Disclaimer: 'Stand By Me' is the work of Rob Reiner and 'The Body' is from the mind of Stephen King.

Warning: This story features slash. Chris/Gordie.

Author's Note: I know it takes me 2 or 3 years between each chapter, but you readers keep me going and push me to write more with your absolutely lovely and heart-warming reviews. I'm so sorry again for keeping you waiting. I sort of felt at a loss for inspiration and then life happened and got crazy hectic and I had no time (plus this went waaaaaay down on my to-do list—I'm training as a doctor so you can imagine my workload). Thank you guys, however, for hanging in there. It's so fantastic to read your touching reviews and to see that people are still enjoying this story after so many years. I forgot how much I enjoyed writing Gordie and Chris. I'm not going to promise that I can update this regularly, but I will promise that, when I do update, it will be from the heart.

Eight – Into the Woods

About a quarter of a mile after the bridge, the railroad tracks wound into a sun-dappled forest just beyond Castle Rock. Though my heart had settled, there were still jittery vibrations in my heartstrings that I couldn't quite quell. The presence of the rushing train, just like last time, and my close encounter with it, just like last time, didn't seem like just a coincidence. Although I wasn't superstitious—I was happy to walk under ladders and step on cracks—it did seem as if Chris and I were meant, due to some cosmic pull, to retrace our fateful steps: train-and-all.

In my freshman term in college I had taken a brief course in World Philosophy. Having very rarely left Castle Rock during my entire pre-eighteen-year-old life, I felt I owed it to myself, and to the world I was so ignorant of, to finally gain some knowledge of how people from all over this vast planet thought about life, the universe, and everything. During this time I got in with a crowd of pot-smoking Grateful Dead fans—or "dirty hippies" as my father would have called them—and became enamoured with Eastern religions, not necessarily because I believed in them but because I was fascinated by their lush and exotic mythologies and the concepts that surrounded them. One such concept that stuck with me was that of samsara: a beautiful belief in how life, the universe, and everything constantly cycled and eternally flowed through birth and death—in which ends are always beginning and beginnings never end. Maybe the reason why I had felt so in touch with samsara was because my life had always been littered with moments of such timely timelessness: sepia-toned nostalgic summers and déjà vus aplenty were scattered like fallen leaves in my memory. This moment now (or that moment then) was just one of the many spinning spokes on my wheel of life as it raced through the abyss of eternity.

As we walked on, still in relative yet comfortable silence, the trees of the forest began to surround us with their gnarled trunks—like wooden obelisks jutting out from the earth—and an ancient eeriness settled in the air. The warm breeze breathed a light path through the leaves, making them whisper in the wind as if they were whispering about us—curious about their new human visitors. The whole place felt as old as time itself, yet somehow also bursting with potential youth and life. I wondered how many more humans these trees had seen since our last wander, all those years back, across their tangled roots, and whether they recognised us in their own special way. Although I had not known of the concept of samsara back then, I still felt it in the way the sun shone golden rays past peeling bark, in the way the leaves danced pirouettes in the wind, and in the way my heart fluttered like a trapped sparrow in my chest.

"Man…" said Chris, his voice laced with quiet awe, "I don't remember this place being so beautiful." I turned to him and saw him looking up towards the canopy above, his multicoloured eyes transfixed by the natural and effortlessly swaying branches caught in the sunlight. "It's strange when you're a kid and you don't notice things like this."

"I dunno," I murmured with a shrug and a smile. "Adults don't seem to notice much either."

Chris chuckled and lowered his gaze to catch mine. "So what are we? Kids or adults?"

I paused and thought for a moment. "Both," I replied, "and neither at the same time."

"That's some poetic shit right there," Chris said, giving me a playful nudge. He made a grand sweeping gesture with his arms, as if he were addressing an audience. "Kids stink, adults smell, but being a teenager sure is swell!"

I laughed and nudged him back. Although Chris's words were obviously playful and light-hearted I could sense a pang of sadness and cynicism in his voice; however I chose to ignore it, not wanting to bring about any awkward conversations—conversations that, despite the easy and amiable manner in which we walked beside each other, still seemed too close to the surface for my own comfort.

