Lost in Turbulencebytitania123©
Welcome to my latest story. This is my first time submitting in the First Time genre, so I hope you enjoy this story. I wrote it as an exercise to practice the play of voice, style, themes, allusions, yada yada yada. So while I am always open to reading any bit of feedback you readers provide, I would very much appreciate any specific constructive criticism you may have. So, please share!
Thank you to AlreadyTaken for your helpful editing and encouragement! Always appreciated.
Vote and leave feedback! I'd love to hear from you all.
Your face is screwed up in disgust. In hatred that makes my stomach burn. You curse me and I watch you turn away. I watch you march to your car and drive away and then just like the ticking sound of a clock that rises in and falls out of your consciousness, the blur before me converges to a single page and I realize I've spaced out again. I look up at the clock. My heart flutters. I blink and look harder, but the minute hand hovers over the 11. Only five more minutes. I look back down and try to finish what I can of the exam, but I don't understand any of these words, any of the questions. It might as well be written in Sanskrit. I can't read. I can't focus. All of me is centered somewhere else, on someone else.
The instant I realize that, I blink and feel the pull of gravity like a (((boing))) on a rope. Ingots of magnetite drawing my eyes up and over to the right, two seats forward to his back. To the nape of his neck where his short brown hair meets his already tanned skin in a straight, cutting line. And I remember the feel of that skin. I remember his hair, too, although it was a little longer when I touched it. Long enough for my fingers to bury their way in, for strands to fill the empty spaces, tickle the sensitive joins of my fingers I always imagined as mini v's between thighs. The ghosting sensation makes my palms sweat and I can hear the rain on our tent.
And once again, I'm lost.
At eighteen, I'd already achieved what I was supposed to in life. But I'd lost it. Lost him. And now those stupid tears are back, and I see him though the fractured prism lines. Abstract and color. Shapes not really his shape. The tears are heavy against my eyes, and like a suicide jumper, they cling perilously and threaten to jump, to end it all with a definitive splat. I quickly look back down and blink, and they do just that. Two wet drops on the paper I can't focus on. I can feel the dripping of my nose coming on. And with a great shnuff up, I sweep my arm across my paper. Two wrinkled spots are all that are left, and furtively I glance around, knowing that they are looking at me, their heads turning my way. All those eyes. Except his.
My stomach is like a bottle of shaken soda. I stare at the doorknob, waiting. The fizz presses slowly out into my legs, tickling up my shoulders and down my arms. I hold my breath as if that will silence the tell-tale thumping of my heart. Waiting. Waiting. Confident if his text doesn't come in this second, it will in the next. And when I hear it I'll open the door, walk silently down the hall and out the front. She'll never know exactly when I left. She won't stop me. Won't ask to see the group. Won't see just him and know that no one else is going with us.
I could have lied, I reason with myself. I could have told her we were meeting the rest of our group somewhere along the line, even though none of my friends live on Whidbey Island or in the direction of the mountains. Blah. But I hate lying. I just wish I had the gumption to tell Aunt Peggy everyone else bailed on us so we're going camping alone.
Well, I don't know, I can hear that whiney voice of hers say. Well, I don't know. Do you think it's a good idea? I mean, what if something happens, you know? There'd be no way of me knowing, you know? And what about you and your boyfriend going off together like that. I don't know. What would your parents say?
The sound of that voice, real or in my head, makes my teeth grind. I make fists with my hands and decide I'm just going to tell her straight. I'm just going to let her know I'm not a kid anymore. I'm an adult. I'm eighteen and well within my rights to spend the night camping with my boyfriend if I want. And there's nothing she can do about it.
My phone chimes and I erupt, shattered open. My impulsive plan for bravery crumbles like a dried out cracker. My body is suddenly flying, my short hair whooshing off my neck as I'm opening the door. I listen for a quick second, but fizz is rushing through my ears. I don't hear her. I put my hand over my chest, fist my shirt. Can she hear my heart beating so loudly? But there's nothing. She must be in my parents' room still. I shut my door behind me. The hall is dim as usual. My ears are straining so much it almost hurts. The silence is big and expanding like a gum bubble blowing and blowing. Bigger. I turn toward the front door. Why does my house have to be so damn big? The front is so far away. Bigger. No other sounds but the pounding in my chest. Bigger. I'm almost to the front door. My ears bursts with sound as I hear a latch somewhere. Her room, behind me. I squeal again and race to the front door, throw it open just as Finn pulls into the drive.
