Young and Innocent
by Deb Barry
Sometimes it feels like it happened to someone else. Sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday
There he was, sitting on the front step, as my Uncle Bill and I rounded the last corner into our cul-de-sac. His hair, still thick and wavy but gone white with age, ruffled in the breeze. It was his favorite time of the day early evening, still quite warm but no longer searing. Good sittin weather, he called it.
We slowed to a walk, catching our breath as we headed up the long driveway. My uncle bent over and sweat dripped off the tip of his nose.
"Good run, Quinn?"
"Yeah, Gramps. I think the extra lap did Uncle Bill in though."
My grandfather watched his eldest son pace the driveway, shaking the fatigue from his legs. "Now whippersnapper," he said in the gruff voice I loved so much, "Dont be too hard on your uncle. Hes kept himself in good shape since his airborne days. And your legs are near thirty years younger than his."
"I know, Gramps. He wanted to come though, even after I told him I was adding the extra distance." I found it amusing that my grandfather still called me that nickname, even though I had recently turned eighteen.
"Yep, but dont be making fun of him in the morning when hes limping around the house." He winked. "Thats my job."
Gramps stood up then and slung his arm across my shoulders. It was a good thing he was still around, otherwise no one would believe I was part of this family. My grandfather joked that his wife had some powerful mojo because she had managed to pass on her genes to most of my direct relatives. They were shorter than average, stockier than average, and paler than average. I, on the other hand, was taller, leaner and darker than average. Just like my grandfather, and I was proud of it. My ice-blue eyes, however, were a different matter entirely. No one knew where they came from. Gramps called them angel eyes.
He was my favorite person in the world, not only because there was no mistaking our relation, but also because it was he who taught me the lessons of love. And I would learn some of the most important ones that very summer.
As we headed towards the backyard, I decided to break the news. "Gramps, I dont think Ill be going with you this year."
He stopped walking and looked at me. Uncle Bill kept going around the corner of the house and disappeared from view. "Why not?"
"Because as much as I love you, I dont want to spend two weeks of my last summer before college at the cabin."
"But youve always loved going up north."
"Yes, but "
"You got time off work."
"Thats because I work for Uncle Bill, Gramps."
"Doesnt matter. Its still time off." He looked at me with his gray, intelligent eyes. "Whats the real reason, Quinn?"
I sighed and turned away, not wanting to feel guilty. "Gramps, youll have Gram and Mom and Dad, and Uncle Bill and Aunt Susan. Then therell be the McNeills at their cabin. Evelyns just had the baby, so shes a write-off. The closest single person to my age will be Aiden, and hes fourteen! Ill be bored out of my skull!"
"Then invite a friend."
I wondered how much he had guessed already. My family rarely saw me in the company of boys. I preferred girls, in every sense, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before they started putting the puzzle together. Up until now, whenever a relative or family friend asked why I didnt date more often, I could always use the excuse of school or sports obligations. Soon however, the excuses would wear thin.
"There really isnt anyone Id want to ask, Gramps." And it was true. I hadnt developed any strong friendships with girls for fear of wanting more. The few encounters Id had didnt get any further than clumsy fumblings in the dark, so I turned my focus to academics and athletics. But now I was eighteen and I could get into clubs. Theyd stamp my hand so I couldnt order alcohol, but I could get in, and I wanted to use the two weeks that everyone was away to acquaint myself with the new, mysterious world of gay bars. And I wouldnt have to explain where I was going.
I didnt want to turn around.
This time I couldnt ignore the tone. I turned around.
"Its two weeks out of the rest of your life. After this, youll be off to college and Ill hardly ever see you. Im asking you to go. For me."
Hed never asked me for a thing in his life. I couldnt say no.
Funny. In all the years wed gone, I had never before noticed the total pandemonium that reigned when everyone arrived at the cabin. Dogs barking, babies crying, grandmother fussing it was chaos. Perhaps I noticed this time because I was only there as a favor to Gramps. I caught his eye and he smiled at me. I knew he loved being there, so I smiled back.
