Stage One—Let Go of Your Fear
Start out in shallow, warm waters. If you’re learning to swim where there’s a current, be aware of the flow. If you insist on learning to swim this way, make sure you’re with someone who knows what she’s doing. Try floating. Try breathing underwater. Don’t panic. Wear goggles if you must.
* * *
There is beauty everywhere, and my desire runs as deep as the depths of this hidden cove. Sophie’s hair is a perfect disaster. The wind we paddled through has whipped her auburn curls into a frenzy, and we’ve laughed so hard she’s forgotten to care. She’s always freer when she thinks no one’s watching.
I mean. Gah. The first time she caught me watching her in the library, when we were supposed to be working on our essays for English Lit, I almost swallowed my tongue. A crimson blush rushed across her freckled cheeks, and the pencil she’d been mindlessly tapping against her chin dimple stopped as she lost track. But she didn’t look away, and I knew. Her stomach was taking that same plunge into wild. We were simply a matter of time.
Our gazes lock as I walk toward her. She bites her bottom lip. I work my fingers through her tangles. She lets her head drop back. I want to delve into the heated hollow of softly scented skin just above her collarbone, leave a trail of tiny kisses in my wake.
It took two months for her to break up with Andrew, two weeks for me to convince her it was okay to go with the flow, and two days to convince our parents to let us camp overnight.
With capable strokes, we pull up as close as we can to the outflow of Granite Falls. A sea cucumber floats by, and I flick the phallic form toward her with the tip of my paddle.
She almost tips her kayak in surprise. “What the hell is that?”
I arch one eyebrow and slide her an evil grin. “More of the local marine life. Not nearly as impressive as the seals at Silver Falls, but still. Thought you’d want me to point it out.”
“Yeah. Nope.” More of her delightful laughter cascades down my spine. “Let’s hope we don’t run into any more of those.”
And we’re lucky. A scan of the shore reveals we’re all alone. We drag our kayaks across the stones with tired arms to a site midway between the falls and the shoreline, with two trees the perfect distance apart to sling the double hammock I’ve optimistically secreted away in my pack.
We drop our gear and the first of our inhibitions. A quick text to the parentals, and we’re truly, finally here. Behind us, water cascades over rock. Below, it laps against the beach. Sophie stands, her hands bunched up into the ends of her sleeves, in the middle of our site. Our gazes lock as I walk toward her. She bites her bottom lip. I work my fingers through her tangles. She lets her head drop back. I want to delve into the heated hollow of softly scented skin just above her collarbone, leave a trail of tiny kisses in my wake.
But I don’t and she sighs—the sound a soft caress. Awe prickles through my body. I wonder. Is it now? Are we finally in the moment where we take our explorations to the next step? My fingers graze the swooped curve at the top of her left breast, and she inhales. Sharp.
“Let’s climb to the top of the falls before it gets too dark,” she says.
I want to tell her we can make the climb in the morning. I want to flutter my eyes closed against her earlobe and breathe her in. But I have no clue how to tell her no.
* * *
Stage Two—Learn How to Tread Water
Sink, then let yourself float back up. Flutter kick your legs and stay in place. Let your arms push against the water in a circular motion, back and forth. Back and forth.
* * *
The way up seems longer and more precarious than I remember. I can’t take my eyes off her as she scrambles ahead of me over moss coated boulders, in the shadows of old growth cedars, through the scent of forest green. Her legs. Her shoulder blades. The curve of her upper thigh. I let my imagination wander along each soft surface, dreaming of how my fingers will do the same.
It’s hard to catch my breath.
By the time we reach the top, I’m desperate to ask for what I want. No more of this teasing game we’ve been playing. But it has to be Sophie who’s ready. I know how important it is to let her set the pace. She’s never been here before and I’m doing my best to honor that. In one way, I haven’t either. I mean, I’ve never wanted someone so much it hurts. My chest is unfamiliar with this ache of holding desire at bay.
She lifts her hair up off the back of her neck, leans against a wall of rock, and scans a shallow pool. It’s full of eddies and froth, carved out centuries ago by the water that now crashes down in a glistening white sheet a mere ten feet away. The sun’s August rays shine thick and hot. “Do you think it’s safe to swim?”
I nod, slow, and tip my chin to the spot where the water drops over a precipice to another deeper pool below. “As long as we keep away from that edge.”
Her eyes hold mine as she kicks off her shoes and peels her yoga pants off. I pull the hem of my tank up over my face, relish the stretch in my shoulders as I lift it over my head. We’re quickly stripped down to our bikinis. What’s left of our inhibitions barely clings to our skin.