I'm squealing and telling him to not stop. I heave my overnight hiking bag off my shoulders and slide into the passenger side of his old Impreza.
Go! Go! Go! I yell, a thousand fingers of lightning firing through my chest. I don't dare look back to see if Aunt Peggy has followed me out the front door yet. I don't want to see her call me back. I don't want her to know I've gone. I don't want to see her. I squeeze my eyes and put my head between my knees. The fizz finally drains away leaving me limp. The car veers and gases and I see vectors and angles of acceleration from calc class swirl in my head as I sway along with the vehicle's motions. I hear Finn laughing. It's just about my favorite sound in the world.
"Can I look? Are we gone? Did she catch us?"
Finn's laugh had a note of mocking to it. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. What's this? Am I aiding and abetting an escapee? What has happened to my innocent little Gemma who never does anything wrong?"
"Who said I'm innocent?" Gemma shoved her hiking pack through the opening between their seats into the back and settled in.
"Well, clearly that's not the case anymore as you've now had to up your game to running away. I thought you were going to tell her." He had dropped the humored tone and sounded disappointed.
"I'm not running away, just...putting off telling the whole of it."
"I don't know why you put up with that. Why are you running? Just tell her you're going camping. Details aren't her business."
"Ha. Ha. Easy for you to say. You don't live with her."
"Thank God," he muttered.
"And she's my guardian. Details are her business. And it's not just her, Finn. Any girl's parents would object to her going off for the weekend with her boyfriend. Alone. Heck, probably even if other friends were going. We're just lucky she believed it was for class."
"It is for class."
"Yeah, well, I mean parents of teenage girls aren't likely to believe something like that. So just be thankful she lets me go off on these trips at all."
"I'm just thankful that in six months we won't have to worry about her. We'll be off to college and scot-free to do anything we please." He smiled over at her, but Gemma was staring ahead with that consternating frown of hers. "What is it?"
She blinked and looked over at him, wondering how he always knew she was thinking something. She had wanted a happy weekend together. A memory forever. Relationship talk always made her uncomfortable, stickers like tumbleweeds across the shadowed planes of her heart. "I don't know..."
And what is cold? Why do things become cold?
They lose their energy?
That's right. Less energy, and so what happens to their molecules? The atoms, even the tiny bits that make up the atoms? What happens?
They slow down?
Very good. They don't move as much, causing them to fall together and compress. So, generally, cold systems are denser.
Finn sighed. "Come on, Gem. Spit it out." Silence held out another minute. "Gem, whatever it is, you know you can talk to me about it, right? I mean, that's what this is about, helping each other, right?"
Shoulders lifted and tightened. "What if you don't go to U-DUB? I mean, you said it yourself, they don't really have a prelaw course as such. And what if you get that scholarship for Stanford? Sure, you'd still have to work to pay bills, but...it's Stanford. Nothing is worth missing out on it. If you got into law school there, you could get a job...anywhere," she finished quietly looking out the window.
The land was slowly stretching out into the Sound, this long bit of earth reminding her of pizza dough stretched until tearing. The waters of Juan de Fuca on one side, a little estuarine lake on the other. The spruce and firs that surrounded her house were gone, only tall marsh grasses dotted around. At that early morning hour, fog was creeping off the water and across the road. They were almost to the ferry.
Finn was quiet as he studied the curves of the road. He pulled out his wallet when they reached the line for a ticket. "Damn, living on this island is expensive," he muttered.
It seemed to snap Gemma from her thoughts. "Oh, let me get it." She turned in her seat to dig out her little wallet from the back.
"No, no, I got it," he objected without looking up from pulling the money out of his billfold. Gemma sighed and plopped back down into her seat.
"Finn, it isn't a big deal. I mean, what if I were just one of your friends? Would you pay to take the ferry onto the island to pick me up, pay to get off the island and then pay for all the gas to go out to the Olympics?"