In the midst of all the bustle, I saw the McNeills walking up the lane Ruby, with her bleached, big hair and the most enormous bosom I had ever seen, and George, with his combover standing straight up in the strong lake breeze. They were loud and gregarious and fun loving, like something out of a fifties swing movie. Ruby spotted me and hustled over with someone in tow.
"Quinn! Thank God you came this year! My niece is with us and I completely forgot to mention that to your mother. Now shell have someone to chum with. Quinn, Claris. Claris, Quinn."
I could have dropped to my knees right then and kissed my grandfathers feet, for as Ruby and her bosom stepped out of the way, the face of an angel looked up at me, with beautiful green eyes and hair the color of the sun.
The kids tents were up, the motor home was maneuvered into place alongside the cabin, and the popup camper was set up a little further back into the woods. My father agreed to tow it up for me so Id have my own space, away from the kids and the adults.
Claris and the McNeills had already gone back to their cabin. They were hosting our entire clan for a barbeque tonight and had to prepare. Their huge A-frame made our cabin look like an outhouse in comparison. George was a retired electrical contractor and had built the place from the ground up after inheriting the land from his father. Ruby was a skilled hostess and loved nothing more, except George, than throwing huge parties.
I was looking forward to the feast, but even more, I wanted to find out Clariss story. She was too cute for words and my body had responded to her immediately. Was there such a thing as love at first sight? I just hoped there was no lovesick boy at home awaiting her return.
"Quinn, what are you daydreaming about?"
"Oh, hi Gramps. Nothing really. Just thinking about the party tonight."
"Claris seems like a nice girl."
"Yeah." I was suddenly overcome with the desire to confide in him, to tell him of my attraction to girls, my attraction to Claris. My heart started to race. "Gramps "
"I think that well, I think "
"Think what, snapper?"
"Just " Dammit! The words wouldnt leave my mouth. "Im just glad I came up here after all."
He looked at me for a long moment, then dropped his arm around my shoulders. "Me too. Lets go."
I didnt get a chance to talk to Claris until everyone had finished eating and the plates were cleared away, but I discreetly watched her every move as she helped Ruby serve food and drinks. I was caught a few times, receiving smiles in return, and praying that the dusk of the evening covered my betraying blush. She was petite, but the shorts and tank top revealed a body that had blossomed into young adulthood. I had to force myself to stop staring, but it was so hard. She was physically perfect and I longed for her to come sit next to me. I had no idea what I was going to say, but I wanted her near.
I had purposely taken a seat in the far corner of the deck, away from the adults who were readying for a long night of drinks and cards. The kids were inside playing video games, so I was by myself. Finally, as dark settled around us and the patio lanterns were lit on the huge deck, Claris pulled a chair over and sat down.
"Do you need another coke?"
"Oh, Im fine. But thanks anyway." I couldnt think of anything to say. Now that she was here, next to me, I was completely tongue-tied, and the silence was awkwardly tight. I fidgeted and almost dropped my glass.
"Quinn. Thats a nice name."
Her voice was soft and burring.
"Um, yeah. Thanks. My gramps named me. Claris is pretty."
"My mother named me. It means grace."
"It suits you. You move gracefully." Oh God! What was I saying?
She tilted her head and looked at me. "Thank you. No ones ever said that to me before." She continued to watch me while I looked around at everything but her. I had thought that she was shy, but she had an air about her that made me feel like the shy one.
"How old are you, Quinn?"
"I just turned eighteen a few weeks ago."
"Happy belated birthday then. Did you do anything special to celebrate? Eighteen is a big turning point." She laughed softly. "Or so Im told."
"No, I didnt really. But I will when I start college this fall. How old are you?" To me, she looked about my age, but as she talked, I got the impression of someone older.
