Today’s witch is brought to you by the prompt desert.
“Code Green, all available practitioners to Bay Three. Doctors Lasange, Berkinson, and Myonski report to Bay Three. I repeat, Code Green, Bay Three.”
I’m the second to last on the scene but am immediately ushered to the head of the bed. My sneakers slide through the viscous deep purple blood pooling onto the vinyl tiled floor. I listen to the rushed report and pull on gloves, my eyes flicking between the patient’s pallid and somehow conscious face, to the shard of glass sticking out of his leg.
Shard is an understatement, I would bet he smashed into a fucking window. But the sand, it’s everywhere. In the wound, on the bed, on the floor. Maybe he crashed into a sand dune too, either before or after the window.
“What do you think, can you do it? Or should we proceed with amputation?”
The patient’s face darts away from the nurse he was happily chatting away with to the Normal doctor beside me, his eyes wide. “Amputate? Oh come on now, it’s not that bad!” He cries, distressed for the first time.
“We’re not there yet,” I lie, unable to restrain my chuckle as I get a closer look at the patient’s thigh. “If you call this not bad, then I’d like to see what you call sort of bad.”
I inspect the hastily but well placed tourniquet that the EMS team enacted on scene. My hand hovers over the area, the glass and sand trembles at a frequency the patient can’t feel, but I do. Thankfully the quartz silica, the fundamentals of sand, responds to my energy.
That’s when I notice the other particles stuck inside the gash across his thigh, splinters of wood with splashes of blue and white paint. That’s really the least of our worries, the main piece of glass is what’s keeping him from bleeding out entirely. For now.
I glance down at the puddle of blood on the floor, then up to Berkinson and Myonski standing on the opposite side of the bed, both of them gloved up and flanked by a team of Normals. I address the Sanguinist, Berkinson, first. “I take it he’s bleeding too fast for you to regenerate.”
The young vampire, a witch with the most ironic specialty I know, nods. A green led on the side of his electronic watch blinks steadily, a visual alternative to the overhead PA system. “Not until the wound is stable.” He signs slowly, then adds, “He doesn’t have good chances, Nino.”
I wince after he finishes the last word which technically means bookworm, but it’s his name for me. It’s not very often I hear my first name, whether it be spoken or signed.
“I can’t work any healing magick either, he’s fading fast. Whatever you’re gonna do, do it quick, I got another adrenaline junkie in Bay Two.” Myonski adds, subtly glowering at the patient. Necromancers are usually intimidating, but given Myonski is three feet tall and the cutest pixie I’ve ever seen, no one tends to take her seriously.
Which is a huge mistake, one I made shortly after starting my residency. Needless to say I learned my lesson, and to keep glitter out of the hands of nefarious pixies who use it in ways that are most horrifying. Thankfully I was able to save Berkinson from the same fate, as he was a couple years behind Myonski and I’s class.
I lift my shoulder and twist my head so I can push up my glasses without my hands. I study the patient, noting how his jaw flickers with tension and the cords in his neck stick out, eyes glazed. He is feeling pain then, not in total shock. It’s a wonder how he’s conscious at all, and I wonder if he refused pain medications because why is he awake for this?
Well, he can help solve the ethical dilemma for us.
“There’s something I can try, but it involves magick, and it might not work. Even if it does, you have a substantial injury that may not heal properly, even with magick, considering how long the tissues have been damaged. You could be left with permanent chronic pain. The safest route is amputation.”
“Let’s save that as a last resort. I’m fond of this leg, had it all my life, you see.” He shakes his head, words slurring. Shaggy black hair full of sand falls over his dilating pupils. I reach forward but he crashes in the span of a second.
What color was left in his complexion drains immediately.
His limbs go slack. His head flops back on the bed.
His eyes roll back in his head. The monitors screech in protest to his failing heart.
Berkinson’s energy snaps through the air with an audible crack, followed by the aftertaste of metal on my (and I’m sure everyone else’s) tongue. The vampire grunts in efforts to pump what little remains of the patient’s blood through his exhausted heart.
Myonski isn’t far behind, anchoring the man’s soul to his body with pure black, earthy threads of life that spiderweb throughout his body. His magick lights up the patient’s flaccid veins and arteries an eerie black that comforts me regardless of how creepy it looks. Not all life saving magick is bright white and plainly beautiful.
