Fruit and Woman

Fiction by Meegan Young 


Like Adam in Eve’s garden, Cheri Leigh had always been there. 

She was a given, a pre-established truth of the matter, created for Alby and no one else. Birthed from the earth itself, all soft and downy, she lingered within arm’s reach. At any given moment, Alby could simply lift his hand and his fingertips would brush skin pale as porcelain. And if he couldn’t find her, he would call her name (Cheri, my pretty little cherry) and she would simply be, a wispy breath on sweet-smelling breeze that made Alby sneeze. She would utter a thin laugh and cup his cheeks with jarringly chill palms; it was as if she had been pressing her hands up against a winter windowpane. 

Alby vividly remembered when they had met. It had been very cold up there, with a windchill that sucked the moisture out of his face and left his lungs straining for quiet air that didn’t tear him apart from the inside. Cheri, all bundled up in a purple parka maybe a size too large and a hand-knitted rose-pearl scarf with fraying edges, came up beside him to use the binoculars. Patted herself down. Sighed. 

“Have you got a quarter?” And when she received no reply, louder, “Got a quarter? I’d like to see the boats.” And then, even louder, “You alright, mate?” 

Alby hadn’t verbally answered, but the look he gave her made her forget all about the boats. 

For hours, they had talked. They talked about Alby. They talked about why he was working two jobs and why he couldn’t pay rent or his grocery bill, and they talked about why he was halfway headed to his thirties without any clear direction, and about why he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and why he dreaded waking up every morning and why he was so far from home, and, furthermore, what he considered to be that home. They talked about why he ate away at his meager paycheck to afford admission every other night to climb this signature landmark and stand here with the wind biting at his skin, watching the heart of the city, a conglomerate of saturation and ambition and desperation, for hours, an unmoving statue surrounded by no one. 

They talked about Cheri. They talked about her podcast, The Last Word w/Cherrily, and the sweatshirts she sold to her following with the cute little cherries embroidered on the fronts. They talked about how she’d flown in from England, abandoning her dreams of a degree in film studies (because those hadn’t been her dreams anymore) in favor of hitting it big on the Internet without a face to her name. They talked about how she’d been broke for years, living off frozen spinach and gummy vitamins, and they talked about how sometimes she’d lose her breath all of a sudden, how the world would spin out from under her feet, and she’d topple to the floor with hardly a sound, and how she’d crumple the front of her sweater into one fist, gasping, and certain she was to die this time. They talked about how she’d picked herself up off the hard wooden slabs and sat down at her computer and, voice shaking almost as violently as her hands, recorded herself saying that it was all going to be okay. And they talked about how okay it had become. 

And when the day came that Alby stuttered, when his breath caught in his throat and that familiar dread knotted his lungs and squeezed, Cheri cupped his cheeks with her cold, cold hands and told him to breathe. She told him that it was all going to be okay. 

They talked so much that Alby quit his second job and enrolled in a community college just on the outskirts of the city. They talked so much that they ended up talking together on The Last Word for hours. They talked so much that one day, two months later, standing shoulder-to-bicep at the very tip of that same landmark, the wind obscuring their words, Cheri asked if she could kiss him. 

And Alby, despite his reluctance, feeling so indebted that he hardly knew what to do with himself, and certain that he was in the presence of some untold, inherent truth, told her yes. 


Despite his lack of knowledge on the matter, Alby suspected that Lennox Claiborne had been riding more than horses out west (he more than suspected it, actually, he’d bet on it if he had to). 

Alby lay on his back, grunting out the last of his release, one hand raised, fingers bent and hovering over his top lip. The other hand rested on Nox’s smooth left thigh, which was firm and lean from his equestrian endeavors out west (Nox had eagerly shown him pictures of the reining ribbons on his phone the night they’d met). In the back of his mind—a drifting, meandering thought amongst the more urgent pleasure at hand—Alby noted that Nox must make a dedicated effort to shave every once in a while. Cheri had never shaved in her life (not that she needed to, but she wasn’t smooth like this). Nox’s whole body, from top to bottom and in every nook and cranny, was bare and flush, velvety like a peach to Alby’s fingertips and malleable like a ripe mango beneath his palms. 

Cheri was soft in a different way—perhaps in her demeanor, Alby reasoned, rather than her skin. Cheri was more wholesome, less assertive, and somewhat dainty in the way she carried herself. If Alby pushed Cheri (which he never would), there was no doubt she’d tumble to the floor in a fit of confused squawking. However, if he pushed Nox (which he might consider), the guy’d stumble a bit, give him a look, and push him right back. 

