His fingers slipped beneath my waistband and he lowered my pants and boxer briefs to the floor; I stepped out of them easily. His kisses went lower, down my pelvis, brushing gently on the pale smooth skin of my hips and upper thighs.
I will freely admit that I giggled like an immature child when Daniel parked the Jeep in front of a Dick’s Sporting Goods mega store. I couldn’t help it. I know it is just a name, but come on: Dick’s?
A store devoted to entirely stereotypically masculine pursuits like camping and fishing and hunting and they choose to name the place… Dick’s. It’s humorous at any age or maturity level. I don’t care what you say, it is.
“Grow up, baby,” Daniel chided me gently.
But even my manly muscle-bound boyfriend (or whatever label he fit at that point) couldn’t completely hide his own smirking grin.
Daniel wore a sleeveless cut off t-shirt that showed off his well defined arms and shoulders and hinted at the mounding muscles of his chest. A pair of very loose fitting black basket ball shorts and white running shoes completed his casual ensemble. He seemed to glow a little in the morning sun, his Italian heritage already changing his skin tone to a deep bronze tan anyone would envy.
Anyone who wasn’t nearly translucently pale, like myself. My best hope was for a shade of red that would eventually fade into a slightly less reflective white. I never really “tanned.” I just dimmed a bit.
“You lead the way, babe,” I said. “I want to watch you walk.”
I patted his ass and watched it shake a bit beneath the faux silken shorts. I growled low in my throat and kissed him quickly on the cheek, glancing around to see if anyone had noticed my public display of affection. No one seemed to be looking at us so I repeated the pat on the other cheek.
“You’re a perv. And I love you,” Daniel smiled broadly and returned my little peck on the cheek.
The big boxy store was well lit with huge fluorescent lamps, a massive air circulation system and wide aisles stuffed to the brim with every imaginable outdoor item one could possibly think of. Well, if one wasn’t naturally more inclined to a Victorian novel over a fishing rod, that is.
Daniel and I strolled the aisles, up and down, chatting aimlessly about this and that. Daniel pushed the big neon orange shopping cart in front of him and I walked easily behind him. Every now and then, he would grab something from the shelf and toss it into the basket. I wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to what he was collecting for us. I was much more focused on the boy doing the grabbing.
He was so sure of himself, so at his ease in that bastion of manliness and capitalism. There were maybe three women that I could see in the entire store; the rest of our fellow customers were big burly men in various types and styles of camouflage, complete with trucker caps and bushy unkempt beards. Peppered here and there I could see the tall, muscular country boys in their early 20’s, the kind of guys that feature prominently in 1970’s era gay porn.
In my well fitted jeans and tight white t-shirt, I was having flash backs to the first day of high school, when I realized that I was very different from most of the people around me. But Daniel didn’t seem to notice. Didn’t seem to care.
He rambled about nothing and everything that popped into his head. He asked about my Valedictorian speech, what I was wearing to graduation, if we should go to Ian’s after-graduation party at his parents’ lake house, whether I liked the great outdoors, if I’d ever been camping.
(I had. I was a boy scout in my younger days until it became apparent that my interests lay more in the scouts themselves and not what they were trying to teach me. Hey, a lot of people have a thing for uniforms. Those little khaki short shorts were sexy. I apologize for nothing!)
Along the back wall, Daniel grabbed two pairs of water proof hiking boots and tossed them into the cart.
“Why do you need two pairs of boots for one weekend?” I asked.
Daniel just laughed to himself and continued to search the items on the wall, as if his coming response was par-for-the-course obvious.
“One pair for me, one pair for you, silly.”
“You don’t have to buy me anything, baby,” I said, slightly perplexed. “I can just wear my tennis shoes.”
Daniel nonchalantly waved me off with a flick of his wrist, never looking back at me. But I imagined I could picture the proud and content smile that he wore as he strolled lazily ahead of me. It made me melt a little bit inside. He enjoyed being able to do these types of things for me.
“Okay,” I said quietly.