Finn rolled down his window and handed the attendee the money for a ticket in return. Turning off the engine after pulling into the waiting lane, he turned and looked at her. "But you aren't just a friend, are you?" She was opening her mouth to argue. "Besides, look at it this way; we're doing this for your art and botany finals. By covering these expenses, I'm bankrolling your art career. I'm your sugar daddy." He smiled cheekily.
Gemma gave a little burst of laughter. "Yeah, okay." On impulse, she leaned across the console and pecked him on the cheek. "And what sort of compensation were you wanting for patronage?"
Their eyes held a minute. So easy to find the threads of lightning between them. And so easy to pick them up and follow along. He pecked her on the lips and then rested back against his door with a ragged sort of breath. "Oh, just watching you hike up that mountain with that cute butt of yours will be all the reward I need."
She tried to smother her laughter. She gave a half-hearted punch to his arm but he twisted and caught her delicate little hand. "Hey!"
"Jerk," she muttered while still smiling.
She watched as he laced their fingers. Gemma's smile fell when he lifted her hand and kissed the peaks of her knuckles. "But you still love me."
A saltiness breezed in through Finn's open window. It was cool, just the first of April, and the sharpness of the briny water caused her lips to part so she could take a deep breath through the mouth and let the flavors of the incoming ocean wash over her tongue.
"How's it possible to long for the sea when I live right next to it?" she asked no one in particular. She rolled down her own window, the crank objecting in jerks and squeaks. The draft picked up now that it had a route for escape. Gemma closed her eyes and allowed the aromas and flavors of a primordial earth sweep over her, lifting her.
When she opened her eyes, Finn was staring at her. His capacity for such honesty and intensity would be the standard by which Gemma would judge all the men to come in her life. "What?" the rhythm of their responses took on the measure of the slow waxing and waning tide.
"Yeah, I want to go to Stanford if I can get those two scholarships."
She nodded. "So if you get them, you'll go."
His chest rose with his breath. "Yeah."
For eighteen, this was all she knew, all she experienced. Finn was her first boyfriend, and as they'd been together since their sophomore year, he felt like all there was in the world. She didn't want to have this conversation. Not today. Maybe not ever. "And us?" A low rumbling began to rise above the gentle waves.
"I don't want it to end."
"But if you leave, it's a risk."
His chest fell as he finally exhaled. "Yeah."
The rumbling was growing louder. A dark whiteness began to materialize from the heavy fog.
Her half smile was sardonic. "That's what college is, right? Risk? Of everything?"
He mirrored her reluctant humor. "That's what they say."
A slow migration of countless vehicles began to file past like an army of ants.
The rumble of the large white ferry was soon accompanied by the starting engines of all the cars waiting to board. When the last of the cars from Port Townsend had disembarked, their short line began filing onto the ferry. Once parked, they exited the car and took the stairs to the upper deck.
Though they weren't far now, the low, wet clouds surrounding the Olympic peninsula obscured the peaks of the mountains there. Gemma crossed her arms as they stood and looked out the expanse of windows. The fog was becoming wetter, droplets of rain actually began spitting against the glass.
"Think our hike'll be dry?"
Gemma sighed. "Doesn't really matter. I have got to find those mushrooms and get them painted this weekend. Besides," she looked up at him a gave him a cheeky smile, "you have already paid for the ferry. No turning back now."
The heater was on, and as the ferry cut through the fog, its monstrous horn blasting anytime a watercraft cut across its trajectory, Finn and Gemma sat in one of the booth-like benches and watched the whiteness passing outside. His arm was draped around her shoulders, his hand just in reach of the windowpane. A finger followed the frantic trail of a water drop.
"Even if I got in, I probably won't get the scholarships I need to afford Stanford."
Her eyes watched his finger. "What about those grants?"
"Yeah, well, some of them will help, but some of them, a few of the bigger awards, are only for Washington schools. I couldn't use them for Stanford."
They were silent. She reached up and took ahold of his hand, pulling it from the purposeless pursuit of the rain. "Come on, let's go back to the car. I want to show you my latest watercolors before we head off again."
"Have you been where we're going?"
"Yes, I hiked it once with my Aunt Mae."
"But weren't you a kid when you lived with her?"
Gemma shrugged. "I don't know, I was maybe eleven."
