Authors: Shannon Dermott
His fiery hands joined with mine. Leaning in towards me, he loosed words that thrilled and scared me. “My pa is going to ask yours for us to be married.” Without waiting for my response, he let go of my hand and took a flying leap or rather a cannon ball into the lagoon below as I stood stunned.
It wasn’t as if nightly before I fell asleep my brain hadn’t imagined us together a thousand times in the dark. Yet, I hadn’t moved. I should have been getting undressed while his head was under the water as I’d done countless times before. To have him watch me undress was unthinkable. Still, I stood there as he broke the surface.
“What are you waiting for?” he called out with a grin plastered to his face along with his wet hair.
My heart beat so fast, I thought it might burst through my budding chest.
“Are you coming in or what?” His voice rang out in our private oasis. Trees surrounded the cove cloaked it in shadow with a burst of sunlight in the middle bouncing off the water.
His question felt more like a choice not only if was I going in but was I
. I made quick work of my dress feeling his eyes burn on me. They were like the sun and pickled my skin creating a need I didn’t understand. I was barely a teenager wondering if I’d ever have breasts more than the tiny mounds that made it only slightly obvious I wasn’t a boy.
As he waded, he rippled the water around him. I shivered, clad only in my own underclothing, which was more than your average teenage girl wore outside the community. Covered neck to knees, my arms and my calves were the only parts of me exposed. I dove in after giving silent thanks for my prayers to be answered. I’d prayed that if I had to marry and stay here in this forsaken place, I could do it with Turner at my side. My only thought was how he felt about it. Was it his family’s decision? That part had to be true, but he didn’t have to like it.
The water cocooned me in its warm embrace. It kissed the top of my head before totally taking me under. I relished the quiet it brought for the few seconds before I broke the surface. Would I dare ask Turner how he felt or should I leave it alone?
That question was taken from me when I sprung free from the water depths and he swam towards me. Again, I shivered for no reason. The water was in no way cool. It had been heated since the first day of summer and stayed room temperature even through the night, or so I’d heard.
“Did you hear me?” he asked, coming to a stop so close the breeze of his words touched my cheek.
“Yes, does it bother you?” I asked, finding my courage. If Turner didn’t want this marriage, it was better to know now, so that I might influence my father. I wanted him as my husband, but not if he didn’t want me too. That would hurt worse than if I’d been paired with one-eyed John. And it wasn’t because John only had one good eye. It was his girth, smell and unruly nature that would be a mortifying prospect.
As was our custom, my hair had been bound. Turner reached around me and freed it. Wet, it sort of flopped around my shoulders. I dog peddled under the water and moved my arms about to keep me afloat. With him so close, I didn’t know what to do. This was all so new. I was only fourteen, and he was a few years older. When he leaned in, my eyes grew wide. No boy had ever attempted to get this close with the intentions I could plainly see written on his face.
This sort of contact was forbidden, yet I didn’t stop him. I was thrilled that my first kiss wouldn’t be in front of a preacher and the wise eyes of my parents along with the rest of the community. I was electrified that my first kiss was with my very best friend and the boy I secretly crushed as had so many girls in our tiny one-room school.
Like static, when his lips lightly brushed mine, I received a tiny jolt. He didn’t seem to notice and applied a little more pressure when I didn’t pull away. Because my limbs had stilled, I started to sink. His arm ghosted around me and held me up.
When our kiss broke apart, I flailed about for a few seconds before I recovered. He laughed, looking totally amused. I pushed a wave of water at him, and willed my cheeks to cool the red hot blooms that colored them.
Turner didn’t give up. He pulled my arm, directing me to a wall of earth. It led up to the perch we’d stood on before our descent into the forbidden. Should anyone come, we would be hidden there for precious seconds. Most entered through the path we had taken. Its trail had become worn over time, making it easier than coming through the thicket and risking torn clothing.
The water wasn’t as deep where we were, and I could stand. Silent ripples reached my chin, and we continued staring at each other. This was new ground for us. I wanted to ask him if I was his first kiss, as he was mine. However, I was afraid he’d think me too young and change his mind. I’d always been that little pesky girl like a sister following on his heels.
Looking at him now, I could see the man he was becoming. Talking like a little girl was out. I lowered my eyes from his challenging stare and saw a hint of stubble on his chin. Still, I held my head high, wanting to stare at his bare chest, but moved my eyes to his. I thought I’d won the battle of glances because he lowered his head. However, he stopped shy of kissing me. Yet, he continued caging me in.
“What are you doing?” I challenged with faint amusement as he continued to stare at me, making me feel more self-conscious.
There was no way my smile and twinkling eye had said
. Violet had warned me never to give into a guy too quickly because they wouldn’t respect you. Her exact words were
a girl has got to put up some fight
. I’d already given into the first kiss, but I didn’t want him to think my affection came easy.
With a smirk, he confessed, “I’m kissing my future wife.”
The way he spoke to me now was so different than it had been even just yesterday. He teased me, yes, made fun of me, yes. But never had his words spiked funny feelings in my body that were weird, yet exciting. My mind worked to process everything that was happening and commit it to memory so I could share with Violet. I hoped she might explain those feelings later if Turner didn’t give me the answers.
While I was distracted, he took advantage and did it again. He kissed me. This time his lips urged against mine. I was unsure of what to do.
Not too long ago, I’d heard some older girls talking about kissing. They giggled and swapped stories while doing chores. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. It wasn’t as if my mother was going to give me that information.