"Age is relative, Quinn. Chronologically speaking, Im seventeen, but I feel older. Youre eighteen but you seem younger."
The comment surprised me, then ticked me off. "Why? Do I seem immature to you?"
Claris turned her head and gave me that quizzical look again. "No, I didnt mean that you seem immature. At least not in a negative sense. Inexperienced might be a better word."
Now what the hell did that mean? And how could she tell anyway? I was pissed now, and the high I had been riding from earlier infatuation was dissipating rapidly. "Well, I might not be very experienced, but I know what I want. And I know Ill get it eventually."
The brief touch on my arm startled me.
"I apologize, Quinn, if I hurt your feelings. Im feeling a little world weary right now, and too old for my own good, I think."
"World weary? Youre seventeen, Claris, not seventy."
She laughed out loud and the adults sent approving glances our way.
"I take it all back, Quinn. You are a wise woman."
The beginnings of a smile crept across my face. "So what are you doing out here in the woods with your aunt and uncle?" Apparently, that was the wrong question to ask.
Claris smile faded and her gaze turned towards the lake. "My parents thought I should get away from the city for a while, so they sent me here for a short time, until they could get a few things organized."
"Why did they want you away from the city?"
"I was spending time with a with people older than me, and my parents thought I was frittering away my youth."
"I see what you mean about older. You talk like youre thirty."
The smile returned. "I told you I was world weary."
"So you think of me as a kid."
"Not at all. You seem innocent. Its refreshing, actually."
I couldnt believe I was having this conversation with a girl a year younger than myself. The age advantage I thought I had possessed hadnt existed at all. It was disconcerting.
"I will say though that my parents were right about a few things. The moon and stars are incredible up here, nothing like the city. And the air is so clear, its intoxicating. Do you come up here often, Quinn?"
Claris voice had taken on a dreamy quality and I was entranced again. It took me a second to realize she had asked a question. "Oh. Yeah. Every summer of my life actually. I almost didnt come this year but my gramps wanted me to. So I did. I wanted to stay home and hit the clubs." I made the statement flippantly in an effort to appear more mature to this older woman, but knew she hadnt been fooled when I saw the slight grin tugging her lips.
She touched my arm again and it was electrifying.
"Well, for my sake, Im glad you decided to come. Boredom wont be a threat now, I dont think."
Our eyes held for an indeterminable stretch of time and I had to turn away when I felt the heat creeping up my neck.
"So, Miss Quinn, Ill guess you know your way around here quite well and Id like to go for a walk. Would you escort a city girl so she doesnt get lost in the woods?"
We told the adults where we were going, grabbed a flashlight, and headed down to the waters edge. Claris was quiet, apparently lost in her own thoughts. The beach was all smooth pebbles, clattering like spoons as we walked along. I stopped and picked up a round, flat stone, a childhood habit never broken to this day, and side armed it across the black, glossy surface. It skipped six times before it finally sank. My record was thirteen, and I was ridiculously proud of that since my grandfather had been there to witness it.
"You like it up here, dont you, Quinn?"
"I like it well enough, but not the same as I did when I was a kid. Its different now."
"Nothing is ever the same when you get older."
We walked over to the narrow dock where we took off our shoes and sat down, dabbling our feet in the water. Claris took the flashlight from my hand and shone the powerful beam outward.
"Its a floating dock, anchored to the bottom. My dad built it so we could dive from it. Its about fifteen feet out there, so you wont hit bottom when you go in headfirst." I looked at her. "You do swim, right?"
"Of course. But Ive only ever swum in pools, never in a lake. Are there fish?"
I grinned. "Yeah, but they only bite when you wiggle your toes."
She lifted her feet quickly out of the water. "Oh."
"Im kidding, Claris."
For that, I received a backhand to my shoulder. "So, city girl, would you like to go swimming tomorrow? Its supposed to be really hot."
