I glance at my mate, and she is smiling at me with humor. I smile back, unable to help myself. Cautiously, I raise my other hand to cover her other breast—still over the top of the funny fabric. Beh does not appear to object, and my hands mimic each other’s movements as they explore the softness of her skin where I can touch it and the heavy feeling of her breasts in my hands as I lift them.
She lets me touch her in this way for some time before she takes my face back in her hands, places her lips against mine softly, and then pulls away from me again. For a moment, I am confused and hurt. Did I do something wrong again? Why is she leaving? But my concern doesn’t last long, and I watch Beh extend her arm and take my hand in hers. We stand together, and she begins to lead me away from the fire.
With my hand in hers, Beh leads me to the rock shelf at one side of the small cave. She lifts both of the water skins and swiftly empties them into one of the larger pots she has made before she hands the skins to me. She takes a few steps toward the crack to the outside, then halts and looks down at her bare legs and then to my naked body. She shakes her head slowly and then walks back to the furs.
She picks up my wrap and hands it to me as her cheeks turn red again. I quickly wrap it around my waist and then watch as she picks up one of the sleeping furs and tries to do the same. It is not going to work. It isn’t cut right for wearing, but my mate doesn’t seem to know that.
I wonder how her tribe can make such strange and complicated clothing but not even know how to wear a simple wrap! I take the sleeping fur from her and drop it back into the pile before I get the antelope hide I had prepared for her days ago. It still isn’t cut for her shape, but it will do. She takes it in her hands and tries to put it on, but it’s not right at all. Finally, I take it back and put it around her myself.
She is my mate, and if she doesn’t know how to dress herself, then I’ll do it for her.
I cut two long straps of leather from an old skin and tie them around her waist to hold the wrap together. When I’m done, I take a step back to get a better look at her.
Well, except for those strange things that are still on her feet, but the rest is lovely.
She picks up the water skins and takes my hand again, this time leading me outside and down the trail toward the pine forest and the lake. When we get there, she takes me to the water’s edge and points at it. I look into the water to see if there is a fish she wants me to catch, but I don’t see any. My eyes turn back to hers, confused.
Beh sighs heavily, reaches down into the water and brings a handful of it out, which she then dumps on my arm. I jump back; the water is cold! Beh starts making more sounds and pointing at the water some more, and I don’t like it. I growl a little and back away.
She approaches me and takes my hand again, turning it over so the underside is pointing up. Her finger runs along the edge of the cut from the boar’s tusk—close but not quite touching it. She makes a lot more noises and points at the water again.
My mate is strange.
She tries to pull me back toward the lake, but I won’t go. I usually want to follow her anywhere—but that doesn’t include going into cold water! We struggle a little before she tosses her hand in the air and goes back to the water’s edge alone. I watch intently as she fills the water skins and brings them back to me. When she tries to pour the water on me from the skins, I back away again.
She fills the skins again and then just drops them beside her as she removes the fur she is wearing and begins to unwind the strange little ties that hold her foot coverings. She glances back over to me, and I quickly look away. She doesn’t like it when I watch, so I always pretend not to. Instead, I look over at the tree line for a while and then glance quickly back at my mate—just to make sure she is all right. She has the fur wrapped around her shoulders, and I can see the funny little pink things in her hands as she scrubs at them in the water with a pile of crushed soaproot plants.
I realize that if she’s washing them, she’s not wearing them.
My heart starts to beat a little faster, and I lean over to one side to see if I can get a better look. Beh turns her head and almost catches me, but I’m fast enough to look away before I meet her eyes. When I look back again, her shoulders are shaking a little, and I wonder if she is sad or cold. I move a little closer just to be sure she doesn’t need me, and her eyes meet mine.
She stands and wraps the fur around her a little tighter, tilts her head to the side, and peers at me.
I feel my body tense and shift toward her automatically before I can stop myself. She glances up at me, smiles coyly, and lays the little pink scraps of material on a large rock to dry. She leans forward a little, and the edge of the fur drops from her shoulder. Before she can pull it around herself again, I can see just a hint of the slightly darker pink of one of her nipples.