"That was seven years ago."
She grabbed his shoulder, stopping him on the steps. He turned around. Their faces were at nearly the same height with her a step above him. "I have an infallible sense of direction. You know this," she murmured. Her eyes dropped to his mouth. Little zips of longing flashed through her body. She licked her lips.
Gemma blinked and lifted her gaze to his. "Don't doubt me, Subaru boy." She gave the tip of his nose a swipe with her finger before he turned and continued on.
His fingers traced over the subtle shapes that merged to create a beautiful landscape of trees and slopes and sea. He then considered her study of some striking blue birds on the next page.
"Where'd you do these?"
"The park by the campus. My driver was late picking me up for my flying lessons last week, so I took advantage of the free time."
"These are especially good," he commented, taking note of the playful birds on the following page. "Geez, you're amazing." He leaned over and kissed her above the left eye. "No wonder you got that scholarship. Not that you needed it," he added as he closed her sketchbook, snapping the black elastic band in place. He handed it back to her. "What?"
She shrugged a shoulder. "I'm just surprised you can tolerate me and all my wealth."
"Hey, that's not what I meant."
Finn's jaw worked. "Okay, fine. You're right. I think it's...noteworthy that you—though not just you but most of the rich—who can afford to pay for college easily out of pocket still vie for scholarships and grants when poorer people—"
"People like you."
"Yes, people like me, need them to afford going without racking up too much debt."
"A scholarship is about merit, not necessarily about need. If the scholarships were really about saving people money, then they should stipulate that paying for college would be a financial hardship, which many of them do. I mean, there are scholarships I'm not eligible for simply because my family has money. But you're able to apply for any of them. See? That's not—" she air quoted "fair. But it's the way the system is. It all balances out. Plus, college is a career, and scholarships are part of the merits for your résumé. It's not just about the money, but about the experience."
Finn's jaw was still working, but as he looked out his window he begrudgingly agreed with at least a little of what she said. "Look, you're right. I'm sorry. Let's not fight."
Gemma's cheeks rounded as she held back the smart-ass retort that it was his glib comment that started it. She sighed. "Deal. So you really think my birds are good?"
"You know it," he smiled as he leaned over to kiss her again. But the simple gesture grew until he was cupping her cheek.
Gemma loved the way Finn kissed her. Over the past two years they'd practiced enough, making them experts at knowing what the other liked and needed. Until his need was hers and her breath was his.
Respond and rhythm and temper.
She knew his taste as well as she knew her favorite dessert or feel of her go-to jeans. It was an intimacy with his essence that would creep up on her at night, her window open, the cool air of the Sound breathing into her room, over her skin. Once, she swore she'd dreamt of his taste and woke up with a thread of feeling that she had been someone else, living another life. And he'd been with her the entire time.
So let's take the reverse. What is going on in something hot?
Its molecules are moving faster.
Very good. So, if a cold object's molecules are condensing, what are the atoms of a heated object doing?
The harsh blasting of the ferry's horn caused her to jerk. Finn made something of a laugh and groan smashed up together. He ran his fingers through her short black hair, flicking her bangs playfully. A few errant people filed past to their own cars, readying for departure. Cars started just as the hulking, white ferry glided smooth into place, the expected large jarring conspicuously absent. It always amazed Gemma how such a large creature could move with the grace of slicked ice.
Traffic was heavy despite the early hour of the Saturday morning, slowing the pair's escape around the northern corner of the peninsula before cutting south to wind through the seemingly impenetrable Olympic Mountains. Gemma gave the appropriate directives, guiding them along the 101 through Port Angeles and then off onto the smaller road along the river and only occasionally checked her GPS to confirm her memories.
When they arrived at the end of the little road that had never evolved beyond a dirt forestry road, she gave him a smile that could only be described as triumphant, and then remained silent with that cock of her eyebrow. Waiting. Finn narrowed his eyes at her, momentarily contemplating making her suffer by not giving into her clear need for vindication. Together they pulled out their bags, quickly did a check to make sure everything was packed and fastened. Only when she had her pack on did he trap her against the side of his car, leaning his weight into her, cushioning her into her pack. He held her hands down by her side, keeping her from moving.