"You should be the writer," I told him with a cheeky grin, pushing my previous thoughts down to the back of my mind. "What you came out with just then…" I paused, bringing the tips of my fingers to my lips and making a loud 'mwah' noise as I kissed them in a grandiose gesture, "Shakespeare!"

"More like Shitspeare," said Chris, pulling a face. The mention of Shakespeare must have brought back memories of Mrs Maycombe, her sour expression, and her even sourer grading of Chris's Romeo and Juliet essay.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," I said with a laugh.

"A shit by any other name would smell as shit," Chris retorted, matching my cheeky grin with one of his own. It was a grin I had seen many times before, flashing with white-toothed confidence and swagger. A bad boy smirk a la James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, eyes squinting in the sun and collar pulled up against his lean neck as he regarded the world with cool disdain. It was the sort of look that made girls like Becky Ramirez go wild. I blushed at the thought and turned away from Chris's smile, though a part of me had not wanted to look away.

My embarrassment was noted by Chris, who laughed and said with a teasing tone to his voice, "I didn't know you had such sensitive sensibilities Gordie."

"Well you know me," I said, trying to dispel my increasing blush and awkwardness. "I fuckin' hate swearing."

Thankfully my joke worked, eliciting a hearty laugh from Chris and giving me a chance to cool my reddened cheeks. I wasn't sure why I had blushed so easily. Although I did often get embarrassed when doing school presentations and stuff like that, I rarely ever did so around Chris—especially when it was just me and him hanging around together. However, although I didn't want to think about it, I knew that something had changed in our friendship ever since… the strange events that I tried not to think about… both earlier this morning and, of course, that thing last night. But how come Chris was now acting so nonchalantly? I couldn't tell whether I was relieved or annoyed. I obviously wanted everything to be back the way it was, so surely I should be relieved that my best friend was acting like we were old buddies once more: cracking jokes and laughing like normal. Man, I thought to myself, I'm thinking too much again, and I chuckled internally at the irony of that thought.

I'm being stupid, I decided finally, letting the niggling thoughts of annoyance slide from my mind as I slid back into Chris's familiar and relaxing company.

The afternoon soon turned into evening as the sun sunk in the sky. Chris and I had been chatting away for a few good solid hours with a relaxed ease. Our dialogue flowed like old times, though we stayed clear of the serious topics—keeping the talk light, airy and, above all, fun. We formulated various games amidst the chatter, competing with each other over who could walk in the forest with their eyes closed for the longest before either chickening out or hitting a tree (Chris won—he an innate sense of location and no apparent fear of getting his face smashed, whether it was by a branch or by a fist); and over who could whistle the loudest and freak out as many birds (Chris again, obviously—he could do the thing of putting his thumb and index finger between his lips and whistling so loud that a whole flock of birds practically erupted from the trees); and over who could tell the dirtiest jokes (this was a close one, but it eventually, after a lot of deliberation from two very biased viewpoints, went to Chris once more. Although I had a good memory for jokes, mine were much tamer than Chris' who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of them thanks to Eyeball spurting out so many it would make a priest's ears bleed. "It was the only thing we really bonded over," Chris had said, "except maybe hating the old man…" which was perhaps the nicest thing he had ever said about his brother that I can now remember).

"Man," I muttered after facing another defeat (Chris had successfully managed to hit all ten pinecones in a row without any misses whilst the maximum I managed was five before I missed one), "all this losing is making me hungry."

Chris laughed. "Yeah, all this winning has left me starving."

I returned the laugh and shoved him playfully. "Though in my defence, it's pretty dark now and those pinecones got way harder to see."

"You're right," Chris said, looking up at the darkening sky. "We should probably set up camp for the night and cook those burgers."

We found a nice spot that was soft underfoot and sheltered from the wind, with a small clearing perfect for setting up a fire. Neither of us had been forward-thinking enough to bring sleeping bags but Chris did have a familiar ratty blanket—the one he had taken with him to the tree house—crumpled in the corner of his satchel. As he laid it out on the dusty ground we exchanged a quick glance, both of us acutely aware of the potential awkwardness that was looming on the horizon of our friendship. After so many hours of casual best-bud banter it was odd to feel the unwelcoming sensation of a blush creeping back into my cheeks. I turned away from him, coughing to dispel the silence, and Chris took that as a cue to quickly roll the blanket up and shove it back into his satchel: out of sight and out of mind.

