We came down the mountain path between the two peaks, moving further away from town. I carried a heavy rucksack topped with a rolled up sleeping bag; you had a combination sleeping bag and rucksack in a metal frame, something that was more expensive than I could have afforded. I kept stealing glances at it and wondered how it would be to sleep in such a thing.
We were dressed alike, the two of us, which was not too surprising. It was standard hiking clothing for the mountains in this season, summer done but winter yet to come: light jackets and denims, heavy hiking boots over thick nylon socks, and cameras on straps slung round our necks. You had a small woollen cap with a pompom on your head, striped yellow and white. For some reason I still recall that cap; now, when I think of you, I wonder if you still have it. I hope you do. As though it matters anyway, but I hope you do.
We chatted as we walked. It's nice to have company on a hike, especially when it's not someone you're forced to be with, someone whom you chose to walk with and whom you can leave alone if either of you want. It's nice to discover things together on the hike, see places neither of you ever saw before, the colours of the leaves on the trees, the strips of cloud lying in valleys far below, the hawks hanging far overhead on thermals, the glitter of sunlight on a waterfall on a distant hill.
I still recall feeling a bit surprised that we'd only met on the trail and that we were together only because we were going the same way and we were, each of us, hiking alone. I'd started out early because the path was long and the hotel in town wasn't the sort where you'd want to stay any longer than you had to. It wasn't uncomfortable, just pretentious and tastelessly ornate. I'd seen you the night before in the dining room there, so when I saw you on the trail ahead of me I had something to talk about. We laughed about the hotel. Do you remember?
I still recall every bit of that walk, all through the morning. We saw nobody else on the trail, but we saw a lot of other things, and took plenty of photographs. I still have one I took of you, with a great blue dragonfly sitting on that cap of yours. The sun is shining bright and you're smiling, and that dragonfly perches on your cap like a badge. I look at that photo every once in a while, and it makes me happy.
And as we walked we talked of other things too – jobs that constrained us, that left us unhappy, of being trapped in boxy little rooms day in and day out, of waking up in the morning dreading the day, of measuring out leisure in rusty little fragments we coveted so much that when we had them we could only watch, dismayed, as they swept on by. We talked about the strictures of conventions and upbringing and the rest of it, and though we were born and raised far, far away from each other, we found more in common than I would ever have imagined.
By midday we were both a little tired, a little sweaty, a little hungry. By then we had climbed a fair bit of the way up toward the second peak. It hung above our heads, seen clearly through the trees, apparently close enough to touch. Do you remember how the water murmured in the little stream to our right, down below the track? I don't know if it was you who suggested we take a break at the stream, or I, or whether the thought occurred to both of us at once; but we went down to the stream, sliding and slipping a little through the grass, and we arrived laughing and breathless there. The water was as clear as air – we could even see tiny fishes among the rocks, which darted away as our shadows fell on the water.
"Poor fishes," you said. "They must be terrified of us. We must seem like monsters to them."
"We aren't going to harm them," I said, taking off my rucksack with a sigh. "We'll just sit here a while and then go our way."
"True," you said, smiling. "But the fishes don't know that." It was always that part of you I loved then and I love now, most of all – your instinctive love of animals, even the smallest, most insignificant. "I wish there was some way we could let them know." You unlaced your heavy boots and eased them off, and the socks, and rubbed your feet on the grass. "Oh, that feels good."
"Do you hike very often?" I asked, watching your hands as they rubbed and kneaded your legs.
"Not enough." You grimaced slightly. "I'm going to be stiff tomorrow. Stiff."
"I could massage that stiffness out," I said. "I'm good at massage." It's true. I was never any good at sports, but I was masseur for my college sports team. I can take a tense muscle, hard with knots, and leave it soft and relaxed and painless. I don't boast; it's just a skill. I don't even enjoy doing it.
"I might take you up on that offer." You wiped your face. "It's hot. I wish..."
"Yes?" I'd removed my jacket and undone the top buttons of my shirt. There was a languid breeze blowing, along the water. It felt good.
"The hell with it," you said suddenly. "I've had enough of conventions." You got up and pulled off your cap, and threw your jacket on top of it. I watched, astonished, as you ripped off the sweatshirt you wore underneath, and unbuckled your denims and pulled them down and off. Clad only in bra and panties, you stood on tiptoe and raised your arms to the breeze.
"Why don't you take all that off too?" you asked, looking down from the corner of your eye at me, a slight smile – oh, I remember that smile! – on your lips. "You'll feel ever so much better."
"Will I?" I shrugged off the shirt and took off my boots. I couldn't bring myself to look at you, because, truth to tell, I was becoming aroused. I could feel the first twitch of my erection. That's why I did not take off the jeans. Not then.
"Oh, are you shy?" It was the way you said it, that teasing and challenging tone. I was suddenly almost angry. "No," I remember saying. "I am not shy!" I pulled my denims off so quickly my socks went off along with them. Now all I had was my blue underpants. My erection was now large and throbbing, and I hugged my knees and propped my chin on them to hide it. I could feel the length of it, lying back on my stomach, and hot. I was sure you knew exactly what I was going through, and I thought you were teasing me. I thought you'd had your fun and would put your clothes back on.
