
He took her hand and she pulled on him, rising to her feet. Her hand was warm, either from the sun or the flames, and he let go as soon as she was up.
She didn’t notice.
“Movie day, huh? What did you see?”
She was already stalking off into the parking lot, dodging the patches of weathered cars as she kicked at spare rocks in her path.
“Yikes. I mean, great Miles. Really great. Were you the youngest person by three decades?”
He smiled and ran his hand through his hair, matching her steps as she weaved through the vacant spaces.
“Maybe four,” he said. “You know, you should go with me sometime. I think you’d like it. Lots of cheesy dialogue, and—”
She had stopped, halting in the open lot, digging his boots into the gravel. He bumped into her, and she swore.
At once, the worst consumed him, his usual worries about death and destruction bubbling to the surface. But then he heard the giggle, high and shrill.
Jay had a girl pinned against their father’s car. It was a long, black machine, freshly polished with glittering windows rolled halfway down. Her platinum hair fell around her shoulders, and her denim shorts hung low against the sharp bones of her hips. She laughed again, throwing back her hair.
Jay turned at the sound of Mara’s swearing, and his eyebrows cocked. He had one hand leaned against the car, and the other on the girl’s waist.
“Why, if it ain’t my little brother. And with a girl no less.”
Miles’s parents often said that all of the good genes went to Jay. Jay’s body was lean and carved, his skin golden, his grin crooked but warm. Jay’s eyes were blue, and Miles’s were muddy brown. Jay could drive their father’s car, while Miles was only trusted to walk. If Jericho was recycled, so was Miles, and even then, he was a poor copy.
“What are you doing here?” Miles said, trying to stand up straighter.
Jay shrugged. “No one goes to this shitty theatre anymore. We figured it would be a good place to be alone. Seems you had the same idea, eh?”
He gave a wink, and the girl shrieked, batting her eyes and tossing back her hair.
Miles glanced at Mara, who stood with her arms crossed and her nose wrinkled.
“God, you’re an asshole,” she said.
“Sorry?” Jay said, dragging his arms away from the blonde to take in Mara.
“I said you’re an asshole.”
Jay looked at Mara, confused by this anomaly among the women of Jericho. Miles could see the wheels skidding to a halt in Jay’s mind, unsure of how to comprehend what had just been said. The blonde swatted at his hand, trying to recapture it and slide it back onto her waist, but Jay’s eyes were wide and unfocused.
With a roll of her eyes, Mara turned and pushed Miles. She beat the ground wearing his boots, causing the muscles in her calves to pop with each step.
“How you deal with that,” she snapped, “I’ll never know.”
He matched her steps. One-two, one-two, one-two. The boots came up to the rise of her calf, and to make them fit she’d tied extra laces around the base. She was wearing army socks that she’d pilfered from The Goose, thick, grey, heavy socks that peeked out of the brown leather.
Miles looked over his shoulder and found his brother’s eyes on him. The blonde had her arms crossed, looking away, and Miles thought of the cashier in the ticket booth. Had she seen them drive up? Had she recognized the car?
Did she know that Miles had lied?
“Is he watching us?” Mara asked.
Miles looked away from his brother. Mara hadn’t looked back. Her gaze was fixed forward on the road, and the summer sun cast her in light and shadows.
“Yes,” Miles said.
Without a word, her hand slipped into his, and she slowed to a pace so that they were beside one another. Her hand was still warm, the pulse of blood beating against the recycled theatre air that still clung to him.
“God, your hands are cold,” Mara said, but she was laughing.
“I blame the Western,” Miles said, and Mara smirked.
“Want to go stir up some trouble?”
“Always,” he said.
Jericho opened up before them, and even when they reached the roads beyond the theatre, she didn’t let go of his hand.
Veronica Bane is the author of fantasy novellas Mara and Miyuki, both of which feature Miles and Mara as they grapple with their own powers and the forces that currently threaten the town of Jericho.