A brief romantic excerpt from my first novel Takers.
by Jake Troxell
A warm tawny-brown leg draped across his jeans. His fingertips traced endless shapes on her perfect skin, his touch growing lighter with each delicate spiral. Carefully tracing the lunar chart inked on her thigh, he made his way from moon to moon across a universe of tender skin. The moons became more lifelike with each caress; their even surfaces disrupted by waves of goosebumps. Underneath the perfect circles laid tiny words spelling out the individual moon phase. Like braille, they rose up and he read what her body was telling him.
He tried to pause the memory on that moment. To magnify her beautiful thigh and look closer at the words written on it. The full moon was dead center. To its left was the one he’d been thinking of. What were those little words written on beneath it? The characters stood right before him, but they appeared foreign, a language the world never created. He once heard that every time you remember something you were only recalling the last time you thought about it. Science or urban legend, he was unsure. The labels below the moon phases were lost to the depths of his own mind. This was a memory he looked back at a few times over the years. If the theory about memories was true, it would certainly explain where the words went. In all the times he queued up this scene, Annie Santos’ tattoo was never really what stood out. Grant admitted defeat but let the memory play on. The distraction was more than welcome.
They had spent the previous hour doing nothing but talking. Words came easily for the two. Their sentences totally in sync, where one sentence ended another began forming expertly structured paragraphs. Paragraphs that, if written out, could easily be mistaken for a monologue rather than dialogue. But the closer their bodies crept towards each other over that hour, the quieter the conversation became. Until, finally, the only sound on the porch was the shallow hum of pop music rapping against the window above them. As his fingers moved across her skin, no words passed between them. Words would only have complicated the moment. A single word would undoubtedly hijack the tension that had been growing for nearly five years. The utterance of a single syllable would have sent it careening into a fiery wreck. Instead, he just smiled dopily. Annie fluttered her long brown eyelashes as another wave of chills crested on her thigh and came crashing down everywhere else. They were far away from the action of the party. Nuzzled together on the back porch. Hidden in plain sight, but there was no hiding from what they were going to do.
I shouldn’t be doing this. I should stand up and leave. It was all innocent before. A flirtation. Well, not innocent, deceitful yet forgivable? Maybe, Grant thought to himself. His chest was tight, body tense, shaking with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Kiss her! Kiss her, commanded the bold voice within of him. It was the same one that would soon tell him to pack his bags and hitch a ride to LA. He couldn’t hesitate. His eyes hid the panic well as he leaned into Annie. Her eyelids pulled closed as her lush lips reached towards his.
“Grant, are you out there?” Laura’s voice burst forth from the party. Annie’s leg shot out from beneath his hand. She pulled herself up into a cross-legged position just as the screen door swung open. Grant had launched himself to the opposite side of the bench. Propelled by the nonexistent beginning of the sentence he was firing off.
“—ing this one isn’t a quarter moon?” he blurted, finger pointing skyward to the silver moon hanging over the tree tops. “Hey, babe,” he added smoothly as his girlfriend stepped out into the porch light. The words flowed with an elegant meter entirely contradicting the racing tempo of his heart.
“Here you two are,” she said as she slid into his now empty lap. He turned his head up to greet her with a peck. “Sorry, I’m late. This obnoxious family came in and ordered dinner like three minutes before closing; they ordered coffee and dessert afterwards and sat around talking. And, of course they just had to end every request with gracias. It’s like, yes, I’m Hispanic and, yes, I work at Chi-Chi’s, but you’ve been talking to me for two full minutes in perfect English! What makes you think you need to speak to me in Spanish?”
Annie shook her head in disapproval of the family. Grant groaned sympathetically. The two exchanged a panicked glance. “Did they at least offer you some of their sopapilla?” he smiled.
Laura stared on with a look torn between a smile and a frown. It was a face Grant grew accustomed to seeing over the five years they’d been together. His attempts at jokes, and there were many, often fell flat on her. Annie, on the other hand, chuckled.
Laura quickly changed the subject, “So, what’d I miss? Not a lot of familiar faces inside.”
Annie chimed in, “Yeah, Pat invited a bunch of people from his work and then his new girlfriend invited a bunch of her friends. Not the usual crowd.”
She was speaking faster than normal, not as capable as Grant of regaining her composure. That was no surprise though, Grant had been acting for years, training himself to control and redirect his emotions on a dime. Sometimes life itself felt like he was just a character doing a scene, reacting to the things around him as necessary in one big improv.
“And to answer your question Grant, no, that is a crescent moon. A waning crescent to be exact, it’s the last one before the new moon,” Annie said, still sounding nervous.
Grant played along, “Huh, I could have sworn it was a quarter moon.”
“I’m gonna go with my sister on this one, Grant.” Laura laughed from his lap, “She just got the freaking moon phases tattooed on her leg.”
“So, I’d noticed,” he paused, unintentionally gulping at the words ‘my sister’. “That’s what sparked the whole conversation. I’ve been grilling her on moon stuff. We’ve already covered if the moon landings were faked and whether werewolves need the full moon to transform or if it’s like: half of a full moon will the turn it into a half-werewolf. I’m most very excited by the idea of a quarter-wolf.”
Annie looked longingly at Grant. A wicked smile creeping across her face as she admired the complexity of his lies.
“Waning-Crescent-Wolf,” she added calmly.
“Wow,” Laura popped off her boyfriend’s lap, totally detached from the banter, “well, lucky for you, I’m here to save you from this conversation. Let’s get inside. I need a drink ASAP.”
She grabbed onto Grant’s hands and pulled him to his feet. He made himself heavy and resisted for a moment.
“Can’t we just enjoy the porch and the stars and the conversation for a bit. It’s so loud in there,” he looked to Annie for help but none came. Instead, she teamed up with her sister.
“Well, Mr. ‘I’m moving to LA to be an actor’,” Annie teased him, “you’re going to need to schmooze directors and casting agents and key grips and best boys and all that junk at parties if you want to make it out in Hollywood. Don’t give me that look, I know, I’ve seen movies about movies. Get inside and talk to some strangers. You could use the practice.” Annie knew he didn’t want to leave her, but their moment had passed. It was done; they were done.
Grant rolled his eyes, “Only if I can do it in character. They don’t know me. Can I be Glenn Scott Gary, a junior tax attorney from Newark, New Jersey whose obsessed with his cat?”
Annie chuckled, while Laura rolled her eyes, “You can pretty much be anyone but that. You coming, Annie?”
“No, I’m going to have to give a little more thought to Glenn Scott Gary’s cat’s opinions on werewolves and their correlations to varying moon phases. I may have to have my tattoo entirely redone to incorporate wolf heads.”
Laura entered the house but Grant turned back at the door to share one last glance with Annie. She didn’t turn to look at him, instead her eyes locked onto the moon. He lingered for a moment but, as Grant disappeared into the swamp of dance music and beer breath, he heard the girl’s voice shout, “Also, do some lines of coke. Everyone in Hollywood does blow these days.”
She never came inside to join them.