Campfires

Granddad took us camping every summer. We’d go to Lake Naches, which was tucked inside of a rural farming town where the trees blended with hills of rocks and streams. No matter how nice the tent, I stayed inside the RV. Taking the RV just to sleep in a tent made little sense to me. And sure, I was scared to death of bugs of any kind, and I didn’t want anything to do with taking the tent down before leaving. No, I wasn’t self-fish. I just couldn’t pretend Mom wasn’t in-and-out of jail and with a string of boyfriends who beat her senselessly, or that my father wasn’t around. It was uncomfortable for my grandparents, and it was something that burned inside me.

I didn’t want the silence to bring conversation to Mom. I didn’t want to hear about how she was trying to do better and that she’d been sober for five months now. Mom had tried to get me back, but it was the same thing every time we went to court. According to the judge, Mom was unfit to parent a dog, let alone a kid. And then, Granddad died last September. But he kept his millions secret. We had no idea he had money, not even Grandma knew the guy invested in the stock market and kept it from us all. He left me three million dollars. Here I was a millionaire with a home and still in high school. 

One day of my senior year of high school, I bumped into this young lady with pale skin and long jet black hair. And that’s how it all started.

It went down something like this…

“Watch where the fuck you’re going!” I said to the girl, moving through the courtyard with her face buried in her phone. I felt terrible before the words left my mouth. I didn’t usually talk like that, but it was the anniversary of Grandpa’s death. I’d never gone to counseling to get over it, or found solace. I swooped to pick up the girl’s books as does she. We bumped heads.

“Ouch,” she said, rubbing her head. She lifted her gaze, and I instantly fell in love with her big brown puppy dog eyes. She had more blush than she needed and enough lipstick for two girls. We both stood. I swallowed hard. She was still rubbing her head.

“Here.” I extended my arms to hand her the books. “Listen, I didn’t mean to curse at you. I don’t do it often. It’s just been a bad day for me, and well, you know how it is.”

“Every one curses at me. I’m used to it. My father was in the military, and he treats me like I’m one of his soldiers.” She gave an awkward but cute laugh.

“What’s your name?” I asked. She looked like a Hannah or a Lacy.

“Hannah,” she said, “my name is Hannah.” I nailed it. Maybe this was meant to be. Perhaps I’d found the one? This insecure woman’s eyes pierced my soul. I couldn’t figure out why. I’d been with a million different girls, but none of them had this immediate impact on my soul. There was something different, something special about this girl.

“My name is Ben.” I reached to shake her hand, but she hugged her books tight. Okay, she’s playing hard to get. I thought. I can’t blame her.

“I don’t shake hands with this whole coronavirus stuff and all.” Beautiful and smart. She checked off all the relevant boxes. Around this town, there were either beautiful women or intelligent women, not both. I’d found the one person in Naches with brains and looks to kill. “You look a little flustered,” she said. “Is everything okay?”

“It’s…um… everything is fine.” I slide my folder over my crotch to hide my boner. “I’ll see you around.” I departed her presence and made my way to my fourth-period class, thinking about waking up, tangled in her bedsheets. I came to school today filled with anger, but right now, all I wanted to do was love someone. I’d wanted to worship this goddess of beauty. At lunch, my friends’ joke, and I nibbled at my food and thought of Hannah. I’d caught glances of her standing in line, waiting for her vegetarian sub sandwich. Girls like her didn’t eat meat. I couldn’t tell whether it was a phase, peer pressure, or both. 

“Go talk to her,” my friend said, nudging my arm. But I couldn’t go right now. I needed to wait to catch her alone. I was sure most of her friends thought I wasn’t good enough for Hannah. Our school had over two thousand students, so it wasn’t uncommon to see new kids. I’d never seen Hannah before because if I had, I’d have talked to her. At least I hoped I would have approached her, but probably only in my dreams where anything was possible, especially in September. The summer had faded behind early autumn, and the hot August sun exchanged its heat for gold and brown leaves.