"I think I will, but I warn you, if anything slithers by me or bites me, Ill panic and drown and come back to haunt you."
I could think of worse things than being haunted by this beautiful girl. "I promise I wont let you drown. Im a strong swimmer."
"Okay then. Its a date."
Her choice of words shocked me a little, but I didnt let on. I had noticed her earlier comment about friends in the city when she hadnt specified gender. Dare I hope?
"Do you have a boyfriend, Claris?" The words were out now, and the implication was obvious and intentional. I dont know where I found the courage.
The look on her face was intense, and she held my eyes for a moment before responding. "No. Do you?" The question was spoken slowly and I felt the weight of it.
"Have you ever had a boyfriend, Quinn?"
My heart skipped a beat. "Not really. How about you?"
She smiled then and turned toward the lake. "Not really."
We sat in silence, the air laden with possibilities. Surely, there were a thousand things I wanted to blurt out, like how her nearness made my skin tingle, and how her perfect body made my stomach quiver. And how glad I was that shed never really had a boyfriend. But I didnt open my mouth.
Finally, she stood up and slipped her sandals back on. "I suppose we should get going. Aunt Ruby will think Ive drowned or something."
Reluctantly I stood. I would have been content to sit there with her all night. "Okay, but I dont think shes worrying. They know youre safe as long as youre with me."
"Really? Tomorrow night then."
We headed back towards the A-frame, lit up like a Christmas tree in the black of the night. Claris stopped in the shadows just beyond the pool of light surrounding the cabin. The adults were still on the patio, still playing cards and laughing uproariously, no doubt over one of Georges notorious, off color jokes. Claris shoved her hands into the pockets of her cutoffs and watched them. She didnt look at me.
"Quinn, are you staying in the cabin with your parents?"
"No. I have my own popup."
She turned then and gave me a wry grin. "What the hell is a popup?"
"Oh. Its a small tow camper. You crank up the hardtop and expand the canvas sides. Its a good size actually." I was feeling fairly brave around her now, but there was no damn way I was going to ask why she wanted to know where I was sleeping. Just the thought made my knees weak.
"Thats great. That your parents have given you your privacy, I mean."
"This is the first time Ive asked for it. They bitched about having to take the car to tow it, but that was it. Theyre decent that way."
"Yes, they seem nice. Your grandparents too."
"Gramps is great."
"Id better go up. Are you coming?"
I was loathe to leave her, but I didnt want to be around her right then with the adults so near. It would have ruined the high I was feeling from having been alone with her. "Nah. Im going to head back."
"Back to your popup?" She leaned toward me and emphasized the word.
I leaned forward until my face was within inches of hers. "Yes, my popup."
She threw her head back and laughed. "All right, Miss Quinn. Thank you for the guided tour. Sleep well." She winked and headed off.
"Claris. Dont forget our date tomorrow," I called out softly.
"I wont. Come and get me after lunch. I sleep late."
"Okay. So do I."
I watched the sway of her hips, and I knew she knew I was watching. There was no question in my mind now that the attraction was mutual and I could hardly believe it. The most gorgeous girl Id ever seen in my life was here, in the middle of the woods, with nothing to distract her except me. I literally bounced back to the camper.
I tossed and turned all night, my dreams lucid and pleasurable. I woke up early, breathing hard and anticipating one of the best days of my young life.
"Hello there, Quinn. Going swimming?"
"Yeah. Claris is supposed to be coming with me. She is up by now, I hope."
Ruby rolled her eyes. "Barely. She is a true city gal up all night and sleeps all day. Ill get her."
"No need. Im here."
I was surprised Ruby didnt turn my way. Surely shed heard my jaw hit the floor. Claris was dressed in a yellow bikini and sandals. That was it. Nothing else.
"Ready to go, Quinn?"
I was already out the door. I couldnt risk Ruby seeing my flaming cheeks. "Yeah, lets go."
