Authors: Todd Hasak-Lowy
“That's sick,” he says. “But howâhow can you do that?”
Zoey shrugs her shoulders, but this time Darren's pretty sure it doesn't mean what it's meant all the other times. Now it's more like she's a little embarrassed that he's so impressed, even though she's glad he is.
“Totally sick,” he says.
The next thing Darren knows, Zoey reaches into her bag and pulls out one of those fine-tip Sharpies. For a second Darren figures she's just showing him what she drew it with. But then she takes off the cap.
Her small, dark eyes grow a little wider. The white is really white next to the black, which is really black. Darren's not exactly sure what his face does, but it must do something, because her eyes shrink and she asks, sounding ready to be disappointed, “You don't want me to?”
“It's cool,” she mumbles, puts the cap back on, and leans down toward her bag.
Â “No, wait,” Darren says, and grabs her shoulder, which is small and muscular.
She freezes and looks at him quite seriously.
“You can,” he says, but her expression doesn't change. “I want you to. For real.”
Â Zoey softens a bit, including in her shoulder.
“Yeah?” she asks.
She looks at his hand, which is still on her shoulder. He decides it's probably time to remove it. She sits up straighter.
“Okay. FirstÂ .Â .Â .” She reaches over and pretty much takes off his zip-up hoodie for him. Then she puts the armrest down and sets his arm on it. She turns her whole body to face him and tucks her right leg under her butt.
Darren's glad she's not mad at him or anything, but otherwise he's not so sure how he feels about all this. The more he looks at her arm, the more he thinks it looks like a tattoo. Maybe it actually is, and maybe she's just screwing with him and will laugh once he's done letting her draw all over his arm.
Â But too late, because she takes hold of it with her right hand and starts drawing with her left. The ink flows out of the Sharpie and onto his skin. She begins with small waves, with these little bumpy lines running across the width of his forearm. When she finishes one line she goes back to where she started, but moves maybe a quarter-inch up his arm. Each line is identical.
The tip of the marker on his skin, he can't figure out what it feels like, but something between the feel of it and just watching her hand steadily hovering over his arm, it makes him close his eyes. Darren pictures the design slowly spreading over his arm. He wishes Zoey had three hands so he could hold one of them. The more he sits there, the more he has trouble figuring out where he ends and Zoey begins, which feels like the answer to a question he's been trying to ask himself for a while.
He opens his eyes about ten minutes later. Was he sleeping? At some point she finished the waves, and without him noticing, switched to longer lines running down the length of his arm. He can't tell if they're straight or not, because it's like one of those optical illusions, or at least it could be. And it doesn't make any sense, because he swears the bus ride is bumpy, but all the lines are straight. Like even the wavy lines are somehow straight, whatever that means.
He really wants to say something, but it's way better not to. Which is good, because he has no idea what he'd say. Part of him is ready for her to finish already, but part of him wishes he was lying on an operating table, wearing only his boxers and a T-shirt, so she could do his other arm and both legs.
When she finishes the longer lines, she starts filling in some of the curvy rectangles created by all the intersecting lines. Darren tries to figure out the pattern she's using, like how is she deciding which rectangles to color in? After a while he decides it's random. But good random. The fingers of her right hand have been pressing hard into the area above his elbow this whole time. He might be able to feel a pulse in her fingertips. Though maybe it's his own pulse she's helping him feel.
Â Zoey sits up but continues looking at his arm. The stretch of skin she drew on is now about three-fourths black. She turns her head this way and that, checking something. Then she pushes her right sleeve all the way up and presses her forearm firmly against his.
Even though his arm is bigger, the patterns are identical. The waves in the shorter lines. The weird bends in the longer ones. Even the colored-in rectangles. All the same. They press their matching arms into each other. His skin is a little darker than hers.
“Holy shit, that's crazy!” he says.
“Do you like it?” she asks with what sounds like absolute and unguarded sincerity.
“I love it,” he says, “seriously,” at a volume the drone of the bus just about swallows up.
He looks at their arms, pushed together firmly, until they stop looking like arms to him. Zoey and he are members of some gang. Or superheroes. Or cyborgs. Or aliens. There's something weird and important and awesome about the whole thing.
“Zoey,” Darren finally says about two minutes later.
“Huh?” Zoey asks.
“Aren't Sharpies permanent?”
“Yeah,” she says.
“Oh,” he says.
“Cool.” He flexes his forearm. “Cool.”
Manifestations of Darren's Sudden Nervous Excitement to See Nate, All of Which Intensify as the Bus Turns Left into a Parking Lot in Ann Arbor
Â Right leg bouncing up and down
Â Nodding his head over and over
Â Needing to pee like crazy
Â Wanting some gum to chew
Â Wishing Zoey would either disappear or finally hold his hand
Â Which is sweating
Components of Nate's Outfit
Â Black suede Puma sneakers
Â Jeans, torn slightly above left knee
Â Mickey Mouse T-shirt
Â Plaid flannel (mostly blue, green, and red), unbuttoned
Â Red winter hat
Words Nate Greets Darren with, Warmly
Suppositions of Varying Certainty Darren Reaches While Hugging Nate for Five/Six Seconds
Â I am taller than Nate.
Â I am much heavier than Nate.
Â Hugging Nate is good for me.
Â Nate smells like an Italian spice.
Follow-up Questions Darren Doesn't Even Have to Ask, Because Nate Sort of Points to His Own Face/Head and Says/Asks, “Kind of Sick, Right?” as Soon as They Stop Hugging and Each Take a Step Back to Look at Each Other
Â When was the last time you had it cut?
Â Is that a beard?
