The sun blazed high in the late August sky. It wasn't the hottest day of the summer. The heat was oppressive because it touched that nerve of fatigue at the end of summer, when a person tired of hot weather. It was two o'clock. Paul had finished everything. He had taken his work-out in the cool, early morning. He finished mowing the lawn at about eleven. He had some lunch after that and completed packing after that.
In a larger sense, Paul was finishing up a big chapter in his book. His summer job was over. High School was behind him. With it went schoolboy sports. The proms and graduation parties that had been so important seemed like long ago. His friends were going separate ways. None of them would admit it, but the inevitable distancing was starting already. In three days, on Monday, his father would drive him to State University where he would start writing the next chapter.
The road that Paul chose was not the easiest one that had been open to him. Chemical Engineering and Division I football was a tough mix. Paul could easily qualify for either one at any institution. The coach at State was the only adult who thought that Paul could do both, so to State he would go on Monday. The upcoming rigors didn't frighten him. He would prove himself to all, not to show them that they had been wrong, but to relieve those who cared about him, so they could once again share in his adventure.
He disliked his current status, of being on a blank page between chapters. He regretted quitting his summer job at the beginning of the month. The idleness was annoying him. At the house his parents would revocalize their worries and doubts time and again, even though all decisions were behind them. He had no new answers to offer them. The heat of the day added to the fraying of nerves. He decided to steal away to a secret place he knew. There, he could relax among the trees. He could not begin to write his new chapter, but perhaps he could outline the prologue. The idea suited him, so he slipped out the front door and made his way to the end of the street.
Once clear of the house, Paul had no expectation that anyone would pay any mind to him. He often stole away to his retreat. He liked solitude at certain times. He could think about his real life or submerse himself into his dreams. When he would return in a few hours, his head would be clear again. He would be patient with his parents' repeated questions; his younger siblings' rants in search of parents' attention; the lack of meaningful activity and the August sun. He just sought some peaceful place to center himself for a little while.
Paul was not walking aimlessly. He was certain that his place was known only to him. It wasn't too far from his house, but not too close, either. It was out of line of sight from any house or road. If he walked at a normal gait he would be there in twenty minutes.
His private place was a grove of pine trees at the edge of a wood. Preceding the grove was a rolling field of tall grass. The hot, dry weather had had turned the grass a shade of tan. The greenness was waiting within for the trigger of rain to start recoloration. That would signal a restart of growth. It reminded him of his life at the moment. He had lost his greenness in his idle waiting. He looked forward to turning green again.
Like the waiting grasses, he had no control over when or how robustly he would spring back to life. He could do little more than the dormant blades, stretching their roots ever deeper in the soil, searching out moisture. Paul sunk his roots in his fertile mind, and therein was his prison. He was unable to escape the bonds of control and logic. He didn't understand well enough to want to do so. The perquisites of youth, spontaneity and abandon, had never found a comfortable resting place in his soul.
The tall pines formed a canopy of shade. The tops of the trees were knitted so densely that when it rained he could remain there and usually stay dry. The boughs of the trees were ten or twelve feet from the ground and there was about eight feet between each trunk. The floor of the grove was covered in pine straw from years gone by. Sometimes it was a little prickly to sit on, so Paul had brought an old blanket in a plastic pouch and hid it there. He spread it out between the trees.
When Paul went to his secret place, he would always shed his shirt and whatever he wore on his feet. If there was a breeze, it would feel relaxing as it passed over his bare skin. It helped his mind immerse into any subject he chose. A few times, he had nodded off to sleep with the gentle caress of passing zephyrs.
Once in a while, when he felt like it, Paul stripped all his clothes off. He would lie on the blanket completely nude. It did not excite him, rather relaxed him, to do so. He felt that he had seized the freedom to be nude by escaping the bounds of the mundane world.
Paul's experiences, for a young man of eighteen, had been extensive. He had played in the state championship football game, and given a valedictory speech. He had met with universities seeking him out to study at their schools, or play football at their schools. He had sifted through the wheat and chaff of the offers. It taught him many things, especially to trust his own instincts. Yes, he had done many things for an eighteen year-old.
There was something that some of his friends had done, that Paul was yet to experience. He had never been inside a woman. He had never been inside a girl, either. It was true, that at the age of those females to which he was acquainted, the traits of womanhood and girlness blended together in the same person. Without warning, one side or the other could erupt. There was no way to predict the volcano. The pouring forth would defy the analysis and logic that forged Paul's instincts. A young man could only hope to deftly react. It required great skill, indeed, to master the field. Paul was good at football and calculus, but never had found the time to learn this other strange game.
He observed his mother and other grown women. He sensed little of girlhood immaturities in them. He didn't know how well they hid them. Certainly they had once been eighteen, and suffered from the same girlish nonsense, but had now outgrown it. Instinct told him to be patient. A balancing equation would ensure future equilibrium. It would enable him to reach his hands out and find two gentle female hands reaching back. For now, he would bide his time.
