“Are you still wasting your time with those cigarettes?” asked Ethan.
James, hunched over a piece of aluminum wreckage, gave no indication to hearing the question. In front of him, nine cigarettes were spread across the bare metal, soaking in the Caribbean rays. He watched them with an intense focus and put them back in their places after each disturbance from the wind.
Ethan glared at the back of the man’s head. The black hair was wet and tangled and packed with sand. His back grew darker with each passing day. It was infuriating that he wouldn’t burn. Ethan’s delicate skin had forced him again and again to the shade. “We really should build some shelter.”
Ethan stepped out from behind the trunk of a palm tree. When the sun touched his skin, he stepped back again. “You’re never going to find a lighter anyway,” he said, rubbing at the freckles on his weak forearms, “and you’ll never get those dry enough to smoke. Stop wasting your time and come help me. We need a shelter.”
“We, we, we,” said James. He turned his head just enough to give a narrow look from the corner of his eye. “You sure do use that word a lot.”
“You should be thanking me,” said Ethan. He dug a toe in the sand and flirted with the sunlight on his bare feet. Each second of exposure felt critical, lethal. “I pulled your Cro-Magnon ass out of the water. I almost left you for dead the way the tide was tossing you around. I saved your life.”
“Did you,” asked James rhetorically. He picked up one of the cigarettes and gave it a thorough inspection. The tobacco was dry and mostly intact. Only a small breach existed in the thin paper where the cigarette had bent. The real question was the filter. He gave it several tender pinches to check for moisture.
Ethan started flicking sand with his foot. Some of it landed near James’ back, the back that refused to turn and face him. Two days ago, James had caught on to Ethan’s aversion to sunlight. Since then, he spent every moment as far from the shade as possible, and Ethan could only stare daggers. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and a bag of heroin will wash up. How would you like that?”
“Why were you watching me last night?” James asked.
A hateful smile broke across Ethan’s face, but his voice remained calm. “What do you mean?”
James set the cigarette down with disappointment. It was still too early to harvest. He put his attention to another. “I saw you, you little fuck. You were just inside the tree-line all afternoon waiting for the sun to go down. As soon as it did, you came creeping out and followed my footprints down the shore. I watched the whole fucking thing. You shine like a flashlight in the moonlight, ya know that? Even your ginger hair glows in the dark. You’re a shiner.”
Ethan shifted under the trunk of the palm tree as he felt a sliver of sunlight touch his back. “I wanted to know where you’ve been sleeping.”
James spun around on his stone seat. The sunlight drew defining shadows across his muscles, but the shade between his strong thighs was not enough to hide his nudity. With cigarette in hand, he glared with disapproval each time Ethan’s eyes drifted south. “And why the fuck do you wanna know that?”
Ethan looked down at this foot sifting through the sand and smiled. “Are you gonna help me build a shelter or not?”
“You know what my answer is,” said James as he stuck the cigarette between his lips, desperate for a smoke. “You tell me where you got those scratch marks, I’ll help you build a shelter.”
Ethan rubbed at the red marks running down his weak chest. Four total, inline, and they were beginning to scab over. “But I told you.”
“Yeah,” said James, talking with the cigarette in his mouth. “And I said I don’t fuckin’ believe you.”
Ethan’s eyes glanced down at the hanging manhood again. “I just want to work together,” he said. “Our chances of surviving are better if we work together.”
James pulled the cigarette from his mouth and ran it under his nose, sucking in the smell of ruined tobacco. The warm Caribbean wind tried to play in his hair, but the thick curls were locked in place with sand and salt. “Let me tell ya one thing, Shiner. If you follow me again, you won’t need to worry about chance when it comes to surviving.”
The two men locked their gaze. James scowled, and Ethan smiled.