Smoky campfires and intense emotions combine to bring about discovery and passion.
"You plannin' on out runnin' us all the way to camp, Haley?"
My cousin Shannon's voice caught up to me from a little ways behind where I was at, sound traveling well up the dirt road that we were meandering our horses along. I didn't try to yell back. I simply raised my beer above my shoulder, acknowledging that I'd heard her, but didn't slow down the borrowed stallion that I rode.
His name was Diablo, and he was as mean and foul-tempered as his namesake. He'd been rowdy since we'd left out from her house at dawn; slinging his head back and forth, rarin' back like he was trying to head butt me just for having the audacity to ride him. He'd tried to bite every other horse that we got near, and Shannon's mare, Ginger, was in heat. I knew that if he got behind her and got a whiff he'd try to mount Ginger. I'd end up in the ditch and Shannon would end up hurt, or worse. I'd try to talk to her about this earlier in the day when she had tried to get me to race, but my cousin could be stubborn as a rock at times, especially when she was convinced that she knew more about a subject. She thought that she had complete control over the horses because she had spent more time with them. Diablo wasn't hers, though; he belonged to her uncle Chris and even he had warned her about this.
I drew in a deep breath, trying to shake off my concern and enjoy the warmth of the sunshine. This high up in the mountains the temperature was comfortable even in the summer. It had been cool when we had started this ride early, but the day had warmed up as the sun crawled across the sky. I had taken off my flannel shirt and tied it around my waist, letting the heat relax the kinks from my shoulders. I was comfortable in a flesh-colored camisole and a flowing chocolate brown gypsy skirt hitched up around my thighs, with my heavy, curly hair hanging down my back in a long auburn braid, but my arms were already sore from having to keep such a tight hold on Diablo all day long.
During the nine hour ride to our favorite horse camp in the backwoods of the national forest, every man in our ragtag group had at some point ridden to catch up with me and tried to strike up a conversation. Shannon laughed spitefully at each one of them as they slowed back down, rejected, and let the main group tease them good-naturedly and patch up their insulted ego. She knew that I took my drinking seriously, and never fooled with a man when I was sober.
I knew what I looked like; even dusty and smelling like sweaty horse I garnered a double, sometimes triple look from the men in the pick-ups that inched around us on the narrow road. I just didn't much care. I knew that I might hook up with one of them before the night was over, but this time belonged to me alone. I loved being out here in the trees, with the smells of wet moss, black soil, and wild mushrooms scenting the air even more than I loved the saddle bags full of beer that I'd been steadily putting a dent in all day. The cans might have been frosty cold when we left out, but they were warm as piss now, tasting dull and flat but going down fast all the same. The fact that my butt didn't hurt from the long ride told me all I needed to know about my serious lack of sobriety. But the day was gorgeous; I felt good, and was looking forward to a few days of serious partying. Who cared if I was drunk or not? Just as long as I could stay upright in the saddle life was good.
Shannon whistled for my attention, the sound piercing my drifting thoughts and causing Diablo to jerk sharply to the right. "Shit!" I muttered, almost dropping my beer. "What?" I hollered over my shoulder, not looking backwards.
Her laughter was drunk and rowdy as she shot past me, spurring Ginger on to faster speeds. "Heads up, cuz! Let's see if you can out ride this!" Diablo reared up on his powerful back legs and seemed to scream in fury and lust as he caught wind of Ginger's running hind quarters.
I barely kept my seat, throwing my can to the side of the road and dragging back on his reins with all my weight. "Stop, dammit! Son of a bitch!" I wasn't sure if I was cursing out loud or simply in my head as I fought to control the crazy stallion. It was a battle that I couldn't win though; I wasn't experienced enough and this horse was just too determined. I held on, yelling Shannon's name as we approached her at a blazing speed; she looked back and I watched her bright green eyes go from laughing to terrified in a split second. She jumped Ginger over an embankment just in time to avoid us as we shot past. Diablo was either blind with rage at being thwarted, or too dumb to know that there was nothing to chase now, because he didn't slow down. If anything he sped his break neck gallop up even faster. I no longer had a chance in hell at stopping him; I could only watch the green trees blur as we shot past them.
