from the table, Eli picked up the empty plates and set them in the sink before
fleeing the kitchen. It didn’t work, of course; Calden followed him to the
I don’t think that’s enough,” Ca
den said thoughtfully. “Friendship goes both ways.
You’re rendering me a service of incommensurable importance, and in exchange
you get… what? Me banging doors on you and arguing about my bedtime? Why do you
put up with me? No
put up with
everything,” Eli said, but to his own ears the
protest sounded weak. He picked up a book from the bookcase but set it down
again, feeling listless. “When you act like an as
e, I call you on it. And I
get mad at you for it. And…”
he was grasping for words that wouldn’t come. He wanted to step back again,
flee the intensity of Ca
den’s stare, but he couldn’t move, like an insect
pinned under scrutiny. Any second now Ca
den would cut him open and look inside to see what
made him tick.
said, tilting his head to one
side, “when we arrived at
, Nurse Lawson called us ‘lovebirds’. You didn’t
correct her. You didn’t roll your eyes or sigh or react in any way. According
to the diary, I’ve observed five separate instances during which you said
nothing even though ‘
just friends’ would have been your expected response
outside the hospital. In the hospital, you were always even more forceful when
denying such assumptions.”
heart felt like it was beating much too fast suddenly. His mouth was dry. His
feet were still rooted in place.
there anything you’d like to tell me, Eli?” Calden continued, and Eli wasn’t
sure whether he was imagining the light tremor in his voice or if it was truly
his head was the hardest thing he’d done in a long while.
should… You should go to sleep,” he said. “You’re talking nonsense.”
I?” Calden took one step closer until he was crowding Eli’s personal space.
thought there was something between us, and he was
arguably the person who knew you best other than me. You’ve moved in with me.
You take care of me. You stopped denying we’re anything more than friends. Are
you really sure you have nothing to tell me?”
licked his lips and gave a tiny shake of head, more for his own benefit than for
Whatever was happening here, nothing good would come of it. Ca
den was who he
was, who he’d been on June second, and he’d never be anything or anyone
different. He hadn’t loved Eli then, and he’d never love him, not when
everything was reset every few days. It was as plain and simple as that.
nothing I can tell you that would change the way you feel,” he said, choking a
little on the words when he realized he was confessing at the same time that he
refused to. “Whatever I say, you’ll forget when you go to sleep. When you wake
up, you’ll look at me and you’ll see your best friend. And I promise you I’ll
do my very best to see the same thing. You never have to worry about me taking
advantage of you.”
eternity trickled by them. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but
time seemed to have stopped.
den said, restarting the clock. “What if I said that I have seen more
than a best friend in you for quite a long time? What if I said
the most horrible news you ever gave
me and it killed me to have to stand as your best man?”
was scared, Eli was shocked to realize. That tremor in his voice… the way he
blinked and would only meet Eli’s eyes for the briefest of instants before
looking away again… the way he was confessing without actually doing so, just
, who had virtually no filter between brain and mouth,
was scared to say something.
knowing that he was scared meant that Eli didn’t have to be anymore.
you said that,” he said very low, and raised a tentative hand to curl at the
back of Calden’s neck, “then I’d say I love you.”
beaming smile that bloomed on Calden’s lips was everything Eli could have hoped
for, everything he had never dared hope for. It made taking this risk worth it.
Calden would forget, but Eli had said it at least once when he’d thought he would
never get the chance, and it felt good just to have voiced the words, to have
witnessed Calden’s reaction.
rather, it felt good until Calden’s smile faded and his brow furrowed.
can’t forget,” was all he said before storming out.
Stunned and shattered, Eli needed a few seconds before
reacting and running after him. He reached the
only moments behind him,
but already Calden was halfway down the street, running, disappearing past a
corner. Eli shouted his name, but Calden didn’t slow down.
Eli took a few steps toward the driveway, intending to
take the car to catch up with Calden, but it dawned on him that he was
barefoot. More importantly, the car keys were in his jacket, hanging in the
entrance hall. He hurried back inside, stumbling a little as he pushed his feet
into his shoes. He was about to rush back out but had an idea. Pulling out his
phone, he called Calden, mentally begging him to pick up rather than let the
call go to voicemail.
Somewhere in the living room, Calden’s phone rang.
under his breath, Eli grabbed his car keys and went out. He drove down the
street where Calden had run, but soon he had to start guessing. Without knowing
where in the city Calden had been running to, Eli didn’t think he had much of a
chance of finding him, but he kept driving. What else could he do?
needs a little while to find the small shop. It’s been years since he accompanied
Riley to get a tattoo, but he suspects he’s been here fairly recently. After
all, this is the only tattoo parlor he knows of, and if it was his first
thought today, it must have been the first when he had his arm done.
soon as he walks in, his suspicions are confirmed. Leon looks up from the work
he’s doing on a young woman’s arm and smiles when he sees Calden.
nice to see you again, Doc. Have a seat. I’m almost done with this young lady,
and the matching one on her friend won’t take very long.”
