Spiced with the scents of Chalimar, Vitalis, and varnished pine, the summer camp recreation hall teemed with budding teenage excitement. The boys stood at one end of the hall in their khaki pants and blue button-down shirts, jabbering in troops with animated gestures as they sipped cups of Pepsi and munched Cheese Doodles. Every now and then a group would eye the girls at the other end of the hall. One boy pointed at a particular girl, passed a remark out the corner of his mouth to his cohorts, and made like he had to vomit, which caused them to guffaw exaggeratedly loud so that the girls would be sure to hear.
The girls at the other end of the hall, all dressed in the camp uniform of white crew-neck sweaters and forest-green shorts huddled in large ovular gatherings, giggling and sneaking peaks at the boys. Their hair was pulled back in pink barettes, brushed and glistening. A girl blushed and screamed as the girls on either side started pushing her in the direction of a particular boy they had spotted. She wriggled frantically away from her playful tormentors and retreated to the back of their huddle, flushed and laughing with tears in her eyes as she regained her breath.
Suddenly the first shots of electric guitar from Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” caromed off the rafters and wall studs. The boys and girls just stood at their ends of the hall, their eyes searching each other across that bare and waiting expanse of dance floor. It would have taken just one boy asking a girl to dance to precipitate a wave of boys crossing that floor and drawing girls onto it, just one. But no one moved. All that charged across the space were the bolts of Elton John’s sound and the electricity of girls waiting for boys to come over and boys waiting for somebody else to be the first to do it.
The floor vibrated with the bass, which one of the boys’ counselors, Paul Silven, began to feel pumping through his blood. How could these kids just stand and watch? Paul thought. His eyes scanned the wall of girls and then their counselors, surveying their looks and movements. Each of the girl counselors was swaying to the music, eyeing her girls mostly, but also the male counselors.
Then he saw her. Samantha Blake. That flame-red hair he’d known since childhood, that shaggy, sun-streaked mane moistly ringlet’d from having just emerged from a shower. Her skin was golden and radiant against her white sweater. Rocking to the beat of the music, she closed her eyes and smiled. Her lips were moist and shining.
He thought for a moment that he should stay in his position like the other male counselors and encourage the boys to dance. Then he walked along the side of the hall and behind the wall of girls to within two feet of where she was standing. Her eyes were still closed, her shoulders swiveling to the beat, her breasts shifting bra-less beneath her sweater.
“Hi,” he said.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, still swaying and snapping her fingers. She grinned. “How’s it going, Paul?”
“Want to dance?”
She winked. “Shouldn’t we be watching the children, dear?”
“Come on,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her back through the wall of girls toward the dance floor.
One of the girls they passed–the one who was being pushed earlier by her friends toward the boys–followed their lead and promptly crossed the floor and asked a boy to dance. Boys and girls started criss-crossing the hall. Soon the place was full of writhing, turning, rockin’ ‘n rollin’ dancers, laughing and whooping and shooting to their hearts’ content. Charging through the air was riff after riff of electric guitar.
“Baby!” Paul said in response to the way Allison just whirled with her hair fanning out in all directions, stepping and shaking her hips without having missed a beat. “I didn’t know you could dance like that!”
“Same here! For a quiet little guy you can really shake it!”
“What do you mean ‘little’?”
“You know…Retracted. Unexpressed.”
“Is that right,” he said suddenly ducking and lifting her up on his shoulder. He twirled and twirled and twirled, the music swirling faster and faster about them as he laughed louder with a madman’s glee.
“Stop!” she cried.
“‘Cause I want you to!”
Abruptly he set her on her feet. They stood trying to steady themselves with his hands on her hips and her hands on his shoulders. When he glanced up for a moment, the lights on the ceiling were spinning. Rivulets of sweat ran down the sides of Allison’s face and neck and darkened the white collar of her blouse.
“Must be getting hot under that sweater,” he said.
“You’re telling me.”
“Why don’t you take it off?”