The road had been cut into the side of a mountain and was a solid wall of rock on one side, a sheer drop off on the other. I prayed that his instincts were better than mine (if I'd had any I would never have ever gotten on this damn horse!) and that he wouldn't take us over the edge. My whole world was narrowed to the road in front of us, the sound of his hooves pounding on the dirt, trying to grip his heaving sides with my legs and not fly off. I knew that a fall from this speed would probably kill me, but I didn't believe that I could hold on much longer.
The horse camp that we had been riding for was in a large meadow about a fifty yards below the main road, in a small valley at the bottom of a steep gravel road. I knew that we'd been close when Shannon had passed us, but wasn't sure how close. I wasn't even sure that Diablo could make it down such a sheer grade galloping this fast without stumbling. It didn't look like I had much say so in the matter though, because he didn't miss a beat when he veered to the left and nearly flew to the bottom of the hill. I strained to lean forward without falling, to not drop the reins, to try and be ready to throw myself as far as I could if he went down so that I wasn't crushed under his tremendous weight.
We were almost at the bottom and I was starting to think that I might survive this wild ride after all when for some unfathomable reason, he slid to a stop as abruptly as if he'd hit a brick wall. As I flew from the saddle over his head I had a flashback of a barely remembered science lesson, something about an object set in motion remaining in motion? Well, they weren't lying. I seemed to remain in motion for an unreasonable amount of time. I was having a very calm conversation with myself in my head about the odds of my not breaking every bone in my body when I did eventually hit the ground. pondered just how long I would remain airborne, and how much my landing was going to hurt, but found that I didn't have to wonder very long. WHAM! Suddenly the ground was right there, and I was all over it. I hit, bounced a time or two, hit the dirt again, slid a little ways, bounced one more time just for good measure, and finally skidded to a stop. For a brief instant I figured that I had died, because I couldn't feel anything, couldn't hear anything, and didn't seem to be breathing. I lay on my back, staring up at the beautiful blue sky, and wondered when I would see that fabled bright light. I wasn't really alarmed by the idea that I had passed on at such a young age because I figured that surely whatever comes next has to be better than the short years that I had spent in this lifetime. Yep, I was ready for a vast improvement. The light at the end of this tunnel couldn't get here quick enough.
These calm, disembodied thoughts didn't last long, as lovely as they were. Moments later life rushed all over my body and a thousand injuries kicked my ass all at once. I squeezed my eyes shut, gritting my teeth in agony, cementing my opinion that life was SO over rated.
When I thought that I just might live even with this much pain, I managed to open my eyes and blinked the dust from my eyelashes. I found myself surrounded by faces- some that I recognized, and some that I didn't. They all seemed to be talking at once though, at least their mouths were moving. I still couldn't hear anything. I gasped, struggling to force air into my flattened lungs, and croaked, "I didn't lose the beer, did I?"
Laughter and grins of relief and amusement broke out on the faces of my audience. Relief because I hadn't died, which meant that the night's festivities would go on, amusement because I surely seemed a jackass for trying to ride that damned stupid horse to begin with. I rolled to my side, groaning at the raw pain that was screaming through my body. I laid there for a moment, trying to simply breathe, then accepted a hand up, and staggered towards Diablo to retrieve my saddle bags. Shannon rode up beside me, anger written all over her sharp features.
"What the fuck were you thinking spurring him on like that? What the hell, Haley? You could have lamed him, and then what would I have told Chris? That was really stupid!"
I took a deep breath as I grabbed for Diablo's reins, trying to not lose my temper. Shannon was always self-centered and selfish, but this was a new low even for her. I walked several yards before turning towards her. "Fuck you. I just about got killed because you were showing out for those dumb asses." I jerked my head towards the men from our group that were making their way casually down the road into the valley.
Her eyes narrowed wickedly, knowing there was truth to my words. "Maybe if you didn't think that you were better than everybody else some of those "dumb asses" would have tried to help you. You act like such a stuck-up lesbo-dyke, I'm shamed to be your kin sometimes."
