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A special thank you for someone who read this story and helped me with a title (even though I didn’t use his suggestions); someone who gave me the idea about the park bench; and someone who reminded me of first love and days long ago and inspired this story.Thanks, guys!
“God damn it!”
She was vaguely aware of the man’s voice up ahead, but most of her attention was focused on the what she was hearing. The new black pledges to Omega Psi Phi, brands burned into their forearms, marched by, chanting “Omega Psi Phi gonna make it some day. “Smoke on the Water” poured out from one dorm, blending into “Long Train Running” and “Crocodile Rock” and the distinctive swish ker-ching of the opening chords of “Money” by Pink Floyd blasting from speakers placed in the windows of another. It was wonderful to hear something besides the Hum. Buzz. Snap! of the faulty fluorescent light in the music department office where she’d been cooped up inside all morning.
This afternoon was the last day of the university’s Earth Day Fair. The campus’s commemoration started as pamphlets passed out by what her roommates derisively referred to as “granola chicks” and had grown in the past few years into a week long festival of informational booths, tables selling natural teas and tisanes, students selling macrame and beaded necklaces and bracelets, and pavilions showcasing original artwork by students, faculty and other members of the community.
“Harlots! What is your husband going to think when he comes to you on your wedding night and finds out you’re not a virgin?” The itinerant street preacher, Jed Smock, as much a fixture in the spring as the Frisbee-catching mutts wearing red bandanas, called out from his orange crate, conveniently positioned directly across from the row of bikini-clad coeds sunbathing on the soft grass of the quad.
She smiled. Boy, did he have the wrong girl! She was almost convinced that she was the only virgin left on campus. Even the ghost that haunted one of the women’s dorms was murdered after spending the night with her lover. She wasn’t holding on to her virginity out of any moral or religious convictions. She wasn’t a lesbian. She liked guys. She even dated occasionally. It was just that , well, no one had asked her.
The voice was closer and louder now. It was coming from the next pavilion, really just a tent with the canvas sides rolled up and fastened with rope on each of the four corners. Inside she could see colorful artwork displayed. The man inside was doing something to the sides of the tent.
She looked up as a burst of raindrops splashed against her cheek. While she had been walking, the sky had darkened and the wind began to blow, the temperature dropping as the rain began to pour. That was just her luck. All day long the weather had been gorgeous and she’d been collating brochures. The only time she’d even seen the outdoors was when her trek across the piles of band camp folders she was sorting by zip code took her in front of the window. God bless New England, she thought with a smile. If it weren’t for that stack, I’d have never even seen blue skies today.
“Damn! Watch out!”
Something flew up and smacked her on the forehead. She winced at the unexpected pain and brought her fingers up to her eyebrow. She brought her fingers down and saw a small smear of red on them. She was bleeding. What on Earth had hit her?
“Oh, Fuck! You’re bleeding.”
Hands reached out and pulled her into the dimness of the pavilion.
” I’m so sorry. That line got away from me. Are you okay? Here,” the voice said in a rush. “Hold this against the cut. I’ll be right back.” Her hand was grabbed and a bundle of soft fabric, a t-shirt?, was pressed into it.
She stood where she was, holding the makeshift bandage to her forehead, blinking, trying to adjust her eyes to the lower light inside the tent. The man was unrolling the final side of the tent as the rain began to blow against the canvas wall. Inside it was even darker as he fastened the walls of the tent to the poles.
The music was gone now, muted by the closed windows. The rain pelted the roof of the tent. She looked around at her surroundings and dropped the cloth as her eyes opened wide in astonishment . She turned slowly around in a circle, astounded at what she was seeing.
The canvas walls of the tent had been painted to resemble a tropical rain forest. Tall, leafy trees reached to the peak of the pavilion’s pitched roof. Brightly colored birds flew in and out of the canopy. Glimpses of wild animals, monkeys, jaguars and snakes, could be seen peeking out of the dense foliage. In the distance a waterfall flowed over a mountain’s edge and crashed into a winding river. The entire painting was so realistic, she was transported into fantasy of an Amazonian rain forest.
“Oh. Oh,” the girl said as the man returned to her side. “Where did you get this?”
“I got bored over semester break and this was the result. I stayed up for a couple of nights straight painting it. You’re the first person who’s seen it. What do you think?”