Nox rolled off of him. Alby watched, sweat crawling down his left temple like a translucent, salty slug. 

Had he been comparing them? Surely not. Not now. This thought came at him like a bullet and shattered whatever pathetic cheval de frise he’d haphazardly built between himself and Cheri Leigh. It’d been a little over two hours ago when Alby, in an impulsive state of loathing and self-spite, had agreed to meet up with Nox for a “quick donut or somethin’, maybe two”, and a little over an hour ago when Nox wrapped himself around Alby, clinging to him like he was sinking and kissing him like he was drowning, his arms wrapped around Alby’s neck and his legs secured around his waist. And finally, it’d been a little over fifty minutes ago when Alby had roughly tossed him down on the unkempt king-sized bed with the baby blue sheets, his hands traversing Nox’s figure like he was the last man in the world. 

The silence that followed was tangible. It was as if Alby’s guilt had a rotten stench, and he was bathing in it. 

“Damn,” Alby said to break the silence. 

Nox chuckled. His chest was so hairless and moisturized that Alby imagined if he leaned in close enough he could see his reflection on it, rising and falling with complacent pants. 

“Where’d you learn how to move like that, huh, country boy?”  

“I’d tell you, but then I’m gonna have to get on toppa you again.”  

Alby raised his eyebrows. “Yeah?” 

“Yeaaahh,” Nox drawled, tongue tracing his bottom lip, gaze chafing Alby’s naked body sprawled over the sheets. Alby let him take it all in before swiftly rolling on top of Nox’s lean frame with a muttered “c’mere,” one hand taking ahold of his thin wrist and pinning it down on the mattress. 

Nox let out a short, breathy moan and touched his torso to Alby’s. Their sweat mingled, salts coalesced, and they bathed in one another’s heat. Nox dragged his tongue across his lower lip. Alby did not move for a moment, stunned and aroused. 

Cheri never does that, he thought, in spite of himself. It then occurred to him that there were a lot of things that Cheri didn’t do that Nox did (like excessively, almost incessantly, sweet talk), and a lot of things that Cheri did that Nox didn’t (like wrap herself into a cocoon with the sheets just to make Alby laugh). Nox had an air of greasy theatrics to him, like an underpaid clown at the circus trying to hold Alby’s attention with all his balloons and bad puns. Cheri’s showiness was more natural, like a standup comedian pacing across the stage, flinging the snake-like microphone cord around with a flick of her wrist so as not to trip over it. 

Makes sense. They’re different people. Alby chided himself at this statement of the obvious, wondering what kind of train-wreck of thought would barrel through Cheri’s head if she even so much as… 

“You thinkin’ about that lil white girl again?” 

Alby knit his brows together in response and swung his head slowly back and forth like a lazy pendulum. 

“I ain’t gonna be mad or nothin,” Nox hummed, studying Alby’s face. “Only if you was  thinkin’ some scrawny lil noodle’s better than me, no sir.” 

The instinctual reaction to the depiction of his girlfriend as a “scrawny lil noodle” made him feel vaguely sick. “Yo,” he said sharply. “Not cool.” 

Nox let out an amused snort, putting his hand on the back of Alby’s neck and drawing him closer. “Dang, my bad… didn’t know you was serious about her…” 

“Yo.” Alby released his grip on Nox and fell back onto the mattress beside him. “I said stop.” He lay his head sideways on the pillow, gazing out the grandiose windows that stretched from floorboards to ceiling, plastered along the length of the room where the wall would normally be. A highlighted silhouette of the heart of the city rested on the horizon, obscuring Alby’s view of the setting sun. It cast an elegantly disorganized palette of pinks and oranges across the sky, engulfing the outlines of skyscrapers like an illusionist oil painting. The familiar shapes comforted him somewhat and made him think of Cheri’s hand in his, the wind tousling her mousy bangs as they looked out over the city together. Neither of them said a word, and they were content with that. 

“Aww shucks,” Nox drawled, gently startling Alby out of his guilt-ridden daze, “you mad or what? I’m sorry, I’m real sorry.” Then, placing a warm hand on Alby’s torso, as if for good measure, “Allllllby.” 

Alby tore his gaze away from the window and faced it instead at Nox’s round, youthful face. 

