It’s a few days after we talked — after he held my hand and I said, “Well, that’s something to think about,” and then went to sleep, alone, in my bed — that I notice he keeps scratching behind the curve of his ears.
“Are you all right?” I ask. We’re still clearing brush from the storm, but it can’t be perspiration that’s bothering him. Most men have an acidic smell when they sweat. His scent is muskier, earthier.
Mark had a great scent, too. After a tennis match or Velocity, he smelled of …
He smelled like …
I can’t remember.
“I’m overdue for a haircut.” His shy smile is all cheeks and eyelashes. “Getting a little itchy under the ears.”
On Voyager, the holo-salon was one of the more popular programs. A change in color, a new style — it was a way to feel in control when any day could bring a new enemy or a new friend.
I ignore the tightening in my chest at the thought of my ship.
“Well, I’ve never cut hair before, but if I make a mess of it, at least there’s no one to impress around here.”
He looks at me and I want to pluck my words from the air and bury them in the ground because it’s clear that there is someone here he wants to impress.
He brings one of the dining chairs outside and sits. I drape a sheet around his shoulders.
“Did you usually run the Bolian or the Betazoid?” I ask. Those were the two most popular holo-barbers on Voyager.
He stares straight ahead. “The Bolian.”
The tip of the laser trimmer lights up blue and I point it at the back of his neck.
“Do you want me to try to cut it to where it was before?”
“Whatever you think is best.” He speaks gently, as if I’m going to walk away again.
As if he regrets what he said.
My hands are barely shaking, but the blue glow won’t stay still.
“I need to … um.” I rest my elbow on his shoulder, try to line up the trimmer with the back of his hairline.
He’s not sweating, but there’s the earthy smell.
I breathe through my mouth, lips pursed in concentration.
Tiny, dark strands begin to fall.
I’m a quarter of the way across.
This isn’t bad, a nice clean line at the top of his neck. I switch the trimmer to the shave function for under the hairline, and I admire dark hair, a tan neck, and smooth skin.
My handiwork. I admire my handiwork with the trimmer. First time giving a haircut and it looks good.
He doesn’t move.
“Thank you.” His hand wriggles out from under the sheet. “I don’t want to trouble you, but would you mind?” Curled fingers scratch behind the curve of his ear.
“Sorry.” I step to his side. “My mistake.”
I narrow the beam on the trimmer.
Ensure the power cell is stable.
Shift my grip to point the trimmer like a pencil, not grasp it like a hand phaser.
Bend his ear forward.
Watch tiny hairs fall as I arc the blue tip of the trimmer.
He’s breathing too evenly.
“Afraid I’m going to nick your ear?”
I’m breathing too evenly.
There’s the earthy smell and the mint of the tea he had with breakfast. My fingers are splayed from his temple to his jaw so I can keep his ear bent and I’ve touched his skin before, but tingles from my fingertips flitter up my arm and into my belly.
Science officers have a habit of announcing their analysis.
“Cutting someone’s hair is an unusual form of intimacy, isn’t it? Close contact. Assistance with personal grooming. Tactile stimu—”
“Please.” His eyes shift away from me. “Please don’t do that.”
I release his ear and it springs back.
My hand drops to my side.
I straighten my posture, mentally count to ten.
The tingles don’t subside.
A flick of my thumb and the trimmer powers down.
“I understand that I’m the one who wanted to discuss parameters.” His head jerks toward me and his eyes lock on mine. “But I like to make decisions based on research and evidence, not stories and legends.”
“Stories and legends are research and evidence.” He’s slow, purposeful, as if he has been waiting for me to initiate this discussion. “They speak to emotion, to values, to culture. Not all evidence can be measured with a tricorder.”
I know he’s right.
But I’m right, too.
“Here’s a story, then.” My exhale is shaky. “It’s about a woman who loves fiercely. Because of this deep capacity for love, she must guard her heart. If someone she loves is sick or injured, she becomes distraught. This means the thought of love fills her with fear when it should do just the opposite. For this reason, she chooses to love those who are less likely to be hurt or killed. She knows this and so she categorizes love as safe or unsafe.”
He stands, tugs the trimmer from my hand and places it on the chair. “I understand. I’m not safe. On the ship, here when there’s just the two of us — I’m not worth the risk.”
“That’s what I kept telling myself.”
I need him to hear it. I need this man who crafts his feelings into stories to catch the “kept” instead of “keep” and to interpret the evidence for himself.
The sheet unwinds from his shoulders and falls to the ground.
His arms are around me and it’s earthy and mint tea and little hairs falling everywhere and it’s not safe at all, but it’s not filling me with fear, it’s filling me with hope and I hold on tight.