"We should gather plenty of firewood," he said, "before it gets too late." I welcomed the suggestion and ventured out of the clearing and into the dimming woods.

The two of us spent the next half hour quietly collecting dried logs and branches for the fire, both lost for a moment in the task at hand. The activity reminded me of my father. Back when Denny was still alive my father would occasionally take us both out to camp in the woods. He liked the solitude of nature and our presence there always appeared, at least to me, to be merely an afterthought—some fatherly duty he had to fulfil (Mom would always nag him about not spending enough time with his sons. "They'll be gone and you'll lose them before you know it," she would always say. In Denny's case: he was gone long before any of us knew what real loss truly was). Although I had complained at the time—I was not able to walk for as long or as fast as Dad or Denny could—I did enjoy those fleeting summer weekends where the three of us would venture out of the suffocating small town smog of Castle Rock and breathe the harsh but free air of the great American landscape.

None of us would talk much during those trips, but we bonded in ways beyond words—through boggy marshes and twisted ankles we travelled together in quiet companionship. However, when Denny died, Dad stopped taking me out camping and Mom stopped asking him to. When Denny died everything seemed to stop in Castle Rock: Mom, Dad, the camping trips, the laughter and the smiles—everything except Chris and me. We kept on going. Pushing and pulling each other along, pinkies promising to not let the other get dragged down by the heavy shackles of small towns and even smaller dreams.

After I had collected an armful of dried sticks and branches I wandered back to our makeshift campsite. The sun had sunk even further in the sky, casting the forest in an eerie red glow that was made even eerier by the long shadows stretching like grey ghosts from tree trunks. Through the crimson sunset I could see Chris's silhouette leaning against a tree, his own haul of firewood in a neat pile by his feet. I approached him slowly and quietly. For some reason a part of me did not wanted to disturb him. He hadn't noticed me yet—I was slightly behind him and obscured in shadow—so I took it as an opportunity to observe my best friend in his contemplation.

Chris's head was bowed, partly hiding his face, but I could see the wrinkles in his brow. He was chewing at his bottom lip, just where it had been cut and was partly healed over by a loose scab. There was worry evident in his face, mixed with a few other emotions that blended to further contour his complexion. He seemed deep in thought, as if he were trying to work out some complex math problem combined with an elusive riddle. He mouthed something under his breath and I squinted in the fading light to try and read the words on his lips.

When we were kids Chris and I would often play-act being spies. The James Bond movies hadn't been released yet, but we had enough inspiration from corner shop comics and pulp fiction to keep our young minds whirring. One of the main games we would play was to mouth secrets to each other from several yards away in an attempt to become expert lip-readers. We got pretty good at it in the end and we would practice in the playground on teachers and classmates, one of us watching a group from a distance whilst the other positioning themselves sneakily within ear-shot but out of sight so as to confirm the lip-reader's accuracy—then swap.

I watched Chris's mouth. His lips parted to form a quick guttural sound that the breeze carried into oblivion, followed by another, much softer, release of breath from his lungs, then a baring of teeth that hinted on the aggressive, and, finally, ending with his lips rolling out to peck at each other in a brief pounce. Period.

"Get a grip."

My insides twisted and I looked away from my best friend, feeling unusual guilt bubble in my belly. I felt like I was invading Chris's thoughts through a moment of isolation, and maybe I was. What were we doing here anyway? Re-tracing our footsteps along the path of Ray Brower's ghost and the ghosts of our own disappearing childhoods, now two men down—lost in life's battleground. It was like we were grasping at the slipping straws of innocence: a weird symbolic pilgrimage using the last drying dregs of our youth to sustain us on our journey.

I decided to make myself known, stepping towards Chris and treading a purposefully loud rustle underfoot as I did so. He looked up, jolting like a startled stag, and turned towards me. The emotions that had furrowed his brow only seconds before were transformed. His face lifted into a smile so bright and so free of concern that I almost doubted my previous observations.

"Impressive haul," he said, nodding towards the bundle of firewood in my arms. I had almost forgotten I was carrying anything. "It looks like you got even more than me!"

