A/N: I took the hint from a certain someone in her review of the Ballad of Big Nothing and I won't deny that I haven't been having the same thought! This is the edited version (fit so that it could be rated R) but the original version of this fic (chapter, in this case) is a little more graphic and rated NC-17. If you're interested in reading that version, there's a link posted on my bio page that leads to the fic on my fanfic lj.
The sticky heat never really let up, here at Skylake. During the night the sun disappeared and the stars slowly shone out, but even without the sun, the heat was constant and dull. At night while she lay in her bed, having dressed down to very minimal pieces of clothing due to the heat and lack of air conditioning, she listened to the crickets. In the morning they would be replaced with the constant buzz of mosquitoes and flies, and she imagined what they would be doing tomorrow: hiking, sketching flora and fauna, learning how to whittle or polish rocks.
"I heard we're all taking a midnight dip at the lake Friday night. Are you going?" Heather asked.
She'd heard about that the day before, eating with the other camp counselors. That lake was her favorite spot in the entire camp. It was obscure and surrounded by tall trees, which made it quiet and secret from the usual herd of kids they were surrounded with. Every now and then she would find empty beer bottles lodged in the protruding tree roots from the other camp counselors, but that never agitated her. They were rarely without their kids, and they needed those moments to remember themselves.
"Yeah," Juli answered. "I think I am."
"Good," her roommate said. She could hear a smile in her voice. "I mean, everybody's kind of noticed how Bryce has been looking at you. It's the talk of the camp, really."
Juli stared up at the bare ceiling, listening to her own shallow breathing. In. Out. In. Out. As she inhaled, her thin cotton sheets stank of spray-on sunscreen. The strong alcoholic stench tickled her nose.
Heather sighed to herself. "If I were you, I would do so many naughty things to that boy, I'd spend my entire life cleansing myself."
She closed her eyes and turned over. Suddenly her body felt even warmer than before. She could feel the sweat oozing out of her pores, and her hair matting to her damp skin. For a quick second she remembered her glimpse of Bryce, early in the morning before the sun rose, having just come back from a jog. She remembered how his damp shirt had clung onto every muscle in his body and how, before nearing his cabin, he had slipped the shirt clean off. Juli couldn't help it. She was an eighteen year old girl with hormones just like everyone else, and she had stared after him with a sudden hot pit at the bottom of her stomach, with pink heat creeping across her skin. Now, suddenly, the thought of Bryce, tinted a seedy yellow with the lustfulness of summer and ending adolescence, made her brain fog over with a warm haze and made the hairs on her neck stand up on end.
She was past denying it. They were here now, at Camp Skylake, some miles away from their hometown – and for some reason, that changed things. Their environment – the nature, the secluded lake, the dull heat, the unfamiliar ground. They would be going to college in a few months, packing up and bidding farewell to the ever-surmounting tension between them, and she had decided that she was going to fix this. Before she exploded. They were heading off to separate beginnings and finally circumcising the umbilical cord that tied them hopelessly to each other, and she needed the closure, that final scabbing of the wound.
And so, that night, breathing in the heavy summer air scented with mosquito repellent and pine, she decided she was going to get it.
They had spoken only a few words to each other from the time they had signed up for counselor positions. At school, she had seen the list tacked up on the bulletin board and quickly jotted her name down. The next day, a few lines down, she had spotted Bryce's neat boxy writing. They hadn't happened to run into each other during the interviews, but she did remember hearing through Chet that he had been hired, along with her, and then she had seen him arrive in that 4runner of his, rolling up the dirt road that led to their cabins.
She was observant enough to catch the appreciative, raised-eyebrow look every girl sent his way as he unloaded his bag from his car, and had enough experience to look away as he passed her, deflecting his "Hey" with another that was so tactfully void of emotion.
Bryce Loski had always known how to make her squirm just by entering the room, and for that reason she both detested and appreciated him. She appreciated him because she knew well enough that there was something special about Bryce Loski that had nothing to do with his blond hair and piercing blue eyes and strong, lean body. Something special that, she regretted to remember, she had foolishly passed up on.
For a second, she remembered the sycamore growing in her front yard.
"You know him?"
She looked up to see a tall brunette standing above her, with a light blue Camp Skylake t-shirt and a nametag that said HEATHER in squiggly purple writing.
"The Greek God that just walked by. Him," she said, clarifying.