He had large eyes, enticing, full lips, and a wide-set nose. Alby, from the very start, had liked his accent. 

“Nah, nah…I’m good. Sorry. S’not your fault,” Alby said. 

 “What ain’t my fault?” 

“It’s not your fault I’m…” Alby let out a short laugh. “…shiiit. What am I doing…” His voice trailed off towards the end, settling at a low murmur. 

“Nothin wrong, that’s for sure, if you’re askin me, ‘n you better be askin’ me.”  

“Hah. Sure. Yeah. I’m good.” He left it at that. Nox didn’t seem to mind the lack of elaboration. Alby averted his gaze to the tall, slanted ceiling. The entirety of the penthouse’s architecture followed this same geometric pattern, all sharp corners and experimental tetrahedrons. The entire place radiated wealth—wealth that Nox surely did not have. It dawned on Alby that this was probably not even his apartment. 

“Good,” Nox said, and instead of pressing for more information, scooted closer and pressed a sultry kiss to Alby’s shoulder. The contact between his lips and Alby’s skin sent a sharp flash down his middle, bounced off his ribs, and settled at the base of his gut. “So you gonna finish me off or what, sir?” 

One corner of Alby’s lips twitched. He tilted his head a bit, just enough so he could look at Nox. His better judgment was urging him to decline, to go home and embrace Cheri and explain it all and beg for forgiveness. That was what he should have done, but he knew it was not what he was going to do. And just that—the fact that he knew—failed to satiate some deep, haunting itch that was burrowed somewhere, a parasite hidden within the folds of his brain. For what seemed to be the hundredth time that evening, Alby saw Cheri’s lithe frame perched to the right of his stockier one, her long fringe brushing his forehead. Her breath felt bated, suspended in the air between them like a tightrope walker, like she was perpetually on the verge of speaking… whether or not she ever got around to it depended on if Alby kissed her. 

Resentment gnawed at his gut, and still he reached over to run his hand over the soft curve of Nox’s hip. His pulse felt warm and urgent in his throat. 

“Alllllby?” Nox was still gazing at him expectantly, innocently; Alby knew he was anything but. For a moment, though, in those pupils dilated like two dark moons, he was sure he could see a boy—a lost soul that just wanted to be held. For a moment, up close, Alby was sure he could almost see behind the cherry-colored hue at the corners of his eyes. He could see his own reflection, his own downturned eyes and squat nose, made bulbous and obtuse on the surface of those two black moons. 

“Yeah,” Alby said, “yeah, c’mere, baby. 


Alby found himself awake when Cheri carefully climbed into bed, just as the first mutters of morning had begun their sneaky passage past the blinds over Alby’s head. 

She had begun her routine of tucking herself into his arms, burrowing tightly against the mellow warmth of his torso. When Alby shifted his arm to make room on his own accord, however, she startled, evidently caught off guard. 

“Ohhh, you’re not—you’re awake?” 

Alby didn’t answer, only gripped her firmly and hauled her body up against his, bringing their foreheads together. To him, she weighed nothing. Nox had felt like a substantial weight in Alby’s arms, something adamant, more indignant. 

“Alright?” she asked. Alby nodded and traced the contour of her angular, youthful face with his gaze in the fuzzy darkness, a raw, heavy sorrow pushing against his ribs and the insides of his stomach. 

He kissed her. She tasted faintly of pineapple. Nox, he recalled, had tasted like the chill artificiality of mouthwash. 

“Alby?” Cheri said. There was a wary concern to her voice, muffled somewhat by fatigue. 

He couldn’t do this to her. He loved her. He did not love Nox. He loved her. She had saved him, come to him when he was down, placed hands as light as feathers under his arms, and lifted him to his feet. 

“Lighten up, would you, lighten up a bit.” 

Alby felt her lips, soft and wet. And that was it. “I love you,” he said. 

“I love you too,” Cheri said, her tone laced with playful perplexity. “Is that what’s keeping you up? You’ve got to think about it?” She gave him a tired, tender smile. 

Alby regarded her solemnly. Her eyes, grey as two brewing storms, swallowed him up. 

“Alby?” she asked. 

And just like that, under gentle scrutiny of her gaze, he found himself ready to make a very important sacrifice. 

“Yeah,” he said, “yeah, c’mere, baby.” 



About the Author:

Meegan Young is a second-year Pre-Med and Creative Writing student at Stony Brook University. She enjoys horses, turn-based role-playing games, and the piano (in no particular order).

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