It’s the same color as the little bits of fabric.
I take a step forward, and Beh licks her lips as she adjusts the wrap and sits back down at the water’s edge. I move slowly to her side, still cautious, and sit down next to her. She covers herself completely with the fur as she leans forward and brushes her lips against mine but only for the briefest moment. She backs away immediately afterwards and points at the water again and makes a lot more noise.
I narrow my eyes, understanding now what she is trying to do. She wants me to bathe in the water and doesn’t seem to care that it’s too cold. I growl low, shifting back away from her a little but not much.
Beh changes position, angling herself toward me and reaching out with her hand. As she does, the edge of the fur falls from her shoulder again, and I can see a quick glimpse of one of her bare breasts underneath. Heat covers my groin as my eyes widen, and Beh takes my hand in hers to pull me forward. I feel my breathing increase along with my heartbeat as she brings my fingers yet closer to her breast. Just as my fingers twitch in anticipation of feeling her smooth skin, Beh turns my hand away from her body and plunges it into the icy water.
My mate is quite serious about this bathing thing.
I don’t like it.
Not at all.
But I do let her wash my arm because every step of the way, she places her mouth on mine, and I like that. She pays a lot of attention to the scrape on my arm as she cleans away all of the dirt and blood from my skin. When it becomes clear she’s trying to get me to submerge myself in the water completely, I back away, but she slowly coaxes me forward, pulls away my wrap, and I shiver and shake as she washes my back in the cold water.
I didn’t mind so much in the summer.
Beh grabs my hand and holds it against my thigh. She rubs back and forth, urging me to wash my legs while she cleans my back, and I comply reluctantly. Looking at her over my shoulder, I see her stern look and go back to washing. I don’t understand why I’m doing this in the freezing cold, but apparently I will do anything to make my mate happy, even follow her into cold water.
Once she decides my body is clean enough, I get out of the water and sit on a rock with my arms wrapped tightly around my knees. I feel her come up behind me, and she places the antelope hide over my shoulders and touches her lips to my cheek. My eyes dance over her body, now clothed in nothing except for the little scraps of pink cloth. I wish I could react to it, but I’m just too cold. Instead, I watch her, trying to understand if she is angry with me or not.
I turn my head and sniff at the fur around my shoulders. It already smells a little bit like Beh though she hasn’t worn it very long yet. I like it. It smells like her side of the furs where she sleeps. When she comes back from the side of the lake, I stand so we can go back to the warmth of the cave. I wish I could bring some fire with us so we could stay warm near the water, but I don’t have anything that will hold a hot coal.
I wrap the antelope hide around Beh, and she watches me closely as I do. She narrows her eyes a little as I tie the leather strap around her waist but looks up at me with a smile when I’m done. I touch the side of her face and feel how cold she is, just like me. I need to get my mate back to our cave to warm her.
I place my arm over her shoulder and pull her close to me as we start to walk back, and I notice immediately that Beh’s smell is different. I turn my head into her neck and sniff. She smells more like the lake now than she smells like herself.
She snickers as my nose tickles the side of her face, and I smile at her. She makes noises with her mouth, so I silence her with my lips. I like the way she tastes, and my stomach growls. Beh laughs aloud this time, and we make our way back to the cave.
The boar meat is nearly cooked through when we return, and Beh takes the pot of water and puts it on the coals. It heats quickly, and she adds wild onions and nutgrass to it while I go outside of the cave to finish with the boar’s skin and meat.
I sit right in front of the cave’s exit just to make sure Beh doesn’t leave without me noticing.
The boar’s skin is perfect for Beh—it is soft and supple as I work with it, and once it is finished she will be able to make clothes out of it. I narrow my eyes a little and consider since she didn’t know how to wear clothes, she must not know how to make them either. The boar’s hide will have to dry first, and Beh really needs something now.