“I bet you’d like that.”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
A sly grin grew slowly upon her lips. “You always get back to being so-o-o-o serious.” She stepped back and swung her arms to the beat of the next song. “Let’s dance.”
They danced through several songs, all of them fast and furious. He tried to avoid looking at her bobbing breasts, but his eyes kept grazing across them, as if swaying within an inescapable groove of vision. Finally he resolved not to look at her at all, even closing his eyes in an attempt to lose himself in the music.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
He opened his eyes. “Nothing. Why?”
“The way you’re dancing.” She placed her hands on his shoulders and started to massage them. “You’ve got to learn to relax.”
“I am relaxed.”
“About as much as a wound spring.”
He didn’t like the way her thumbs were pressing down into his shoulder muscles. He stepped back, making her hands fall off his shoulders.
The song ended, followed by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs singing “Little Red Riding Hood.” The song had a rolling, loping rhythm, much slower than the others had been, but not lulling enough to be presumed a “slow song.” Allison was waiting for him to choose how they should dance to it. He resumed swinging his arms and hips just as they had to the previous ones. She did the same. Within a few beats it felt all wrong, as if they were acting out the movements in slow motion.
He dropped his arms. “Let’s take a break,” he said. “You want something to drink?”
She looked at him a few moments, a trace of disappointment in her eyes. “Sure,” she said, turning away from him. She gazed at the other bear-hugging couples swaying to the music.
“What would you like?” he asked.
She gave him a backward wave of her hand. “Whatever,” she said, continuing to watch the others.
He headed for the table. As soon as he left her, he felt stupid for having done so. Why hadn’t he asked her to dance?
At the snack table, the answer presented itself: he had his duties to attend to. One boy had just stuffed ice cubes down the back of another and raced away, weaving through the forest of other boys with his shirt tail flapping over his butt, his victim in hot pursuit. The chase looped back toward the table, where he caught the two of them by the arms and settled them down, reminding them that if they were going to act like babies, he’d make sure they returned to their cabins and went right to bed. His warning had the intended effect of making them behave, but also an unintended effect: it put him in an irritable mood. He felt as if he were here just to be a baby-sitter for these spoiled Jewish American Princes, giving them the only man-to-man no-nonsense discipline they would ever receive. He didn’t like feeling this way, but he could not escape the fact that he felt it.
As he picked his way through the crowd from the snack table with a cup of Pepsi in each hand, he saw beyond the bobbing and shifting heads that someone was talking to Allison. It was Eric. His hair was a shaggy black mop. His blue Chambray shirt was unbuttoned to reveal a powerful chest with more than the usual adolescent patch of hair. He seemed to be mouthing something slowly to Samantha, trying to catch her eyes with a bold relentless gaze as she tried to ignore him.
“Little Red Riding Hood…” he sang as Paul stepped between the last pair of bodies separating them from him, “oh my you’re looking good/ You’re everything that a big bad wolf could want…ah-oooo!” He howled with puckered lips.
“What the hell are you doing, Eric?” Paul said.
They both looked at him.
“You know this jerk?” said Samantha.
“He’s one of the campers.”
“Campers? I thought he was a counselor.”
“On the emotional level,” Paul said, “I’d place him in the seventh grade.”
“But she thinks I’m much older that that,” Eric retorted.
“Thought,” Paul replied.
“You don’t see her turning me away now, do you.”
“She’s just being polite.”
Samantha touched Paul’s arm, her lips knitted in suppressed laughter. “You don’t have to talk for me, Paul.”
“Then what do you think of him?”
She eyed how agitated he was, and Paul began to feel very stupid. She glanced at Eric and then eyed Paul again. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, shrugging up her lower lip. “I’d have to say he’s kind of cute. You have to give him credit for being ballsy.”
“That’s right, Uncle Mike,” said Eric, grinning.
“‘Uncle’?” Samantha said, turning to Paul.
“Yeah,” said Eric, “That’s what the little kids call him. He just loves it. He’d love every camper to call him that.”