"Don't sound so surprised," I replied, matching his casual tone. I walked over to Chris and lay my bundle by his own, suddenly proud of my hefty collection. "Does this mean I win?"

"I don't think we were officially competing."

"That's loser talk!"

"I didn't lose!" Chris said, laughing. "I just didn't win."

"Such a sore loser Chambers," I retorted, sticking out my tongue at him and doing a little victory jig around the firewood. I amazed myself at how quickly I melted back into a playful state. It seemed only natural to flow back into comfortable jokes when Chris was around, and it was only when there were moments of silence and contemplation did the odd feelings of awkwardness begin to creep back in. We just needed to maintain friendly momentum.

"You a sore winner Lachance," Chris replied in good humour.

I stopped mid-jig. "You admit it!" I yelled, pointing accusingly at him and grinning. "I won! I am the winner! King of Sticks!" I continued my victory jig, this time around Chris, whilst fist pumping the air and shouting "King of Sticks!" repeatedly in a triumphant cry.

Chris laughed and I could see a mischievous glint in his eye. "Not to rain on your parade," he said with a cheeky grin. "But you remember what Mrs Maycombe said in English class right? Another word for a bunch of sticks is faggot." He paused for dramatic effect. "So you're also King of Faggots."

"Don't shit on my coronation you lowly peasant!" I yelled in mock outrage, picking up one of the sticks and throwing it in Chris's direction. He ducked—quick as a flash—and the stick flew past him, landing ineffectually on the forest floor. As he ducked he managed to grab another stick from the pile and jumped up to wield it like a sword in front of him. Following his cue I took another stick and struck a dramatic (at least in my eyes) fencing pose before exclaiming in a terrible accent that was a bastardised mix of French and English, "En guard peasant!"

What followed was perhaps the most exhilarating and swashbuckling sword/stick fight anyone this side of the Atlantic had ever participated in. So many swashes were buckled it was insane! At one point Chris managed, with impressive agility even for him, to swing off from a low hanging tree branch and begin the execution of an awesome flying strike on me from above. What was even more awesome, if I may say so myself, was my own surprisingly fast-paced response to the aerial hit—I managed to deftly block Chris's stick with my own and slide out from under his blow to eventually twirl around and whack him on the back of the head. Granted that was one of the few shots I managed to get in, but it was a good one.

We ended the dual in a gripping deadlock, stick against stick, with me shouting "Treason! Treason!" and Chris replying with his own battle cries of "Slay the King!" Finally we both broke the deadlock, striking at the same time until a loud crack signified the death of our weapons. Both sticks had broken in the collision and the force that we had put behind them propelled us towards each other so that we each fell forwards at the same time. The pile of firewood had been between us, causing us to trip on the loose branches and fall directly into the pile, tangling ourselves in sticks and each other's limbs.

We both emerged from the pile out of breath from battle and laughter. I looked over to Chris and saw him looking at me, grinning from ear to ear. It had been a while since I had seen him so genuinely happy—I couldn't help but beam right back at him. Suddenly he reached out and grabbed me, pulling me towards him so quickly that I essentially fell into his arms. For a brief moment I almost thought he was going to kiss me again, and I almost braced in preparation, but instead he just enveloped me in a warm, albeit spiky (thanks to all the sticks), hug.

"You're my best friend Gordie," I heard him say, his voice gruff and his lips brushing against my ear ever so lightly. I returned his hug, wrapping my arms around him to complete the firm embrace. My face was nestled in his chest with my nose pressed against his breastbone. I inhaled deeply and breathed in his scent: a musky aroma mixed with fresh leaves and dust—familiar yet new at the same time. My heart was racing and I wondered whether Chris could feel it pounding against his chest in the same way I could feel his heart beating beneath my breath, as if both were trying to break free from the confines of our respective ribcages. I nuzzled towards the nook of Chris's neck to rest my head on his shoulders and I felt his arms tighten around me. I couldn't recall ever being held like that before, or ever holding someone like that before.

"You're my best friend too Chris," I whispered into his collarbone, unconsciously letting my own lips trace against his skin—soft and barely touching, but there. I felt him shiver but he did not release the embrace.

