Excerpt #4

“What was he like?”

Emily looked up, surprised; Aaron had asked it quietly as though unsure whether he was allowed to or not. She lifted her hands, still under the blanket, admiring the way they formed hills and valleys when she moved them.

“Charming,” she said with a wan little smile. “He came up to me, said I owed him a beer. I asked why and he said it was because he’d seen my pretty eyes from across the room in the very beginning of the set, and then played it all for me.”

She chuckled sadly and shook her head. “It was such a stupid pick-up line, but he had that way about him, you know, some people do—you just look at them and you know they’re special, like they can do anything, say anything.”

Pausing for a long moment, Emily drew a few sharp breaths, then leaned her cheek against Aaron’s shoulder once more. Her eyes swam with moisture but she didn’t let it take over.

“We got drunk together, compared tattoos and stories, as you do. I didn’t really have a place back then, I just squatted with some people, moved from place to place. Neither did he—he just toured all the time. It was winter then too, snow falling everywhere, cold and romantic. He took me with him in the bus for a while—it was never supposed to last, but… we needed each other. And time without him was like… being under water without an oxygen tank. I’d never felt that way before, and so we made it work. And then just a few months later, his ex showed up with that beautiful little toddler and we got a proper place and paid taxes and stuff…”

She shrugged; Aaron nudged his shoulder gently against her cheek.

“That sounds good.” He did sound as though he believed that, even as his spine curled a little and he sunk even further under the blankets so that their faces were almost level, so he was almost lying on the floor.

“That you got that,” he added, after a beat. Emily nodded silently. His motion had disturbed the blankets around her shoulder and her hand started to feel awkward on his arm. She smiled a little sheepishly, and reached across him in an effort to pull the covers back up. Grasping the corner, her fingers brushed over his jeans, and a hardness, a warmth.

Her mouth opened once and then she quickly pulled the blanket back up.

It was reaction to heat, he’d argue in his head, and Aaron very quickly bit back any response, tipping his head back as though checking to make sure the boxes weren’t about to teeter and fall on top of them. He didn’t look at her, the awkwardness of the situation plenty without him acting like an idiot while waiting for his confused body to get its shit back together.

“It’s okay,” she whispered.

“Sorry,” he breathed, anyway. He remembered being young, younger than he was now, the old advice to think of baseball scores and math equations, your old aunt in a bathing suit, and maybe that worked when you were trying to stop thinking of someone, of touch, of sex, but it was less about thought and something about proximity, loneliness, and very much fear that brought it on, so even batting averages weren’t working.

“I told you, you don’t have to apologize.” She shook her head and leaned forward just a little, trying to catch his eye.

“I could… help you with that.” She did blush a little and there was an aching in her voice, loneliness and mourning. “I mean, you know, I could.”

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