Ruby threw a beach towel at Claris as we descended the deck steps. "Watch out for her, Quinn."
"I will, dont worry." I glanced sideways at Claris and saw the grin. This girl was dangerous. I took off running anything to expel the rush of adrenaline that was still coursing through my body after seeing Claris nearly naked.
When we reached the dock, Claris was out of breath, shed been laughing so hard while running after me. I put my hands on my hips and tried to give her an indignant glare. "What are you laughing at?"
"You!" she gasped. "Ive never had a woman run away from me before!"
"I wasnt running away from you!" I was embarrassed. "I was just I just Im just energetic, thats all!"
She laughed harder.
She was bent double, hands on her knees, unable to speak. Eventually, I could do nothing but smile and enjoy the sight of her jiggling breasts. Finally she calmed down, and I got caught staring. But I didnt care anymore. I wanted her to know that I found her stunning.
"Jesus Christ, Claris. You are so beautiful."
The brief flicker of surprise that flashed across her face was telling. She hadnt expected my bold statement. But she recovered quickly. "Thank you, Quinn." She smiled as her eyes traveled the length of my body. "So are you."
Oh God. I needed cooling off. I stripped down to my bathing suit and dove in. When I broke the surface, I saw Claris still dry, dipping her toes into the water.
"Is it cold? There arent any fish, are there?"
"No! Get in! Its warm and Ive scared all the fish away. Cmon!"
To her credit, she made up her mind and dove in. She surfaced next to me, exhilarated. "God, its wonderful!"
"Cmon, lets swim to the platform."
She was a strong swimmer and almost beat me to the floating dock. We hauled ourselves out of the water, breathless and happy.
"Wow! Thats farther than it looks!"
"I know. First time I ever did it, I thought I had swum a mile. I was really young and still doing the dog paddle."
Claris pushed the wet bangs off her forehead and fluffed her short hair with her fingers, then slid her behind across the smooth, weather-beaten wood and lay down on her back. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, soaking up the suns rays.
I couldnt tear my eyes from her. The bathing suit was barely a thought, her ripe nipples standing erect under the damp yellow of the tiny bikini top. My eyes traveled down her body, taking in the flat stomach, the apex of her thighs covered in another patch of wet fabric, and the toned, proportionate thighs. I glanced at her face and saw one green eye open, watching me.
"I love the way you look at me, Quinn."
"I cant help it. Youre incredible." I was no longer embarrassed by my reactions, nor startled by hers. For the first time, I felt completely free to openly display my attraction to a girl, and I was calmed by the rightness of it.
"Do you realize how beautiful you are, Quinn?"
I glanced away, shy. "Im okay."
"No, youre far more than okay. Youre statuesque, like a model. Youd be irresistible to some of the people I know, believe me. Ive been watching you too, every chance I could. Im just more subtle than you are." She smiled and patted the deck. "Lay down beside me."
I lay down on my back as she turned on her side and faced me, propped up on her elbow.
"Can anyone see us out here, Quinn? I mean, are we far enough away that no one can really see much?"
My body started to thrum. "Well, were far away, but the adults are used to looking out here with binoculars, to make sure the kids are ok."
"In other words, were probably being observed."
"More than likely. Its a habit. So they can react quickly if theres trouble. Aiden almost drowned out here when he was younger. Its just concern on their part."
Claris sat up. "No matter the reason. Im used to being watched." Her tone held a trace of bitterness, but it disappeared quickly. "Can we take the boat out?"
"Lets go then."
We dove into the water and swam back to shore. I jogged to our cabin to get the key and Claris went up to the A-frame to tell Ruby. I met her back at the dock, laden with a cooler and picnic blanket. She grinned and shrugged. "Aunt Ruby is sending us on a picnic."
"Great idea! I know just the place."