Her words stung even though I tried to not show it. I dropped Diablo's reins and took several steps in her direction. She'd always had a way of getting under my skin. Growing up living beside each other, and being the same age, we should have been the best of friends, and we had been when we were younger. But about the time we turned twelve years old or so she had shot up tall and skinny, remaining flat-chested as a boy and hook featured. She simply just wasn't pretty, where as I was all soft round curves and a pretty face. The difference that people made of us quickly ruined our friendship. I didn't care what I looked like; if I could have traded my past for her looks I would have in a heartbeat. Sometimes getting attention wasn't all it's cut out to be.
"I ain't a lesbian just because I don't "fall in love" flat on my back every weekend, Shannon. Quit being such a jealous bit- ” My words were abruptly cut off by a large hand around my upper arm. Chris shook me lightly to get my attention.
"Cut it out, both of you. Let's have a good weekend, okay? Ya'll come on; we still have to get camp set up." He let my arm go, reaching for Diablo's reigns and leading him off.
Shannon glared at me for a moment longer; I cocked my chin up at her, daring her to continue the argument. Wouldn't the first time that we'd rolled around in the grass beating the crap out of each other.
"Whatever," she mumbled, backing down. She stomped past me to lead Ginger towards the creek. I stood in place for a few moments longer, trying to find my previous buzz and mellow out. My feelings were hurt even though I was trying to keep an expression of arrogance. Even if we did argue most of the time she was the closest thing to a friend that I had, and it sucked when she acted like this just because she was around men. I gritted my teeth, holding back the tears that were threatening to spill over, and started towards the clearing where we always set up. A voice behind me stopped me in my tracks.
"Is that so? You a stuck-up lesbo-dyke?"
I turned slowly on my heels, still fired up and ready to fight somebody. The woman that had spoken was only a couple of feet behind me, a smirk twisting her features. Our eyes met, and my stomach tightened. Did I know her? I didn't think that I had met her before, but something about her seemed familiar. She was head and shoulders taller than me, rawboned and powerfully built. She wore her fine blond hair in a low, short pony tail pulled tight through the back of her Carhartt hat. Her face was distinctive with a hawkish nose and high cheek bones, a thin mouth and a squared-off jaw and chin. But her most striking feature was her eyes; they were such a pale blue that they appeared almost white. And right now they were laughing at my look of blank confusion.
"Cat got your tongue? Or maybe it's the pussy got your tongue." She rocked unsteadily on her feet, laughing so hard at her bad joke that she slapped her thighs and nearly fell into a drunken heap.
I flushed red in shame; I despised being laughed at. I had been staring at her, no wonder she thought I was queer. I'd never had any hard feelings one way or the other about gay people. I figured the Good Lord made us all different and that was fine, but it definitely wasn't a very popular opinion with the kind of people I most often found myself around. "That was my cousin; she just says ignorant shit when she's drunk."
The woman tilted her head to the side, and looked me over slowly, from the top of my messy hair to the scuffed polish on my toes. "You're skinned up pretty good. I seen you fall. Come on, I got some salve that'll help take the burn away. And there ain't nothin' wrong with being a dyke; I been one all my life."
"Um..." I was caught off guard by her words. I knew there were a couple women running in our crowd that liked other girls, but I'd never heard anybody just come right out and say it. "No thanks, uh.." I didn't know her name, but knew that I needed to find somewhere to sit down for a few minutes. Something about this woman had me completely off balance and between being half-lit and getting thrown by Diablo I just couldn't think right now as it was.
"Avery. My name is Avery."
Night had fallen fast and cold. Fires burned all over the valley floor; loud drunken laughter sounded in the darkness from every camp. The Fourth of July holiday was a good enough reason for rough people to come together and celebrate their brief freedom from jobs that they despised, families that made unreasonable demands on both their time and their emotions, and responsibilities and poverty that they knew would never end- their very own Independence Day. Out here, in the woods, things sometimes turned primal, lust and rage flowing like white liquor flows down a redneck's throat. Out here, amongst the trees and the moss, anything could- and often did- happen. When I was camping I felt more at home than I ever had in the "real" world; many of us did.
I had passed up drunk a twelve pack or so ago, and was on my feet only because of the white crosses that a black haired romeo had handed to me earlier. I'd smoked more weed then I cared to think about, and partied at a half a dozen camps before I found myself at a large one on the bank of the creek. I didn't have any idea where my own camp was at the moment, and didn't care. Fleetwood Mac poured from a radio propped on someone's tailgate, telling me to "Go My Own Way".
