“You guys have a fun night!” his mom called after us as I followed him across the field.
“What kind of surprise?” I said, straining to see ahead in through the encroaching twilight. Just barely viewable halfway across, I made out a shape that looked like…a tent. A campsite. A ring of rocks with a small fire burning in it. A stack of wood next to it.
“What the hey?” I was amused by the idea. Reading scary stories by a campfire.
“I thought you’d like that,” he said, running ahead of me toward the tent.
I ran to catch up and was surprised that it was a good sized tent with a lantern, a stash of graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate for s’mores, a couple of thermos of grape Kool-‐‑Aid, some pretzels, and chips.
The fire had been started earlier and had dwindled down. Ryan threw two more small logs on it to rekindle it.
“There’s gonna be a full moon tonight. That’ll make it even better.” The guy was something else. Who would have thought of turning a study time of Edgar Allan Poe into a campfire side story?
Darkness fell fast, and from where we were situated we couldn’t even see the lights of his house. Only our campsite and the canopy of stars in the cloudless night. We pulled the sleeping bags from the tent around the fire, and propped the lantern on the outside of the tent.
I started with The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. The story of a dying man being hypnotized and still able to communicate after he was dead. Ryan listened intently, only breaking the discourse when he didn’t understand the meaning of a word.
Next I read The Fall of The House of Usher, then, The Masque of Red Death, and finally, The Tell-‐‑Tale Heart.
Ryan looked at me after the last sentence and said, “Wow, that Poe was one sick puppy. He shoulda been in a home.”
“Yes, but he was probably a greater influence to the modern writers of horror and suspense than any other writer. He was more readable than the others. The terror was more realistic. That’s why he’s so important.”
In the flames of the fire I could see he was looking at me with what appeared, to my eyes, to be admiration.
“How do you know all of this stuff?” he asked. “Are you like some whiz-‐‑kid genius?”
“I just like to read,” I answered. “Never made a lot of friends; wasn’t good at sports much. So, I read.”
“Well, good for me,” he said. “I get a tutor and a running buddy all rolled into one.”
He made s’mores and we ate them watching the full moon rise high in the starry night. There was no doubt he was a true nature boy. He loved everything about being outdoors. He sat bow-‐‑legged in the semi-‐‑darkness listening to the sounds of the night like they were a song being sung for him.
I cannot lie. I was captivated by his raw beauty. His blue eyes shone in the lunar light. The curve of his head with its close-‐‑cropped blond hair made me think of an imposing Roman statue of a conquering hero. The masculine inclination of his nose from a square forehead, the slope of cheekbone to a strong block of chin, both alluring and majestic.
“Such a beautiful night,” he commented, his eyes still fixed on the moon. “People lose sight of how beautiful the world is that we live in by sitting in front of the boob tube every night.”
I stared at the curve of his back, the full bicep as he raised his s’more and ate. The blond hair on his legs gleamed in the duo of light.
He turned to look at me, orange embers catching his face again. “Where do you plan to go after high school? Which college?”
I explained to him how it was unlikely I’d be able to attend any college. Our family didn’t have the finances. That I’d probably decide on a trade and go to a school for that.
“You already have a trade that’s making money. Why not just build on that?”
“You mean, mowing lawns?” I’d never thought of it as anything but a school boy’s way of making cash. Not a lifetime profession.
“Why not? Everybody needs their lawns mowed. There’s apartment complexes and office buildings; all kinds of places that would probably pay regularly to have their lawns mowed. You just get more clients, hire more high school guys who want to make extra cash, and build the business up as big as you can.” He looked back up at the moon. “You make your own mulch, sell that service; do shrubbery trimming. There’s all kinds of ways to make money with that stuff.”
Looking back now on how easily someone’s words would end up shaping the course of my life, you’d wonder about things like providence. Retiring after forty years of a very successful lawn care business, made these moments shine like fate was a gold lamp lighting the way.
The moon was waning when we carried our sleeping bags back into the tent, turned off the lantern and listened to the sounds of the night. My mind raced with uncoordinated thoughts, lying so close to him. It was exciting and frightening. But I’d not make a fool of myself. I saw what it looked like to be on the other end of someone who doesn’t feel the same way. The image of Rosemary’s face was always there to remind me.
“So what was your first time like?” His voice came from the shadows, backlit by an expiring campfire. It was odd that he should ask that as I remembered the pained expression of the girl I rejected. “It’s not worth talking about,” I said after a long pause.
“That’s why you were running that first day I saw you, isn’t it? That’s why you were angry.”
I debated whether I wanted to answer it, and then gave in. Maybe I would learn courage from him. “Yeah. I hurt someone I didn’t mean to hurt.”
I heard him shift. His profile disappeared as he turned to look at me. He was in darkness. I couldn’t even see his eyes.
I tried to think of some way to answer that question that didn’t make me look worse than I felt I was. “I made someone believe I was interested in them when I wasn’t. I…was using them.”
“Why?” I didn’t want to explain it.
I didn’t want to touch the subject at all. “It’s complicated.”
His sigh was prolonged. “Ah. My most popular answer when my folks ask me why I’m not dating.”
So many moments passed I thought he’d fallen asleep. I could hear his breathing. The night sounds. The last crackles of the embers in the campfire.
“It’s hard to want to fit in and not be able to,” his voice came barely above a whisper. “They make us feel like it’s easier to lie than be truthful. Easier to hide than be seen. Make us feel like we did something wrong to not be like them. Like we made a conscious choice.”
It seemed I was breaking down inside. It wasn’t out of self-‐‑pity, but out of the realization of the helplessness of the situation. My throat was stifling me, but I found a voice. Small as it was. “I didn’t choose it,” I said. “It was just there one day.”
I couldn’t believe I’d made the admission to him. As the words came out of me, I felt anchors fall away. I could breathe again. I could sense coolness in the night air again.
I heard him laugh. “Sort of like Mozart when he could play the piano at seven?”
I could feel the smile curve my lips. “More like Rudolf having a red nose. How the hell did that get there?”
He snickered into his hands. “So true,” he snorted. “They think it’s like we chose a jacket to wear.”
It was astonishing how much freer I felt having admitted my secret to him. When we settled down from laughing at ourselves, the silence pressed on us again.
“You have to apologize to your friend,” he told me. “You can’t let her go on thinking it was something she did. She’ll carry that forever.”
I knew he was right. I hoped I got the opportunity to do that. It wasn’t something I wanted to carry with myself either. I lay there listening to his light snoring for an hour. I wanted to absorb every moment of this night. I knew it was special. I wanted to keep it locked away inside me forever just the way it was. When I closed my eyes to sleep, I thought of how he’d glowed like a jewel in the light of the campfire. The way the flames carved him against the darkness. The very shape of his head. The smudges of chocolate and marshmallows on his fingers and lips. How the hair on his legs looked like filaments of gold. When I was certain my heart had painted the canvas in my memory…I fell asleep.
Memorizing You By Dan Skinner : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DUXS4Z2