I was smiling at Daniel’s broad back, enjoying the way his wide shoulders and back tapered to his slim taut waist, the way his bubble butt glided smoothly beneath the mesh polyester of his shorts, ever hinting at the possibility of a glimpse of the bare skin it covered but never following through with the tease.
Suddenly, I felt that familiar tingle between my shoulders, that sixth sense that Southern women like to say means “someone is walking over your grave.” Time traveling colloquialisms aside, I was sure that someone was watching me.
I turned and saw a tall man with a big bushy beard staring at me. Imagine if Santa Claus had a brother who enjoyed shooting the flying reindeer with a double gauged shot gun. He was staring at me, his lips pursed into a tight line. He shook his head slightly, muttered something under his breath and returned his attention to the gloves he’d removed from a hook on the wall.
“Ignore him, baby,” Daniel said from behind me.
I hadn’t heard him cease his pleasant chatter, but his palm on the small of my back snapped me back to reality. I turned from the bearded spectator and smiled at Daniel, nodding to let him know I was okay. Just a little shaken.
Though I was on edge and on the lookout for danger for the remainder of our shopping excursion, Daniel continued to fill the cart with everything from backpacks to a massive tent with two rooms and an awning.
TWO ROOMS? In a tent?
I idly wondered what our fore fathers, who had hiked the Oregon trail in covered wagons with oxen and mules would have thought of a $ 350.00 tent.
Mary has dysentery.
Would you like to ford the river?
You can only carry 2000 lbs.
Would you like to purchase a 350 dollar tent that you will most likely only use once over the next year?
But Daniel didn’t even blink when the cashier told him the total. (I won’t repeat that number here, as it still gives me heart palpitations.) He handed her a shiny silver rectangle of plastic, which she swiped with what I was sure was envy in her eyes. Daniel just spent her entire monthly salary in the space of an hour without so much as a moments’ hesitation. I smiled at her and tried to convey my thanks and apologies in my expression.
What I was apologizing for, I had no idea.
Daniel was excited. He seemed very much like me on the first day of school by the time we got home to his house and unloaded the haul. He bounced on his toes, a movement I was very approving of considering the way it made his calves tense and his butt bounce. We laid it all out in the back yard, arrayed so we could see it in all of its newly purchased glory.
“So,” Daniel said, his hands on his hips, looking down and surveying his purchases, “we should set up the tent and some of the other stuff so we can get you used to it.”
His arm snaked around my waist and he pulled me tight to him. He kissed me on the gentle curve of my neck and I shivered a bit. I rested my hand on his ass and squeezed. It was becoming a natural reaction to his touch, and I loved that.
He was just so adorable and excited about all the camping gear and new outdoor accoutrement. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d been camping dozens of times with the Scouts and my family as well. He was obviously enjoying the rare opportunity to teach me something, after months of me being the “smart one.”
He had, of course, taught me much much more than he would ever know, changed my life in so many irrevocable and ultimately positive ways. But he was never one to take credit for his own amazingness.
“We’ll probably be in some kind of camp ground, I’m sure,” he said, “but if we were going out on our own, remember to always pitch camp near water, on flat ground. Think about where the rain water might run off, ya know?”
I nodded and smiled at him, taking in everything he was saying even though I already knew it.
It only took us fifteen minutes to set up the massive tent Daniel had bought for us.
The dark green monstrosity was ten feet by ten feet with a huge zip up door, mesh lined windows at every side, and a second “room” that clipped to the ceiling poles and four rivets in the tarpoline floor. The entire thing smelled of plastic and chemicals, so Daniel unzipped the windows and let the late spring breeze flow through and wash away some of the “new tent” smell.
Daniel sat down on the floor of the tent and patted the space beside him, motioning me to sit with him. I did and snuggled in to him. He leaned his head on my shoulder and sighed lightly.
“Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to just give it all up. Go live in the woods somewhere a hundred miles from the nearest neighbor. Pull a Thoreau and go full tilt, ‘On Walden Pond.’ You ever think about that?”
“Of course. All the time. I think everyone does at some point.”
“Would you come with me?”
I wound my fingers through his and pulled them to my lips to lightly kiss the back of his hand.