I was dancing, twirling around the bonfire just to watch how magical my skirt appeared as it twirled with me. I spun round and round, letting the music take over my body, until I fell. I waited to feel the wet grass, but never did. Instead strong arms caught me around the waist and I fell into the lap of my blond rescuer. Avery blinked down at me, her expression of amusement still in place from earlier. Did she have another expression? I couldn't speak; I couldn't think. All I could do was stare up at her, locked in those moonlight colored eyes. The amusement slowly slid away, replaced with something cautious.. Cautious what? Desire? Was this desire? Was this what desire looked like in the eyes of a woman? I shivered and tried to untangle myself from her bare arms, suddenly aware that everyone had grown quiet around us and were staring. She shook her head, and helped me to my feet. I realized that someone was speaking to me. I glanced over my shoulder in irritation, preferring to try and talk to Avery. It was the black haired guy from earlier, the man that had given me the handful of white crosses. I couldn't actually remember his name, but thought that it was maybe Tommy.
"Damn girl! You always falling somewhere, ain't ya? You ought to aim for my lap next time 'stead of my aunt's. I’ll give you something you'll like landin' on!" He sneered at me, staring lustfully down the front of my partially unbuttoned top. This was Avery's nephew? What an ass. He tried to dance with me, grabbing at my hips to make me move again like earlier. "Dance baby! I know you can!"
I tolerated the attention for a few brief moments, trying to clear my head. The camp smoke and alcohol were making it so hard to think. "I need to lay down,” I muttered, pulling away from this obnoxious man. I needed to go to bed; I needed to find my camp. But what I needed this instant was to throw up, so I stumbled my way towards the water.
I don't know how long I had been asleep when I was rudely woken up. Tommy was crawling into the tent with me, groping all over me. I grumbled sleepily, and tried half-heartedly to push him away. I was so drunk and high that I couldn't seem to do more than mumble "no", knowing that he wasn't going to stop, knowing that he wasn't listening to my refusal. At this point in my life I was almost resigned to what was going to happen. It's just what men do, so why fight it? I guess I thought that it would be easier to just let it happen, but when he rolled me over face down and got my long skirt out of the way I was dry, and knew that I didn't want this to happen. I cried out when he tried to push his way into me; it hurt; even messed up I knew that he was hurting me.
I tried to pull myself forward to get away from him, starting to sober up enough to realize that I wasn't dreaming, that I wasn't asleep and that he was getting ready to rape me. I yelled for him to stop, to get off of me. I tried to fight him, but he already had me at a disadvantage being on top of me. I managed to scream once, but it was almost more of a yelp then an actual shriek. He was strong and much larger than me; he shoved my face into a pile of blankets hissing at me to shut the fuck up. I couldn't breathe, and actually started to get a little bit scared that he was going to do more than just (just?) rape me.
I could feel him digging around between my legs, spitting on his hand, trying to get me wet enough to penetrate me. I was stunned, trying to get my face up enough to get air, not concentrating so much on what was going on down there as I was on breathing. Suddenly, I felt his weight off of me and discovered that I was able to lift my head up from the blankets that had been smothering me. I felt cold air on my butt and thighs and found that I could roll over. The tent flap was hanging open and Tommy was gone.
I jerked my clothes back into place and scrambled to the tent door to see what had happened. Avery was just outside the door, and had Tommy held down on his knees with her arm around his throat. Tommy wasn't moving; he looked as if he couldn't breathe. Avery looked at me calmly and asked, "Is this what you want? If I fucked up and that's just how you like it, tell me now and I'll walk away. Let me know something 'fore this boy needs some air." I shook my head from side to side trying to clear the haze; everything felt so surreal that I wasn't sure what was reality and what was just a bad dream brought on by too much alcohol, pills, and weed. This felt pretty realistic though.
She cocked her head to the side, the blond hair that had escaped her ponytail grazing her shoulders and those piercing blue eyes staring intently at me. I felt like she could see clear through to my soul, like she knew me inside and out even though tonight had been the first time that I had met her. "No this ain't what you want? Speak up girl, and tell me somethin' before I end up killin' my nephew and his momma kills me back." The corner of her mouth quirked up in a sort of razor sharp grin but it didn't look as though she found anything funny. She looked like this was just what needed to be done, and she was ready to do it.