Sometimes, beauty is found in the darkness.
The Normal doctor attempts to shove me out of the way, shouting for an operating room. I snap at them to wait. I bring my hands to rest just above the shard’s bloody surface and call upon my magick with renewed intensity.
“You heard him, we’re saving this leg.” I bark, locking eyes with each of my teammates. “On three, I’m going to remove the shard and any glass particles inside the wound. It will need to be immediately flushed and packed, then Berkinson and Myonski will do what they can to get him stable. Then we’ll take him to the operating room. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” The team chants as one.
The overhead lights flicker. The scent of witches working in unison, the unmistakable ozone and something other, overwhelms the air already thick with antiseptic, sweat and blood.
The dual red and black glow of power of my kindred witches flaring to life threatens to steal my attention, but I double down my efforts. I focus on my own energy, a sunset orange that drifts in wispy waves, slipping underneath the massive pane of glass and all the smaller pieces embedded in the flesh of the man who I won’t let down. He’s in bad shape, but I can do it.
I can save him.
“I can save him!” Water fills my lungs, replacing the cry that haunts my nights to this day, decades later. I’m not sure who I was trying to convince, (the Gods maybe?) for it was just the boy and I swept away by that flash flood.
I shake off the ghost of memory, not able to lose even a second of time to trauma. Not right now. I’ll pay for it later, no doubt.
I count down, voice strong as a shiver crawls down my spine.
On three, chaos erupts.
During the next second, incorporeal hands made of magick remove the shard with an obscene suction-like sound. Flecks, splinters and quarter sized pieces of glass follow the main piece which rise above the patient’s body, tearing chunks of muscle, skin and blood out with them.
Normals move in, swiftly flushing the wound with large syringes filled with sterile water. Thin, oddly coloured blood saturated with wooden specks spill over his leg and onto the floor, splashing onto my shoes. He appears human but the blood suggests otherwise. What type of being bleeds dark purple?
Berkinson grunts as the Normals pack the crater in the man’s leg with thick gauze, but I can’t tear my focus from the glass. I transfer the now tightly compacted orb filled with human and glass pieces into a hazard container held open by a nurse.
Myonski coughs, which isn’t a good sign. “He’s fading, I’m losing him.”
“Don’t let go Myonski!” I shout, rushing over to her. The edges of my vision pulsate darkly but I don’t care. I won’t lose him.
“Nino, don’t!” Someone calls out, and I belatedly recognize the electronic tone of Berkinson’s watch. I don’t listen. I rest my hand on Myonski’s small shoulder and am subsequently brought to my knees the moment I open my energy to hers. Her magick sucks away at mine like a vacuum, an endless pit needing to be filled as she works against the will of the universe.
“Don’t let him fucking die,” I manage before collapsing.
A raging migraine, burnt coffee, and antiseptic greets me upon waking. I jolt upwards and immediately regret it, reduced to hunching over my legs with temporary blacked out vision.
“Fuck.” I groan, slowly registering my surroundings as the on-call room.
Berkinson clears his throat, getting my attention. I raise my head, slower this time, to find him sitting at my bedside. “Oh look, the martyr is awake.” He signs fiercely, glasses slid down his thin nose, legs propped up on a chair with a book nestled in his blanket covered lap. His lengthy electric blue hair is tied back in a knot at the back of his neck, tamed since the last time I saw him. For a moment, sentimentality crashes through my heart. He always watches over me.
Then he speaks again.
“You’re an idiot, you know that? There’s a reason why the hospital has a no energy exchange rule.” Each word cuts through the air, his crimson eyes flash wildly as his long fingers twitch. They’re deep and rich, he’s recently fed.
I roll my eyes, and it hurts, but the scoff he lets out makes it worth it. A slap on the wrist is nothing. “Did he make it?”
Berkinson closes his book and puts his sneakers on the floor, eyeing me warily. “Yeah, he made it.”
A huge sigh of relief collapses my lungs and I fall back on my mattress, keeping Berkinson in view. “Good. His leg?”
“His leg, Berkinson.” I snap, immediately inviting guilt into my heart.
