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smoke signals

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smoke signals











They came in at times to catch their breath on a long day working outside; there wasn’t much here in the shed but the washing machine and grumbling dryer, a ladder, a broom. Spare chairs for the haiden. An old electric fan that only worked on its lowest setting. Its blades lazily chopped air, disrupting the motes floating on sun. She’d got a cup of ice chips and set it behind her on the dryer, too distracted to note that every time the drum spun, the cup shivered along its own condensation, sliding closer and closer to the edge.


Last days of July outside, pushing thirty degrees, if he was converting right. Her hair nested sweat-dark atop her head. Fresh freckles on her nose and narrow shoulders. She was still breathing a bit fast, but that was nothing to do with the heat. From his position kneeling on the floor, he turned his head, not his eyes. He set his mouth on her calf, dangling under her sundress.


“Junin,” she said, watching him.




Her eyes were open, trained on his. Too curious not to look, to see what he’d do next, even though it was her who’d taken his hand, pulled him in here. A strong flush was climbing her chest, but he read no shyness in her gaze. Only a clear, undaunted innocence. 


The fan blew a soggy bang in her lashes; she shook it away impatiently. “Jun, what are y – ”


He kissed her knee, then pushed it upward, until her heel hit his back. “What do you think?”


She inhaled noisily. “I think – you’re taking too long.”


Her inner thigh was damp. There was a tiny birthmark there, boat-shaped, to which he briefly applied himself. “Something else you need to be doing?”


“Well,” she said testily as he lifted her other leg, “actually, I was hoping you would be – ”


He felt the arches of her feet curl, hard over his shoulders, when he spread her open at last. His fingers spanning her pelvis, thumbs tracing the plump sides. For several long moments, he only allowed himself to look. The flesh here that was soft and secretive as every other part of her, vulnerable, inward.


Glancing up he saw her still watching avidly, lower lip caught up by teeth, eyes large. She didn’t seem embarrassed, held apart for his gaze like this. Her knuckles whitening over tight fists. 


He closed his hands on hers, covering them entirely. He let his eyes half-shut, dipping his head to taste.


Over the dryer’s hum there was a small, sharp gasp.


Once, she’d asked him, skeptical, if he actually liked doing this. The answer to that had been obvious enough. But the truth was something else, too. What he hadn’t said was with her it felt unreal. It was still possible to recall the first time her arm brushed his, the first time she had smiled at him freely, how breathtaking even those advances. The delicate work of learning her, like tracing signals in a rise of smoke.


This was intricacy, he thought: the rising hitch in her breath and sweat pooling a sheen in her coiled-up navel. The way she put herself into his hands without any caution, only her want. 


On his lips a salt-metal richness grew distinct, she slippery and straining after his tongue. Above his head her uneven panting filled the room, pitched soft and high. He was conscious of the other sounds – crows nattering outside, dryer rolling beneath them – but they seemed to have been muted.


“Jun,” he heard her sigh, once, twice. “Jun.”


It didn’t take long. She’d been ready for him and by now he knew her. Already trembling with focus, quiet, trying to suspend climax. The few times they had been together like this, she had rarely been loud or vocal, even at the end. He didn’t let up until the rigidity in her muscles cut completely slack.


As she came down, he pressed a kiss to her – slow, slow – feeling a twitch, aftershock.


Before he could rise off his protesting knees she freed a hand from his hold, reaching blindly for his shoulder, the side of his neck. He relaxed back into her lap, acquiescing, head atop her bunched sundress. When he breathed in the smell of her sex hung wonderfully in the air.


For a while they stayed, not saying anything.


Strange how simple it felt, the thought wandered by. Having her like this. Or maybe not strange at all. With all her complexity, how much she told him, when she wasn’t interested in words.


On a whim he reached for the ice cup, miraculously still teetering at the dryer’s edge, and set it against her bareness. Almost instantly gooseflesh rose. He exhaled heat over it and watched it settle. Her skin apple-white here, where the sun hadn’t been.


For no reason at all, against her thigh, he smiled.




Her voice carried a kind of dreaminess. 




Her fingers had been drifting over his hair, too close-cropped to card through. Now they roved, gentle: over his temple, earlobe, nails dragging against the bristle under his jaw, his neck. 


“What are you doing?” he murmured.


She was silent for a few minutes. He could hear her pulse still racing in the femoral. He could feel a carefulness in the pressure of her fingertips. Something maybe unvoiced, unheard.


“What do you think?” she said.