after Autumn and a Boy
Autumn and Calvin shared a dinner of take-out pizza – the only delivery the small town had – in the cozy living room of the bed-and breakfast.
He told her about life in Lancaster and his job – tech support for the one university that town, a bit bigger than the place they were currently staying – sported. She told him about the walk between Lancaster and Edmonton, and about the strange farmer who had stopped her to ask about her tattoos on the road, and then, in turn, shared her own.
From that, they talked about family, his and hers, and then, late at night, so late it was nearly morning, they talked about their love lives.
“Mine’s never been that great,” he admitted. “I had one nice relationship, but that ended when she moved to California.”
“Oooh.” Autumn hissed sympathetically. “That’s never good. Long-distance can be hard. Mine – well, the way I am, almost every relationship is sometimes long-distance.”
“Do you ever stop moving? Settle down for a little bit?”
“There’s two Ren Festivals I work, so I’m settled for a month and a half for each of those. And generally in the winter I hole up somewhere long enough to paint and get a new stock going. But most of the rest of the time I’m moving, finding new places and new stories.”
“You’re a troubadour.” His smile was broad and contagious. “That’s wonderful. A modern troubadour, with your stories in ink instead of song.”
Autumn couldn’t help the grin that grew across her face. “Exactly.”
“And… in ink…?” He reached out towards a tattoo that peeked out of her shirt, but stopped short, his hand falling down.
Autumn pulled her shirt aside to reveal the swirls and twists that sat near her heart: each line was itself a pattern, but the whole made a stout, wide-reaching tree. “That’s my family, and my childhood, and my life. I worked on that for two months, and it took almost that long to get it inked in properly. There’s my brother, and my sisters, and my mother, and my father.” She pointed to parts of the pattern one at a time.
“That’s a really complicated tattoo.” He leaned in close, his breath warm on her collarbone, seemingly unaware that he was staring at the top of her chest. “And,” he chuckled nervously, sitting back, “I guess it sends a clear message to anyone getting that close – you hold your family right near your heart.”
“Ah, they come first,” she agreed. She’d had that argument once with Tattercoat. She wondered if that was the moment when everything had started falling apart. “They will always be first, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for others. I have skin left to draw on, after all.”
“And when you don’t have skin left?”
“Then I’ll have lived a long and full life, I believe.” She smiled at him, a little shyly. “You haven’t seen all my ink.”
He hesitated, clearly seeing the invitation and wondering – if he should take it? If it was a trap or a test? If it was polite?
“I would love to see more of your artwork,” he managed after a moment. “You have some with you?”
She wanted to applaud and grumble at the same time. She let the amused frustration show on her face. “Of course.”
He smirked back at her, seeming to show some of the same. “Yeah? Up in your room?” His eyebrows lifted: her move.
“They are. I’ll be right back with my portfolio.” She wiggled an eyebrow back at him.
He actually chuckled this time. “Why don’t I come up? That way you won’t have to come all the way back down here with your art.”
“You do remember how I walk all over the country carrying that art?”
“Maybe you need a pack mule. Like me.” He winked at her.
“Maybe I do. Maybe I need a pack mule who doesn’t have a stone in his shoe.” She stood up.
“Oh, but maybe I need someone to keep the stones out of my hooves… okay, no.” He chuckled. “This is getting a little too out there even for me.”
“Oh, good,” she snorted. “You do have a limit. My room’s this way.” She tilted her head, and he followed as she led up the stairs. “Besides,” she threw over her shoulder, “it’s not like you can just take off and follow me around the country carrying my bigger pieces of art, even if I <i>did</i> have enough art to require someone else to carry it. You have a day job and all of that, don’t you?”
“I do. But I have vacation time.”
“That… that is an interesting definition of vacation.”
“Well, what about you? Do you take time off?”
“Holidays with my family, mostly. Ren Faires are weekends, so are most craft festivals. I do business for the business during the week, or walk, or spend a day in a park drawing.” She smiled at him. “Let’s be honest, my life <i>is</i> a bit of a vacation.”
“And you were complaining about my definition of a vacation,” he complained. “I mean, if I was following you around carrying things, wouldn’t I be having the same life-is-a-vacation that you are?”
“Well…” Autumn thought about the town where she had almost been pulled into a mind-controlling net, or the town where winter had been roiling out of control. There was the place with the feral strand-Worker who had been making random things invisible, or the time a kid had been pulled into cutting Strands for someone else’s world-ending plan. “The thing is, it’s a vacation for me because of who I am, because I managed to find something that covers very basic expenses and lets me do things I enjoy. It’s a lot of sleeping on the ground and bartering washing dishes for meals. It’s a lot of walking – a lot of walking, even in crappy weather, and it’s a lot of working, even when it’s fun work.” She held up her hands. “I’m not saying you couldn’t enjoy it. But… let’s start with this weekend, okay? And then if you’re still interested – in me, or in this life -” and she wasn’t sure which one she hoped more for, or which one she felt was more likely “-then we’ll worry about something else?”
“I feel like I’m being dumped gently, which is interesting, because we didn’t get to the dating stage yet.”
“It’s more like… well, it’s definitely not being dumped. It’s more suggesting that you’re not so much putting the cart before the horse as putting the cart and the horse before the road?”
“Well.” He smirked a little bit, “I guess we’ll find that road in Clarenceville? And then we can talk about the horse?”
“And now we’re back to horses,” she laughed.
“Well, it’s better than being a mule.”