“That’s enough, Eric,” I said.
“Would you?” said Samantha.
“What?” I said.
“Would you want them to call you ‘Uncle’?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“But he’s not saying no,” piped Eric.
“Of course I don’t care if they call me that,” I said.
“And you won’t mind,” said Eric, “if I ask your date for a dance.”
“She’s not my date. We’re chaperoning the dance.”
Eric turned to Samantha and lowered himself to kneel with one knee on the floor, his hands clasped upon the upraised thigh. “Would you grant me the next dance?”
“Jesus,” Paul muttered, rolling his eyes. He looked at Allison, expecting her to be finding Eric’s pretence as ludicrous as he.
“I’d be delighted,” she said, offering him her hand. She gave Paul a quick glance.
Eric took her hand, half-stunned, half-pleased by his new-found conquest, and rose to his feet. Elton John again was playing, but this time it was “Your Song,” an unmistakably slow one. As they headed onto the dance floor to join the other bear-hugged couples, Eric flashed Paul an unabashedly gloating look, so unabashed and brazen that Paul had to say something, anything.
“Did you take a shower, Eric?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to shrivel into the floor.
They both gaped at him with amusement and disbelief.
“Did I what?” he said.
It was too late now. Paul had to make the best of it. “Did you take a shower? You know you can’t come to a social without having taken a shower.”
“What if I say I didn’t?” he said, jutting out his chin.
Samantha frowned. “What’s the problem? Everybody here is sweating like pigs.”
She and Eric looked at each other, rolled their eyes, and slipped into a bear-hug. Rocking in the breeze of harp, piano, and violin strains that poured through the hall, they receded out into the middle of the lake of swaying hugging couples. They cruised upon swelling waves of tender, haunting melody. After Elton John, Joni Mitchell carried them with “I Don’t Know Where I Stand,” followed by Phil Collins offering “I Can Feel It Coming.” At one point during that song, Allison said something which seemed to make Eric stop a moment before resuming his sway in her arms. Not that Paul could really tell. The view was not the greatest from where he stood among the scrawny girls sipping soda through their braces, the ones who would never be asked to dance.
The next day, the last day of camp, Paul saw Samantha through the chain-link fence that ran between the girls’ and boys’ tennis courts, a fence which also cut through the pine forest separating the girls’ and boys’ camps. Having finished teaching his class, he walked to the fence, waving his racquet to gain her attention, and beckoned her to join him.
She motioned farewell to the camper to whom she had just been talking and turned towards Paul. The girl lingered to discover whom her counselor was about to meet. Samantha shooed away her companion and watched her until she joined a group of girls heading down their dirt road into the forest. Then she approached him.
“Have fun last night?” he asked.
“Loads,” she said. “That Eric is an operator.”
“Why? What did he say?”
“Nothing, really,” she said with a little shrug of her shoulder.
“Well he must have said something to make you remark on his behavior.”
“It’s not so much what he said.” She entwined her fingers in the chain link and gazed at Paul with those cat-green eyes.
He could have asked the next question, but then she would have thought he really cared about Eric and her. Yet he couldn’t think of anything else to say because what really was going on between Eric and her seemed to be the only thing on his mind at the moment. She was waiting.
“So I guess I’ll see you at services tonight,” he said. Tonight was Friday night, the night the recreation hall became a synagogue.
“Maybe,” she said.
“Maybe? Who else is going to bring your bunk?”
“Tracy, my co-counselor. Each of us has skipped every other weekend.”
“Not the best example to set for your campers.”
She chuckled. “Give me a break. They all know it’s a game.”
“The Jewish congregation game. The only reason the girls go is to check out the guys. If Tracy or I don’t go, they couldn’t care less. Or they welcome it because with only one of us watching, each of them has a better chance of sneaking out with a guy.”
“It’s real, Paul.”
“Have you ever seen anyone try to escape?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make the attempt–or succeed.”