“Yo, I’ll talk to you guys later.” I stood up and gathered my bags. I took a deep breath and blew out a sharp sigh and made my way across the courtyard. She was alone. I was alone. I’d never been shy to talk to a girl, ever. But this was different. This woman was everything I thought I needed, and more. You know that feeling where the world collides with sparks and butterflies at the same time? That was the vibe I’d felt.

I cleared my throat. “Hannah, I just wanted to apologize again.” I’m so fucking awkward, I thought. What the hell was this woman doing to me? “I shouldn’t have snapped, and you and…”

“What do you really want?” she asked, crinkling her eyes. Even looking at me with questions felt better than none. “Just ask me, and stop being so nervous, dude.”

“Right…nervous.” Don’t say that out loud, you idiot, I thought. “I was wondering if you’d want to hang out or go on a date.” My baritone voice squeaked, bringing a hint of a smile to her face.

“I’ve missed going camping,” she said. “If you want to come with my friends, we’re going this weekend. Do you want to come? We’re going tonight.” Hannah held her watch to her glasses.

“Where are you guys going?” Please don’t say Naches. Please don’t say Naches. Damn it, I reminded myself of my Granddad’s death. Maybe it’s a good idea to reconcile my hurt with a visit to the place we loved to camp at.

“Naches,” she said. “Is that a problem?” She crinkled her eyes again. Hannah must need a stronger prescription for her glasses. Either that or I wasn’t as good looking as my last girlfriend said.

“I’ll meet you tonight at five.”

“I’ll go pack.”

“Wait. Can you give me a ride home?” Hannah asked. My car broke down, and my parents are out of town. A beautiful girl, who invited me to go camping, just told me her parents are out of town. I asked myself several times if I knew what this meant. Maybe I’d lose my virginity. Perhaps I’d get my first French-kiss. Or maybe I’d hold someone’s hand and feel an electric connection.

“Sure, of course.” We passed stoplights and street signs and engaged in small conversation. She told me about how her parents are lawyers and expected her to follow in their footsteps. I told her about my Granddad, and how he left me the house and the millions. I didn’t tell Hannah where he died, though. And I didn’t tell the truth about my mother. I said she died giving birth to me. What? It’s not like people don’t lie when they first meet. We all do.

I placed the car in park, expecting her to go pack and send me to do the same. “Do you want to come in?” Hannah tucked her bangs back behind her ear. I couldn’t believe what I heard, but I wasn’t going to make her ask twice.

“Show me the way.”

Before we could close the door, she started kissing me, and I kissed her back. She shook off her coat and unbuttoned her shirt, leaving only her black bra. A thin gold necklace that fell to her cleavage highlighted the apple lotion on her skin with a hint of Calvin Klein on her neck. I cupped her cheeks and kissed her until she pulled away to unzip her pants and shook them to the floor. Hannah’s bra and panties remain. I awkwardly removed my shirt, wrapped my arms around her, and kissed her neck.

“I feel so safe in your arms.” Hannah’s voice faded to a moan. My hands crawled the length of her shoulders to her lower back. With each touch, her sigh lengthened. “Come on.” Hannah pulled me by the arm to her bedroom. Her room looked exactly as I thought it would. A California size bed with a wood frame beneath and a matching dresser; It had a log cabin vibe. Even Hannah’s walls had wood to resemble a cabin. The detail surprised me. I mean, it was as if the entire house rested in a heavily wooded area. But in reality, Hannah lived on the wealthy side of the tracks. Her parents were rich, much more affluent than I was growing up.

Hannah climbed on top of my body, and my vulnerabilities seeped through my veins. Our passion ignited friction. It was a heat I couldn’t bear to touch.

We packed but decided to go camping alone.

“What do you say we go camping alone?” I felt her passion trickle through her words; she wanted me all to herself. Her touch told me she didn’t care about having her friends interrupt our conversations or cuddling like new lovers.

“Sounds good to me.” I stood, reached my hand, and pulled Hannah to her feet. We headed for the lake. I told her not to bring a tent, but she did anyway. She said something about how she hated sleeping in RVs. I told her if she was going to sleep in a tent, I couldn’t sleep with her. Okay, you got me. If she wanted me to sleep in a tent dammit, I’d man-up and sleep in a tent.

(sample still editing)

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