"Yeah," Juli answered, squinting up at her. "We've lived on the same street since I was seven."
She turned her head to longingly look after him, one hand on her hip. "Jesus. Aren't you the luckiest girl ever born?"
"You're good at that. Whittling."
She wasn't. In the past twenty minutes she had succeeded in whittling something that remotely resembled a whistle, with a few uneven shaves here and there. And she told him so, too, when she looked up to see Bryce with his own whittling knife and block of wood.
"No. I'm really not," she said. She hadn't noticed that his kids had arrived and had joined their group. She reminded herself that she really should be more attentive.
"For a beginner, you are," he said to her. "Trust me."
He sat down on the bench next to her, and she tried to ignore the obvious way her muscles clenched and tightened in response to his nearness. She kept her eyes on her knife and would be-whistle while out of the corner of her eye she saw him start. She instantly knew that he wasn't new to the art of whittling. He shaved off a piece with one strategic and effortless move, producing one long and elegant wood shaving, which she compared to the uncertain and haphazard shavings that she had piled all around her.
"Chet taught me how to whittle," he explained to her, without her having to ask. "A few years ago."
"That explains a lot."
He glimpsed at her but then returned back to concentrating on his whittling, and so did she. In the back of her mind she went through the motions of getting up and checking on her kids as an excuse to distance herself away from him and the sudden crackling of senses he awakened in her, and she was close to actually executing it until he spoke up again.
"There's a get-together at the lake on Friday. Some of us are actually going to take a dip. Are you going?"
After pausing to think, she said that she was. "It sounds fun."
He nodded, not looking up at her. She noticed the way he gripped the knife so hard his knuckles almost turned bone-white. "Yeah, it should be."
She got up, clutching her knife and incomplete whistle, preparing to leave. She was good at this. Leaving when the moment was seemingly empty yet pulsatingly full, in her mind – full of temptation to say all of the things that crowded her mind when she was near him, yet were all so unfairly unutterable. Then, suddenly she stopped herself.
"Oh, and I never got to tell you – congrats on UCLA." She offered him a small, bittersweet smile.
He met her eyes. "I should say the same to you for Stanford."
"Thanks," she said, before giving him another small smile and walking away. As she rotated through her kids, only half-heartedly inspecting their work, she watched him from a distance, tracing his serious countenance as he effortlessly carved into the wood. Sometimes she felt as if she were coming out of her seams, thinking of him, engulfed in a muted desperation. She was smart enough to know that she affected him, too – but how differently, she wondered. Was it still the same tinted longing they had wordlessly dragged through the halls of their high school, or was it now a little more mature, and anxious?
That night at the bonfire, hearing the crackle of the fire and watching as its embers vanish into the cool night air like dying fireflies, she discreetly watched him across the sea of kids. She turned her marshmallow slowly, toasting it just so that the outer shell had turned brown and crispy while the inside was now soft and melted. She felt butterflies in her stomach, thinking about what she was about to do. But if she had any doubts, she had made up her mind. As all of the kids gathered around the fire to hear Bonfire Bobby tell a scary story, with dozens of eyes fixated on the shadows on his face, she moved herself next to Bryce and slipped a note in his jacket pocket. She didn't stop to see if his expression changed, and instead sunk back, watching on, with her hands balled up into fists in her pockets. Her mind was buzzing with adrenaline.
She hadn't asked for a response back. She would know his answer if he showed up, or didn't.
There was a cabin located a distance away from the base camp. It was originally meant to be where the cook stayed, but ever since then they had built bigger quarters for the cook, his staff, and the supervisors, and now it had the seedy reputation of where the camp counselors hooked up when they needed the privacy. Juli had heard about this from Heather one day and she decided, during their allotted free time, to sneak away to the cabin and check it out.
The key was hidden, jammed in the loose crevice above the door pane. Inside, she could see that it was well-kempt. There was a stereo and a few empty liquor bottles rolled under the bed. Hanging by the grimy window was an old dreamcatcher that slowly turned as she walked by. She ran her finger across the dusty dressers and found a small wooden box of condoms in one of the dressers.
Besides a collection of polished rocks, a yellowed book of recipes and a first aid kit, it was desolate. She sat on the bed, exhaling. So this was what her bravery had driven her to. 'Don't think, Juli,' she thought to herself, closing her eyes. 'Just do.'