He looked at her.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I just never imagined people used services that way.”
“Why? What’s so special about having the kids sit and endure something practically none of their parents ever attend at home?”
He had no answer. After a few moments, he asked, “What do you do when you don’t go to services?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Depends on my mood. Tonight I’m paddling out to the Site.”
In the middle of Lake Bermuda was an island where the camp held pow-wows. Led by counselors versed in Maine Indian lore, campers wore paint and feathers and re-enacted prayer ceremonies. Paul looked up at the cloudless sky.
“You’ll probably see every constellation in the Northern Hemisphere.”
“Among other things,” she said, with a sudden glint in her eye. “Want to join me?”
He pursed his lips. “It’s tempting, but my co-counselor quit last week. Besides, I kind of enjoy the service.”
“Yes,” he said in a rather hollow tone.
Eric sat on his bed beside Paul’s with his back against the cabin wall, gazing out the screen window overlooking the lake as Paul zipped his khaki pants and slipped into his penny loafers. The other campers filed out the door and onto the quad, their leather heels clunking down the wooden steps.
“Get a move on, Eric,” Paul said. “We have to be at the rec hall in ten minutes.”
Eric’s gaze out the window had turned to brooding. The last few campers at the door turned to face them.
“Go ahead, go ahead,” Paul said, waving them away. “As usual,” he added with emphasis for Eric’s embarrassment, “we’ll have to meet you up there.”
They proceeded out the doorway. The screen spring door shut with a whap. Paul turned to Eric and waited a few moments for the banter of the boy’s cabin mates to recede a comfortable distance across the quad.
“I’m not in the mood for this, Eric,” he said.
Slowly Eric swung his gaze upon him. “What are you in the mood for?”
“Being where we have to be.”
“And where’s that?”
“At services. Now come on.”
“Because we have to, damn it. Now come on.”
He eyed Paul for a few moments, sighed, and then to Paul’s surprise, swung his legs off the bed, got to his feet, and walked briskly to the door. He was wearing shorts instead of pants and sneakers instead of dress shoes, but at least he was wearing that long-sleeved Chambray shirt, even if it was wrinkled from last night and the sleeves were rolled up past his elbow. Besides, there was no time to reprimand him. Paul was happy just to get him to go.
They left the cabin, crossed the quad, and started up the dirt road toward the rec hall. The muffled crunch of their footsteps over the little stones in the road gave way to the gentle roar of the evergreens overhead. The sky was a silver canopy striped with banks of charcoal-bellied clouds. The air felt suddenly cool and moist.
“Can I ask you something?” Eric said.
Stunned that Eric would look to him for an answer, Paul stared at him a few moments. “Sure,” he said.
“Are you a virgin?”
Paul looked straight ahead. “What kind of question is that?”
Out of the corner of his eye he caught the glint of Eric’s teeth as he smiled. “I knew it.”
“That you’re a virgin.”
“Depends on what you mean by the word.”
“That you never fucked anyone. What else would I mean?”
Why? Paul thought. Why the insistence? Then his study of psychology that spring as a Yale freshman bore fruit. “Couldn’t be that you’re a virgin too, could it?”
“You’re pretty quick to deny it.”
“Think what you want to think, man. You’re just slow to admit it.”
“No I’m not. I just wanted to make sure that you and I had a common understanding of what you were trying to say.”
He snickered. “Yeah right.”
Paul admitted to himself that his explanation sounded a bit strained, even evasive, but who went around announcing the fact that he was a virgin? At least he was not hiding the fact like he still believed Eric was doing. He could have pressed him on this, but maybe he was telling the truth. And more important, it was not the focus he wanted them to have as they approached a gathering intended for prayer.
“Kind of strange,” Paul said, “that not going to bed with someone should be cause for shame. In most places the opposite is the case.”
“No place I’d want to live.”
“I’m not sure I’d want to live there, either, but don’t you think it would be nice not to feel pressured to do what feels good?”
