Archive for February, 2022

In the Mist

We never told anyone.

I was fifteen, a year out of braces, in contact lenses only slightly longer.  Five months yet to my sixteenth birthday, my body was much more woman than child, my eyebrows plucked to teen-perfect open symmetry.  I was a lower-rung group leader, younger than the others, and prone to raucous outbursts of laughter and singing.

He was twenty-three, the younger brother of a group advisor, pressed by his overly-optimistic sister into coming along as an extra chaperone to sixty enthusiastic teenagers.  His lean face was nearly overburdened by a thick cloud of curly, strawberry-blond hair, and a heavy mustache that I was far too young to find ridiculous.  He tended toward mellow silences, and largely stuck to his role in the periphery.

He was beautiful, and my eyes followed him wherever he went.  It never dawned on me he could see me, too.

I don’t quite know how it happened.  But we found ourselves both outside the retreat’s main event hall.  It was drizzling, but the May air felt good after all the excitement indoors.  I had probably stepped outside to nurse my oft-overwhelming emotions.  I couldn’t say what he was doing or how he came to be there.  But we were both outside in the drizzle, and took to slowly ambling around the camp, gradually moving away from the buildings and toward the woods. I don’t know what we said to each other, but it could not have been much.

The rain began coming down harder, so we followed the path into the cover of the trees.  We walked unhurriedly down the narrow track, separate and not speaking.  The trees occasionally dripped onto us, and small triangles of muted daylight peeked through the canopy of leaves.  We followed the path until it emerged onto a tiny beach by a lake.  Across the lake looked to be an island, forested as thickly as the woods we’d just traversed.  We discovered a small rowboat near the edge of the woods.  He looked at me inquiringly.  I looked back at him, surprised, then looked around.  “No oars,” I said, feeling sure this would keep us out of trouble.  He searched around a bit until finding a large stick, thick enough to do the job.  I held my breath as he dragged the boat to the water’s edge. “C’mon, it’s OK,” he reassured.  “We’re not doing anything wrong.”

I felt quite sure the others would not see it that way, but my head had left my body even as my heart was in my mouth.  I tended to abide by the rules, despite often pushing wildly against them.  I knew deep inside that I was crossing a line.  And so, transfixed by mysterious forces, I climbed into the boat. 

He paddled with surprising ease across the lake, with his one-branch-oar, in the rain.  We got to the island and he hopped out and dragged the boat up, and helped me alight.  It was raining harder again, and we scrambled into the woods for cover.

In the shade of the forest, we were relieved to find a fallen tree, large enough to sit on while we tried to wait out the rain.  At first I just sat beside him, listening to the pitter-pat of the rain all around us, almost holding my breath.  He spoke, asked if I was cold.  I tried pretending I wasn’t.  He came closer.  His green eyes searched out mine.  He was so quiet, so calm.  There were so few words.  He came closer still, put his arm around me, turning me gently toward him.  He saw my pain, my sorrow.  He told me he saw.  Everyone back there knew my story, but he didn’t.  Yet he saw.

There, on the log, our faces came closer and closer together. Our breaths dissolving into one another’s, our eyelashes fluttering against each others’ cheekbones.  Our lips barely grazed one another’s.  The trees dripped down on us.  He murmured to me softly between the raindrops.  He saw.  He could tell.  He brushed my lips with his, then put his arms around me.  I buried my face in his neck, his shoulder, feeling the heat coming off him, the rise and fall of his chest. 

I knew things, but was unable to speak.  I knew it felt so good, like a deep sigh, to be here with him like this.  I knew this was not the same as sneaking off with other boys.  I knew this was against the rules.  I knew I could not kiss him back fully.  And I knew he knew, because he was being so very careful with me.  I knew all of this, in a remote, amorphous way that was impossible to voice.

Instead of tapering off, the rain came down harder.  He gave me his outer shirt, but still stayed so close, holding me, and quietly talking to me about what he saw.  Finally, I looked up into the rain streaming down my face and spoke. “It’s not letting up. We better go back.”  He nodded, and with seeming reluctance rose and took my hand, leading me back down the forest path to the rowboat.  In silence, we got in and he paddled us back across the lake while raindrops fell into the water, making countless little circles in its surface.

He dragged the boat back up the tiny beach and threw the branch into the underbrush.  I looked back at the island through the screen of falling water.  Then we ran for the cover of the woods once more, walking the last paces of the trail back toward the others.  Before reaching the edge of the woods, I handed him back his outer shirt, which he slowly took from me and put back on.  Our eyes met one last time, and without speaking we understood that we should not emerge from the woods together.  I went first, stepping out into the camp, then running through the downpour back to the hall.


We never told anyone.



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