Making a mental note to change the bed sheets, she locked the cabin back up and hid the key, heading back to base.
"So. Stanford, huh?"
She fished out a beer from the cooler, relishing the feel of glassy ice cubes brushing against her finger tips as they experienced another warm night. A guy named Eric, two years older than her and an employee at the local PetSmart, opened her bottle. Her throat dry and parched from her nerves, she drank in one big gulp.
"Yeah," she said, nodding.
"That's definitely all that," Eric said, laughing as he took a sip. "I never would have figured that about you. You don't seem the type."
"The type?" she echoed, watching as her fellow counselors began to strip off their clothes and jump in the lake. She could hear Heather laughing, climbing up on the tire swing in her hot pink bra and polka dot panties to swing forward and cannonball right in.
"Yeah, you know. Uppity and an ivy leaguer. Entitled and whatnot."
She didn't know why she felt like she had to defend herself, but she knew it was partly because she knew exactly the kind of people he was talking about: people who had money and had been lucky enough to have that life where they got the best of everything. Juli Baker had not had that life – and she wouldn't have had it any other way.
"I got in on a scholarship," she said.
"I figured," he said, smiling at her. Then suddenly, his eyes flickered to something behind her, a look of friendly recognition dawning on his face. "Hey, Bryce!"
She felt herself tense. She was thankful it was so dark out – even though the moon was so close and full tonight – because she could already feel her face start to burn. She busied herself with watching her coworkers in the lake and downing as much of her beer as she could.
He said hey back to Eric, and then greeted her with a low, "Hey, Juli."
The huskiness of his voice sent tremors through her body. She gave him a shy glance. "Hey, Bryce."
As Eric moved in to talk to Bryce, Juli walked nearer towards the edge of the lake. There the dirt ground sank in a downwards slope, exposing thick, massive tree roots. She could see everybody's clothes draped over them, with their shoes haphazardly thrown aside.
"Juli! Come on in, the water's great!" Heather called out to her.
Juli raised her beer bottle to her. "I'm okay, thanks."
"Suit yourself then, Stanford girl!" Heather suddenly jumped up on Jonathan's back, making him yell out in surprise. Heather giggled loudly.
After a beer and a half, Juli said goodnight to the others, quickly passing her gaze over Bryce, who was still talking to Eric. When she allowed their eyes to meet for a split second, she felt electricity. His eyes were hard and intense, his jaw squared and tight. It was a look that the young Bryce she knew back then hadn't known how to give yet – the kind of look that only came with maturation and dark longing.
She walked the road back to their cabins, but with a good look behind her, made a sharp right towards the cook's cabin.
Earlier she had rummaged through her luggage, trying to find "appropriate" underwear. She was new to the art of seduction, so she settled on the flimsiest bra she could find (which had only been in there because she'd forgotten to do laundry the day before) and some clean underwear. She knew better than to think that Bryce would be new to having sex, so she liked to think that he would be eager to take the lead – that is, if he showed up.
While she waited she smoothed out the fresh bed sheets and tried to pace off her nervous energy. She had even gone as far as tinker with the stereo, finally settling on an oldies station to calm her down. Finally, twenty minutes after she had left the lake, Bryce showed up.
"Hey," she said to him, breathless from being so nervous.
"Hey," he said back, closing the door behind him.
There was a pause of awkward silence. She had long tossed off her shoes and was now standing in front of him, barefoot on the hard wooden floor. He opened his mouth, as if to say something, but Juli crossed the small distance in between them kissed him squarely on the mouth. If they got to talking, she knew there was a vast possibility that the night she had envisioned would be replaced with an ugly curveball, and she hadn't done all of this planning for nothing.
At first he was tense from shock, but quickly melted into the kiss. A sense of tingling euphoria filled her as he began to hungrily kiss her back with a passion that she could have only hoped for, all of those nights she'd fantasized about him before bed, and he raised one hand to tangle in her hair, cupping the back of her head.
She could have kissed him for hours. She had never been kissed this way before – with such fire and desperation. It made her entire body burn. Slowly they began to strip off their clothes: first, he helped pull her shirt over her head, and she did the same for him. As they settled into the bed, his body somehow perfectly molding right into hers, he began to unbutton her shorts, while kissing her in every possible place he could.