Cinders crunched beneath their feet as they joined the last groups of campers before the rec hall. They trooped up the steps into the building. An usher handed each of them a mimeographed sheet of songs and prayers as they entered the door. All of the wooden benches were occupied by campers and counselors at the front of the hall, where the camp owner was about to start the service. Eric and he managed to find seats at the end of the last bench in the back corner of the hall.
He started to ask Eric if he had heard his question, but Eric was gazing intently at the camp owner, who began his speech about the importance of gathering for worship amidst the playing fields. Paul had never seen Eric look so serious, especially at services. If he didn’t know better, he would have said the boy was praying. Perhaps he had heard his question. He would let him mull it over until they could talk about it together.
Paul listened to Morty Zuckerman, the camp owner, take them through his history of the Jews. Now hoary-headed, Uncle Mort still stood as tall and regal before them as Paul recalled him having been those years he himself was a camper here. As he listened to that slightly hoarse, but stentorian voice that threaded through his memories of all those summers, Paul tried to understand what the ancient Hebrews fought so fiercely to defend and establish. He could relate to what motivated later Jews–the love of education, the achievements in art and science–but he could not feel the passion which stirred that first tribe. To be expected, he guessed–he had never set out with a bunch of refugees seeking some oasis in the desert–but he still would have liked to feel what they felt.
Eric got up.
“Where are you going?” Paul said.
“To the bathroom,” he replied. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Paul watched him walk quietly along the window and enter a door to the left of the stage, closing it behind him.
Thunder rumbled beyond the maples and pines from the lake. A cold breeze wafted through the window screens. The slate grey sky turned a purplish black, creased by silent distant lightning. The maples were a luminous green. There was a harsh rasping whisper through the pines, and a wave of spatter hit the front steps as rain began beating on the roof.
Crack went a flash of light in the trees.
Everyone turned to see a maple limb bristling with forks of flame crash onto the baseball outfield.
Another crack with a blaze of white light outside the windows shook the whole building. The ceiling lights flickered. A murmur rose swiftly among the congregation. The camp owner raised his hands and calmly urged everyone to settle down. The thunder was deafening. A little boy cried. Others craned their necks and then stood to watch the lightning dance upon the tree tops. Counselors rushed to the windows to swing up plywood covers for keeping out the rain. Eventually all the windows were boarded, muffling the thunder. They sat entombed in the racket of rain drumming the roof and the glare from the ceiling lamps.
“Settle down,” the camp owner repeated. “This shall pass.”
There was the rustle of paper as people took up their prayer sheets. The owner held up a silver cup and led the camp in the blessing of the wine.
Then in an instant two thoughts fused and flared up before Paul:
Samantha was not here.
Where was Eric?
No, he reasoned. Don’t even think that.
He moved quickly but quietly along the windows to the bathroom door. He tapped it with his knuckle. No response. He tried the knob. Locked. So he didn’t want to be disturbed. No big deal.
He padded back toward his seat when the rear hall door caught his eye. He knew it was stupid, but he knew he was not going to be able to sit through the service if he didn’t check this out. He went to the door and opened it slowly so as not to attract attention.
The rainfall was still loud and all-encompassing, but softer now. In the red clay mud, footprints headed around the back corner of the building to his left, coming from the stage end of the building to his right. HeeHe tracked them to their origin, which was beneath the ripped-open screen of the bathroom window.
He raced around the back corner of the building, followed the slicked-down dashes in the grass and crossed the cinder path to the dirt road, where a jagged line of footprint-shaped puddles pointed toward the lake.
He ran down the road beneath the trees, the rain in his face more a mist than a splattering. When the trees give way to a muddy clearing overlooking the lake between the dining hall and the main lodge, he saw him: Eric had just paddled his canoe beyond the red-and-white markers of the deep-water swim area. But actually in the canoe there were two stroking figures silhouetted black against the dusk-glowing expanse of the lake.