I cleared my throat, and found my voice. I was staring at her, mesmerized, my eyes wide. Nobody had ever taken up for me like this before. "Don't kill him. He's just drunk." I paused for a moment, searching for the right words to explain myself. I was angry, confused, and just a little bit lost feeling. But I couldn't put those emotions into words, so I simply shrugged helplessly. "Just don't do that for me, okay?" My voice was raspy and shaky, I realized then how close I had been to smothering in that tent, face down with my naked ass in the air being violated by a man that I didn't even want touching me.
She continued staring at me for a few more seconds, so serious and focused, then seemed to let go of all this pent-up anger with a rush of breath. She stood up straight, releasing Tommy. He collapsed onto the ground, gasping, not even trying to get up.
Avery hollered someone's name, another one of her relatives, and told him to dump Tommy over by the creek, that maybe a night spent freezing his balls off would teach him the proper place for them. We watched him and another man drag Tommy off; he was still wheezing and coughing. She turned and slowly looked me over from head to foot. It wasn't a lecherous look, more like she was trying to figure out if I was really okay, if I was sober enough to know what I was doing (what WAS I doing?). I felt like she was appraising me, and for some reason it suddenly mattered very much what she thought of me. I stiffened my spine and stood up as straight as I was able, meeting her eyes while scraping together the tattered pieces of my pride and self-respect.
She nudged her head towards the tent behind me. "You make a habit of crawling into other people's tents?" The night air was cold and crisp, and I was quickly sobering up. Still unsure of what to say, I shrugged again and shifted my bare, dirty feet, the damp from the ground making them ache. I knew that I should say something but I couldn't seem to find my voice. "You got one of your own? Who'd you come up here with?"
I glanced up towards the hill top where my friends and I had set up our camp earlier in the afternoon. I could see wisps of our fire and a couple of the horses in profile, but nothing else. I was starting to realize how far away from the familiar I had wondered. I licked my dry lips and inhaled a trembling breath. "Me and my cousin brought one, but she's got a couple guys in there with her and its kind of small. Somebody over by the fire told me that this was an extra one, that I'd be okay sleepin' in here." I paused, then whispered, "I'm sorry."
She was silent for a minute, then said, "You ain't got to be sorry." She pointed to a smaller pup tent beside the larger one that I had woken up in. "That's my extra one; I set it up to keep my gear in if I'm gonna be here for a few days. Easier than crowdin' up the one where I sleep and I like to sleep comfortable. You can get in it for tonight if you want."
We both stood still, frozen in a glimmer of possibility, both of us aware that something was happening between us. She wasn't pushing the issue though, leaving the decision entirely up to me. I might have still been half drunk, but I knew that the heat I had felt radiating from her earlier when I danced in the firelight had been real. I knew how badly she wanted me; I could feel the need rolling off of her like the waves of sweat, horseflesh and wood smoke that I could smell. I didn't slow down to reconsider or doubt my choice; the words rushed out of my mouth when I asked in a soft voice, "Can I just sleep with you?"
For a full minute she didn't answer me, then she matched my low tone, her voice almost a whisper when she asked me, "You sure about that, girl? You sure 'bout crawlin' in my bed? I ain't my nephew, and I ain't gonna do anything that you don't want, but I am human. And you surely are the sexiest woman I've seen in a long, long time."
Her manner was calm, but I imagined that I could sense her trembling. I knew that I was. I met her blue eyes with my green ones, and found my courage. My voice was firmer this time, firmer and louder to leave her no doubt that I knew what I was asking for, what I wanted, even if I still couldn't put the words to these feelings. "Hell yeah I'm sure."
Her face lit up with the rowdiest grin I'd ever seen, and she held the tent flap back for me majestically, as if she were holding open the doors to the royal palace. When I had crawled into the tent earlier, all I had been looking for was a warm place to pass out in. I hadn't slowed down long enough to appreciate the sheer luxury of the bedding. Furs were stacked three deep and covered in heavy patch-work quilts. Feather pillows were piled at the head of the bed, wrapped in flannel cases. There were a few belongings piled to the sides of the bed but nothing that would crowd whoever was sleeping in the tent.