We stayed there amongst the pile of sticks for what seemed like an age in itself, knotted together like gnarled tree trunks. A cool breeze cut through the woods, reminding us of time slipping, and, slowly but surely, we both began to relax our hold on each other until nothing but our knees were touching. Chris caught my eye and smiled a soft smile that I matched with one of my own.

"We should probably start on that fire now," he said, reaching over to pluck a twig from my hair.

I nodded. "Probably," I said with a chuckle.

We both stood up and brushed the rubble from our clothes. I tried not to think about what that hug meant and instead basked in the warm afterglow that it had left inside of me. A hug between two close friends can be just as simple as that and I didn't want to confuse things by overanalysing it, despite my natural tendency to do so. I gathered some of the smaller sticks and twigs to be used as kindling and Chris worked on making some tinder from the driest branches using his pocketknife. When Chris was done I arranged the kindling in a tepee shape on top of the tinder—the same way Dad had taught me to. Chris then lit a match and, shielding it from the breeze, brought it carefully towards the tinder he had made. It caught alight in an instance and we both worked to keep it going and watched as the flames danced into life.

We sat in silence, feeding the flames until the fire was large and hot enough to cook the burgers we had packed away. I had forgotten how absolutely starving I was and the deep rumble that Chris's stomach emitted signalled to me that he was also ravenous. When the burgers were cooked we devoured them like cavemen devouring their first hunt after a long and hungry winter. We had not spoken a word to each other since the long embrace but the silence had not felt suffocating. After all we had first busied ourselves with the fire, then with cooking, and then finally with eating the long-awaited meal. But now that our toes were warm and our stomachs were full the spectre of silence hung in the air once more.

Chris stretched and, placing his heads behind his head, leaned back to lie languidly on the forest floor so that his head lay by my leg. He had a stick he had scraped into a thin toothpick between his teeth, giving him the appearance of an older Tom Sawyer—torn pant bottoms and all.

"Tell me a story Gordie," he said finally, looking up at me and squinting in the firelight.

"What kind of story?" I asked, giving Chris an affectionate poke in the middle of his forehead.

He shrugged. "Tell me a story that's half true and half ain't."

So I did.

I told him a story about four boys, four good friends, who decide one summer's day to go on a quest to find another boy, Ron Bowley, who had died by the sides of a railroad track. I told him about Vince, a chubby kid who was not too bright but made up for it in the brightness of his smile. I told him about Tommy too, a troubled little dude with a head filled with storm clouds and a heart full of feeling. Then there was Charlie (Chris sat up slightly at this point), a boy who was from the wrong side of the tracks but was on the good side of everything else—Charlie who kept the gang afloat, who hawked the cigs, who held the fort.

"And what about Charlie's best bud?" Chris asked as he picked himself up onto his elbows and tilted his head back to look at me from below. "You know, George Lavoisier?"

I let out a guffaw. "George Lavoisier?" I repeated, raising an eyebrow in amusement.

"Yeah," Chris replied with a faux serious nod. "You know the guy. Brown hair. Big brown eyes. A bit mousy lookin'."

I nudged his head playfully with my shoulder. "Yeah George was there. Keepin' his eyes open, playin' it cool and making sure Charlie stayed out of deep shit."

"Good," Chris said, lying back down so that his head was resting lightly on the edge of my thigh. "Cos' the rest would be fucked without him."

I carried on with my half-true tale, describing the gang's encounter with the junkyard owner Mickey Preston's vicious kangaroo called Kicker ("Kangaroo?" Chris had interjected. "Yeah, kangaroo," I had replied, "Mickey won it from a drunk Australian during a poker game. That poker game, incidentally, was also how Mickey lost his right eye, but that's a story for another night."). Tommy and Kicker then participated in a boxing match, which Tommy won, but only just.

"Kicker put up a hella good fight," I said. "But Tommy just had more fire in his fists and in the end, after a gruelling three rounds, Tommy stood victorious."

"Sounds like our Tommy," Chris murmured with a knowing smile. "And what happened to Kicker?"

"Out cold. Mickey was furious! The boys had to run off pretty sharpish after that."

Chris laughed and I ruffled his sandy hair absentmindedly.

