I almost didn’t see it, a thin, blue line peaking out of your shirt sleeve just above your wrist. “What’s this?”
“What? Oh, just a tattoo.” Your voice was nonchalant, but your hand still crept away from mine.
“Can I see it?”
You were tense, reflexively twisting to hide the telltale mark. But you nodded, surrendering your arm to my eager exploration.
I pulled back the cuff of your sleeve to chart the curving path of that blue line and found it joined by several others: blue, green, lavender, orange. “What is this?” I asked again, shoving your sleeve up to the elbow. You didn’t answer, nor did you object to the migration of my fingers across your supple skin. The lines grew bolder, curved, branched, interlaced in a complex pattern that covered your entire arm up to the shoulder and beyond. “Where does it end?” I asked, when I finally managed to pull my eyes away from the mesmerizing lattice of color.
Blushing, eyes shining, you were already unbuttoning your shirt. “I haven’t let anyone see the whole thing yet,” you explained, smiling at my sudden silence. “I’m still nervous, but I’m also glad that you’ll be the first.”
Jace felt oddly discontent. Kyle was in the bed beside him staring up at the ceiling, perfectly still aside from the slow rise and fall of his chest. “I don’t really know anything about you,” Jace remarked.
Kyle’s head turned slightly, eyes drifted toward Jace like they were searching for him through a fog. A slight shrug. “There’s not much to know.”
“I doubt it,” Jace said. He curled into Kyle’s warm body and let his hand trace the contours of his skin, the lines of his tattoo, the faint scars the marked him. “How long have you lived in the city?”
Kyle sighed heavily, but not exasperated. “About five years.”
Jace smiled. “Where did you live before that?”
A slight giggle, “Really?”
Kyle’s jaw tensed. He turned back to look at the ceiling. “This is a bad idea.”
“No,” Jace said, pulling closer, stroking Kyle’s cheek. “I’m sorry for laughing. It’s just hard to picture. I don’t think I’ve ever even meet someone from Nebraska before. It’s like the middle of nowhere, right?”
Kyle was still tense, but didn’t pull away. “Kinda.”
“What’s it like?”
That rigid body relaxed, turned slightly toward Jace. “Not like here,” Kyle answered.
Sara’s fingers worked quickly, plucking the clusters of dark shapes from Maggie’s sweatshirt. “You’re sure there aren’t any ticks or anything, right?” Maggie asked.
“No, just some beggar’s lice.”
“Lice?” Maggie said in a panic, “Are you serious?”
“Oh—no it’s not—” Sara laughed. “They’re just stickseeds.”
“Seeds.” Sara held up a cluster of spikey brown kernels and leaned closer to Maggie. “They’ve got these little barbs that stick to clothes and hair and stuff. Pretty annoying.”
Maggie’s eyes darted distractedly between the seeds and Sara’s face, but all she said was, “Oh.”
“Yeah, you must’ve really charged right through them.”
“I guess so,” Maggie said with a brief, uncertain smile.
“You’ve never spent much time in nature, have you?” Sara asked. Maggie shook her head, but didn’t speak. Sara felt her smile fading. This wasn’t working. Better to cut things off, to tear away the barbs of hope she had let accumulate. “I guess you probably aren’t interested in any more hikes then.”
Maggie was picking absently at a line of seeds stuck to her jeans. “Actually,” she said, looking away as a blush rose to her cheeks. “I think I’d like to do it again some time.”