High-stepping it over the ruts foaming with madly-running rain streams, Paul made it to the canoe racks tucked beneath the dining hall. He grabbed a paddle, yanked the nearest aluminum vessel above him off a rack, nearly toppling under it. He dragged it over the dock and heaved it into the water, jumping down into it almost as soon as it smacked the lake’s surface. He started stroking furiously. The paddle was too short, making his strokes choppy and inefficient. He just kept stroking. No way was he going to catch them before they got to the island. They had at least a quarter mile lead.
“Hey!” he called out, hoping to stop them by letting them know they had not escaped. His voice was lost in the milky grey curtains of rain draping softer and softer upon the lake.
When he was more than half-way to the island, Eric and his companion reached it. Paul paddled faster and faster. A finer and finer veil, the rain became a memory of something having grazed his face. The sky turned from charcoal-grey to a deepening blue. An aura of yellow-green crowned the distant shore. As a cool breeze swept over the lake, there was nothing but the slurp and gush of his paddle cutting through the water. He entered the yawning dark cast by the island. Cricket chirp bloomed louder and louder as his canoe bottom suddenly scraped rocks.
He jumped out and raced up the path through the pines. The woods were flooded with a crescendo of echoing unbridled laughter. He reached the head of the path and came upon them in the pow-wow ring. In the instant before they saw him, Eric stood facing the ring of benches, quickly slipping on his shorts. The laughter came from Samantha, who lay naked in the mud. When they saw him, Eric turned and gawked slack-jawed. Allison smiled as she gained control of her laughter and beckoned with a wave of her hand.
“Welcome!” she cried. “The more virgins, the merrier!”
He looked at Eric.
“That’s right,” she said, gesturing toward him. “You should have seen his eyes pop when I tugged his shorts off.”
Paul was not sure whom he should be more angry at: Eric for being such a sneak or Samantha for now making a spectacle of him.
Eric dashed past him and down the path out of sight.
Paul turned to her. “You shouldn’t have said that, Samantha.”
“He’s a boy who thought he was a man,” she replied. “I thought you disliked him more than I did.”
“He’s still my camper. I’m just pissed off that he concocted this whole thing, and you went along.”
“Is that right,” she said. She rolled onto her stomach and began to stroke the mud with her thighs in a frog kick, the mud spurting up with each sweeping together of her legs, spattering her white buttocks with chocolate-colored specks.
“Please, Samantha,” Paul said looking away. He grabbed her clothes heaped on the ground and tossed them in her direction.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
“You’re being indecent.”
“You wanted to know what I was doing tonight.”
“I’ll see you by the canoes,” he said, turning to head down the path.
“What are you afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid.”
“Then what’s your rush?”
“I just don’t like seeing you like this.”
“Now you think I’m a whore, right?”
“No,” he replied. “I just know you’re more than this.” He walked quickly down the path.
When he arrived at the shore, the canoes were gone. Upon the lake he thought he saw the silhouette of Eric paddling his canoe with one arm as he clamped the other canoe to the opposite side of his own with his free hand. Then Paul understood: Eric was going to spread the rumor that he, the respected Uncle Mike, had planned this whole thing. Eric would be the one at camp dried off and relaxing on his bed when everyone returned to their cabins after services. They would think that Samantha and Uncle Mike did it in the rain. If he started swimming now, he might catch Eric before he got too far.
Footsteps racing down the path made him turn around. Allison nearly flew out of the woods and came to a stop beside him. Her white tee shirt seemed to glow in the weakening dusk-light. Caught on her jutting nipples, it rode upon her rising and falling breasts as she regained her breath. Her breathing, moist and warm, stroked his cheek.
“I thought you had gone,” she said.
He looked away quickly from her breasts and gestured out over the lake. “We…we have to catch him,” Paul said, taking a stride into the water.
She caught his arm. “Why?”
“Because — “
“I want you, Paul,” she said.
He stood speechless. “Is it just me you want?”
