It was an unseasonably warm August day, only two weeks before I would start college. The sun seemed unnaturally bright to me; the lack of clouds made me angry, infuriated at the sky's inappropriate cheer. It was a day for picnics and flirtation. Mothers are not buried on such days, I thought to myself. My mother deserved somber greys; the world should have been washed in it, made sterile and brittle in mourning for her.
We were back at my mother's house, an entire extended family in tow. My older sister was hosting a wake; always the good girl, she wanted to please the Welsh and Irish relatives. Three bottles of rye in, the family was waxing nostalgic as only a batch of drinkers can, reliving their favorite moments with my mother, fighting over claims about who loved her most. To me, she was a different person.
Although I didn't want to, I resented their intrusion on my grief. She was my mother, though they called her Anwen, and I wanted to hoard my memories of her, clutch them to my like a shield. I couldn't drink, although everyone would have allowed it, and I would never call my mother Anwen. She had always just been Mom, and to me she always would be. I didn't fit, a feeling I was used to, but it only made the pull of loss seem greater.
I wandered outside on my own, the bright day was starting to cool as the afternoon wore on, and I couldn't stand the house anymore, filled as it was with drunken relatives and my own bitterness. If I was going to be alone, I didn't want to be surrounded by well-intentioned relations.
The house was a ramshackle monstrosity, an addition-laden part of the development which had come abruptly to Humboldt county in the post-war years. It was a hideously designed quasi-Victorian mess, one that we'd always teased Mom for holding onto when she could have afforded better and could certainly have used smaller. Its saving grace was the sweep of hilly land around it. Green and fragrant, the rich soil produced honeysuckle and ivy by the ton; it was the only place I've ever seen wild peacocks strut their regal stuff and look right at home.
I followed the curving trail my mother's own wanderings had beaten into the lush growth. Around the second bend, I came to the large stone she had taken to using as a resting place when the cancer started gaining ground on her will to outpace it. The top was scraped clear from months of her lingering pauses. I slowed, not sure if I could face walking her path after all.
I stopped in her resting place, sitting as she had, not sure if I could continue. Tears sprang to my eyes for the hundredth time that day, and I felt my heart thumping in my chest, skipping beats for each unshed tear. The torrent came, and I let it take me, grieving for the fierce, proud woman I'd loved. I cried until I couldn't stand the sound of my own wailing anymore; I tried to relax into the hiccuping after-effects, looked desperately for a way to distract myself from my grief and the embarrassing flood of my own self-pity.
In the final weeks, she must not have been able to walk her beloved trail, because the wild blackberry bushes were overladen with late fruit. Sitting there, I remembered coming down the path with my sister as young children, our mother waiting for us to bring back the sweet berries she would add to our cereal. We'd eat as we picked, learning over time not to prick our fingers on the brambles. We never learned how not to stain our hands with juice; Mom always smiled indulgently at us when we came back.
And now, it seemed there would be no one to pick them. But nature didn't care about my loss, didn't yet know it had also lost her. On this day, the bushes were heavy with wild growth, a late harvest of bittersweet berries awaited hands that knew the secret to stealing them away. The air was full of the smell, richly sweet and heavy, like a fragrant wine served on a velvet cloud. My eyes filled with tears again.
I wanted to feel something else, anything but the agony of loss. I raced through my memories of the blackberry patch, looking for some kind of solace.
"I came here with Bobby Thomas," the memory came to me out of nowhere, the words spoken aloud before they fully registered in my brain. We grew up together, Bobby and I, and hated each other as was required of our age and gender difference. When we were teenagers, we became real friends, and one late summer evening, we fumbled off each other's clothes right out here, at the end of the second bend in the path. I remembered that the air was full of blackberries that night too.
Finally, my mind found something else to grab onto, some memory that wasn't saturated with painful loss. The only loss on that day had been of our virginity, a sweet, lingeringly pleasant loss that never quite led to a relationship, but which quietly cemented our friendship in the time after.
Surprisingly, I found myself growing aroused; the slight chill in the air raised my nipples to peaks, and the smell of overripe fruit swept me with nostalgia for my single night with Bobby. I found myself wishing he was with me, that we could take another tumble together surrounded by the perfume of the bushes, wishing I could get back a part of my youth that now seemed irretrievably, lost even before my mother.
I leaned back on the flat rock, closing my eyes and drinking in the smell of Autumn at Mom's house, swimming blindly through a sea of nostalgic arousal, tinged with the desperation of despair. Without thinking or consciously deciding to do it, I ran my hand over my breast, stroking myself through the fabric of my funeral dress. My hand traveled to the hemline, raising the cloth so that I could touch myself, could break the spell of this place, could do something to feel alive.
I didn't care if anyone came along, I didn't care if I was seen. I cared about my memories and my pain too much to bother about a witness; I couldn't have explained, and I felt no need to worry about it.
My traveling hand found the elastic of my underwear and slipped inside. This was no lingering touch, my desire had become an urgent need for release, and I mercilessly attacked my own sex, seeking the blessed oblivion of an orgasm.
Each touch sent shockwaves through my body, exquisite sensation that was both pleasure and pain, that approached overload. I pressed on through it, circling my clit with my finger, beginning to moan in agony and transported joy.