“I wouldn’t do it without you.”
We sat like that for a while, watching the afternoon sunlight dance in and around the leaves of the massive oak trees, listening to his breathing lengthen and his body mold into mine.
“I love you so much,” he whispered.
I lay back and pulled him down to me, tilting his face up to mine and kissing him. He sighed into our kiss and snuggled into me.
“I love you too, Daniel.”
He laid his head on my chest and put his arm over my torso, his palm flat over my heart, his firm body pressed along my side. I lazily ran my fingers through his hair and stared at the roof of our new tent.
Daniel’s Mamma woke us up for dinner several hours later. The sun was nearly below the horizon and twilight had replaced brightness, painted the sky with broad strokes in deep purples and lilacs.
Daniel and I were still in the exact same position.
The next morning, if pre-sunrise can legitimately be called morning, Daniel and I parked the Jeep in the Senior parking lot at school. I was on my second travel mug of strong black coffee, thanks to Daniel’s ever- prepared Mamma, and was just beginning to feel almost human.
There were six large white vans in a long line. Coach B and several parent volunteer chaperones were packing the various tents and bags into the back of the vehicles. Our classmates, all 55 of them, were milling about the parking lot, chatting and sipping red bulls or Starbucks to-go cups.
“Dude,” Ian started, walking up to us, “you guys are almost late. I called us a place in the second van. Hurry the fuck up.”
Gordon and Tall Paul shuffled behind him like some kind of extras in a zombie movie: pale, grumpy, and distracted.
“How are you so damned perky?” I growled at Ian, sipping the heavenly black liquid and letting it slowly course through my veins, feeling more alive with every passing moment.
Ian shrugged and smiled.
“Dunno. Just a morning person I guess.”
“I hate you.”
“Ditto,” Gordon added, finally catching up to our little group.
Daniel unloaded our gear and stacked it behind the second van, waiting to be packaged in the trunk. When he was finished, he placed an arm around my waist.
“He’s super cute, but he can be a real bitch in the morning, guys. Give him an hour or two and he’ll be back to his usually charming self.”
I scowled at him, but my anger faded when he kissed my neck gently and grabbed my hand to lead me to the van entrance.
“It’s weird getting into one of these things and not be headed to an away game, right?” Tall Paul offered as Ian hopped lightly, despite his bulk, into the van and headed towards the long back seat.
I grumbled and nodded, pushing Paul up to sit next to Ian’s massive body. Daniel pushed me forward gently and I groaned while I took my seat next to Paul. Daniel soon sat next to me along the window of the back row and patted my leg, letting his hand rest lightly on my thigh. He had dressed me in an old pair of his khaki shorts that morning so his skin made contact with mine and made me shiver a bit.
“Hands, boys,” Paul teased. “No touching until we get there.”
“Fuck off, I’ll touch him if I want to,” Daniel shot back, not cruelly but in the playful banter I’d come to recognize as an integral part of the Jock Language.
I turned and childishly stuck my tongue out at Paul. He snorted a laugh.
“Fine, fine,” he said throwing his hands up in surrender.
“As you were, gentlemen.”
Daniel grabbed my hand and slipped his strong fingers between mine, squeezed tightly, and rested them on his lap.
“And where am I supposed to sit?” Gordon drawled, even more so than usual.
He was not a morning person either. Ian patted the seat in front of us, indicating that Gordon was to take that open space in the second row.
“Sorry buddy, only room for four of us in the back. You sit here and I’ll give you a shoulder massage.”
That seemed to tickle him to no end and he giggled and squirmed, delighted. For someone with shoulders as broad as Ian’s, a giggle and squirm meant that the rest of us were often bumped and prodded rather violently.
I wanted to punch him. No one had the right to be that active and perky before the sun was above the horizon. No matter how many visible abdominals they may possess.
“Deal,” Gordon said, climbing in and taking the seat. He shrugged his shoulders and readied himself for Ian’s promised massage. “Get to rubbing, ass hole.”