I didn’t appreciate him calling me by my first name during the trauma, but shit happens. When we’re in close quarters all the personnel go by first names, but I don’t call anyone by them. Berkinson has always been an exception in private, because I admittedly like the way he says my name. The way his slender fingers meet and spread apart as if he laid open a book, how he brings the ‘book’ up to his face, how his palms sweep across his cheeks, dragging his given name for me across his skin.
Berkinson shifts and I roll my head towards him fully. He’s watching me with an odd expression, lips pressed thin. Eventually, he relents. “He lost a lot of muscle, but Myonski was able to successfully graft Threads, and last I checked he hasn’t rejected them yet. It took awhile, but I was able to get his blood volume stable, too. He’s going to be fine.”
“Good.” I say, turning my gaze to the ceiling.
Berkinson allows three heartbeats of silence, then speaks with trepidation. “I haven’t seen you that passionate about a case in awhile.”
“Something wrong with trying to save someone’s life?”
“At the expense of your own, yes. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but that wasn’t just trying to save someone’s life. Either that guy means something to you, or–”
“Fuck off, Berkinson. I made a call, and it was the right one. I’m fine, see? Nothing personal, just doing my job.” I turn over with a huff and face the wall of my cubby.
Over two dozen cots are nestled into the walls, creating a nook for all medical professionals to call home, complete with a thick mattress and comfy blankets. No one claims them per say, but I prefer this one in the hidden corner of the room.
Berkinson huffs, shoving out of his chair with enough force to startle me. The electronic monotone of his watch cracks through the empty space. “You fuck off, Lesange.”
“Fine, I will.” I throw back with as much attitude as he’s giving me.
“Fine.” He responds via his watch.
The door slams, and I’m left alone.
“Just doing my job,” I mutter to myself, pulling the blankets over my head.
It’s nothing personal. I’m following up on a patient. There’s nothing odd about that.
Most emergency doctors don’t have the time or energy to visit the patients they admit, instead they move onto the next big thing, but it happens.
Samuel Jenks. The name suits him. The door is open and laughter tumbles out of the room. Through the window, I watch the man chat with a nurse who blushes furiously in response to whatever joke Samuel had made. I second guess myself, but the moment I think of leaving, his head jerks up and his attention paralyzes me.
He waves to me like a madman and smiles.
He calls, “Hey, Doc! Come here!”
And how could I not?
I straighten my wrinkled scrubs, then walk into the sunshine filled room with my hands clasped behind my back. “Hello, I’m not sure if you remember me, but I–”
“You saved my leg, and my life, if I’m not mistaken.” Samuel says, grinning from ear to ear. He pats the bed beside his thigh, drawing my attention to his exposed leg that is more plant than flesh. Threads of black plant life weave through the man’s muscle, like a tapestry of magick and nature that replaces the flesh, nerves and everything human that used to be there.
I swallow thickly, unable to comprehend how he can be so damn cheery. Most humans don’t take to having a part of them appear fae-like so well, but the man truly seems pleased with his lot in life. I tighten my grip behind my back.
“I was only doing my job, but I’m glad to see that you’re doing well. I’ve heard everything is healing properly, how are you feeling?” I nod to his leg pointedly. “Are you … happy with your decision?”
The nurse leaves with a small smile, head down as he pulls the vitals tree with him.
Samuel Jenks nods enthusiastically. “I can keep on flyin’, so that’s just fine with me. Of course it’ll be awhile, but that’s alright. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so they say.”
I glance at the chair beside Samuel’s bedside, then quickly dismiss the idea. “One would think you’d want to get back in the air again.”
Samuel lifts a shoulder, his smile never quite gone. With the sand, blood and general devastation washed away, what’s left behind is a young man, around my age I’m assuming, that is admittedly handsome. His hair rebels against the slicked back style he must’ve attempted earlier, black is tousled in all directions and hangs along the soft sides of his scruffed face.
“A little blood never scared me.”
And that …
Well, I can’t help the laugh that escapes me.
I cover my mouth swiftly, eyes wide. “I’m sorry, it’s just … a little?” I start, and Samuel’s laugh joins mine.
He waves me off, eyes glinting. “Okay, maybe it was more than a little.”