I cycled up and up, needing more than anything to feel the sweetness of the little death. I finally found my release, chased it down, and flung myself over the edge of orgasm. The swelling sensation swept through me, and my eyes flew open at its staggering power.
My eyes opened on Bobby, standing only a few feet away, watching me. He never said a word, didn't make a sound. He could have slipped away, and I would barely have known he'd been there. But for reasons of his own, and perhaps because he was my friend, he stayed. His black pants were unzipped, his erection in his hand as he stroked himself in rhythm to me. Tears stood on his face, slipped silently down his cheeks, unacknowledged.
I didn't stop, didn't freeze as I certainly would have if it had been anyone else. I continued touching myself, through the excruciatingly sensitive moments after orgasm, keeping a pace for Bobby, watching him seek his own ending. Our eyes met and held, and still neither of us spoke. I could feel the end approaching, could sense it as you always can with a lover you know well. I pushed myself faster, hunting down my own bittersweet relief, struggling to keep my eyes open, our connection silent but firm.
We came together, eyes locked in a dance that didn't have explanation, that was too rich with history to be captured in mere words. His seed hit the ground and was swallowed by it, vanishing as though it had never been. He came to me then, sat down next to me and silently pulled me to his chest. I started crying again, a less violent adult's cry that I let seep into his cotton shirt. He held me there, stroked my hair and just held me through the worst of it.
When I could stop crying, I pulled back slightly, wiping my eyes with the heel of my hand.
"I thought you were already at Riverside." It was part question, part statement.
"I was. My dad called to tell me about Anwen, and I came back." He said it softly, as gentle as a silk caress. As close as we were, I could almost taste his aftershave, a leathery spice that smelled like home.
"Thank you." I didn't know what else to say; it didn't yet occur to me to explain what had just happened, or to examine what had passed between us.
"Brianna said you'd wandered away. I knew I'd find you here. I hope you're not angry, I just couldn't stand the thought of you out here alone. Not today." The tenderness and gentle, unspoken love in his comments undid me. His hand came up to stroke my face; as tears started to slide over my cheeks again, his soft fingertips pushed a stray lock of hair back gently. He didn't ask me how I was doing, didn't ask what he could do, and I was grateful because I couldn't have answered.
"Do you think I'm awful?" It was an unfair question, but I was so lost I asked it anyway.
"I just...I just wanted..." I trailed off again, not knowing how to finish. I never gave him a chance to answer, but his large, warm eyes told me all I needed to hear. An old friend came home; Bobby and I were together, and in that moment I believed. At the time that I most needed him, my old friend came to me, and gave my faith in the impossible. I believed that destiny finds us, that I could move forward through the hard days ahead, that love can come silently, stealing into your heart without announcing itself. I leaned into his caress and kissed him.
My hands wandered up to run through his coppery hair as our kiss grew tantalizingly deep. The smell of blackberries was ripe around us, not quite masking the coppery undertone of his earlier ejaculation; the combination was as warm and alive as blood, a fresh wound that I could not heal.
My pulse swelled, pounded in my body like a drumbeat, setting the rhythm for the dance I knew we would do together. My salty vinegar tears stole their way into our kisses, joining Bobby's tears in a dance of their own.
His hands slid slowly down my body as he moved gently over me, laying us both down again on the same altar where we sacrificed our innocence. His touch was magic, and I felt abundantly, almost painfully alive, a bittersweet lover, ripe for the taking. He made it so easy for me; I was lost in his touches, dying with hunger for him. I didn't have to do anything, he came to me, pushing fabrics aside as though they didn't exist. In that moment, they didn't.
My body cried out when he entered me, and I pulled my head forward, lifting myself involuntarily into an incongruous exercise pose which strained my stomach. I felt safe, like time froze for a moment to let us be together, to give us back what was already lost. He slipped his hand behind my head, cradling me like a baby as I lay back down. We slid together, comfortably rocking on an unsteady sea. The waves came closer and we began to pant quietly, struggling to move together, to find the place of peace.
I clutched him as the end came, held him to me so tightly my arms ached as the final wave broke, and orgasm washed over me. My spasms pulled him with me, and his hips surged forward, grinding into mine as his own release swept through him. When it was over, neither of us wanted to be the first to speak; perhaps it was only that we did not know what to say.
We sat there for hours, Bobby and I. We held hands and watched the sun drop down over the horizon, disappearing behind a mountain so the crickets could come out to sing. We rarely spoke; there was both too much and too little to say.
When the last of the light faded from the sky, we entered the house together, holding hands unconsciously, caught in a habit only hours old. There were no raised eyebrows, no looks of dismay or surprise. Bobby was part of home, and no one thought to question it.
He slept with me that night, fitting himself in behind me easily. We shared warmth and slept long heavy hours, driven by exhaustion into the deepest delta caverns. In the morning, there was none of the awkwardness we should have expected. We kissed gently, both feeling fragile but better.
Before breakfast that morning, we walked the path again, stopping at the second bend to carefully pick berries. Our hands stained with juice, we returned to the house laden with bittersweet late Autumn fruit. My sister smiled, her eyes shining with a film of tears. That morning, there was fruit enough for everyone to share in it, and the out of season richness was a small, quiet miracle.