“Your arm. Holy shit, you did it.” He reached out to me and right before he was about to touch me he pulled back. “It’s fucking amazing,” he said softly.
My tattoos. He was gawking at my tattoos. After Georgia was born, I’d decided to get the sleeve Jake and I had talked about. It started at my shoulder and went down my right arm, ending at my wrist. I’d spent endless hours in the tattoo chair, starting with a recreation of one of my favorite sunset pictures I’d taken myself on my shoulder, followed by the angel of death riding a motorcycle down my bicep. Underneath that was the scar painting I loved so much, and on my forearm was The Hellen Keller quote I’d used to describe how I felt about Jake. Its winding script stopped just short of my wrist. Each line and mark offered by my scars had been used as part of the design. When people looked at me, they were looking at the marks I’d chosen for myself, not the marks others had forced upon me. It’d been liberating.
I wished Jake had been there to see what I’d done.
“Why didn’t you ring the bell?” I asked as he handed me my gun. I checked to make sure the safety was on before placing it back in the pocket of my bag.
He was still gawking at my ink. “You’re just…fuck.” He rubbed his hand over his mouth and goatee, glancing toward the house and turning serious. “Oh, I didn’t want to wake up…”
“Georgia,” I finished for him.
“Georgia,” he repeated. “Like your Nan.” I nodded, happy he remembered Nan’s name. “She’s cute.” He didn’t look mad or angry when he said it. He just looked tired.
“Yeah, she sure is,” I said proudly. It was thoughtful of him not to ring the bell and wake her up. I was surprised his bike hadn’t already done that, though I hadn’t heard it, either. “Did you ride here?”
“Nah,” he said. “Bike’s at the apartment. I walked.”
“You walked all that way?”
Jake shrugged his shoulders and took a long drag of his cigarette. He shifted from one foot to the other, blowing the smoke out through his nose.
“Sit.” I patted the empty chair next to me. “You wanna hit?” I handed him the pipe as he sat down. He hesitated at first, searching my face for something. I had no doubt he was wondering how civil we could be. The man had just lost his father, after all. It was the least we could be to each other.
Jake dropped into the chair, lit the bowl, and took a hit. I reached over to the mini-fridge and pulled out two Coronas, handing him one.
And just like that, it was back.
I can’t say it was as comfortable as it’d always been. But it was as close to comfortable as it could be under the circumstances. His face softened after a few minutes, and I knew he could feel it, too.
“I’m sorry about your dad,” I said, taking the pipe from him and lighting it for my next hit. My hands shook. I was almost as nervous as the first time we were alone. I needed to be much higher to be this close to him.
Jake shook his head. “Seems like I should be saying that to you about him. Your words gave me a closure I didn’t think I’d be finding. Ever.”
I guess he’d heard my eulogy.
“Yeah, well... he helped me out when no one else would, and I honestly don’t know where I would be now without him.” I heard myself and hoped he wouldn’t take that as an insult. I certainly hadn’t meant it that way.
“How long have you been back here?” He gestured to the house.
“Just a few days.”
“And before that, you were...?” His questions were cautious, like he was trying to figure something out.
“The apartment at the shop. Your dad let me stay there when he found out I had been sleeping in the truck.” The words slipped out, and I instantly regretted them.
Jake bent over and put his face to his knees, his hands cupping the back of his head. “Why the fuck were you in the truck again?” he asked. When he lifted up his face, he looked enraged.
“I had nowhere else to go,” I said firmly. But, Jake seemed tortured in a way I didn’t remember him being all those years ago.
“When I...” He halted, as if he were thinking these things for the first time as he said them now. His tone softened. “When I took off, I didn’t mean you had to leave the apartment. You could’ve stayed there forever, for all the fuck I cared.”
“Yeah, well, it was only a few days. And nobody blew anyone else on the hood this time.” That broke the tension a little, and we both laughed. “Then, your dad left me a note, in the truck. He called me a hobo, and left me a huge set of janitor’s keys for the apartment and for your truck.”