by Gibson Culbreth
“Do you put makeup on as soon as you wake up?” Elliott liked to press his pinky into the acne scar under my right cheekbone. He said it was his favorite.
“Usually.” I usually scrubbed off my makeup from the day before and reapplied before I slid back into bed with Elliott in the morning. He had taken to buying dark pillowcases, but even then my eyeliner was streaked all over his bed. I felt naked without it.
“Why?” He smiled as I took his fingers away from my face. His other hand popped out of the covers to replace it. We fought like that for a few minutes, me trying to restrain his hands as he touched the spots I’d always hated in my face. We stopped when he was lying on top of me, the tip of his tongue lightly tracing the one on my cheekbone again.
We laughed at each other, our sour morning breath echoing in our bubble. He kissed me, lips pressed into each blemish before rolling off of me.
“I like them,” he said. “You are beautiful.”
“You’re beautiful,” I repeated, dipping a finger into his curls. He overlapped his hand with mine. I moved my fingers down, stroking the raised skin on his wrist. He jerked away.
“Don’t touch those,” he said turning away from me, laying flat so he faced the ceiling.
“Well that’s just not fair,” I pouted, raising myself up on my elbow. He still wouldn’t look at me. “You touched mine. I get to touch yours. Those are the rules.” I ran my hand across his arm, slowly pulling his wrist back to me. The scars were pink like sunsets, some were shiny and old and light. I kissed them one by one. “I think you are beautiful,” I whispered to them. I heard his head turn. Then his hands were cupping my face.
“You don’t deserve some asshole who is sad all the time, Clem. Really.”
“Are you sad now?”
“No.” But he looked like he might be lying. I didn’t understand the depth of it then. That he said sad but meant depressed. That he was trying to make it palatable for me.
“Well I’m just going to keep you happy.”
His face held a trace of pity for a split second and then he rolled over, searching the stack of books next to his mattress. He pulled the thin volume of Gatsby from near the bottom and the rest of them toppled in a soft whoosh.
“I’m gonna read you my favorite part.” And he launched into that day with all of the flowers when Gatsby showed up to see Daisy in the rain.
“Hey,” I said, interrupting Fitzgerald’s words and surprising even myself.
“What?” He looked at me, concern cascading down his face.
“I love you. Do you know that? I mean, did you already…”
“I love you,” he echoed, tossing the book to the floor and placing his hands on the sides of my face. “I love you. I’ve loved you since the day I met you. I really, really love you,” he said again. His smile exploded. I giggled and we sank into sloppy, sweet kisses, forgetting about Gatsby until the late afternoon.