“I think it’s wonderful. I feel like I’m in the middle of the jungle somewhere, especially with the rain hitting the roof. I can almost hear the birds singing and that monkey over there howling.” She smiled at him.
“Listen, I’m so sorry you got hurt. That rope snapped in the wind just as you walked by. Are you okay? Let me see.” His fingers gently tilted her face to his so he could see her more clearly in the dim light.
“It’s just a tiny little cut on my eyebrow. It doesn’t hurt. I think I was more surprised than anything. You didn’t need to give me your shirt. It didn’t even bleed for more than a second or so. Oh,” she said, stooping down to pick up the shirt where she’d dropped it when she’d first seen the illustrated walls of the tent. “Your shirt’s a mess. I’m afraid I got blood on it and then dropped it, too.”
“It’s okay. It’s the least I could do. I was rushing to get the sides to the tent secured because I’ve been working on a watercolor all day and haven’t had a chance to finish it or spray it down. Any rain blowing in on it would have ruined it and I think it’s gonna be one of my best ones yet. Wanna see?”
“All of these are yours?” She looked around at the paintings displayed on easels and tables inside the tent. The paintings ranged from tiny miniatures of life-sized jeweled beetles and butterflies, delicate flowers and birds to a few larger portraits of jungle animals that looked as if they had just stopped momentarily and would be climbing off the easels and stalking back into the greenery behind them. A battered green park bench held a painting of a jaguar, almost life-sized, poised to spring out of the canvas. A poster, advertising this year’s Earth Day celebration, was taped up to one of the poles of the tent.
“I loved this poster. I walked by one every day and always stopped and spent more time than I should looking at it. I was almost late for class twice. I bought a couple of the raffle tickets from the student council, hoping I’d win one of them for my bedroom wall.”
“Here,” he said, pulling out a rolled tube of paper from a box in the corner. “I had a deal with the council. I gave them some posters to put up and raffle off and I got to keep some for my own personal use. You can have this one. No need to wait for the raffle.” He handed her the poster.
“No, I couldn’t,” she protested. “Your work is too valuable to be giving it away.”
“Take it,” he said, unrolling it and showing her the tropical leaves and butterflies that seemed to float off the paper. “It’s the least I can do for injuring you.”
“If you’re sure, I’d love to have it.” She reached out , took the poster and began to nervously roll it up in her hands. “Well, I think the rain’s letting up. I should probably get going…”
“No, wait. I really want to show you what I’ve been working on this afternoon. Come here,” he said, grabbing a hold on her hand and tugging her into a corner of the tent where an easel and a table with watercolor paint tubes , water glasses and brushes stood. “I think you really need to see this.”
She looked and saw a large canvas with a pastel wash of watercolors. It was one of the buildings on campus, pale grey bricks with ivy climbing up the walls. She could just make out the sketched in details of a window and a figure standing off to the side behind it. With a start, she realized that the building was the music department and the figure was a girl and the girl was her!
“I think that’s me,” she said, turning to face him. “I mean, if that’s the second floor of the Fine Arts Complex. I was working up there this morning.”
“I could just get tiny, little glimpses of you. This girl shows up in the window. I sketch frantically and then she’s gone. She had such an expression on her face, like she was waiting…no, yearning for something. A moment of perfect yearning. I had to paint that.”
“Boy, you make it sound a lot more important that just wanting to be outside on a great spring day,” she laughed nervously. “I was sorting brochures by zip code. When I got to ones with zeroes or ones, they were in front of the window. I stopped for a minute and looked out.”
“I’m glad you did,” he said. “I think it’s really gonna be good. It’s too dark to work on it anymore today. Now that I know what you look like…” He smiled and touched her cheek.
She looked up at him, blushing a little at his touch. “Well, I think the rain’s stopped. I should go.”
“Okay, but here,” he said, reaching for her poster. “Let me wrap that up for you so the rain doesn’t get it.”
“Hey, you got the virgin!” he said as he unrolled the paper.
“Look. See these numbers on the bottom of the print. 1/100. The first one out of a run of one hundred.”
“It’s generally the cleanest print, the sharpest, the best quality. It’s worth more than, say, number ninety-nine,” he said as he rolled the poster tightly and wrapped another sheet of paper over it.
