Ten months since we’ve met. Seven dates. Uncountable hours on the phone.
And yet this morning feels like the great unknown.
When we first met, he drove two hours north just to stroll around the block a couple times with me and a coffee. Later, he would tell me, of that date, “I remember you as the smell of snow.”
This morning, he drives two hours north and it is sticky-hot when he arrives, despite the rise in elevation and the early hour. He dresses sensibly, for ventilation and tick prevention. He has me dress like a fool in coochie-cutter shorts, damn near presenting the warmest folds of my body to the tick population on a platter.
But I’m grateful, anyway. He let me wear flat shoes. He’s sensible like that.
Day-use hotel rooms are our usual thoroughfare. He brings an envelope of cash to every meeting, and he always forgets to hand it over. I think that’s because, with me, it doesn’t feel like a service. With me, I think, I believe, it feels real. I make it feel like the real thing.
This morning, he approaches my window as I pull up behind him in the weedy dust off of the highway exit. I roll it down, and he passes in the envelope. “Before I forget,” he says.
I can’t look at him just yet, but I can tuck the money fluidly away as I prepare my bag for the hike with shaking hands. I’ve brought an orange, which might be lovely during the photoshoot but isn’t enough of a breakfast, and too little water. It’ll be alright, though. He has to make it back to the car by noon. I’m less than thirty minutes from my doorstep. I’ll be fine.
I hope we don’t get caught doing anything weird. Don’t get cocky after a quiet stretch and attempt some bold removal of our clothes, only to scramble to cover ourselves at the approach of voices. I hope we don’t go for any bondage stunts that look like a crime in progress at a twenty-foot distance. Not that there’d be cell service to call the cops.
The thrill is in the possibility. That’s true, but the thrill is too much for me at the moment. I’m shaking like a tissue as I step out of the car into the mountain air. Last night’s thunder was supposed to last into the morning but the storms have cleared. There are only little rumbles left behind.
There’s no cell service. I don’t know the trail. I have to enter trusting him to bring me back out.
He knows I’m scared. He pulls me close. He wraps me up.
I try to slow my breath. Grasp at the muscles that inflate my lungs, hold them steady, only to lose control again.
He strokes my head. I smell his neck. His breathing is steady, steadying.
He offers the rubber nipple of his hydration hose into my mouth. I take it, lying on his chest, on my feet, at the cusp of the forest. I suckle, drawing water from his back.
This is fine. It’s just the woods. I love the woods.
It’ll be fine. He’s safe. He’s sensible. He never gives me more than I can handle.
The trail is wide. A logging road. Brown grasses, their heads heavy with grain, divide our path up the center.
The crickets, leaping, accompany us down.
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