He stripped his shirt off, glancing at her. “Want a t-shirt?”
“Uh—” She lost her voice to a tattoo, creeping over his chest. Shadow trees, the ink designed to look like the forest at night. In her mind’s ear she heard him, the younger version of him—“Come Beth! There’s something I need to show you!”
“They’re initials,” he said, watching her. “I’ve lost a lot of people.”
She examined the tattoo and yes, there was an M for Mike, his Dad. And, straying over….she flinched. Hanging from a branch was a K (for Patrick King?) and also a small ankh, inked right onto his body, a key locking him to the dead. She raised her gaze, felt the dismay in her eyes.
“T-shirt?” he asked again.
“Uh…no. I’ll just…” She swept her hands down, indicating that she’d keep her clothes on.
He unzipped his jeans. “You’ll be too hot.”
He had no idea. She did not look at him, nearly naked and with a tattoo she wished she could touch. She laid down, stiff and still.
The bed dipped as it took his weight and she squeezed her eyes shut…
When you create a character, they, not you, reveal the details about themselves. As the writer, you're just along for the ride. Andrew Gavin, early on in his story, would not reveal a lot of truth to me (hell - I wrote the entire first draft of Within The Summit's Shadow before I realized he had never been honest with me about The Dead Boy. So there I was, re-starting his book from the beginning). What Andrew did share, though, were highly revealing details about how he viewed his life, his choices, and his own identity. One way he disclosed to me was by showing up in one scene with a mysterious, and hauntingly beautiful, tattoo (not on his arm like in the picture. Andrew's tattooed forest is instead across his chest; over his heart, to be specific). See, Andrew wears his regrets privately, yet visibly. Punitively...and permanently. A devotion that is more like an admission of guilt over and over, renewing itself whenever another person in his life dies or leaves him - because abandonment, and solitude, is what he's come to expect.
And what he thinks he deserves.
His sister Shaynie, on the other hand, is - ironically, considering she's a woo-woo girl - more spiritually grounded than Andrew. When I was writing the first draft of Divinity & The Python, I was examining a jar of my own very meaningless, just-picked-em-because-they-were-pretty rocks when it occurred to me that Shaynie collects stones too. Except different, because the stones she saves are specific, and highly meaningful; for every blessing in her life, for every, even tiny, thing she feels grateful for, Shaynie plops a clear colored stone into a jar. Listen as Cameron reacts to her jars filled with clear, colored stones:
“Look around,” she bade softly.
He scanned the room and she watched him take in the dozens of jars, some large, some small, all winking with rainbows of light. “Clever Faerie,” he rasped. “Are you magic?”
The little flutter shimmering inside hurt. “No.” She shook her head. “Not even close. I just know to hang on to what I’m thankful for.”
Similarly, Shaynie knows what to do with her burdens, too. Here she tells Cameron:
'...she stooped on impulse, flicked a black rock in a jar.
His gaze followed the sound of its click. “You left one of those.”
No, she’d left him a red kiss on his pillow, beneath his stars. “Yes.” Her voice cracked. “I was thankful.”
He sighed, and she hated the pity in the sound.
“It’s just something I do.” She shrugged as though it didn’t matter. “The colors are gratitude stones. They show that I’m grateful.”
He looked at them, looked at her, then stooped, picked up the jar of black rocks, the question in his eyes.
“Those are burdens,” she said.
He eyed them. “It’s fuller than the gratitude jar.”
“No, it—it just seems that way.”
Seems to me that maybe her brother Andrew would do well do reflect on - and perhaps start engaging in - some of his sister's practices. Yet he won't. In fact, consider what he says to Shaynie in Divinity & The Python, when she tells her big brother how she feels toward him:
Gratitude was a rainstorm down her cheeks. “I—I don’t have enough colored stones. And even if I did there’d never be enough jars. I—” She covered her face.
Andrew approached her, grin wry. “You can’t afford colored rocks. You need to start using dirt.”
She laughed, gurgly, and smacked him.
Devotion, I think, depends on the language our hearts speak, and Andrew Gavin needs to feel fully finished with his pain before he lets himself release it - like a black stone in a jar - then seal it off and excuse himself from it forever.
Will he get there?
Hear his story and discover his journey right here: Within The Summit's Shadow