“Oh. Well, if it’s valuable, you should keep it. You can sell it. Right?”
“You keep it. I’ve sold enough this week. Consider it your modeling fee. Okay?” He handed her the tube. “I’ll let you out of my jungle now. Have a great evening and thanks again.”
They walked to the wall of the tent and he knelt down to unfasten the edge so she could leave. A clap of thunder split the afternoon sky and rain poured from the heavens.
“You’re going to get drenched. Why don’t you stay a little longer until this blows over?”
“You don’t have something you need to do?” she said, vaguely waving at the boxes and paintings all around her.
“I need to pack up, but that won’t take that long. Stack canvasses into the crates. Pack away the posters. Shouldn’t take too long. Please stay. I really like talking to you. I’ve been so busy getting ready for this show, I don’t think I’ve talked to another human being, let alone a pretty girl, in weeks.” He refastened the tent wall so the rain didn’t blow in.
“Same here. Oh, not the pretty girl part,” she giggled. “I’m taking a full load of classes, working on campus and at that donut shop uptown most mornings. Between all that and a ton of papers due all at the same time, I haven’t had a chance to breathe. But, the papers are all done. I finished my music job and the donut shop’s closed for the week. So I’m free until Monday. And I’d really like to stay, too.”
“Great. I’d like the company while I pack up.”
“Can I help?”
“No, it’s gotta be put in a certain order to get everything crated up. Why don’t you just sit here and talk to me?” he said, motioning to the park bench . “I’ll move the cat back to the jungle where she can be with her friends.”
“Her?” she asked. “How do you know she’s female?”
“All cats are females. All that grace and beauty. Have to be. Just like you.” He smiled at her.
She blushed. “I’m not that graceful or beautiful.”
He walked over to the bench and sat down beside her. “I watched you walking down the sidewalk. You were regal. A proud little jungle cat.” He smiled and leaned in toward her.
She closed her eyes and raised her face to his. She felt his kiss, at first very gently, then imperceptibly his lips pressed against hers. His tongue licked at her lips and she opened them to allow him access. The kiss deepened and went on.
His hands reached up to stroke the silken hair that fell down her back. She slid a tentative hand across his bare shoulders. She jerked her hand away when she felt a ripple of goose bumps raise on his skin.
“Oh, you’re cold. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dropped your shirt. Let me…” she trailed off as she looked around the dim tent for his t-shirt.
“Forget the shirt. Believe me. I’m not cold.” He pulled her down onto his lap. “Unless you don’t want to. I’ll get back to packing up and you can wait here until the rain stops. That’s fine, too.”
“No, I like this and I like you. I’d like to continue. It’s just that I’m a little nervous. The outdoors . People might come in and everything.”
“It’s pouring out there. No one’s still out there. We’re alone and I think we’ll stay that way for the rest of the night.”
“The rest of the night?” she questioned.
“Yeah, I have permission to camp here until tomorrow morning. It’s home, sweet home, until noon.”
“You sleep here? Where?” she asked, looking around the tent curiously.
“I’ve got a sleeping bag stashed over there,” he said.
“Show me,” she said and he stood, taking her by the hand and leading her over where a
sleeping bag was stashed in the corner.
“Shall I?” he asked, indicating the rolled bundle.
“Um…” she hesitated.
“Hey, that’s cool. No pressure or anything.”
“Oh, it’s not that. I’m not very experienced. I’m not sure what to do next. The sleeping bag might be a little more than I’m ready for.” She turned away from him, twisting her foot on the soft grass.
He took her shoulders and moved her around until she was facing him again. “The kissing was just fine. Feel comfortable with that?”
She smiled and brought his mouth down to hers in answer to his question. “Very comfortable,” she murmured against his lips. She stepped closer to him and her arms went around his neck. His hands encircled her waist and pulled her into him. She could feel his arousal through his jeans. She laughed and he pulled his head back to look at her.
“This is just so cool. Awhile ago I was walking across campus, thinking about what book to read and now I’m in the Amazon. Amazing.” She kissed him again, opening her mouth and running her tongue along his lips. His hands slid from her back to the undersides of her breast. This time it was her turn to shiver.
“Cold?” he asked. His fingers worked their way to the center of her breasts, thumbs lightly grazing her erect nipples.