When I slipped back under one of the blankets she slid under it with me. Her face was close to mine, our breath swirling like damp fog on one another's skin. I felt as though I were back in the womb. I couldn't see the details of her features, it was too dark, but occasionally a flicker from the bonfire would illuminate the inside of the tent. I was surprised to see that she seemed as nervous and unsure as I was. Her mouth was only inches away when she asked, "Can I kiss you?" I was on my side facing her, trembling with excitement and fear and .. what? I wasn't sure what I was feeling; I wasn't sure if I'd ever felt anything like this before. I simply didn't have a word to name it this emotion. I'd slept with plenty of guys up to that point, but I had never felt my heart pounding like it was going to fly out of my chest, had never felt that I would simply cease to exist if she didn't touch me somewhere, anywhere, soon. I knew that it had never seemed as though I would shatter into a million pieces as soon as her mouth touched mine, and that I would die if she didn't do exactly that.
"Please.." was all that I could manage to whisper. Her lips touched mine, once, twice, feathery and soft, warm and just SO DAMN RIGHT. Someone moaned; I don't know if it was her or me, but I know that when she leaned back I was the one that pursued her. I buried my hands in her hair trying to bring her back to me; I felt the rough callouses on her hands as they slid over my back, over my ribs, cupping my breasts through my bra. I couldn't let go of her mouth; my entire world was wrapped up in the millimeters of space between us. I tasted her tongue, tasted the ashy-sweet twang of cigarettes and liquor, tasted the delicious undercurrent that was her very own flavor. She pulled back from me just long enough to tug my shirt over my head, to unfasten my bra, her shirt was somehow already off when we came back together. I cried out as our skin connected, the sound exploding against her lips. Her hands seemed to be everywhere at once; my hands couldn't explore her fast enough. She rolled me over and tugged my panties off my hips, and slid her thigh between my legs. My skirt was around my hips; she sang my name into my ear over and over as though it were something precious as I rode her blue jean-covered leg. I threw my head back, gasping, every nerve ending beneath my skin burning, screaming with flaming sensations. At this point I couldn’t tell the difference between her hands, her mouth, her skin- my hands were touching my own body as well as hers. I panted into her hair, licking and biting her neck as I tried to get closer, to crawl into her skin. We touched, caressed, bruised, kissed, and made one another beg, over and over, only stopping when we were both exhausted, soaked with sweat and pleasure.
An eternity later, when the light of dawn was barely filtering through the canvas walls of the tent, we finally collapsed, exhausted, side by side. She lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply, grinning at me wickedly. I returned her smile, totally sober and blown away by what I was feeling. I had been preached to all of my life about the sin of homosexuality; I knew the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah like I knew the history of my own family. But I also knew that in these hours, as we made love, what I felt wasn't evil; it felt honest and pure and good. I'd felt truth in intimacy for the first time in my life. This was right, in every possible sense of the word. "You know what?" I felt like I could tell her anything, and words just seemed to pour from my mouth. Her eyebrow arched in a questioning gesture. "That's the first time that I've ever got off with somebody else." I flushed with embarrassment over my admission, but it wasn't a bad feeling. "I mean, I know what an orgasm is and all, and I can do it myself, but most of the time it's like pretending. I usually have to be really drunk, or really stoned, to like sex."
She waited several heartbeats before she responded. "So who was he?"
I was so caught up in watching the way her lips folded themselves around her cigarette that her question caught me off guard. I blinked at her, realizing that I had lost the thread of the conversation. "Who was who?"
Her eyes were cool and shuttered, squinting through her smoke as she repeated her question. "Who was he? Who was the motherfucker that got you tangled up in this life? You're not old enough to have found it by yourself. You ought to still be in school, goin' on dates and pickin' out prom dresses." I was surprised that the question hurt. I tried to pull myself away from her and sit up, but she wasn't having any of that. Her legs tightened on mine where they were entwined under the warm blankets, holding me close to her skin. "Don't run off just cause you don't like the question, baby girl. I want to know you, all of you, not just the fun stuff."
I thought about simply refusing to answer, just surlin' up and not saying anything, but knew that this would make me seem childish. It felt very important that Avery see me as mature enough to handle this, that she didn't look at me as just a good time on a drunk camping trip. I knew that I wanted more than just one night with her. I didn't want to hide from her. It didn't seem necessary to protect myself from this woman.