We loaded the boat and jumped in. I trolled out slowly until we passed the swimming area, then revved it up. Claris lounged in the stern, enjoying the breeze. Eventually I pulled into a small, sheltered cove, cut the engine and poled the boat over to a dilapidated dock. The tiny stretch of beach was sandy here, and there was a meager, rustic cabin, falling apart due to neglect, set back in the woods.
I explained as I was tying off the lines. "Careful here. The dock is intact enough to hold us, but not much more. An old man used to come up here ice fishing in the winter, but he died about six years ago. Gramps said his familys been fighting over the property ever since, so no one comes here anymore. Thats why its such a mess, but I like it. Its my hideaway because the entrance to the cove is so easy to miss. Ive never seen anyone else here."
We left the cooler and blanket on the beach and went exploring. As we walked around the little shack and peered through broken windows, Claris slipped her hand in mine. I squeezed her fingers and smiled. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.
There wasnt a lot to see, but as we wandered back to the beach, Claris said that she felt like she was on a little adventure. I spread the blanket out and opened the cooler, pulling out two bottles of water. Ruby had packed fresh fruit, cokes, water, and fat sandwiches. "Are you hungry?"
Claris took a long drink, then shook her head. "No. I ate a really late breakfast. Are you?"
"Not at all. I ate a ton this morning. My mother feeds me enough for three, I swear. I dont know where I put it."
Claris set her bottle on the cooler. "Neither do I." She ran her fingertips over my abdomen. "Must be all that excess energy."
I caught her hand and pressed it to my stomach. I drew a shuddering breath and closed my eyes. When I opened them, Claris was watching me intently. Then she smiled.
"Have you ever made love with anyone, Quinn?"
I looked away and shook my head no. I didnt trust my voice.
"Id like to make love to you, Quinn. I think youre charming and beautiful, and Id like to be your first."
I nodded and squeezed my eyes shut against the sudden tears that welled in them. I released her hand and pinched the bridge of my nose, brushing away the moisture.
She cupped my face in her hand and stroked my cheek. "God, you are so sweet. So young and sweet."
Her words reached inside and touched my heart. I had thought that if anything were to happen between us, it would be lusty and quick and sneaky, trying to stay quiet somewhere so we wouldnt get caught. I hadnt expected this softness, this depth of emotion from the girl who had seemed too cynical to appreciate my innocence and what this meant to me.
"Quinn darling, look at me."
She lifted my chin until our eyes met, then she leaned in and kissed me, not breaking contact until I had opened my lips to her gentle exploration. It was a kiss Ill never forget, because it demanded nothing, yet coaxed everything from me. It asked for my surrender and my reciprocation, and my answer was a resounding yes. Had it all ended there, I believe I could have been content. But it didnt.
Claris reached behind my back and unhooked my swim top, then lowered me to the blanket. She removed her bikini entirely and lay on her side next to me. As she leaned in to kiss me again, she took my hand and placed it on her breast over the hardened nipple.
She whispered into my lips as we kissed. "Can I take these off?"
I lifted my hips in response and she slid the remaining half of my suit down over my thighs and off.
I had never held a girls naked breast in my hand, or naked body in my arms, so everything after the kiss was new to me. The feelings were indescribable and almost overwhelming, but I remained relaxed because I knew Claris wanted this as much as I did. She climbed on top of me and entwined our legs, and I felt the full length of her body on mine for the first time. It made me tremble.
We kissed and kissed, sliding against each other, and when it felt as though we couldnt take anymore, that we were ready to melt with desire, we kissed again. Whenever one would start pulling away, the other pulled her back. We couldnt get enough, and it was the closest I had ever come to completely losing control.
Finally, she released my lips and kissed her way down to my breasts, caressing the sensitive nipples with her lips and tongue. Sharp tingles, like little electric shocks, traveled through my body, all the way down to my toes, and it was so pleasurable it was almost painful. It made me gasp for air.
"Claris! My God!" I buried my fingers in her hair, holding her there, hoping shed never stop.
"Its gets better, sweetie. Believe me."