I enter the cave and gather up the antelope hide I have already prepared. I decide to go ahead and cut clothing for Beh myself—she will need something under fur skins to keep her warm since the winter months are close. It doesn’t take long to cut out pieces for her top and bottom, and I use a strip of leather to tie it all together on one side.
Once the clothing is done and the rest of the boar meat is ready, I take it inside to hang near the fire. The boar was large, and it will give us a lot of good meat. I look around at what we have gathered over the past few days as well, and I know we are going to be okay.
Beh makes a lot of sounds at me as I tilt my head and look at her, kneeling by the fire and stirring around with a smooth piece of driftwood whatever she has put into the stew. I hold up the clothes I have made for her, and after a few tries, she manages to figure out how to put them all on. She leaves the little pink things on as well, but that’s okay. They may be a little strange, but I kind of like them.
We eat heartily, and there is still enough left over for later as well. I remember how many times I had gone without food for days and realize it was not so much because there was no food to be had; I just didn’t have a good enough reason to search for it.
Now I do.
I reach out with one finger and slowly draw it across the skin of Beh’s forearm. She covers the pot with a clay lid and turns to looks at me. Her eyes are intense, and they make me feel strange. I look down to the smooth rock floor of the cave and try to stop breathing so hard. When I glance back up, Beh’s eyes are staring at the fire, and I quickly shift so I am a bit closer to her before she can look back and notice.
Beh runs her hand through her hair and bites down on her lip as she glances over at me. I can see the color of her cheeks and neck deepen as she looks to her hands.
I scoot a little closer.
Looking at her sideways, I reach out and touch her arm with my hand again.
“Khhiss?” The sound I make is soft…pleading.
The corner of Beh’s mouth turns up as she pushes her lips together. She leans in, and I lick my lips in anticipation. A moment later, her warm mouth is on mine, and I feel her hand slide up my arm, over my shoulder, and into my hair. I sigh at the sensation and feel Beh’s tongue as it enters my mouth.
I can taste stew, the boar meat, and her all on my tongue at once. It is strange and wonderful, and my entire body seems to hum as she raises herself up onto her knees and wraps both arms around my head. From that position, she is angled slightly above me, and as we separate, I look up into her face.
I reach up and run my fingers over the edge of her cheekbone and down her jaw. My hand touches the edge of the boar skin wrap at her shoulder, and I feel very pleased with myself. Not only did I provide her with meat for her dinner and clothing for her body, but I made her something I know how to remove.
I pull at the leather strap, and it falls away from her shoulder. I can see the little pink straps around her shoulders, and I brush the edge of one of them with my nose. They smell different now—just like Beh and I do. The scent of the freshwater lake and soaproot are the most predominant scents of our skin and her clothing. I remember the scent in her hair when I first found her and wonder if she had rubbed fruit on the strands before I met her.
As I look back up to her face, Beh’s fingertips mimic my own. She runs her hands around my cheeks, my jaw, and my forehead—even over my eyelids as I close them. When I open them again, her breathing has changed, and I can see her chest rise and fall as rapidly as my own.
She releases me long enough to push the rest of the boar’s skin from her body. When she straddles me again, she is wearing only the little pink bits of cloth around her breasts and sex. I grasp around her middle, and her smooth skin feels warm even though she shivers at my touch. Sounds come from her mouth, and I hear both my name-sound and the hissing sound, which I try to repeat.
Her mouth turns into a smile, but it does not make her eyes sparkle like they usually do.
Something has made her feel sad, but I don’t know what it is.
I don’t even know if it is something I can fix.
I do know I will do anything within my power to make her happy.
Finally, after looking into her eyes for a long time, I take her to our furs.
I kneel down slowly and place Beh in the center of the furs. I stay on my knees beside her, just looking down at her as she lies comfortably in the middle of the fur-lined depression. The air between us is different—charged. I can feel it in my skin and hear it in her breathing. Something is different, and for some reason, it’s scaring me.