I motion toward a cave carved into the rock, a fallen cedar trunk leaning over the entrance to the dark.
She dips a toe in—“No effing way”—and then inches into the freezing water by infinitesimal degrees.
Already ahead, I hold out my hand to her and wait. “Trust me.”
She smiles. Laughs. Finally, wades through the swirling water. Finally, twines her fingers through mine. “I do. I’m not so sure about the bats.”
“Then we’ll have to be quiet,” I say, and squeeze her hand tight as we leave the sunlight behind.
When I pull her body to me in the cool dark, I wonder whether her shivers stem from the water lapping at our knees or the same reasons as mine. We wrap our arms around one other. Her hands rest tentative and cool on the side of my jaw and the nape of my neck, and mine pull against the small of her back. Her lips are soft and warm.
* * *
Stage Three—Practice More Advanced Techniques
It’s time. Be aware of rocks below, but if it’s safe, try diving in! Float on your back, then kick your feet. Circle each arm up over your head, then move it down your body, pushing the water toward your feet. This is the back crawl. The front crawl is similar, but you’ll need to moderate your breathing by turning your head to the side to inhale.
* * *
We wind our way back down the path, lighter on our feet. I’m ecstatic to discover we still have the entire place to ourselves. The sun’s dropped behind the hills, leaving our campsite in a shadow beneath an increasingly indigo sky. Even if we changed our minds about camping out, it’s too late to head home. Kayaking in the dark is never safe, and I promised Mom and Dad we wouldn’t take any stupid risks.
I watch her search the sky for the first elusive star. I know what I’m wishing for and pray she hopes for the same.
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
The world sways, and our laughter skips over the rocks all the way to the water and over the waves. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than her joy.
Sophie unpacks the picnic as I secure the hammock and garnish it with a cozy quilt—soft and dry, fresh from the zip-lip bag I’d stashed at the end of my kayak’s rear compartment. I scan the cloudless sky and pray I won’t regret the decision to forgo a tarp.
“Did you seriously pack us chocolate covered almonds for supper?” she asks.
“Your favorite source of protein.” Who can blame her, really? “And strawberries. With one of those cans of whip cream for dessert.”
“Oh my god. I love…” She hesitates, two beats that steal my breath, “…that stuff.”
Sigh. “I know.”
I know everything about her, or at least as much as I can. I know the tension she carries in her shoulders every time she comes out to someone new, and how to massage her worry away. She likes puppies (who doesn’t?), especially their breath. And purple. And peeled apples. Hot coffee, but iced tea. She reads—mostly fantasy, with a smidgen of romance—and bends the corners of pages, unapologetically, to keep her place. Her musical taste runs to acoustic guitar accompanied by sexy, swoony voices, crooning deep.
But I don’t know how to take the next step. Surprisingly, she takes it for me. With the bag of almonds in one hand, the container of strawberries in the other, and the can of whipped cream tucked under her arm, she makes her way over to the hammock and stands there, trying to solve the complex problem of how to climb in with a modicum of grace. “This should be interesting.”
This, I can show her. Behold, the master at work. “Here. Stand beside me.” I maneuver us in front of the webbing and gently lift the hammock almost vertical behind us, careful not to tip out the quilt. “Okay. Now we both sit, then swing our legs up. On three. One, two,…”
We lean back together, dive in. Somehow, we end up with our heads on opposite sides, our legs entangled. The world sways, and our laughter skips over the rocks all the way to the water and over the waves. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than her joy.
Dusk turns to darkness, the sky becomes freckled in endless pinpoints of light. There’s nothing simple about movement in a hammock; it takes an effort not to fall. But as we tumble closer and closer together, delightfully trammeled, Sophie slowly becomes unshackled from restraint. Chocolate and strawberries, an echo on her tongue. My hand skims the skin of her midriff, the back of her knuckles rest lightly on my cheek. I wander my fingers downward—beneath the waistband of her leggings—and am rewarded with a thirsty, soft gasp.
Craving overwhelms me. To taste more of this pleasure. More of this heat. She shimmies her hips, deliciously, and finally helps me drag the fabric further down.
And, oh. Oh. My lips trip the hip fantastic, dance swiftly across her inner thigh.
This is diving deep. Her gasps swell to panting, to cries that crest and fall. Lapping. Lingering. We’re holding tight and letting go, until the water falling over rocks no longer muffles her crescendoed cries.
* * *
Stage Four—Be Prepared for Unlikely Situations
Don’t ever swim alone. Ensure you have someone nearby who can throw you a floatation device if you’re in too deep.
* * *
And now I’ve really fallen. I’m drowning. Drenched in love.
“Holy hell,” she whispers.
Her words blaze across the night.