She kissed her way down my belly, then back up to my lips. She kissed my neck and traced my ear with her tongue before whispering to me, "Are you ready, Quinn?"
I nodded and turned my head, capturing her lips again in a ravenous kiss. The groan that escaped my throat did something to her. She responded as though she had been touched, arcing her body into mine as a strong shiver shot through her. I felt her hand caress my hip and thigh, then gently nudge my legs apart.
"Quinn, youre so wet. You feel so good, darling."
The sensation of being stroked for the first time by a hand other than your own is incredible. I was no stranger to orgasms - Id given myself many. But to have another person touch you, someone you care for and trust, was amazing. I could almost feel the emotion bleeding from her fingertips. I fought back the tears and focused on the responses she was pulling from my body.
"Are you ok, darling?" She dropped tiny kisses all over my face.
"Yeah, Im okay. What youre doing, Claris, it feels so good. Dont stop."
"I wont, lover."
Her strokes took me higher until my body was quivering with need, craving the release, but never wanting it to end. I hadnt realized before then how contradictory love and pleasure could be. I felt her finger slip just inside me and heard the whisper in my ear.
"This might hurt a little, but just for a second, I promise."
I didnt really feel the pain, just a slight pressure, probably because I was so aroused. But when she broke through, Claris moaned, as though she had experienced the pain for me. She looked into my eyes and I saw something that went far beyond desire. She kissed my lips and then I was hers. The orgasm tore a yell from my chest, and I held onto her for dear life as my body was subjected to the most exquisite, delicious agony I had ever felt. Claris buried her face in my neck and continued to stroke me, inside and out, prolonging the climax and racking my body with strong aftershocks.
Just when I knew I couldnt take anymore, she stopped, threw her leg over my waist and straddled me on her knees. She was like a woman possessed. She took my hand and held it tight between her legs, pushing two of my fingers inside. Her hips started to move and I just held my hand still. She knew what she needed.
"Oh God, Quinn, I couldnt wait any longer..."
The tremors started almost immediately. She fell forward on her hands and dropped her forehead to my chest as her hips maintained their rhythm. I felt the rippling of smooth flesh against my fingers as she threw her head back and yelled my name. Hearing that was as much a rush as the orgasm she had given me.
Claris collapsed onto me and my fingers slid out. I wrapped my arms around her and held her tightly until dusk fell and we had to go back.
We were inseparable during the rest of her stay up north. We shared our thoughts about everything and became friends as much as lovers. She told me about her relationship with a woman eight years her senior, who taught her everything about sex, but nothing about love. And how her parents had dragged the two of them from a lesbian bar and threatened to charge the woman for having sex with a minor. She never heard from the woman again.
Claris parents had sent her to George and Ruby for a few weeks until they could get her into a different college, away from the city, away from that woman, and under appropriate supervision. They were exerting as much control as they could until she turned eighteen.
She moved into my camper with me with nary a question from the adults. They thought it was wonderful that we were getting along so well, and apparently, Claris parents had not informed George and Ruby of the real reason she was here with them. I told her I didnt think theyd give a damn, but she wasnt certain.
We made love every chance we could, and she showed me the ecstasy of her mouth and tongue. She let me experiment and explore, and soon there wasnt an inch of her body I hadnt loved.
One afternoon, as we were lying together on our little beach, I told her that she had ruined me for anyone else. I would never be able to make love to another woman without seeing her face and calling her name, so there was nothing for me to do but love only her for the rest of my life. She placed her fingers on my lips to stop me from saying anything more. She sat up and started to cry. I scrambled up next to her and held her close.
"Claris, whats wrong, baby?" What did I say?"
She shook her head.
"Please tell me." I pulled her into my arms and rocked her gently, kissing her hair and whispering my love. I knew she loved me the same. She had told me so numerous times, and I could feel it in the touch of her hands on my body.
"Quinn, theyre sending me to Europe. I have to leave tomorrow."
