Taylor plopped down next to me on the crunchy grass the Friday before Halloween. None of this would have happened, had I woken up early enough to ride my bike. She started chatting immediately, apparently not noticing my look of confusion or the ear-buds jammed into my head, my signal to the rest of the world to leave me alone. I yanked them out to hear her say, “Don’t you just want to get out of here?”
I smiled, shocked. I was Lynn – loner girl extraordinaire. At least that had been the persona I had rocked since I had moved to Buena Vista from Boston last April. “I just got here.” I said, a lame pass at a joke.
“What’s Boston like?” she asked. “You have to miss it.”
The autumn light glowed behind Taylor’s head like a halo and the warm breeze of the changing season held us like a sweet embrace. I was a dark foil to her light and bubbly essence.
I paused before answering, feeling eyes on my back. Those unspoken questions didn’t faze Taylor, but I knew what they must have been wondering. Why on Earth was she talking to me?
I was once the hot topic of intrigue…but that soon died away when I wasn’t at all interested in going to football games or dances. All sorts of rumors swirled around for a couple of months, but soon I faded back into the periphery, like I preferred.
I never answered her question, but asked instead, “Where do you want to go?” She hesitated and I could see the wheels spinning as she thought.
“After graduation, I’m moving to Denver to work for a while – save up some cash. Then who knows, New York, L.A., maybe even Boston…anywhere but here.” She smiled and my cheeks felt a warmth that wasn’t supplied by the sun.
Matt’s shadow arrived first, double his real height. “Hey, we still on for tonight? You know…after the game?”
I squinted up at him, the sunlight burning my eyes. Matt was not much taller than me, yet he was compact and tight with muscle.
“Sorry, I can’t tonight. I made other plans.” She acted so casual about it, but Matt was obviously ruffled. Taylor perched her hand over her eyes to block the sun, waiting, almost daring him to say something more or to protest. He seemed to search for words, then looked down at me and stopped himself. He turned and headed toward the street. We watched him jog away. He looked back, but only once. He hopped into the back of a pickup truck full of other football players and sped off to get ready for the game.
Taylor waited until we could no longer hear the sputter of the old engine and said, “Do you have plans tonight, Lynn?”
“Um…no.” I laughed in spite of myself. Did she remember who she was talking to?
“Good. I’ll pick you up at 5:30.” She smiled again and let it linger on her lips for a second before she got up. I watched her walk to the parking lot and got lost in the sway of her hips. Mom’s horn blast brought me back to reality. I was nervous Mom had been watching me watch Taylor, but when I got to the car, I saw she was too preoccupied with preserving her new manicure to have noticed anything other than shellac.
I went home and took another shower. I needed something to help clear my head. I let the water run down my body and leaned my face against the cold tile. I half-heartedly tried to think up an excuse to stay home, but I knew my curiosity would win in the end. There was no reason to be nervous though. Taylor didn’t want anything from me. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder what her skin tasted like.
“I’m going out,” I announced at 5:28 as I made my exit. Mom looked up from her book, but I shut the door quickly behind me. I would have been peppered with questions if she had seen Taylor at the door. Taylor had just started walking up the driveway. I rushed past and headed toward her car without even saying hello.
“It’s open,” she said as she turned around. I let myself into her Outback and took a deep breath.
She got in as well, put on her seat belt and said, “You smell good.”
“Thanks. Its just soap. Ready?” I asked.
“Sure.” She smiled and put the car in reverse.
I noticed mom peer out the window as Taylor backed out of the driveway. I’ve never been so relieved for tinted windows. As we drove, I thought I recognized where we were headed, but asked anyway. “Where are we going?’
“There’s a grove of aspens outside St. Elmo that I want to smell.”
“Because it is the absolute best smell on Earth and I need it tonight.”
The sun followed us, playing peek-a-boo between the peaks outside my window, showing off before sunset. The dirt road was speckled with patches of black ice from the storm that had come through midweek, so Taylor had to drive slowly. She finally pulled off into the gravel shoulder and parked the car. I had brought my fleece even though it was still a little too warm to wear it. I wondered if I would ever get used to Colorado weather. Even though it was pleasant now, I figured it would get chilly soon enough. After getting out of the car, Taylor grabbed a blanket from the trunk.