"After the fight at the junkyard," I continued, "the fearsome foursome ventured further on their epic journey. They soon reached a railway bridge that was suspended over a river of mutant Nazi crocodiles…" This part of the story I kept quite true to its inspiration—aside from the mutant Nazi crocodiles, which I thought would be a welcome embellishment—and retold it in as exciting a way as I could muster. I regaled how good old George had felt the vibrations in the tracks, how silly yellow-bellied Vince crawled rather than walked along, how all four felt the adrenaline burst through their veins when they saw the dark plumes of smoke in the distance behind them that signalled the impending train and the potential end of their young and brief lives.

"Then they all got run over by a train," I said matter-of-factly.

Chris sat bolt upright and scowled at me. "Like fuck!" he exclaimed.

I laughed at the genuine disbelief in Chris's voice. "Just kidding! They all made it to the other side."

"Yeah they did," Chris said triumphantly. He began to feed more wood to the fire and then sat staring at the flames as they licked the air. He didn't lie back down again and I felt a strange pang in my chest as I noticed the empty space where his head had once rested against my thigh. I assumed the pang was the realisation that I was getting cold so I edged closer to the fire and, as a result, closer to Chris himself. Not touching necessarily, but close enough that our shoulders brushed against each other every now and then.

The rest of the tale unravelled as evening turned into night. When the four heroes of the story eventually reached Ron Bowley's body they resurrected him using a magical medallion that Charlie had found in the haunted swamp earlier during their adventures, alongside some strange and foreign incantations that had been told to George in a dream the night before. Ron awoke as a decrepit zombie, dragging one Ked-less partly dismembered foot along the floor as he advanced towards the four boys. Chris had winced when I described this scene, in all its gory detail, and I realised I was getting carried away with the description.

"Don't talk about Ray like that man," Chris said. "Or Ron, or whatever. It's not fair on him that he becomes some evil zombie."

"Who said evil?" I replied. "Because right at that moment Mace Arrill and his gang of hoodlums show up, demanding the magic medallion from Charlie. Then George, who's always been good with words, carries on with his incantations, which causes zombie Ron to run at Mace Arrill who literally shits himself right there. Like the shit is just running all down his legs, right? And this wet shit trickles along the forest floor and reaches Cueball, Charlie's dickhead older brother, and it's like magic shit or something because he begins to shit himself too. And soon all of Mace's gang begin to melt into shit, like actually turning into shit, and zombie Ron just stands over their shitty remains laughing his head off."

Chris was now laughing too, clutching his stomach and doubling over. "Then what happened?" he asked between guffaws.

"Well, once Mace, Cueball and everyone turned to shit, Chri—sorry I mean Charlie, walks up to zombie Ron and hands him the magic medallion. Then I—I mean George thanks Ron and wishes him a safe journey to the after life. Suddenly, in a great blast of white light, Ron turns briefly back into the boy he once was, youth and life just radiating off of him, and he's smiling this beautiful smile—like the smile of the angel. He thanks the four heroes for both their valiant efforts to find him and for helping to free his soul from the tyranny of limbo. Finally he fades away into the air, along with all the shit that was left, but leaves behind his old battered Keds, which have now turned to solid gold with diamond-encrusted soles, and Vince, Tommy, Charlie and George all become rich as fuck! Vince goes on to manage the Dallas Cowboys; Tommy sacks off joining the army and becomes a stunt man; Charlie becomes President of America; and George… George travels the world and writes about it."

I had been so caught up in my storytelling that I had not noticed quite how intensely Chris was looking at me. However, as the last words left my mouth, I became aware of my surroundings once again and, glancing towards my best friend, I felt his eyes pierce my own. We were close to each now, sitting hunched up side by side in front of the fire, our shoulders touching. There was a tender smile playing on his lips that I couldn't quite interpret, except that it was making me feel strangely exposed. I was aware of the warmth of his shoulder against mine and was reminded of the embrace we shared—the intimacy yet innocence of it: a hug between close friends. I wanted to reach out and experience that intimacy again, whatever it was and whatever it meant. I wanted to feel the closeness and physicality of it but without any further implications—in isolation from the real world and its stark consequences.

"Now your turn," I whispered to the flames.

"What?" Chris asked, his smile turning to confusion.

"Now you tell me a story," I said, my voice still such a whisper that Chris had to lean in even closer.