last is said with a nod to the man sitting on the low couch by the window. He’s
currently looking at the woman under the tattoo gun with a rather bored
expression. It clearly wasn’t his idea to come here.
tattoos?” Calden says dryly as he sits near the man. “How lovely. How many
ration tickets would it take to convince you to delay yours?”
man turns a startled look to Calden. “What?”
tickets,” Calden repeats, drawing his wallet from his pocket and pulling a few
colorful pieces of paper from it. “Would you rather have a few extra meals or a
man’s eyes flick from the tickets to the girl and back. She’s heard Calden’s
offer, and judging from her frown when she lifts her head to look at them,
she’s not happy.
got to be kidding,” she says with a snort. “Joe, tell him you’re not
Joe is looking at those tickets as though he can already see what they’ll
procure. Calden mentioned meals, but with a bit of bartering, they could buy
anything from new clothes for him and his girlfriend to a month’s rent to a
ticket out of town and to a safer city—not that there really is any such place,
these days; demons have been appearing everywhere on Earth, even if no one
knows where they come from. When Joe absently licks his lips, Calden pulls two
more tickets from his wallet. It clinches the deal, and Joe stands, his palm
are you doing?” the girl asks, shocked. She sits upright abruptly, and Leon
swears under his breath as he hurries to lift the tattoo gun away from her.
how much he’s giving me!” Joe says, waving the tickets toward her. “I can
always get my tattoo done later, but I can’t pass this up!”
minutes later, the girl has stormed off even though her tattoo isn’t finished,
her soon to be ex-boyfriend running after her. Leon, the tattoo gun still in
hand, stares at the door as it closes behind them, then glares at Calden.
the hell, man?” he says, setting the gun down and pulling his gloves off with a
grimace of disgust. “She didn’t even pay me, and now I’ve lost her fee and the
charge me for all three tattoos,” Calden says, emptying his wallet of all the
ration stubs in there and whatever cash he has on top of it. “I don’t care
about that. I just care about you doing it now and quickly.”
doesn’t care that he’s overpaying. The hospital pays him well—or at least, he
supposes it still pays well—and he never needed the money anyway.
mutters a little more, but in the end he gives Calden the paper and marker he
asks for, and starts cleaning up his station and resetting it for Calden’s
tattoo. The curved blade of his artificial leg clanks against the floor with
each step, just loudly enough to convey his displeasure.
hand shakes a little when he writes the first word:
. He can’t help
but wonder how much time they’ve missed. First Calden was too scared to even
try to tell Eli how he felt, then the one person who’d been encouraging him to
tell him died and Calden fell apart rather spectacularly, then Eli met someone,
got engaged, married the idiot, and finally Calden’s memory complicated
Would they be here today with their confessions finally voiced if Calden hadn’t
needed someone to live with him and Eli hadn’t agreed to be that someone? His
amnesia is the most terrifying thing that ever happened to Calden except
perhaps for losing Riley, but in a way it brought him and Eli together.
Calden never wants to forget that. He
not to forget that.
are we putting this one, then?” Leon asks as he takes the paper Calden is
handing him. His eyebrows shoot up when he reads the two lines, and he turns a
teasing grin to Calden. “Eli, huh? That’s the guy who came with you last time,
the second question, Calden answers the first instead. He first thought his
right arm would work, a matching set to the left, but the words are for him,
not anyone else, and he doesn’t need nurses or other doctors gawping when he’s
wearing short-sleeved scrubs. And the fact that he’ll end up with Eli’s name
inked across his heart, well, that’s entirely coincidental, not at all some
kind of sentimental act.
at least, that’s what he’s prepared to say should anyone ask.
my chest,” he says briskly, already shrugging out of his jacket. “And I need
you to reverse the words, so they can be read in a mirror.”
a brief moment of confusion, Leon’s face lights up in understanding. His eyes
flit toward Calden’s arm. “Oh, like in that movie, right? The one with the guy
who loses his memory all the time?”
a rather startlingly accurate description of Calden’s condition, enough so that
it gives him pause. After a second, he shakes his head.
idea. Like I said, I’m in a hurry, so if we could get to it?”
takes Leon over two hours to tattoo nine words. Calden suspects he’s taking his
time because he’s annoyed Calden wouldn’t let him do some elaborate script or
add embellishments. Calden tried explaining that either of these things would
make him doubt the truth of the words and that they have to be in his
handwriting with nothing else added or there’s no point to having the words
tattooed on him, but Leon just doesn’t seem to understand. Still, grumbling or
not, he does as he is asked, and when Calden finally takes a look at himself in
the mirror, he knows this will work.
has fallen by the time he gets out. He walks home. When he enters the house, he
finds Eli pacing through the living room, his phone in hand. He freezes when he
the hell have you been? It’s been three hours, Calden! Do you have any idea how
worried I was? You left your phone here, you idiot! Your mother has people all
over town looking for you!”
blinks. It never occurred to him Eli might be worried.
right after I told you…
,” Eli continues before Calden can explain.
His cheeks are a little pinker suddenly. “What was I supposed to think?”
than worried, then. Scared that his revelation was not welcome. Time to
Lana,” Calden says, stepping into the living room.
shakes his head.
