RUNNER UP: Dawn 

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Leah gathered her heavy black hair behind her light brown neck, twisted it and placed it against the back of her head. She was staring out their bedroom window at the garden they had been trying to grow for months, since they had moved to Georgia. There was hope to fix the sagging porch, the drafty window and the various creaks and cracks that met you unexpected on your travels from room to room, but the soil — there was a chance it would never yield. She frowned at the unforgivable shroud of earth as the moonlight made her believe, if only for a second, that something beautiful could take death's place.

“You know, I could probably eat you more easily than I could make those tomato plants grow,” she grinned at him, slinking back toward the bed.

“Some Earth Mother you are,” Thomas laughed. “Maybe we should have planted corn instead?” He reached for her hand and she took it, falling into the folds of the down comforter, against his chest.

“Yes, but we didn't want to get too ambitious with our little project.”

“No, we didn't. We remembered CortAcs.”

“We don't have the advantage of the natives believing we're Quetzalcoatl.” She scraped his ear with her teeth and then moved her lips gently down his cheek, towards his mouth. “If anything should grow, the Plumed Serpent will probably swoop down and devour it all.”

“We should be so lucky,” he smiled and pushed her back against the bed, hiding her beneath the gentle hum of his skin.

Truth be told, her mouth always terrified him. Not, of course, because of any sort of physical deformity or general unattractiveness. She had quite a beautiful mouth, full and arched perfectly, colored the most serene shade of pink. It was the sharp gleam of her teeth, the powerful way she held her jaw. Open and in full occupation, it looked not only hungry, but also indiscriminate.

He got used to the marks on his abdomen and his upper thighs. He even learned not to shudder when she put his fingers in her mouth, but he still liked it best when she was yelling, when she would engage her hands and the twisting of her body in the fighting as her tongue wrapped around a myriad of Spanish phrases that he came to understand rather quickly because they were always being screamed at him.

These were the things he thought about as he was leaving. The sun was at its highest. It was the afternoon and she was still sleeping, albeit restlessly. He didn't look at her. He just smoked a cigarette and tried to remember she would always be beautiful, but she would always be vicious. Their last fight had gone a bit too far; he looked at the bandage on his arm. Should have hidden the knives sooner, he grimaced. Then he laughed, because it was all comically tragic and who would believe that Leah, that tiny thing with the sweet eyes, felt so comfortable yielding a weapon in the face of her lover.

His things had been packed for weeks, sitting in the closet beneath the staircase. She might have found them because he swore he heard the door and saw her coming around the corner with something they kept behind it. But she hadn't said anything and neither did he; the courage to leave was slow enough, he hoped she'd do nothing except stay out of his way.

And Thomas had thought for a long, hard time about what he would write to her, though he knew she would never read it. He scribbled frantically, but not without care, for fear that she would wake and for fear that she would be disappointed if she actually read the letter. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and took another look around. He watered the plant beside the kitchen window and opened it a little wider.

He'd ask her to take care of the garden. It was the only way to keep their failures a secret. But she wouldn't be interested in his requests or the reasons why he was gone. When she was sure he wasn't coming back, she set fire to the garden, using his letter to start it.

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