I was slumbering lightly on Daniel’s shoulder before we even left the parking lot. I woke up about two hours later, about half way through the four hour trip. My coffee was cold and disgusting when I took a sip, but I listened contently as Daniel pointed out the sights, our caravan winding slowly towards our destination.
It was just reaching mid-morning when the vans were finally unpacked, turned around, and rumbling back towards campus, stranding us in the mountains for the weekend. Some of my female classmates watched the vans disappear around a bend in the gravel road as if they were watching their sweethearts march off to war in some bygone era. Some were blanched completely white, clutching their quilted purses to their chests with claw like, white-knuckled well-manicured fingers. I wondered how long those manicures would last up here.
Who got their nails done before spending a weekend in the woods?
At least I didn’t look like them. Or so I hoped. Tired and groggy, yes? Afraid for my life and jumping and squealing any time an insect came within three feet of me… thankfully, not. Instead of jumping about, I contented myself with staring death glares at the bugs and small woodland creatures, classmates included, who dared come within my sphere of influence. Remarkably, it seemed to work and I was left largely unmolested. Better for everyone involved if I was left alone until my caffeine had taken full effect.
Daniel lugged all of our equipment down the marked path towards the camp ground, about 100 yards into the woods.
There was a large stone lined circular fire pit with wooden logs in a hexagonal seating area around it. The entire area in a 20 yard radius from the central stone fire pit was essentially flat, cleared of all brush and undergrowth, and dotted with tall pine trees that left plenty of open space for pitching individual tents.
“Ladies, to the right! Gentlemen, to the left!” Coach B barked loudly as we began to ramble in and about the campground. He waved his thick arms to indicate which gender should head in which direction. Parent chaperones were staking their claims at regular intervals between the assembling small groups of students, making sure to pepper the adults evenly between us youngsters.
“Where are you gonna put down?” Paul asked Daniel, as if it was the most common question upper middle class white teenagers asked on a daily basis.
“Head over there,” Daniel said, jerking his head to the far left side of the available space.
We ended up on the outside edge of the grounds, right were the undergrowth started to reclaim the forrest floor. Daniel faced the doorway to the big tent so that we could see the fire pit. Ian took a place to our left, Paul to the right. Daniel pulled a small pup tent from one of the bags, a basic two person affair with no standing room, and put it directly in front of the entrance to the big green tent.
“What’s that for?” Ian asked. “Aren’t you two sharing the big one?”
I was wondering much the same thing, so I stood from unpacking and waited for Daniel to answer.
“Of course we are. But they don’t have to know that.” He jerked his head towards the nearest parent chaperone, dressed head to toe in designer cammo that had to cost more than my car. The designer label was stitched in thread of gold above the left breast; I couldn’t help but shake my head in resigned disbelief.
“You actually brought a decoy tent?” Gordon twittered while nailing in the ground stakes to his own small blue tent.
I tried to stifle my smile but it was pointless.
Daniel had thought far enough ahead as to bring along a secondary tent, granting us a little more space between our sanctuary and the rest of the camp.
It was sweet. And practical!
We stored our equipment and my unnecessary sleeping bag in the small tent. If you didn’t stare too closely, it looked very much as if there was a teenaged boy ready to occupy the small space. And it left the vast majority of the big two room tent open for our use…whatever that might end up being.
When all four domiciles were erected and complete, it did feel like a semi-isolated area all our own.
The decoy tent was our little buffer zone. Our big pavilion towered over the three smaller ones that surrounded it. I felt like a knight with his entourage of squires, set up for combat on some medieval battlefield. If there had been tarps and plastics and brightly dyed fabrics not found in nature during that particular epoch.
Katy confidently sauntered towards our little gathering, picking her way past pine cones and small sticks as if she was walking a runway in Milan. Never mind that she wore tan suede hiking boots (with a small raised heel, I noticed. Where had she found semi high heeled hiking boots?!) and small short shorts. Imagine Elly-Mae Clampet goes camping, if Elly-Mae took semi annual shopping trips to Rodeo Drive with an American Express Black Card.
I stared at her, a little confused.
“Katy?” I asked, “What are you doing here?”
She arched an eyebrow at me and my stomach dropped.