"I don't really know where it started at. Maybe my dad? He hated me, hated my mom. Looking back it seems like he just hated life, but it felt pretty personal when he was throwin’ us around and breakin' shit every few days." I played with a fraying string unraveling from the worn quilt that was tickling my side, trying to think harder about the times in my life that I'd invested a lot of time, energy, and alcohol into not remembering at all. "He always told my mom that if she left she was taking her "whore of a daughter" but not his son. Somewhere along the line I guess I started believing him. He beat the shit out me and my mom, but never laid a finger on my brother. Women were just trash to him." I wouldn't meet her eyes, just kept twisting that string round and round my finger, tighter and tighter trying to cut off the flow of blood, the flow of memories.
Avery lay silent, her cigarette extinguished in an empty beer can, just listening to me.
I had never cried about these things before. I had never spoken any of this stuff out loud, and I felt carved out and hollow hearing all the bad things that I had done pouring out of my mouth. I kept waiting for her to tell me to leave, to look up and see disgust on her face when she realized how dirty and used I already was. "I know that stuff wasn't my fault, I know that now. I was too young to know any better then. But everything after.." I felt as though I were strangling on my own past, trying to swallow my memories back down to that safe hard spot in the pit of my stomach. "I've slept with a bunch of people, too many. I didn't even like most of them but its like if they expect it from me I can't seem to say no." Inside my mind I was screaming at myself to shut the hell up, to not keep telling this amazing woman how ugly I was inside. I just couldn't seem to stop the flood now that the dam was open. "My daddy used to call me a whore, tell me that I'd never be anything, that I'd be pregnant or in prison before I was grown. Guess he was right about the whore part at least."
I felt her hand on my chin as she turned my face towards hers. The sun was slowly creeping farther into the sky. I could make out her features now and could see the expression in her eyes.
"Do you want to kill him?"
I blinked; this wasn't the reaction that I had expected. "Who?"
Her thin lips twitched in split-second amusement. "Your dad? All the men that have treated you like crap and made you think of yourself like this? We could make a list. Work our way down it 'till we get caught. Won't be the first man I ever gutted, probably won't be my last."
I was fascinated by the light dancing on her tanned skin, the way it played on the lines at the corners of her eyes. I knew that I should be shocked or surprised, or at least flattered by her words, but I wasn't. I simply felt relief, relief and warmth. Since I first danced in front of this woman, since I first felt this strange pull that I felt towards her, the night had been magical. Nothing felt real; everything seemed wrapped in a fairy-light cocoon of unreality. Why should her violent words bother me?
I flopped onto my back, drained after my confessions, sure that she was trying to figure out a way to get me out of her tent gracefully. "You want me to leave now?" I forced my voice to sound neutral, like I didn't care what she thought, as if it didn't mean everything to me that she know these things but like me anyway.
I felt her hand on my chin as she turned my face towards hers. The sun was slowly creeping farther into the sky. I could make out her features now and could see the expression in her eyes. "Do you want to kill him?"
I blinked; this wasn't the reaction that I had expected. "Which one?"
I laughed softly, satisfied that she wasn't going to throw me out of her bed. "Nah, jail visitation sucks."
She laughed gently with me, her fingertips stroking the light, downy hairs on my naked shoulder. "Then what do you want to do? I might not be a shrink or a doctor, but even I know that this shit ain't your fault. You can't go around hating yourself and trying to drink yourself to death just because you had a fucked-up family." She rolled her eyes on the word family, obviously remembering her moments with her nephew earlier in the evening. She moved her face closer to mine, so that she could see my eyes. "What do you want to do now?"
I wiggled around a bit, trying to avoid her eyes and get comfortable at the same time. I didn't want her to see my face when I asked my next question. "Can I stay with you for awhile?"
She didn't answer for what seemed like an eternity, and I started to die just a little bit inside. She didn't want me after all; I had messed up the whole night by opening my big-ass mouth; I was so stupid! Why didn't I just- "Haley, do you how old I am?"
I stopped beating myself up long enough to consider her question. "I don't know- 30 maybe?" She actually looked older, but I didn't want to hurt her feelings. Besides, what did it matter if she was going to tell me to leave?