She wanted to show him that she was sure, and that she wanted this. Then, suddenly, he grabbed her wrist, taking her hand out. Her eyes flickered up at him questioningly, but there was no doubt staring back at her, just a cloud of lust. But she could still see his earnest and seriousness, too. She had a feeling he was going to ask her if she was sure, and that was exactly why she couldn't think of anybody else she wanted to lose her virginity to other than Bryce Loski.
She kissed him. When he pulled away, he moved his head down to softly kiss above the waistband of her underwear, which made her gasp in anticipation, before taking both of his hands and slowly sliding it down, letting his fingers trail down the sides of her thighs. Immediately after, he pulled down his own, and before she could think twice, he was already hovering above her, kissing her again. She reached under the pillow and handed him the condom packet, which he easily tore open and put on.
She'd heard enough stories to know what to expect. The initial pain and discomfort, the non-guarantee of her finding any pleasure in sex, but for the moment, she couldn't think of why the hell not. She could feel how hot and moist she was from wanting him so badly, and when he finally entered her – slowly, at first – she dug her nails into his back, blurrily staring up at the ceiling. She felt him exhale in her ear when she could feel he was completely inside her, and the discomfort quickly faded. It was an odd but powerful sensation, having him inside her, being completely filled. There was nothing like it.
"Are you okay?" he whispered in her ear.
"Yes," she whispered back. She bucked her hips against him, encouraging him to move, and with a throaty moan he began to fuck her.
When they had both finished, he gave her one last kiss her as he laid down beside her, breathing heavily. He tossed the used condom in the trash beside them.
The air was sweltering. They were both soaked with sweat, gasping for breath, hot to the touch. His hair was tousled and disarray and she couldn't even imagine what she looked like. Every part of her either tingled or burned with sensitivity. Every inch of her body felt alive.
They were silent as they waited for their bodies to calm down. It was then that Juli realized she hadn't thought about what would happen afterwards – what they would say. Should they just leave? Put on their clothes, shake hands, and then be on their way? What were you supposed to say after you had fucked the boy you had loved since you were seven? There was everything. No, there was nothing. Nothing that she wanted to put on the line, anyway.
That was when she began to feel the fear creeping back in, like a spider that had found its way through the crack underneath the door. The vulnerability she had always been afraid of. She had thought that if she'd just had sex with Bryce Loski, with no talking or emotional confessions of any kind, that dangerous openness wouldn't be a factor – but there it was again, like a veil of harsh light, the sinking reality of her feelings. She'd had no problem letting him take off her clothes, but now they were here, naked, lying side by side as they caught their breath, in silence – it was too intimate. So dizzying silent that she began to wonder what he was thinking, and how he felt about her, and if this changed anything.
Suddenly panicked, she sat up and began to gather her clothes.
She could feel his eyes watching her from behind, but she didn't care. She slipped her underwear back on, her bra, her tank top, and hopped into her shorts. She could hear him shifting on the bed, and she wondered if he was going to do the same.
Just as she was going to put on her shoes, she heard him speak up.
"Juli. . ."
She froze but hesitated to turn around. Finally, after a few seconds, she did.
He was partially dressed. He had pulled on his shorts but his shirt was still on the floor, right next to the edge of the bed. The way he was looking at her made her want to avert her eyes, to focus on something else in the room – like the door. She hated that look, the look that told her that the ball was in her court. That anything that would and could result from this – whatever this was – would be entirely up to her, and what she wanted, but most of all: what she said.
"We don't have to talk about it," she just said to him. Her hands began to quiver so she hid them behind her back. "Really, Bryce."
"We don't have to," he said slowly, "but don't you think we should?"
She shook her head. She hoped she was more convincing to him than she sounded in her own head. "No. I don't.
The look that flashed across his face made her realize how tight her throat had gotten. A look of realization, of resignation, and even a little pain. Then momentary acceptance. She couldn't stand it, so she just grabbed her shoes and began to head towards the door.
"So that's it, then," she heard him say from behind her.
"Yeah," she said hoarsely as she opened the door. "That's it."
She walked barefoot across the woods, the dry, dusty soil hard and compact underneath the soles of her feet. She winced from the rocks and sharp twigs that scraped and jabbed into her foot, but that didn't stop her from running all the way to her cabin. Once she got there, making sure Heather hadn't gone to bed yet – she hadn't – she changed out of her clothes and hopped into the shower. And she stood there, feeling the cold water pelt against her skin, numbly watching the dirt wash down the drain.