Once we’ve recomposed ourselves and my heart feels oddly light, he continues with a more serious tone. “I’m not going to stop doing what I love because I might get hurt. I could walk out here tomorrow and get hit by a bus, or mugged and left for dead in an alley. I could live for decades and be perfectly fine, only to die of a cold or something else that’s entirely … normal. But I’m not normal. I don’t want to live, or die, being normal. One day, it’ll be the death of me, but not today. Today I’m talking to a handsome doctor, the sun is out, and I have all my body parts, mostly.”
I’ve found myself standing beside the innocuous chair, cheeks flushed and unsure how I got there. Handsome doctor?
As several beats of silence stretch on, the first signs of uncertainty tug down the corners of Samuel’s smile. I come back down to myself, immediately resolving to fix that problem. “I’m sorry, you’re just … I don’t know. A breath of fresh air.”
The grin returns in full force. That’s better.
“Yeah?” Samuel’s eyes dart to the chair, then the door, and back to me. Then he looks down at his leg, brows furrowing the slightest bit. “Could you … do me a favor? Possibly? Or is that weird?”
I chuckle. “Depending on the favor.”
His eyes drop to his lap and his hands brace on either side of his hips, fingers digging into the mattress as he readjusts himself. Then he warily looks back up to me. “Could you keep me company for a little while? Unless you’re busy, I mean– of course you’re busy, you’re a doctor– it’s just that my friends kind of left and I’m–”
Samuel shakes his head, his grin still on but weaker. “Nevermind.”
I sit down, facing him.
His eyes widen.
“Considering everyone thinks I’m sleeping, I can stay for a little while. But I demand to know the story behind your predicament.” I gesture to fresh pitch black sprouts slowly crawling across his leg, weaving through older magicked tissue.
Samuel’s hair falls across his nose as he shifts on the bed again, drawing attention to the crookedness of it. How did I not notice that before? The amount of scars and bent bones on this man is probably absurd.
He says, “I’m a Dune Diver.” At my rapidly pinching features, he adds, “A professional one at that. My mistake lies in the fact that I may have ignored the official track in favor of … untouched desert, one might say.”
I glare at him, and he laughs.
I try glowering, but he laughs harder.
“I cannot think of any reason that I would willingly dive into a mountain of sand, especially ones that have not been thoroughly scanned.” Flashes of glass, splintered wood and blood come to mind. “You dove into ruins.” I say, more to myself than him.
He shrugs, cheeks pinkening. “I did not expect there to be a castle in that lil’ sand dune. Back where I come from, people don’t build castles in the desert. Unless they’re made of sand, of course.”
That startles me into another fit of laughter, which seems to please him greatly as he smiles at me so wide, I’m afraid it’ll fracture his face. “It wasn’t always desert down here, you know. I still don’t understand … even if it’s just sand, aren’t you afraid of getting stuck, suffocating in one?”
Samuel thinks on that for a moment, tenderly caressing a tiny leaf after it unfurls from his thigh. Now that I’m closer to him, I try to ignore the dark hair across his exposed leg and the contrasting paleness of his upper thigh that is barely hidden by his hiked up hospital gown.
“I have, a few times. It’s terrifying as fuck, don’t get me wrong there.” He looks up to me, an unsureness washing across his face, then he stares back down at his leg. He shakes his head, laughing quietly to himself. “You make me want to say things I don’t want to.”
That ices my blood immediately.
“I can’t do that, and even if I could, witches aren’t inherently malicious—”
Samuel’s head jerks up. “Oh Gods! I didn’t mean it like that, not at all. You’re just … you have this way about you. I feel like I can tell you anything, and I don’t even know you.”
I swallow something heavy that threatens to block my airway. “Oh.”
His fingers twitch in his lap, but he doesn’t look away from me. “I never feel more alive than I do when I’m dying.”
And for reasons unbeknownst to me, I lean forward.
I lean forward and gently take both his hands in mine. He stares at me, eyes wide and pliable under my touch. I whisper, “And what about now?”
Samuel Jenk’s fingers entangle with mine and he grins, but this time it’s soft and sweet and filled with something like awe. He says, “I’m feeling pretty fucking alive right now.”
Samuel stayed in the hospital for three weeks.
I visited him every day.
At first, I scavenged excuses.
He needed more follow ups. Insurance purposes, of course.
He needed company. Solid mental health is paramount to the healing process.
He needed magick infusions, something he would need for the rest of his life. Witches can share their magick in the most mundane of ways, by donating blood. For purposes such as this, only a small amount is needed to sustain the magick in a Normal’s body, someone without a witch’s heart to regenerate the blood flowing through Normal veins.