Times in Jacobs Brothers History That the Two of Them Considered Someone Else from a Possibly Safe Distance with a Combination of Awkward Confusion (Darren) and Baffled Amusement (Nate)
Â The weekend of their mom's very first business trip to California, their dad said, “Hey, how about us men head downtown? Lunch at Eleven City Diner and then we can hit the Shedd Aquarium. What do you say?”
Darren looked at Nate. “Yeah, sure,” Nate said.
Only finding a place to park before lunch was a pain, so their dad just dropped the two of them off in front of the restaurant, where they waited for him outside. Nate and Darren, then ages sixteen and eleven, were just standing there, pretty much doing nothing, when some older guy appeared out of nowhere.
“Young men,” he said to them, like being young men was really crucial to something. Nate and Darren said nothing. The man was not particularly clean.
“God. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Who's it gonna be?”
“Okay,” Nate said with slight sarcasm, while Darren took a half step closer to his brother.
“Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Evil magic.” Without moving, Darren tried to look at Nate. The man stuffed his hands into his pockets. Darren could tell they were fists. “Evil. Magic.”
“Okay,” Nate said again, this time more sarcastically.
The man closed his eyes tightly for a moment, like he was trying to remember something. Or was in pain. Then he turned and started walking off. Not only were his pants ripped down the back, but a small slice of what appeared to be his right butt cheek was plainly visible as well.
Darren didn't think it was funny; in fact, the sight of the man's discolored flesh made him feel kind of what he'd felt when he'd seen a bloody, car-flattened squirrel a week earlier. But the next thing he knew, he had joined his brother in a very brief and very audible burst of laughter, which, not surprisingly, caused the homeless and/or crazy man to turn around.
For a moment, Darren feared a showdown, but just then their dad showed up and, without even noticing the other man and the slice of his exposed ass, patted both his sons on the back and said jovially, “Gentlemen, let's do lunch!”
Â Their cousin Eli, who's exactly between Nate and Darren in age, clearly has some sort of something. He's probably not autistic, but Asperger's, to the extent that Darren even knows what that is, seems like a very distinct possibility.
The main symptom, or weird thing he has, renders Eli totally clueless when it comes to understanding what constitutes an appropriate speaking volume in almost any situation, meaning he'll often scream in restaurants while other times whisper as a train approaches. And when talking loud, he also tends to lengthen each word, riding out the vowels for seconds at a time and at a rather high tone. They used to see him a lot when they were younger, but the year Darren started middle school, Eli's family moved to Boston.
A couple of months before Darren's bar mitzvah, Nate started yelling for him from his room. Darren hurried down the hallway and found Nate sitting in front of his computer.
“Oh my God,” Nate said.
“What?” Darren asked.
“Holy shit,” Nate said.
“What?” Darren asked again.
“Check this out,” Nate said, and clicked on a black-and-white YouTube clip, which looked to be from some old movie. A guy, Jerry Lewis according to Nate, was sort of talking and singing about, of all things, enchiladas.
“What theâ?” Darren started to ask.
“Shh, just listen,” Nate commanded, and moved it back a few seconds.
And then Darren got it. “Dude,” Darren said.
Jerry Lewis, decades prior to their cousin's birth, appeared to have perfected an imitation of Eli. Needless to say, the Jacobs brothers spent more than a few minutes watching this clip over the next couple months.
Eli and his family arrived on the Thursday before Darren's bar mitzvah in order to have an evening alone with Darren's family. After dinner, Nate and Darren, under some pressure from their parents, invited Eli upstairs so the adults could talk downstairs. Hugely excited by this plan, Eli raced upstairs, well ahead of his cousins. As Eli neared the top of the stairs, Nate sang out, quite loudly, “Enchiladas! I don't know. Enchiladas! Oh, hello.”
Eli froze and turned around.
Nate and Darren just smiled, while Eli screamed, much as Jerry Lewis would have, “What? Wha-at? Whaaaaaat?!”
The Jacobs brothers stood silently at the bottom of the stairs for a few seconds, until Eli turned around and continued toward his younger cousin's room.
Â Three years ago the Jacobs took what would turn out to be their last major family trip (a cruise in the Caribbean, which was pretty cool overall). Their mom, because it was the kind of thing almost all the women seemed to be doing, decided to get cornrows at their stop in Jamaica (while Nate and Darren went snorkeling). Snorkeling took much longer than getting cornrows, so their mom was already lying in the sun when the boys returned from their time in the water.
Nate and Darren, both dripping wet, stopped simultaneously about eight feet from her towel. And stood there speechless, staring at the rows of hair and pale scalp now on display. The shape of their mother's head surprised him. After about ten seconds she somehow sensed their presence and opened her eyes. Actually, she only opened her right eye, because of how bright the sun was.
Just then their dad, holding a purple, umbrella-decorated blended drink in each hand, walked up to them.
“Pretty cool, huh?” he asked.
The boys said nothing.
Their mom undid her braids prior to dinner that evening, but not before giving her sons a lecture on manners.
Â In a parking lot in Ann Arbor, on an overcast afternoon in late April of this year, just as a Superbus is pulling away, the Jacobs brothers finish greeting each other and turn to face Zoey Lovell, who stands a couple of car lengths away and almost appears to be hugging herself, while looking down and to the side, a cigarette burning slow and steady in her right hand.
“Nate,” Darren says, “that's Zoey. Zoey, this is my brother, Nate.”
“Greetings, Ms. Lovell,” Nate says.
Zoey appears to scratch her upper arm.
Reasons Darren Concludes That He Is, in Fact, a Stud, or at Least Much Cooler Than He Usually Considers Himself to Be
Â He's about to get into a black BMW 325i, because Nate's roommate, Kyle, let Nate take his car to go pick them up.
Â He got to Ann Arbor all by himself.
Â And with some help from Zoey Lovell.
Â Who for some reason decided to join him.