July 1969 / Quaker Valley PA
(“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here”)
Thursday morning, three days before Margo got back, I pedaled out to our fort, and when I let my bike fall down in the tall grass at the entrance to the tunnel, once again there was just one other bike leaning against the fence: Christy’s banana-seat red Schwinn. “Where’s Steve?” I asked when I crawled back into our fort.
Christy was leaning against the stump of the oak tree that was built into the fence, flipping through a copy of Sports Illustrated, and she barely looked up. “Dentist, again. He had a cavity Monday and he’s gettin’ drilled.” I noted Christy’s subtle glee as I shuddered a little at the thought of the shot and the drill and the smell of the burning tooth. “He might come back out after lunch, though,” she added.
I set to work while Christy sat back in her room, reading and listening to her radio. I needed to install a ladder to our treehouse, and the first step was sawing 2x4s to use as rungs… and maybe it was just that Steve wasn’t there to act as a buffer that morning, but as I worked, I felt a weird sort of tension in the air. I didn’t know what it was, so I kind of dismissed it… and so, when Christy excused herself to vanish even further back into the briars to “use the little girls’ room” (she said), I figured, O.K., she’s just going back to pee, and I kept right on working as the radio played.
When I saw you I knew that I was gonna love you
And every day I thought of how I’m gonna love you
Now you’re here next to me
And ecstasy is a reality…
O.K…. verse… chorus… second verse, different from the first…
…what was taking Christy so long? I could hear a little bit of rustling around, but I didn’t hear that telltale WHHOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSSHHHHH… I mean, I’d learned, from being back there with Margo, that it took girls LESS time to pee than it did boys, and I couldn’t figure out why it was taking Christy so long to‑‑
“Did you ever see a girl naked?”
Perfectly natural question. I thought of Margo dropping her drawers out there a couple weeks before (“You wanna see?”), but, somehow, that didn’t seem like it counted.
I lined the saw blade up with the cut I wanted to make. “Sort of,” I said, “but not all the way.”
“Well… do you want to all the way?”
I almost dropped the saw.
“How come?” I said, straightening up, sort of fearing the answer, but at the same time feeling all those past flutters and looks and giggles and blushes and curiosities coalescing in the hot July air.
“Why do you think, Brian?”
O.K. Either she’s found one of Davy Morone’s old copies of ADAM back there, or…
I felt blood rushing to both my face and my groin; my heart felt like it couldn’t keep up. Precious oxygen, meanwhile, was being diverted from my brain, of course. (This is how it works, ladies.)
“Well,” I said, “I… you know…”
Take a breath.
I felt like the words were pumping into my mouth straight from my heart, from the breathy center of my chest, and I just spat them out as they formed on my lips:
“Yeah. Yeah. Come out.”
Soft rustle in the brush… then (alongside What are you two doing back there?) the last phrase I really wanted to hear at that particular moment:
“You get naked first.”
My shoulders dropped.
“You come out and I will,” I said.
“No. When you get naked I’ll come out.”
“No way!” I said.
Was she calling my bluff?
Meanwhile, the radio played:
Workin’ on a groovy thing, baby
Workin’ on a groovy thing
Workin’ on a groovy thing, baby
Let’s not rush it
We’ll take it slowwwww…
I took a breath. It didn’t slow my pulse.
A giggle. “What, Brian?”
What, Brian indeed. There I was, begging and bargaining for something I hadn’t even known I wanted until Christy brought it up.
I’ve been in big trouble ever since.
I sighed. “Come out…”
“No.” Her voice was insistent. “You get naked and I will.”
I could feel myself starting to crumble.
Was it worth it? Probably.
Just one thing, though…
“How do I know you will?” I said.
A tsk. “God, Brian… I already am.”
I gasped lightly.
She already is?!
I squinted back into the thick growth to see if I could catch a peek… you know, just in case she changed her mind.
No luck; she was hidden behind the thickest leaves and vines.
I ran my shaking, sweaty fingers back along the elastic waistband of my shorts, like my hands had to think about this.
O.K…. Steve’s at the dentist’s… so that’s cool.
And Margo’s in Canada.
Does anybody else know about these forts?
I checked off a mental list of neighborhood kids and brothers.
My little brother Danny was supposed to be at the playground with John, Christy’s little(r) brother.
That “supposed to be” worried me. On the one hand, what if Danny and John showed up while Christy and I were in the buff?
On the other hand:
God, Brian, I already am.
Well, that was a simple choice.
I tried to look out of the fort at the neighborhood beyond the vines. Tried, but I couldn’t see a thing.
So… if I couldn’t see out, that meant they couldn’t see in. Right?
And the other way, beyond the fence, it was just rows and rows of eye-high corn, and then the thick swale that marked the path of the little stream that met up with Bent Run closer to town.
O.K. Unless there were some really, really, really lost flyfishermen out there, we were safe.
All of this thinking took about three seconds, while Christy waited back in the brush.
I tugged my shirt out of my shorts. “I’m taking my shirt off,” I said, and I pulled my t-shirt over my head and hung it on the sharp end of a branch next to my shoulder.
“I can see,” Christy said.
That wasn’t fair!
Fair or not, I barely paused. I hooked the waistband of my shorts and my underwear with my thumbs ‑‑here goes‑‑ and I slid them together down my legs. The warm summer air on my bare skin felt strangely cool, and I felt the goosepimples erupting in the fabric’s wake as my shorts fell down over my knees and onto my feet.
“O.K.,” I said. “Come out.”
“O.K.,” Christy said, and as I stood there, shivering slightly (it was 90 degrees out and I was shivering!), I heard the vines and leaves rustling down the tunnel, and then a flash of bare skin, and then…
You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…
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