I insisted that since Samuel’s body was known to accept my magick, that he use mine.
At first he resisted, but eventually gave in after I threatened to stop bringing him Berkinson’s cinnamon rolls. Berkinson didn’t question why I loaded my plate with four of the homemade and absolutely delicious baked goods he brings to work every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but I did notice he started to bring more after the second time I took extra.
The vampire and I are back on good terms, albeit kind of odd and strained, but everything is back to semi-normal. If hardly speakly counts as normal, that is.
Everything is normal except for the anomaly in my life that is Samuel Jenkins.
After the second week, I stopped making excuses for why I disappeared for three hours in the early afternoon. No one questions me, and that is something I’ve been doing on the daily.
Why can’t I stop seeing him? Why does the pit in my stomach widen when I’m not around him? Why does he laugh with me like that?
Samuel and I sit together in his room and I read to him from one of my favorite books. Admitting to a man I hardly know that monster porn can be romantic and heart warming is not something I ever thought would come to pass, but it’s one of many things that the man has drawn out of me. When I try to skip the … graphic scenes, Samuel quickly chastises me for censorship and I’m forced to read them aloud, which flushes both of our faces but we laugh endlessly.
Neither of us have spoken of the fact his leg is nearly healed and his physical therapy has been going extremely well.
“And that was when I knew that I was in love with him, tail, fangs, and all.” I say, then close the book. Sweat trickles down my spine, then is swept away by my scrubs.
“I like that one,” Samuel says, smiling nervously at me.
I clear my throat, setting the book down on the rolling table between the bed and my chair. “Me too. I have a few more by that author back at home, I’ll have to bring the next one tomorrow.”
Samuel nods. “I’d like that. Is it the next in the series, or?”
I tip my hand back and forth. “Sort of. It’s set in the same world but it follows different characters.”
“Oh. I really liked them, though.” He says, almost frowning.
“Yeah, it’s hard to say goodbye, but I often find the couples in the next books are just as good, in different ways.” I stand, stretching my arms overhead before releasing a giant yawn. “Tomorrow’s cinnamon roll day, better get all your rest for that sugar rush.”
Samuel smiles up at me. “Can never have too much sugar. Your friend is a genius.”
I roll my eyes, cheeks flushing with guilt. Berkinson and I have been amicable, but it’s definitely not the same. “The first time you had one you nearly went into a fit.”
Samuel barks out a laugh. “I hadn’t eaten real food in days! It’s all your fault.”
My cheeks heat. “Well, who wants their first meal to be oatmeal? Blech.”
Now is just as good a time as any. Tentatively, I reach into my pocket and take out the project I’ve been working on for weeks. My fingers enclose around the pendant and a shuddering breath overtakes me. I take Samuel’s hand, depositing the necklace into his palm. We haven’t touched again, not with direct purpose, since that first day when I took his hands in mine. I close his fingers around it and squeeze his hand tightly in both of mine.
I search for words. He’s better with them than I am, really everyone is. After a moment, I find some. Whether they’re good ones or not, I have no idea.
“You make me feel like I’m stuck inside a sand dune.” I murmur, watching his face in case I have the wrong ideas.
But oh, I was so right.
Samuel Jenk’s smile widens to that dangerous face cracking intensity. He says, “You make me feel alive too, Nino. What’s this about?”
After a moment of staring into each other’s eyes like idiots, I clear my throat.
“As you know, my specialty lies in manipulating sand, and therefore, glass. I was able to save some of the pieces from your accident, and I thought maybe …” I shake my head, pulling my hands back. “It’s really not a big deal.”
Samuel’s brows furrow and he looks down at his hand as his fingers unfurl. Strung on a braided leather cord is a pendant in the highly detailed shape of a solar board, complete with a sail and the mast. Samuel exhales heavily, carefully bringing the small glass piece closer to his face so he can examine it.
“It’s so fragile,” He whispers, face unreadable for the first time since I’ve met him.
I sit on the edge of his bed, drawing his rapt attention to me. “It appears to be, but it will never break, not as long as I’m alive, anyway. It’s too morbid, isn’t it? You don’t have to keep it, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
I reach for the pendant but he wrenches his hand back, fingers closing around the glass. “No, it’s … the nicest thing anyone’s ever given me. Thank you, I will treasure this for as long as I live.”