Lana?” he repeats. “Is that all you have to say to me?”
smile is trying to push its way to Calden’s lips. He holds it down and answers
as deadpan as he can manage, “Well, I intend to keep you busy for the rest of
the night, so I thought you might want to let my mother call back her hounds.
That’ll probably also ensure she doesn’t show up here and interrupt us.”
kicked off his shoes as he talked and is now taking off his jacket. Eli blinks
at him repeatedly, mouth hanging open. When Calden starts undoing the top
button of his shirt, it seems that a jolt of electricity passes through Eli.
His call to Lana takes all of five seconds—“He’s back, I’ll talk to you
tomorrow.”—and then he turns the phone off but doesn’t come any closer. Calden
goes to him, continuing to unbutton his shirt.
something I want to show you,” Calden says, and a smile quirks Eli’s lips.
it certainly looks like it. You don’t think you’re going a bit fast here? Just
because… we don’t have to do anything, you know.”
not quite clear whom Eli is trying to convince, Calden or himself. Regardless, Calden
finishes unbuttoning his shirt and takes it off, throwing it on the sofa. He’s
just two steps in front of Eli, who is staring at his bandaged chest. Calden lifts
the gauze just enough to show him the words, wincing a bit when the tape pulls
at fine hair.
where I went,” he says quietly. “I needed to get it done today. I can’t forget
this happened. For information as important as this—” He points at the words on
his arm. “—I shouldn’t question it whenever I have to relearn it.”
reaches out with a trembling hand and, with the lightest of fingers, brushes a
caress under the second line.
not exactly true, you know,” he says with a half smile. He pauses just long
enough for Calden’s heart to feel like it just stopped, then goes on and reads.
“‘Eli loves me. I told Eli I love him.’ First part is true. But you didn’t
actually say it.”
voice trails off when he realizes that, no, he didn’t. He implied it,
certainly, trying to get Eli to say it first, intending to return the words
right after him. But then… then the thought of forgetting this simple,
beautiful truth chased every other consideration from his mind, and he all but
wonder Eli was upset.
I do,” he says, and his words come out strangely rough. “And if you worry about
forgetting too, you can just look at my chest.”
lets out a quiet laugh. His eyes are bright when they glance down then back up
to meet Calden’s again.
that I mind looking at you, but hearing it would be nice, too, you know.”
pulls the gauze up back over the tattoo, pressing his thumb along the tape to
make it stick. His hand drops lower until it rests, loose and warm, on Calden’s
waist, just above his pants. His thumb starts drawing small circles there, and
each touch raises goose bumps over Calden’s body.
Calden starts. He clears his throat. “Surely I don’t need to actually say it.
They’re just words. I could show you instead.”
steps closer to Eli, leans in to find his mouth, but Eli stops him, angling his
head down and pressing their foreheads together instead.
just words,” Eli repeats with a small grin. “Right. Words so inconsequential
that you ran off and had them inked permanently into your skin. Don’t tell me
the great Calden Hayes is scared of saying three little words.”
not scared,” Calden says, maybe a little too fast. “I just…” His voice drops to
a murmur. “I’ve never said it. Not to anyone.”
is technically not entirely true; he said it to Riley, to their grandparents,
even his father on his death bed or his mother when he was very small, but he
doubts it’d count in Eli’s eyes. The situation is admittedly rather different.
time for everything,” Eli says, his grin softening. “Your turn. Fair is fair.”
not wrong. And it’s not like this is anything new to Calden; he came to terms
with it and accepted it some time ago, even imagining that he might say it to Eli,
maybe, some day. He never had time for relationships. The hospital was his
life. It still is, to some degree. But Eli long ago made a place for himself in
Calden’s heart, even if Calden tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.
there is Eli right here in front of Calden, still waiting, still smiling, still
hoping. Calden takes a deep breath and throws himself into the unknown.
I… I love—”
never gets to finish. Eli cups his face with both hands and crashes their
mouths together. It’s a harsh kiss, full of teeth and tongues and bruised lips
and muffled whimpers that absolutely do not come from Calden, and if he wraps
his arms around Eli, it’s to pull him closer, not because he’s suddenly
has never been all that interested in kissing; it was never a part of sex for
him. Whenever he found a warm body to satisfy a mutual need over the years,
kissing was the one thing he didn’t do. And besides, in the past few years, taking
care of his needs on his own was always more expedient than entrusting them to
takes but one kiss from Eli to make Calden revise his thinking. Kissing Eli
might quickly become his favorite thing. Calden almost regrets having left
earlier without kissing him first. If he had, there surely would be a third
line on his chest right now.
I must kiss Eli often.
never knew a kiss could be like this, overwhelming and breathtaking and so
intimate that he feels he’s baring every last inch of who he is for Eli to see.
With anyone else, it would be unbearable. But it’s not anyone else. This is Eli.
And that fact keeps echoing through Calden’s mind, filling him with warmth and
need. Without thinking, he shifts his hips forward, grinds his erection against
Eli’s thigh, thrilled when he feels his interest returned with a matching hard
length pressing against him.