He raised his eyebrows. "You're the storyteller, not me," he said, amusement now mixing in with his confusion. "What kind of story?"

"Tell me about what it was like…" I began, half unable to believe the words that were about to leave my mouth but still being compelled to say them anyway, "with Becky… and the others. I assume there were others?"

Chris immediately stiffened and he shot me a look that was verging on anger mixed with disbelief. He moved away from me, shuffling backwards as if I had asked him something unforgivable—as if I had asked him to kill a man or something equally terrible.

"I didn't mean—I—I'm sorry!" I said, quickly scrambling for words to try and improve the situation that had suddenly turned so sour. "But you're my best friend. Guys talk about girls with each other all the time! It's not weird—I'm just curious—I…" I paused and looked at the ground, feeling a blush creep into my cheeks, "I've never done anything like that before. I don't know about… things like that. I want to know… how it feels."

I could see the anger dissipating from Chris's face as I glanced at him from beneath my lowered lashes. He let out a deep sigh and ran his fingers through his hair before standing up to pace around the fire. The look on his face now was similar to the look I had seen earlier when I was observing him secretly from afar—a noxious blend of different face ingredients.

"It felt…" Chris began, not looking at me, "okay I guess… but not like how I thought it would be." Was he blushing or was it the light of the fire? "It's strange… The first few times I felt kinda like I had to, like…" he rubbed his face in his hands, "like it was expected of me." He let out a noise that sounded like a laugh but was devoid of all humour. "Stupid right? We're supposed to really enjoy it!"

I pulled my knees towards my chest. Everything else I had heard about sex was always presented in this macho way. Like it was the best thing ever to be inside a woman. I could imagine that being true, but a part of me had always felt worried that, if it were to happen to me (not that I expected it to happen any time soon), I would fudge it up somehow. Or find it unsatisfying. People made such a big deal out of it that one must expect some degree of a let down.

"Didn't you enjoy it at all?" I asked, feeling so incredibly young whilst doing so.

Chris shrugged and knelt back down, picking at some loose shrubbery on the ground. "Yeah of course I enjoyed it at times," he said. "Being close to someone in that way… and having them want you close to them…" the slightest hint of a smile—like a ghost—tugged at his lips. "It feels good."

"That sounds nice…" I said quietly and then blushed at the lameness of my comment.

"But in the end," Chris continued, the ghost smile dissolving from his face, "I always felt empty." He looked at me—a look that hit me like a speeding train and I felt I had to gasp for air.

"Why?" I whispered, half afraid of the answer but still compelled to ask anyway.

Chris leaned forward and touched his forehead to mine, his head snaking up to grasp the back of my neck causing a shiver to run down my spine. Head to head, he stared me in the eye with an unblinking intensity it made me want to disappear on the spot—just so I didn't have to match that gaze. But, despite the urge, I couldn't help but keep my eyes locked on his.

"Why? I've been asking myself the same question for ages," Chris murmured, his fingers gripping firmly into the nape of my neck. "You tell me."

I swallowed the lump of saliva that had been accumulating in my mouth. My lips felt suddenly dry so I licked them and as I did so I noticed Chris's eyes dart down to my mouth, his pupils tracing the course of my tongue.

"Because you didn't love them?" I said, so quietly that I could barely hear my own words.

Chris smiled a sad smile. "Bingo."

Before I realised what I was doing I had closed the gap between us and brought my lips to his, landing the lightest of kisses before jerking back again suddenly—in shock at my own action. I looked up at Chris and saw the surprise etched evidently on his face.

"Fuck, sorry, I—" I began to mutter, my mind all over the place as I tried to get to grips with what I had done and why I had done it. But Chris didn't let me finish another word. The hand that was still around my neck sharply tugged me towards him, almost giving me whiplash in the process, as he crashed his lips against mine without any hit of shyness or reserve. His free hand snaked around my waist to pull the rest of my body into his hold before then moving forwards so that I was pushed onto the ground—sandwiched between his body and the forest floor. Without a second thought I closed my eyes, lifting up my own arms to wrap them around Chris's neck, pulling him closer to me and parting my lips to allow his slick wet tongue to enter and explore my mouth. I didn't know what I was doing but I knew it felt good—with his whole body on top of mine: I was on fire.

To be continued…

Novem