Listen

“Wait,” she said, panting, “stop for a second.”

“Huh, wha—” he said, growing still above her. “What’s wrong?”

“Is that . . .”

“I know,” he said bashfully. “I was trying something I read—”

“Not you,” she said. “Quiet.” Then after a moment’s consideration, she whispered, “but you should definitely keep going with that in a minute.”

“Okay, great!” he whispered back. “But then why—”

“Goat.”

“What?”
She paused a moment longer, then nodded confidently. “It’s definitely a goat.”

He looked beneath the sheets, “It’s a . . . I don’t . . .”

“Just listen.”

And how could he refuse that playful smile or the twinkle in her eyes, especially when she was naked beneath him. So he listened. He waited. He heard the pounding of his veins and the quiet music he had put on earlier, but nothing else. “What am I—” And then he heard it, an unmistakable bleating.

“Goat,” she repeated. “We gotta check it out.”

“But . . . now?”

They disentangled, gathered the blankets around them, and peaked through the blinds above the headboard. Sure enough, standing in the apartment parking lot was a brown LaMancha goat staring directly at their window.

“I don’t like that,” he whispered.

“Do you still want to . . .”

The goat bleated.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Schmincipal

“Do you think this graham cracker is okay to eat?” I asked.

Your eyes darted away from the snowy road only briefly. You frowned. “Where did you find that?”

“The glove compartment.”

A sigh, “Would you stop pulling apart every corner of this truck? I don’t want it to fall apart before it hits 100,000 miles.”

You were trying to joke, but I could see the frustration underneath. “I just thought everyone keeps snacks in their glove compartment. I didn’t think you’d mind if I checked.”

But my gambit to lighten the mood didn’t stick, and you answered, “I think a man’s entitled to a little privacy in his own truck.”

And then I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “What—are you hiding something?” I asked. “You didn’t even know about the cracker.”

“It’s the principal of the thing.”

“Principal, schmincipal,” I snorted. “You’re going to have to get used to me poking around in your life.”

The truck stopped. You shifted into park and said, “You mean, once we’re married?”

“No, I mean right now,” I said pointing out the window at a row of pine trees. “There’s no way I’m letting you pick out your own Christmas tree.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Lines

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.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Distance

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?”

“Nebraska.”

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.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Seeds

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.”

“What?”

“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.”