My neck heats obscenely and I tug at my collar. “Oh, well that’s … good. Really good. I’m glad you like it.”
“Will you help me put it on?” He asks, and I nod with perhaps too much enthusiasm.
I gingerly take the pendant from him and he leans forward, chest almost touching mine as I reach around his neck. I tie the leather cord into a simple but effective knot so that the solar board hangs at his sternum, resting above the hospital gown. My heart races when he leans back, still painfully close as he looks down at the pendant now cradled in his hand.
When his eyes meet mine again, they are wet and glinting and under the fluorescent lights. “It won’t break? You’re sure?”
I chuckle, unable to help it. “I made sure it would hold up to your lifestyle. “
He grins. “I’ll put it through its paces, that’s for sure.”
After a little while longer, I bid Samuel goodnight and dare to kiss his forehead. He gifts me with one of his smaller, almost secretive but infinitely rich smiles. My lips burn and tingle the entire rest of the evening as I work my shift in a daze. It’s not until much later, when I’m curled into the cubby in the on-call room that I’ve been residing in more than my own apartment, that I realize something.
I never told Samuel my first name.
I have one hour before my shift starts. I knock on Samuel’s ajar door with my free hand, the other holds onto a tray of six warm cinnamon rolls. The next two books in the series Samuel and I finished yesterday are tucked under my arm. Sunlight filters in through the halls and Godsdamnit the birds are fucking chirping. How cliche.
When he doesn’t cheerily call me in, I poke my head through the crack in the door. He’s not lying in bed, but the bathroom door is shut. There’s no nurse waiting outside it to help him back to his bed, but then again, he hasn’t really needed one, it’s been more of a precaution. I step inside the room and set the tray of cinnamon rolls on the empty rolling table, then place the books beside it.
I take a pastry and sit down in my chair, shoving half of it into my mouth. Once I sit down, I notice a scrap piece of paper atop the rumpled blankets littering Samuel’s bed. Probably one of the nurse’s. I pluck it off the bed, fingers jittering as the sugar kicks in. Holy fuck, Berkinson really does need to tone it down abit.
One word scrawled across the top of the paper catches my attention.
My breakfast falls to the floor.
Thank you for taking such good care of me over these past few weeks, and for being a friend to me. An actual, true friend who didn’t care that I’m famous and didn’t want anything from me other than to be with me. I’ll admit it, I took the coward’s way out.
I don’t think I could’ve said goodbye to you.
I’ll never be the kind of person who can stay in one place, Nino. While I think you know that, I don’t want to hurt you, or disappoint you. I know one day our paths will cross again, but for now, I will always remember you as the person who made me feel alive without having to put myself in danger.
I am an honest enough person to admit that I will never be able to say goodbye to danger, either. Please don’t think poorly of me for leaving you like this, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
You’ve changed me, my friend, and I look forward to the day I see you again. Maybe this time there will be less blood involved.
I’ll make sure there’s sand, though, just for you.
There’s no use in hiding it. I’m alone, and even though I have absolutely no reason to cry over a man I’ve only known for three weeks, my patient, I sob like there’s no tomorrow.
For five minutes, that is.
After five minutes of thoroughly soaking the note with my tears, the overhead system yanks me down to reality. “Code Green, all available practitioners to Bay One. Doctors Lasange, Berkinson, and Myonski report to Bay Three. I repeat, Code Green, Bay One.”
I leave the books and cinnamon rolls to retrieve later. (more like the empty plate after housekeeping sniffs them out) I don’t miss the fact that the book I left behind yesterday is gone. For some reason, I take comfort in the fact Samuel stole my book, along with my heart.
I leave the abandoned room, shoulders square and head held high as I sprint towards the emergency department, ready to save another life. Berkinson and Myonksi meet me halfway there and I fall into step between them. When we arrive at Bay One, there’s a bloody and sandy mess awaiting us. I glance at Berkinson and his lips twitch upwards.
He asks, “Ready for this, Nino?”
It’s after his fingers finish sweeping across his cheeks that something clicks. I take his hand, squeezing gently. “Ready, James.”
James Berkinson’s eyes widen, and he squeezes back.