“That’s it! Do you smell that?” She said as she jogged away from the car. I did. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. She giggled as she turned toward me and saw the realization spread across my face. I sniffed loudly for emphasis and moved closer to the trees. I closed my eyes and took in all the air my lungs could hold. The smell was fresh, crisp and smoky, like curry and oranges dotted with cloves. I opened my eyes and couldn’t find Taylor. She was perfectly camouflaged in the trees.
“Over here,” she said. I spotted her perched between two tree trunks tattooed with engravings. I walked over and traced initials on the creamy white trunk with my forefinger – TB & MP 4EVER.
“Matt and I carved this when we were eleven.” She looked away from the initials and said, “I was going to sleep with him tonight.”
Why was she here with me instead?
Taylor moved slowly, deliberately through the aspens, touching each one with reverence. She placed her hand on each trunk and spread out her fingers, touching as much of the smooth bark as the span of her hand would allow. I followed her with my eyes. I wondered if she wanted to talk more about Matt, but she didn’t say anything else. I heard the river babbling on the other side of the road and asked, “Didn’t you work on the river over the summer?”
“Yeah, for the last three years. It’s pretty much the best gig around. The River Rats are fun and I like being on the water. Plus, I get a killer tan.”
I was pretty sure the river rafting guides were happy that Taylor returned to work for three summers too. My mind started to drift to tan lines and a way to change the subject. Taylor tossed the blanket into a clearing as she walked behind me, brushing up against me ever so slightly. Then she sashayed off into another patch of trees. I walked over to the clearing as well, and dropped my fleece near the blanket. I took another deep breath as I tried to center myself. We’re just talking.
“You know, you could follow the Arkansas all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Really?” I said as I turned back around to face her.
“Yeah. It hooks up with the Mississippi and then flows out to the Gulf. I met a couple this summer who were following the river across country…you know, camping out for their honeymoon.”
“Cool.” I said. I tried to think of something actually cool to say.
We walked in silence for a while. Taylor reached down to pick up a golden leaf on the forest floor. Then she ran the edge of the leaf on her cheek and asked, “Are you really a lesbian?”
Here we go. Memories flooded my heart and stung as they hit my brain. Purple nails tickling me, first kisses under mistletoe and tucking a red curl behind an ear before leaning in to kiss it. “Not exactly.” The words caught in my throat, telling her that the rumors that had circulated around school must be true. I closed my eyes, lost in the unrest of understanding what made me tick. It wasn’t as simple as her question implied. I started to walk back to her car. I can’t do this. I promised Dad this time would be different.
“Wait. Don’t leave.” Taylor ran up to me and grabbed my arm. She held my wrist and turned me around to face her. Then she kissed me. Her lips attacked mine. I kept my eyes closed, trying to resist. No, no, I can’t. I almost pulled free, but she persisted. Her long arms circled my waist and held me too tightly. Just leave. Just go home and pretend this isn’t you. Despite myself, I finally surrendered to the moment and moved my hands to her face to take control of the kiss. I slowed her pace and bit her bottom lip, the way I liked. She eased into the embrace and I let myself off the hook, engulfed in Taylor’s favorite smell. The small-town bullshit and my past melted away like snow.
When Taylor broke our kiss, she touched my face with the same grace as she had used to touch the trees before. She stared at me with a newfound intensity. A half smile hung on her overworked lips as she moved back up against a tree.
She unbuttoned her shirt and revealed a hot pink bra. It was nice, probably Victoria Secret, with vertical ribbing across the padded cups. She reached out for my hand and pulled me to her. She brought my hand to her mouth, covering it in little pecks. She moved my fingers to her neck and my chest tightened as I made contact with her cool, smooth skin. Taylor closed her eyes now. I traced the curve of her neck and traveled along the lace straps of her bra. I caressed the pale skin that protected her racing heart. She gasped a little as I touched her and I moved in closer to kiss her neck and shoulders.
Taylor led me over to the clearing and spread the frayed blanket over the dead leaves. She sat down and looked up at me with inviting eyes. I studied her, perfect in the fading light.
“It’s okay,” she offered. “It’ll be our secret.”
I wanted to believe her. She reached up and pulled me down on the blanket. She leaned in to kiss me again. I gently pushed her onto her back and eased my body between her legs. I kissed her earlobe and ran my finger under the cup of her bra, teasing the puckered skin below.
“I’ve never done this before…with anyone,” Taylor whispered.
“We can stop. We don’t have to.” I said, wondering how to reel myself back in.
“No, I want to. Please.”
