pod.” “We’re very different. We met at the shop. Slate did some work for me.” “You have a tattoo?” “Surprised?” “Well, yeah. You’re so”—she gestured at him—“I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine.” “Slate gets tattoos because they’re a form of expression for him. I got mine because I needed something permanent.” In the silence that followed, Caleb was surprised at himself. There was a lump in his throat, and he touched his shirt high up on his chest where his tattoo was. He’d never offered a near-perfect stranger that kind of personal information. He could count the number of people who knew of the tattoo on both hands and the number who had seen it on one. He cleared his throat. “It’s like I was trying to say before about types. It really is arbitrary. Maybe you fill your life with the same type of people, and that’s fine. It’s always nice to have something in common with someone whether you’re talking about friends or dates. But at the end of the day, who really cares why you connect? “Slate isn’t like most of my other friends, and back then, I’d have been the first one to laugh if you’d told me this twenty-year-old, skinny, long-haired, goofy jackass was going to become my best friend.” He laughed, shaking his head as he remembered Slate as he had been then—all grins and eagerness to get Caleb’s tattoo just right. He worked so hard, and the result was so beautiful, Caleb teared up the first time he saw it. “Bottom line? I was in a really bad place when I met Slate. He was exactly what I needed.” Taryn was quiet, and when he looked over, it seemed like she was deep in thought. Not knowing if he’d gone a step too far, Caleb’s tendency to babble kicked in. “I feel like if you’re looking for something specific, you run the risk of missing something fantastic. So you’re not like the other people Slate has been with. What does that matter? It’s not like any of them have been amazing, at least not for him.” “It seems so farfetched. What are the odds I would fall in love with the guy I don’t remember being with?” “Reality is stranger than fantasy most times. Anyway, don’t think about that. Love doesn’t give you a choice. If you want to know the truth, love is a sadistic son of a bitch with a dickish sense of humor. Have you ever heard an easy love story? You don’t fall for the one who makes sense or the one who’s easy.” “Maybe falling for my baby’s father sounds too easy.” Caleb didn’t have an answer for that.
F riday night was awkward. Saturday was a little better, but Slate still dragged Caleb along with them to dinner. Sunday, Taryn found the secret passphrase that broke the tension between them. “Can I see your sketchbook?” Slate was shy at first, but as he began to explain how he came up with designs based on his clients’ descriptions, he came alive. “Like ninety percent of the time, people come in and they want something dumb. You know. Girls with their butterflies. Guys with snakes and sexy ladies on their biceps. Whatever, man. It’s their bodies, but I prefer the ones who come up with something unique and meaningful. When they come to me with an idea or words they want to incorporate, and I can bring it to life? That’s my favorite part of the job. Your tats are supposed to be a part of your body forever, you know? They should have as much meaning as possible.” “What do your tats mean?” Taryn asked. She shouldn’t have been so shocked when Slate pulled his shirt off. After that, Slate was a lot more comfortable. It was nice until Taryn realized the more at ease he grew, the more Slate got touchy-feely. It wasn’t anything major—just his hand on her arm to get her attention or at her back to guide her in the direction they were supposed to be walking. He took them mini golfing and had to retrieve her ball from the water. When he put the ball back in