Paul's virginity didn't shame him, but he sometimes felt stirrings that are natural for a man. The girls in their bikinis excited him. Often they would flirt with him. His physique and notoriety attracted them. If a girl could claim him, Paul's status would belong to her by association. Paul's introspective manner, however, put the girls off. After the initial foray, the girls would give up their quest. As they expected Paul to reciprocate in flattery, he would respond on an intellectual plane. It was confusing. For the bikini girls, this was too high a price to pay to be on the arm of a former sports star for a summer.
There were times in his secret haven in the pines that Paul would dream about these sirens that sang off-key. If only there was a harmony, something might happen. In those nude moments in the trees, Paul would link his mental wanderings with a physical pleasure that he could bestow on himself. It was his secret; he only did it once in a while. It allayed that burden of wondering and freed him for more important thoughts.
As he spread out his blanket he decided to forego a complete disrobing. There was no breeze to caress him. Sex was not on his mind. Football and studies occupied his thoughts. He left his cutoff shorts on. He settled back on the blanket and proceeded to do that which he came for.
As Paul stole out of the neighborhood to his pine haven he had no idea that there was a set of eyes taking note of his every step. They followed him on his walk down the road and out into the field. For the eyes to continue their surveillance a body would have to follow. The eyes dragged it along, following Paul at a distance. They were unsure if they were right or welcome in their following. There was a force of instinct guiding them, so neither ethics nor fear of rejection had any power to cause the eyes to reconsider the action.
The pair of eyes belonged to Glenda, a classmate of Paul's. Although they lived in the same neighborhood, their acquaintanceship never blossomed to friendship. Glenda was interested in neither sports nor academics. She also disdained the bikini flirtations that many of her peers engaged in. She had neither the body nor mind to support any ambitions of success in that game.
She was of medium height on a thin frame. Her complexion was freckled and pale. The facial features were quite plain. There were no pronounced cheekbones or dimples. She was a redhead, which may have explained her untanned skin. She looked vulnerable in the hot August sun. Most women with red hair allow their manes to grow. Glenda did not, opting for a more manageable, shorter cut. If she had allowed her tresses to develop, she might have rubbed away some of her plainness. It would have added some depth to her countenance.
There was another feature in Glenda's visage that created a barrier between her and the world. Whatever were her inner mood or thoughts, they could not be discerned in her expression by another person. When she would smile, her thin lips would curl on cue, but no laugh lines would appear around her eyes or forehead. She had no frown, only a blank expression, as though the withdrawal of expression was a punishment to an offender. She had a look that portrayed emptiness in her soul. It was sad to those few that knew her, because she was, after all, only eighteen years old—just starting adult life.
The girlness that pervaded most young women her age had been purged by the untimely passing of her father earlier in the school year. Glenda's mother struggled, herself, to find a new place in the world. She tried, but could not, help her daughter to do the same. When Glenda complained of menstrual cramps her mother had rushed her to their doctor for birth control pills. Glenda knew that the cramps were not so serious as to require the pills. She did not take the prescription as a signal of permission from her mother, either. Glenda knew that it was just her mother's way of disposing of a potential problem in the easiest, fastest way. It had the effect of creating a distance between them, as the older woman cast her daughter adrift. It suited them both. The widow was too concerned with her own life and was unprepared to deal with her daughter's awakening. For Glenda, it reinforced her acceptance of isolation. Perhaps it was unnatural for girlhood notions to have been purged prematurely, and it led to a stifling nothingness. She understood none of it. An instinctive search for meaning hounded her that she could neither refuse nor disclose, even to herself. It was that primal urge that bade her eyes to follow Paul on his escape to the pine haven.
It was no surprise that Glenda had never enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh. She was aware of her homeliness and accepted the matter-of-course disappointments when young men would choose one of the bikini girls over her. She knew that sex was a worthwhile pleasure. Her mother had never discussed it with her, but one day Glenda discovered her mother's "magic wand". She tried it out, just on the surface and an inch or two inside. She was afraid to insert it completely. The pleasure gave her a physical release and a new subject that helped fill her empty thoughts when she was alone. The wand had not done enough to provoke an orgasm, but her thirst for one started to weave its way into her private desires.
As she followed Paul she maintained as great a distance as possible without losing sight of him. She watched him disappear into the darkened grove. She was too far away to see what he was doing among the trees. She wondered if he might be relieving his sexual tension. She knew that her brothers did so when they were alone. She was undecided whether to proceed forward, or return on the path that had brought her this far.
She ventured a little further. Perhaps she could get a clue as to whether to approach him. She couldn't define what she sought, assuming that she would decide to venture into the trees. Perhaps simple companionship would be enough to satisfy her. She was not so naïve to dismiss the sexual overtones of the potential intrusion. They would be alone in the private grove; he would be half-clothed at the outset. She wore very little, herself, on the hot summer day. There were her sandals, shorts, sleeveless blouse. A full set of underwear lay underneath. They were appropriate for a lazy summer afternoon, but exposed enough skin to suggest, if a young man were open to suggestion.