I kissed her again and pulled her body in close to mine. I felt the last bit of my hesitation disappear. Her fingers ran along my spine, under my shirt as I moved my lips down her chest. I licked and kissed her clenched stomach and with each subsequent kiss, undid a button on her jeans, before I shimmied them down over her hips.
We barely spoke as she drove me home. I didn’t mind the quiet. I didn’t want to spoil what had just transpired with awkward chitchat. In my mind, a montage of my past, juxtaposed with fresh visions of Taylor. I wouldn’t soon forget the sounds of the river mixed with rhythmic heartbeats and labored breath.
Taylor pulled up in front of my house and got out quickly. She came to the passenger side and opened the door for me. We both stood, huddled together. She held my face and kissed me once more, quick and light, barely touching my lips before saying, “Goodnight.”
I had half expected Taylor to come back to my house on Halloween. I had day dreamed about her all weekend. Would she be a super hero or a princess? I had passed out all the candy, but she never came. On Monday morning, I rode my bike to school, attempting to stay upright as I maneuvered in the gravel and tried to eat my raisin toast. I almost choked when I saw it. Taylor’s hot pink bra was tangled in the barbed wire along Chaffee County Road 162. I skidded to a stop and jumped off my bike. The bra whipped in the breeze, waving at me. I looked around for any witnesses, but I was alone on the road for now. The lace straps clung to the barbed wire fence, fierce yet gentle, like Taylor. A small note was tacked to one of the cups. The note read: “When beauty dwells in the dark folds of night Love comes and finds a heart entangled in tresses. Beauty and Love are as body and soul.”- Rumi.
I knew in my heart she was gone. I left the bra and put the poem into my pocket. I got back on my bike and headed toward school. I hated to admit she was all I had thought about for days. The thought of more time with her was intoxicating, even if I was terrified of the consequences. Now, there was nothing to worry about. I was right; Taylor wasn’t at school that day, or the next. New rumors started to spread. She finally ran away from her Dad. She had escaped to begin a career in modeling. She was pregnant.
Taylor’s bra still clung to the fence on Wednesday. After hours of tossing that night, I decided to go get it. Maybe I needed it as a reminder of a truth I had refused to own until that night. Maybe I couldn’t stand the thought of someone else claiming it. The moon was full. I didn’t need the flashlight I had stashed in the pouch of my sweatshirt, but it seemed sensible to bring it anyway.
As I peddled, I couldn’t help but wonder where Taylor went. Was she lonely? Knowing her, she had probably charmed her way to Paris. I prayed that she was safe and happy, wherever she was, even as my heart ached at the reality of never seeing her again.
I made it to the general spot that I remembered and laid my bike on the roadside. I looked and looked, but the bra was gone. I was too late. I sighed as I pulled out my flashlight and walked along the fence. My heart sank as I imagined some creep swinging Taylor’s bra over his head as his jackass friends clapped and hollered. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. It belonged with me.
I turned around to walk back to my bike. As I bent down to pick it up, the flashlight caught a hot pink mound on the other side of the fence. I kneeled in the gravel and stretched my arm through the barbed wire, careful not to catch my sweatshirt. I quickly put the bra and flashlight back in my pouch and peddled home.
Once in my room, I took the bra out and blew away some dirt and removed a couple thorns. I ran my fingers over the lace straps and ribbed cups before hiding it in the back of my sock drawer. I opened the window and the curtains all the way so the moonlight spilled across my bed. I laid down in the light and took the poem out the jewelry box on my nightstand, where I had been keeping it since Monday.
I traced the words and I felt her skin on my face, the stars on my back and the smoky smell of the beautiful trees tickling my nose. Our initials would be engraved only on our souls. That night we set each other free. Taylor had found someone to unlock her cage. I understood why she needed to leave and start anew. I was grateful she had pushed me toward liberation too. Taylor allowed me to be more than a rumor. She let me rediscover something I had hidden in the shadows of myself for too long. Her bravery was a part of me now. When I needed a reminder, I would only need to take a walk in the aspens.
Mary Robinson is a writer, performer, activist, photographer and teacher who lives in Denver, Colorado. She has degrees in sociology and education from the University of Colorado Denver. Mary is a content writer for the digital magazine The Body Is Not An Apology. Mary has blogged about her writing, life and self-acceptance journey since 2008. She founded Monkey Beth Media and published her middle grade novel The Christmas Child in 2009. You can find more of her writing at monkeybethmedia.com. Connect with her on Twitter: @monkeybethmedia