My lips parted just like I’d heard the girls explain, and his tongue snuck into my mouth and touched mine. I allowed him to pull me closer, liking the way he felt against that tingling spot below my waist. Something grew between us creating more delicious pressure that made me gasp. His hand moved to my hip and tentatively delved just barely under my wet clothing. His grinding motion was fogging my brain, and I wasn’t sure I had enough brain cells left to say stop.
“Come on,” he said.
The dream of my past shattered. I looked up to remember I was no longer fourteen. And I wasn’t that girl anymore.
Still, Turner held out his hand to me as if we were conspirators. I couldn’t help but remember that day and how we kissed. We’d practiced kissing to the point I’d finally opened up my heart and truly let him in. It had felt as dangerous then as the glint in his eye felt now.
I took his offered hand and we were off. Although much time had passed, I remembered the route as if it were yesterday. The years lost fell away with every footfall. Our fingers laced together like it had always been. Home.
Quickly, he undressed, and I didn’t bother to wait. I was down to my bra and underwear, which would be considered at the least scandalous or at the worst brand me with an A on the chest of my clothing if anyone saw. Turner’s under things looked like something from a museum; mine looked like they came off the runway.
He gasped. And I hadn’t thought about his reaction. I’d become more comfortable in my own skin having lived outside this compound and been in two semi-relationships. I grinned at him and took a swan dive into the crystal clear water. Just like our first kiss, we were here alone. School was in session that time of day, and the other members would be busy with their daily work. Waste not, want not. It wasn’t the weekend. The place would be ours for now.
Having followed me down, he surfaced shortly after I did. We stared at each other. Flashing warning signs blinked in my head. The name Kalen was displayed like a marquee in Times Square in my head. I hadn’t forgotten about my feelings for him. However, looking into Turner’s eyes, unresolved emotions I didn’t know I had for him surfaced.
I’d blindsided Turner with my choice to leave. And it took a great deal of strength for me to do so. I’d loved him. He’d been my first love, my first best friend, my first kiss and my first of everything. The first boy to ever touch me in places reserved only for a husband.
“Don’t,” I said, putting a halt to his coming any closer because I would be undone. If I ever thought things were over between us, I was sorely mistaken.
Ever the gentleman, he remained where he was with a look of puzzlement. Then he flashed me a smile before he said, “You sure have grown.”
I looked down at myself caught up in the dream of what we once were. But that girl wouldn’t have been wearing the black lace bra and panties I wore. “You too have changed,” I said, although his appearance hadn’t. It appeared neither had his confidence as he swam closer ignoring my warning.
One thing I’d done in anticipation of coming here was wear my hair pulled back in a bun. Reaching out his hand gently touched my cheek sending quivers through me before he pulled my hair free. His whispered words melted me in the cool water we waded in.
“You were always a girl on fire. You burned through me like a flame with purpose. When you left, your scorch marks marred my heart, and my soul.”
Since when had he become a poet? “Turner,” I begged. I wanted to apologize a thousand times for leaving him. I thought he would have cornered me on our walk with his questions or condemnation. Yet, he’d only talked about the weather, apparently waiting to ambush me when I had no chance of escaping quickly.
“I wanted to hate you,” he admitted, his hand cupping my cheek. “You didn’t trust me enough to tell me first. You were just gone.”
Squeezing my lids shut, I answered honestly. “I was coward.”
“You were,” he agreed.
I opened my eyes to face him as he deserved. “I was. But I wasn’t afraid to tell you I was leaving as much as I was afraid you’d ask me to stay and I would.”
“If you bothered to talk to me, you would have found I would have supported you. I would have even gone with you.”
“Turner, you love this place,” I protested, more because I would hate to know that I’d made a grave mistake.
“No Bailey, I loved you. I wanted to be with you. I’d been taking online college classes. You knew that.”
I had. In our community a select few were encouraged to take college courses to get degrees. We had businesses to run, and we traded with the secular world. We needed educated people to negotiate so that we weren’t seen as some backwards community. “I did. But —.”
“But you didn’t trust me with your dreams. I thought you would have but I was wrong.”
Ashamed, I felt tears prickle the corners of my eyes.
He leaned back and pushed away from me. After a few yards of back stroke, he straightened in the water and said, “If you’d cared, you would have known I left shortly after you did and attended our state university.”
My eyes widened and immediately I wanted to congratulate and hug him. I understood now why he’d put distance between us.
Lost, I watched helplessly as Tuner left the water and headed for his clothes. The water all of a sudden felt like ice against my skin. But I made no attempt to move. I let him walk away.
By the time I made it to my parent’s house, I was shaking and my clothes were still dripping water. In my old room, I pulled out dresses that had once belonged to me and two of my sisters. They were still most likely too big for my two youngest sisters who weren’t old enough to leave home. After I hung my wet clothes on the line outside, I found a towel. I dried my hair as best I could before heading off to the place that gave me the most comfort outside of home.
Looking like every other women in town garbed in their familiar clothing, I slipped into the school house office without my younger siblings noticing. I got a nod from the head teacher before I was behind the closed door.
Before getting to work, I wondered where my older sister Violet was. I was out of sorts and needed someone I could trust to talk to. Knowing that she was working and that it would be frowned upon for me to interrupt knowing we’d talk like hens and not get any work done, I stayed put.
It was easy to slip into the familiar. I dived into reviewing the community’s books. As a trained auditor, I knew my father would want me to review them. So I did it without being asking. It was doubtful my replacement, which was the woman who apprenticed me, would be doing anything wrong. It was just something to keep me busy.
My eyes kept shifting to the phone over and over again. Seeing Turner made me think that I needed closure with Kalen. We had been ordered not to communicate. Yet, I didn’t want a repeat of the past. I was older and wiser. I could do the right thing.