We walked slowly in a strange balancing act across the river on the narrow fallen tree. We stood precariously exactly thirty-seven inches above the raging creek below. The raging creek was precisely seven and three eighths inches deep. I held her hand like we crossed over a gorge with a thousand-foot fall into a deep dark tropical river. Even though I knew even the clumsiest fall was harmless, my heart beat wildly as I held her hand.
Mary-Ann and I sat on the tiny island and just looked around. Mary-Ann, my first love, wore a bulky jacket that covered things I was afraid to even consider at that moment. Her greenish eyes, with faint, almost invisible brows and lashes would bounce between the trees and me. My eyes did the same in a strange, shy dance with hers. When I noticed her focused on a tree, or a leaf floating down the stream, I let myself fall into her hair. The long, curly twists begged me to run my fingers through her blond hair. I imagined it tickling my nose; I could almost taste its scent.
“The creek freezes up here,” I told her nervously. “We play hockey here.”
“Hockey? Do you skate?” she asked.
“Well not exactly, we wear tennis shoes and slide over the ice. We play in two man teams. Right over there by the bend in the creek.” I scratched my brow, nervously considering the tenuous conversation. I didn’t want to seem too childish, to explain how the island makes an excellent fort, but I didn’t want to seem to old either.
“I will have to come watch you play.”
“Okay, only if the creek freezes up this year,” I replied, hoping the coming winter would be warm. I played hockey with the neighborhood kids, all younger than me. “The games are pretty boring to watch, I suppose.” I steadied myself, wanting to lead into another subject.
“Well, lets hope the creek freezes.”
“Yes,” I replied, “lets hope. In the meantime, we can just enjoy the view here.” A safe subject, but not the smartest one. All the leaves had fallen from the trees making a dismal brown carpet under our feet. Barren trees reached out in a tangle of branches and twigs. Fortunately the sun shined or the entire scene would look like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
“It was really pretty last month, just before you gave me this ring. Right after you gave it to me, I took a long walk in the woods. It was beautiful,” she said tilting her head and looking across the creek.
I felt myself leaning the other way. “You know, I like the trees better without the branches. It gets kind of scary, especially when the sky is cloudy.” Feeling steadier, I continued: “Camping out here is real scary. Marc and I camp a lot, telling ghost stories all night long.” Marc, my best friend, and I never camped out here; it was just too far from a warm house. But, my little white lie impressed her some and steered us away from the mushy stuff.
Sure, I thought about the mushy stuff and had even kissed her before, but out here, by ourselves, I was not prepared for that. Besides, she seemed to like my he-man stuff.
“You know, I heard there was a murder up here once.”
She squeezed in closer to me, “Really, where?”
“Further up the mountain there,” I said pointing. “There’s a cabin up there. They found the bodies of two teenagers up there: a boy and a girl. They never figured out who did it either. So the killer is still around.” I realized my friends would be heading out to the island soon, so I was trying to nudge her into heading back. I was not ready for the gang to see her, or her to meet the gang.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
“What?” She squeezed even closer to me.
“I thought a heard something, something from up the mountain.”
“You . . . you know, I probably should be heading home,” she said, “my mom needs me to help with dinner.”
“Oh really? I didn’t get to tell you the whole story. Oh well, maybe next time.” She looked into my eyes and smiled when I said that. I teetered toward her as I stood up, but caught myself on the log.
“Yes, next time,” she said taking my hand as we walked out over the fallen tree. My heart beat wildly again feeling her hand in mine.
We walked quietly back to her house. Both of us were still unaccustomed to the light conversation between boy and girl, between man and woman. We just listened to our footsteps crunch over the leaves, and occasionally pointed out a squirrel or chipmunk preparing for the winter.
“I’ll see you on the bus tomorrow,” I said as we reached her driveway.
“Yeah, see you then,” she replied skipping up the drive.
I headed back towards the island wondering how I could have kissed her good bye. Do I tilt my head, or does she. It was enough to make you dizzy.
As I got near the island, I heard the guys locked in some mock battle. I took a breath and began sneaking up on them, carefully balancing on the fallen tree. Staying balanced was getting to be a pretty tough thing I thought, remembering how her hand felt as we crossed over the creek not thirty minutes ago.
“Boom! You’re all dead!” I shouted as the mock battle continued.