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Ritual

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There are sixteen freckles that span the width of Emerson’s shoulders.

Joe knows this because he’s counted each and every one. It’s his nightly ritual, starting with large dot just beneath Emerson’s right shoulder and across the span of pale skin to the other side.

Some nights he’ll press his lips against each one, counting softly, his breath warm against Emerson’s skin.

On others, he traces the line with his finger, scratching lightly along the path and is rewarded with Emerson’s quick intake of breath at the touch.

Or he might decide, as he raises himself up and looks at Emerson--who smiles at him, waiting, his face half-obscured by the pillow--to lean over and swipe his tongue across each mark, sucking occasionally until the skin is flushed red and Joe can taste a hint of salty sweat. Those nights Joe takes his time, smiling as Emerson shifts and grows impatient with each touch until Joe’s count is complete and he seeks out Emerson’s mouth.

“Wait,” Emerson says, moving with practiced ease as he pushes Joe onto his back. “It’s my turn,” he says, cupping Joe’s jaw and kissing him -- right temple (one), left temple (two), lips (three). “Joe.”