Europe? Tomorrow? The shock was numbing. I slid Claris off my lap and started to pace. When the reality of our circumstances hit, I yelled at the top of my lungs.
I dropped to my knees and began to sob.
Claris ran over and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, crying with me.
"Ill go with you, Claris! Im eighteen! They cant stop me!"
"No, darling, you have your scholarship here. I wont let you turn your back on that."
"I dont care about that!"
"I do, and I wont let you give it up."
"But Ill die if I lose you! School doesnt mean anything if I cant be with you! I thought you cared!"
"Oh, my darling Quinn. I care so much. I love you like Ive never loved anyone before."
I calmed because I could see the truth of those words in her eyes.
"Quinn, you have to trust me when I tell you this, okay?"
I nodded slowly, but a cold sliver of panic was knifing through me.
"We will be together someday. Im not sure where, or how long it might take, but well be together if this is meant to be, and I think it is. Please believe me. You can feel it, cant you?"
My head dropped and the tears started again. "Youre going to meet some older woman, and shes going to make you fall in love with her."
Claris knelt in front of me and grabbed my hands, holding them to her chest and smiling at me through her tears. "Quinn, you are my older woman now, and I dont want anyone but you. I love you."
She pulled me to my feet and led me to our blanket, where we held each other until we had to leave.
Claris left the next day, and it was one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating experiences of my life. We couldnt be how we wanted to be around each other. We had to pretend to be friends, not lovers, when all I wanted to do was gather her into my arms and never let her go.
Finally, her departure couldnt be delayed any longer. She looked at me one last time, then threw her arms around my neck, whispering fiercely in my ear, "Dont you forget me, Quinn! I want you to promise!"
And then they drove away.
Gramps found me late that night, sitting on the dock and staring into the darkness through watery eyes. He sat down on the other side so we were back to back.
"Wondered where youd gone off to."
I didnt respond. Without telling him everything, I couldnt tell him anything. And I was too upset right now to have a conversation with my grandfather about my personal preferences.
"George just got back. Claris is on the plane to Paris. Shell be staying with her dads aunt, I think he said."
The lump rose in my throat again and I worked hard to stifle a sob. I wanted to thank him for letting me know, but I couldnt speak. I just wanted to be left alone with my sorrow.
"Snapper, Im gonna tell you a story."
Oh God, no. I loved my grandfather, but I didnt want to hear one of his tales.
"I know you and your Gramma dont get along. I know you dont like her so much and it breaks my heart, but I love you both so I accept it."
What the hell did my grandmother have to do with any of this? I didnt want to talk about Gramma when Claris was so newly gone from my life. My heart was breaking, and there was no one I could tell. Because she was a girl.
"Thing is, snapper, your Gramma isnt a real likeable old gal. Shes set in her ways, and shes stubborn as a mule, and shes the most old-fashioned woman Ive ever known. But I love her. God knows I love her, more today, Quinn, than yesterday. And Ill love her more than that tomorrow. My life wouldnt be complete without her in it, and theres no greater love two people can share than that."
I was listening intently now. I had never heard my grandfather speak this way, of love and life. His lessons had always been by example, not words. It distracted me from my pain for a few brief moments.
"Now heres my point, Quinn. You cant choose who you love. Love chooses you. Doesnt matter if the whole world thinks its the wrong person. Its your life and its your heart, and in the end, youre the only one who knows if you spent your life happy or miserable."
He knew. He probably knew all along, and he was telling me that it was okay. It made my pain bearable. I stood up and crossed the deck and sat down next to him. We listened to the sounds of the night and didnt speak for a while. I closed my eyes and tried to remember every detail of the days I had spent with Claris. Silent tears leaked past my eyelids as I remembered the love we shared.
"I might never see her again, Gramps." My voice broke and I drew a deep breath.
"How do you know?"
"Some things are meant to be, thats all."
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