“Oh, no. That just feels so good.” Her hands touching his bare chest, she mimicked what he was doing to her. His thumbs drew little circles around her nipples. Her thumbs drew little circles around his nipples. He rolled her nipples between his fingers, relishing in the moan of her mouth against his and she did the same. He reached down and began to pull her camisole up her hips, above her waist and over her breasts, the lightweight cotton catching on her erect little nipples. Her hands stretched over her head and he tossed her shirt into the corner.
She started to put her arms down but he stopped her, catching her wrists in his hand. “No, you look so pretty stretched out like that. Can you stay there for a minute?”
The girl nodded and he kissed down her face and the side of her neck, starting at the little cut that began this adventure, trailing down her cheek, lingering at her earlobe, sucking it into his mouth and then freeing it to move on down the curve of her neck, across the hollow of her collarbone and ever so slowly towards her breasts. His hand released her wrists, but she maintained that pose, as his hand echoed on the other side of her the path his mouth had taken.
She felt the tiniest, softest touch of his tongue on her nipple. His finger caressed with other one with an equally light touch. Her body responded and her nipples grew larger and even harder. His lips opened and her took her nipple into the warmth of his mouth. He closed his mouth over her nipple and tugged tenderly. His fingers rolled her other nipple between them and pinched until he could feel them bead up, taut little buds blossoming under his touch.
They stayed there, fingers brushing lightly against skin, hands touching bodies, lips against lips, learning the nuances of each other. He explored the soft, sensual curves of her body. She discovered the harder, more muscular planes of his. The rain beating on the tent overhead lessened to a light patter and then stopped completely.
“Listen,” he said. “I don’t hear anything. I think the rain’s done.”
“I don’t care,” she whispered. “I’m not ready to leave.”
“Who said anything about leaving?” He reached above his head and unzipped a section of the tent’s roof. A flap of canvas dropped down, revealing a netted skylight and the full moon shining down on them.
“Shh!” she said. “This is a great song.” Faintly, on the warm spring air, “Dancing in the Moonlight” drifted in from a stereo somewhere off in the distance.
“Let’s dance then,” and he took her in his arms. They swayed in the moonlight, listening to the quiet music and the beating of their hearts. The moon’s light glowed against her skin, his hair, their lithe bodies as they danced. The music changed to “Do You Want to Dance?”, then “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. They looked at each other and smiled at the message they both heard in the song’s lyrics.
Her hands dropped now and she slid them down his back, stopping at the waistband of his low slung jeans. Her fingertips tucked between the denim and the warm skin it covered. Her fingers continued their journey, encountering nothing but him under the faded blue jeans. She skimmed her fingers, still touching his bare skin, around the front of his jeans. Her fingers brushed against the light dusting of hair she encountered there.
He reached down and unbuttoned the first button of his fly and nudged her fingers a little further inside. He returned his hands to her breasts, caressing them, feeling her response to his touch. Moving down her body, his hands untied the macrame belt tied around her bellbottom jeans. The snap was next. The rasp of the metal zipper as he slid it down could be heard in the momentary silence in the night and then Barry White deep voice sang “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More”.
She unbuttoned the next button of his fly and touched the tip of him. She continued unfastening the buttons until his jeans rode loosely low on his hips and his length sprang free. His sharp intake of breath was audible as her fingers skimmed along his erection. His hands tugged her jeans down her hips, baring the tiny bikini panties she wore under them.
They each pushed their jeans down and stepped out of them. She unbuckled her sandals and kicked them aside. His sneakers were toed off and joined her shoes. Her bikini panties were tugged down and they both stood naked in the moonlight.
They reveled in the sight of their bodies. First looking, then touching, stroking, caressing one another, they began to learn. They discovered what caused that little gasp, what sent shivers down her spine, what made him harden even more in the circle of her fingers. He explored the damp, dewy curls at the apex of her thighs, first with his fingertips, then with his mouth, his tongue, kneeling in the soft grass in front of her body.
He pulled away from her and unfurled the sleeping bag down in the center of the tent. He knelt on the soft pallet and pulled her down until she was lying down beside him. He took her in his arms, kissing down the length of her body. She caressed him, shyly at first, tentative glances and grazes with shaky fingertips, then bold strokes with her mouth while she watched and felt his reaction.