“Yes,” she said. “Eric was just a substitute. She paused. “Paul,” she said suddenly. She turned her head slightly as if the answer to the question she was about to ask was not the one she wanted to hear. “You do want it, don’t you? I mean, from a woman?”
“Well, sure,” he began, “but not the way–”
“Fine,” she said. “Just leave and wonder what it could have been like.”
A wave broke upon the little stones around them. She turned away from him, her shoulders suddenly shuddering. Then he heard her whimper.
“Just go, all right?” She sniffled.
He said, “Would you dance with me?”
There was the slooshing of her feet through the water and then her hand took his, her other hand touching his other arm. Hers were cool hands with long slender bones. They swept over his shoulders and slid slowly down his back like a wave receding on a beach. Encircling the small of his back, her arms drew his groin into hers, her heat seeping through his pants against the underside of his now stiffening penis. She unzipped his pants. The pant legs collapsed in cool wet heaps around his ankles as she whipped her tee shirt up over her head, her breasts welling up into his face, two melons goose-pimpled and quivering. He licked, he nibbled, he feasted. Her hands worked the fields of his flesh. They stroked, caressed–they knew his every swell and hollow. They guided his groping paws and tongue to probe and prick her sweetest patches until they lowered themselves into the lake. She flipped onto him with little stones pressing into his shoulder blades. His penis broke the water’s surface and slowly sliced up between her thighs. She lifted and then descended, and he had the funniest feeling: his penis was gone. It had gone inside her, but it felt like it was just not there, like he was home and rooted and this was what it was to be a woman–no: to be nothing. Yet her rocking did not cease. And within her rocking he reached and reached and reached–and there–yes, there, he saw them: the milky wave of stars that crested upon this night, a night so kind that the breeze in the leaves and the ring of the crickets and lapping of the lake gathered and sighed around them in one embracing music.
Then came the tender roar of voices in unison from the camp’s shore, the song, the outcry that had survived the ages now echoing over the lake to announce the end was near for this night’s service:
Sh’ma Yisroael, adonai elohenu, adonai echad.
The song subsided beneath a gust of wind. It lingered, though, with something known and revered amidst the strange and lonely wilderness stretching over the waters to them. It said, You: you, too, are Jews. And he felt like they had been here together. Not this location, not in this life, but this place of spirit in another time and a time before that and a time before that. So this, he thought, this was it.
He slowly rolled to the side, lowering Samantha to lie beside him in the water. Her hair was cool and wet upon his face. Her breathing was warm and sweet. Her caress enveloped him in a silky calm.
“Would you marry me?” he said.
She laughed so hard that the laughter threw her head back, her arm flying off him with a splash into the water. “Ah, Paul,” she said. “You’re too much.”
She looked at him. “You really mean it.”
Then he realized what he had said. “I guess so,” he said. “I mean, of course I do. I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t feel it. If I had known it could be like this, I would have asked you sooner.”
She began to grin.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
She pursed her lips and stroked his cheek.
“Tell you what,” she said. “If you feel this way the next time, we’ll talk about it.”
“But why talk? We know–”
She kissed his lips in a long sweet kiss and then drew back.
“Indeed,” she said. “Why talk.” She rose with the little roar of water cascading off her.
“But don’t you agree?” Paul said, springing to my feet. “Don’t you see we were meant to be together?”
She stepped back a bit, her eyes at first wide with surprise, but then softening as they observed him. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Paul,” she said, touching his arm. “But what I see is someone who just lost his ignorance. You want to put it all together inside some kind of justification. But you’re making this into what it isn’t.”
His jaw dropped.
“Please,” she said. “Just don’t expect. There’s more, believe me. A lot more. Just be with me.” She dipped her head to one side to catch his eye. “Okay?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Come,” she said taking my hand. “You were right.”
“I owe Eric an apology. Let’s catch him.”
She raised an eyebrow and nodded slowly as she lowered herself to begin breaststroking. Then came the grin. “That’s still a possibility, isn’t it.”
* * *