Glenda was quite sure that Paul, like her, was a virgin. On the fringe of the bikini girls' gossip sessions she would note their assessments of all the young men. There were code words that a practiced ear could use to decipher the secrets of supposed secret trysts. It was clear as to who was "doing it" and who was yet to join the ranks of the initiated. To the girls, there was more to sex than just pleasure or intimacy. Possession and status were the goals. Secrecy, therefore, made no sense to them. As she would assess her losses to the more voluptuous maidens, Glenda came to reject the morality of bondage in return for acquiescence. She lived in a private world, and if sex were to enter it, it would be private also.
Paul's non-acceptance into the regular clique made him attractive to Glenda. Surely, with his looks and fame, he could have slid into the favored crowd with ease. It would only require a few compromises on his part. Then he could have partaken of the rewards of membership. It was an integrity that was unusual, and it piqued and confused her at the same time. She reasoned that was why she had followed him on this day. Her self-honesty felt good, and she supposed that she needed it to match that which she had seen in Paul.
As she approached, she saw him reclining on the spread-out blanket, naked on the top and bottom, but clothed in the middle. He was not pleasuring himself, as she thought he might have been. It prompted her to approach closer. Her purpose remained unclear, as well as her course of action. The grove of pines looked much cooler than the grassy field where she waited, with the sun pouring down on her. She drank some water from the plastic bottle in her hand. She thought that she might be starting to burn. It meant a decision had to be close at hand. She approached a little closer.
There are moments spent in solitude when the presence of another body becomes apparent. It is not from conscious sight or sound. Perhaps the grasshoppers start chirping differently, or a field of energy belonging to the intruder intersects with one's own. Paul rose up from his lying position to his elbows and caught sight of her.
Glenda's approach confused him, for he knew that there was no reason for her to be in the field except that she had followed him. It sank him that his secret place had now been uncovered. Fortunately, he had chosen to forego the nudity that sometimes was a condition of these excursions. If it had been one of the bikini girls it would have surprised him less than the approach of Glenda. She had never displayed any interest in him. They saw little of each other since the passing of Glenda's father. He was not grateful for the contact; his aim had been solitude. Since that was no longer possible, he shrugged in passive acceptance.
From her vantage point in the field Glenda saw him catch sight of her. Decisions were no longer possible. To turn and flee was senseless. The deed had been duly recorded. She started to walk the remaining seventy yards to the grove. She walked slowly, partly because the hotness of the day had sapped energy for walking briskly. She hoped that the extra time spent in ambling to the grove would allow some reflection on her motives so she could explain herself. Most importantly, a quick gait would risk giving an impression that she wished to avoid. It might signal that she felt herself a prisoner, hurrying to deliver herself to her captor. Then again, he might sense that she felt herself to be the captor, moving swiftly to secure her prize. So, as always, she took steps to carefully conceal whatever she felt.
Paul observed her approach. He tried to be angry, but had already resolved to accept the intrusion. At first, he wondered what he would say to her. He reasoned that worrying was unnecessary. She was, after all, the protagonist. He just waited, half-reclining on his blanket and waited for her.
She entered the grove and approached his position, struggling to find an opening line.
"Hi," she said.
Against his plan, Paul put the first question to her. "What brings you out here on a hot day like today?"
His directness caught her off-guard. She was hoping for repartee that would allow her to ease into a conversation. It forced a direct response. She was standing at the edge of the blanket, hoping for an invitation.
"I saw you walking and followed, because it's almost the end of summer and you will be leaving soon and we haven't said two words to each other since graduation."
"Well, I'm sorry about that, Glenda," he replied. "There's no real reason for it; just didn't work out."
She remained standing over him as looked up at her. She searched for something to break the ice. "Want some water?" she offered.
She unscrewed the cap and took a swallow, letting the opening of the bottle remain on her lips for a second longer than necessary. She handed the bottle to Paul and he took his own big gulp. She noticed that he had made no effort to wipe the bottle clean before placing his lips on it.
"Have a seat." It was a brusque invitation. She removed her sandals and stepped onto the blanket, and then lowered herself down on it. There was plenty of room for two so that they weren't forced to contact one another. Paul had already settled back down, flat on his back, hands locked behind his head, staring into the treetops.
"I come out here sometimes to be able to think about things by myself." Paul said. He hadn't meant to reproach her; just answered her question in advance.
"Oh, sorry, I shouldn't have followed you. I did on a whim, really. Would you like me to go?"
"No, please don't go. I didn't expect you to follow me, but now I'm glad that you did."
Glenda's silence was a demand for an explanation of his last statement, so he went on. "I leave for college on Monday. I won't be back until December. We live so close and never see one another. It just seems like it would be a shame to leave without saying something."
She felt more welcome. He might have said it to spare her feelings, but she decided to accept it and move on.
"I'm going to secretarial school." she offered. "It's a six month course, and then they help you find a job."
"Well," Paul replied, "I hope you have good luck with it."
A silence followed. She hadn't asked about college or football, and he was grateful for that. Small talk topics were now exhausted. They were both uncomfortable at the inability to converse.
After a few minutes Glenda spoke. "It's really hot! I envy you men. You can strip down to almost nothing, but we women have to keep our tops on."