I was wrong.
Something fell on my knee, and slid down my leg to lie on the scrub grass of the bank. I looked down at it. It was your bra. I can still see it on the grass, black and edged with a tiny pattern of lace. I looked up. You were standing with your back to me, arms held up, palms together, one leg slightly bent like a yoga pose. You moved, then, slowly, with balletic grace, bringing one arm down and up again, bending at the waist, your other hand coming down too, and somehow your panties were on the grass, and then, only then, did you turn around.
If I close my eyes now, sitting here at this computer in this small room so far away in time and space from that mountain stream, I can still see you at that moment – your body, arched like a ballet dancer's, with the dark green of the forest behind, the contrast of your skin and that green and the endless deep blue sky above. I can still see your breasts lifted high, their large areolae and the little puckered nipples, the round navel set in your stomach, and the tuft of pubic hair above the cleft of your vulva. I can see the fluttering lashes of your eyes as you looked down at me and watched for the effect your nakedness was having on me. You nudged my thigh with your bare toes.
"I'm going to cool off in the water," you said, dragging the words out like treacle. "Would you like to join me?"
"Is that a dare?" My mouth was so dry i didn't quite know what I was saying.
You only laughed, a husky laugh, with a throbbing undercurrent of excitement and pleasure in it, and you turned and slid down into the river. It was so shallow that when you lay down with your head on a convenient rock, your face, the tips of your breasts, your knees and hands were all out of the water, which flowed around your navel and between your legs, tickling at your sex. The water was so clear that I could see everything anyway. You looked up at me and winked.
"Come in," you said. "Or." You repeated with a wicked grin, "are you shy?"
My position was becoming ridiculous. I couldn't very well wait any longer like that with my knees up to my chin, yet any other position would reveal my raging erection. Somehow I turned myself round on the bank and slid backwards into the water with a splash, hoping the water would cool me off some. I wasn't really able to control where I fell, and I ended up lying right next to you.
"Wow," you said, raising your head so you could look down at me. "Now that's what I call gentlemanly manners. Into the water, underpants and all." A moment later, I felt your hand slide up my thigh and slip over my underwear, cupping my penis. I sat up reflexively, and you sat up with me. The water sparkled as drops of it flew off your breasts.
"There's such a thing as being too well-mannered," you said. "Why not take them off? It's silly to keep them on."
"I..." I stood up and turned away from you, towards the bank, my penis straining the fabric of the Y fronts. But you'd already anticipated me. I felt your hands on my hips and pulling the wet cloth down over my knees and to my ankles. I turned, my penis erect, free of the confining cloth.
"Oh..." You reached out and held it, took it gently in your cool hand. "You didn't have to be embarrassed...you're a man and I'm a woman. It's natural." You leaned towards me and kissed me on the mouth, and then turned and fitted yourself to me. You raised your arms back over your shoulders and pulled my head down to your neck. I kissed your ear. My hands slipped over your chest and cupped your breasts. You sighed.
"I haven't made love in ages," you said.
"I too," I murmured. "It's been a long time."
"Come on." You let go of my head and turned back to me, and took me by the hand. You led me to the bank, lay down on your back, legs spread wide, feet still in the water, and opened your arms. "Come to me."
To this day, I still remember that first urgent lovemaking on the grass of the bank, the urgency of desire flaming through our bodies. I remember the feel of your breasts on my chest, how the hard pucker of your nipples felt on my skin, and how your thighs tightened around my hips and pulled me to you. I remember the exquisite sensation of your vagina opening to my penis, and how you shut your eyes and threw back your head as I slid all the way in. Penetration is my favourite part of sex and I know how to draw it out, to make it last.
I began rotating motions of my hips, pressing my pubis to your clit, and as you gasped you began rotating and bucking against me, thrusting upwards and sinking back down, so that every thrust of my hips pushed my penis all the way into you and every withdrawal pulled me almost all the way out, the sensation exquisite, exquisite. I could see your orgasm building, the flush on your breasts and your neck spreading as your movements became wilder and more uncontrolled, and then suddenly you went completely rigid and your vagina began spasming around my penis as you cried out. I could no longer hold back then, and I felt my own orgasm begin, like a wave of liquid fire, from my genitals to my hips, washing over me again and again and again.
Afterwards we bathed and kissed and made longer, more ,languid love on the bank, and then we got dressed and went on up the trail, stopping every now and then to kiss again. Do you remember? I'm sure you do.
I'm sure you remember, too, how we slept together that night on the grass, with a sheet below us and a sheet thrown over us, clothed to keep out the chill, but making love with most of our clothes on and then falling asleep in each other's arms. Yes, I know you remember that, though we parted two nights later and went our separate ways. You remember it all.
I know you remember that because I'm reading the e-mail I just got from you, telling of that night together, and how you have never forgotten, and of how this year, you'll come back again.
I'm going to read it one more time, and I'm going to get the hiking gear ready, and then I'll burst out singing.