"Thirty-five. You're what, 18? 19?"
"I'll be eighteen in a couple months."
Avery groaned, "Da-amnn.. You're just a baby! Do you realize that I could go to jail for sleeping with you? You don't know what you're asking for."
This time when I tried to pull away, she didn't stop me. She didn't try and stop me while I tossed the pillows around trying to find my clothes, she didn't stop me as I started dressing in quick, angry motions. My voice was brittle and hurt when I spoke next. "So I'm old enough to risk fucking, but not old enough to be with? I get it. No problem, I'm pretty used to this shit by now. I just wish that I'd kept my mouth shut when you were asking me all that personal shit- at least then I wouldn't feel like- like-" I sputtered, searching for what I really was feeling. I stopped slinging clothes and blankets around, and sat back on my heels, just staring down at her, at a loss for words. I sighed, angrily swiping tears from my cheeks. Finally I just came out and asked, "Are you trying to come up with a reason to get rid of me? 'Cause if you want me to go, I'll just go. I don't want any ugly drama. Seems like my whole life is ugly drama. I don't want that with you after what we did tonight."
Avery sat up beside me, comfortable with her nudity in a way that I loved. "Darlin' the last thing I want is for you to leave. I know we just met, but I don't make a habit of goin' around de-flowering virgins." I laughed dryly at her words, and a shadow of her previous smile flickered across her face. "Look at me, Haley." I shivered at the way my name rolled off her tongue, smooth and tasty sounding, familiar like an old lover. "You need to understand how hard this is. I didn't mean your age about going to jail, although I'm definitely too old to be doing this with you. Don't you know that two women makin' love is against the law in this state, even if you're the same age?"
I stared at her blankly for a moment, then nodded my head as realization dawned. "Sodomy laws, right? I thought that was just for guys."
She ruefully shook her head; apparently I was being naive. "And what about what your family's gonna say? This is the Bible belt; they're gonna disown you a hundred times over."
I might not have known a lot of things, but this was one question that I definitely had the answer to. "Don't matter what they think. They kicked me out when I was fifteen. I don't have to answer to anybody."
She looked at me curiously. "Then where do you stay? Who takes care of you?"
I shrugged, trying for nonchalance. "Wherever I can. Sometimes with my cousin, sometimes at a friend's house for a day or two. Sometimes I sleep outside; I got a barn back behind a church that's pretty warm when it's cold or raining."
Avery's eyes burned with anger and her mouth tightened. "That's bullshit. You shouldn't have to do that at your age, especially when you have family, even if they ain't much." She exhaled loudly through her nose, visibly trying to calm her temper. She touched my face gently, tracing the line of my brow. "You're gorgeous, you know that?" She exhaled again, and seemed to come to a decision. "You sure you understand how hard this'll be? People are ugly about being gay. I don't really care, 'cause people don't fuck with me too much about anything. I got a pretty rough name for fighting around here, me and the rest of my family. But you're young, and pretty, and it's gonna be like an insult to every guy that hits on you. You have no clue how many times I heard that all I needed was a good man, that the right man could 'fuck me straight' when I was younger. You really gonna be able to handle that? I ain't looking to get hurt anymore then you are."
I felt a timid excitement building inside me; was she saying what I thought she was saying? I felt a grin tugging at the corners of my mouth, just itching to bust out. I leaned closer towards her, smelling her warm, musky scent. "You trying to say that you like me, Miss Avery? That maybe you'd like to have me around all the time?"
She burst out laughing, her laughter pure and unrestrained, her eyes disappearing in her mirth. "What's this 'Miss Avery' shit?" She kissed me, nipping my bottom lip too fast for me to react. "Yeah, I guess I am. What do you think? You wanna give an old lady a shot?"
I stared as intensely as I could into her eyes, trying to convey how right this felt for me. More than anything I've ever wanted in my crazy life."
With this said, with a timid commitment promised, we slid back under the covers as the rest of the camp started stirring around in the chilly morning light. I was sixteen, not stupid. I knew that life didn't give story book endings, that 'happily ever after' rarely was. But in that moment, I allowed myself the small hope that I could at least get a few good chapters out of it. I sighed, comfortable and safe with her arms around me, and drifted off to sleep.