Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online


Rocinante
An Aerial Adventure
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2011



Chapter 7

Jackie started the night sleeping on top of her sleeping bag in her flannel pajamas, but somewhere over the course of the night she got cold enough she slipped into her sleeping bag without waking up enough to notice. In her dreams, Mark had not stopped the idea of a midnight skinny-dip; they had stripped off their clothes, gone down to the little beach, frolicked in the water a little, splashed water on each other. After a while, in her dream, theyíd walked back up to the tent, and heíd taken her in his arms for a long, heartfelt kiss, bare bodies pressing together, his manhood pressing hard against her, making her ache for what would come . . . and . . . and . . .

She found herself surprised and a little sorry on waking to be in her own sleeping bag, wearing her flannel pajamas. The dream had been so real, so wonderful.

Outside, she heard the hiss of one of the stoves. Mark was making coffee, already fully dressed. "Have a good nightís sleep?" he asked.

"I think so," she said, still unable to shake off her dream. "Did we go swimming last night, after all?"

"Did you have the same dream I did?" he asked.

"I think so," she said shyly.

"God," he said. "That alligator was as big as a house. Iím not sure how bad I want to go swimming today." Mark didnít know that his dream had ended up much the same as Jackieís, although it was a bit more adventurous getting there.

"I guess Iím glad we didnít go skinny-dipping then," she said. "It would have been fun."

"Weíll have to do it some time when we know there arenít any alligators around," he smiled. "You want a cup of coffee?"

"Of course," she replied. He poured hot water and mixed her a cup of instant.

While she lay there sipping it, half out of her sleeping bag, he busied himself around the campsite. "Iíve been thinking about it," he said. "Itís a long walk into town, and Iím not sure we want to leave the campsite unattended. After all, other people are going to start showing up for the launch. Why donít I make the hike today, while itís still early and cool for the first part, anyway? I can get water, anyway, although I donít know what else will be open on a Sunday morning. Then, tomorrow, when the stores will be open, you can make another water run and go shopping for a swimsuit and whatever else you want."

She thought about it for only a moment; his suggestion made sense. "Take what water you need," she suggested. "Leave the rest here, and I can take a sponge bath while youíre gone."

"Sounds good," he told her. "Iíll hold your coffee if youíll dump my pack out and hand it out here. Iíll be long enough you can sleep in a while if you want."

"Get me some sunscreen and sunglasses, if you can find them," she added as an afterthought.

There were perhaps a couple of quarts of water left in some pans when he put the canteens and water bottle in his otherwise empty pack and headed for the highway. Jackie set the coffee cup out into the sand and snuggled back down into her sleeping bag.

*   *   *

The sun was barely peeking over the horizon behind Mark as he reached the highway and set out on the causeway toward the far shore. The dew was still heavy, and he was a little surprised there was no fog; the air was quite heavy. He would have hitched a ride if he could. There was little traffic on the causeway, and virtually all of it was headed the other way; not surprising, as people would have to be getting to work over at the launch complex. While work had probably gone on all night, there would be people who would be working days, even though this was a Sunday.

With the pack riding lightly on his back, he settled into an even, fast pace, not like the slow, heat-beaten trudge of the morning before. He hoped he would be able to hitch a ride coming back, as the sun would be up higher and beating down on him.

Although it was a good idea to leave Jackie at the campsite, it hadnít been necessary. But he had wanted to get off by himself for a while, to be alone, to think about things. His dream of the night before had been all too real; Jackie had come to him willingly, although still frightened by the alligator sheíd stepped on in the dark. While he had enjoyed having Jackie along on the trip, it was clear having her along was going to generate complications he hadnít thought of when the offer had been made.

Damn it, did he want to marry the girl? That it would be an inevitable result of the trip was not a foregone conclusion, but it seemed like every day something happened to draw them closer. It was getting harder and harder to be like a brother to her; she had released feelings in him that had been bottled up since heíd said goodbye to Mei-Ling.

The thought of Mei-Ling startled him; he realized it had been some time since he had thought of the little Chinese-Thai prostitute, and, now, his mental image of her wasnít as vivid as it had been even a couple of weeks before.

Clearly he was falling in love with Jackie.

There it was; heíd never admitted it to himself before, but once the word was out, it felt comfortable.

What would it be like to be married to Jackie? It would remove the barriers between them, barriers they themselves had set. Heíd never really thought about what it would be like to be married, to Jackie or to anyone else, even Mei-Ling. Jackie was a nice girl, quiet and contemplative, intelligent and sensible, interested in many things he was interested in. He thought about several of his friends who had long since been married, and some of them divorced, and he realized a few of the latter had never been as comfortable with each other as he was with Jackie.

But people change; clearly, this trip was going to change both of them, perhaps for the better, perhaps not. After all, marriage hadnít worked out for Jackieís mother, certainly not to her benefit, or anyone elseís.

Mark remembered back to the cold of the hangar in Spearfish Lake, with Jackie on one side of the wing, himself on the other, when she had told him about her mother. Mark had no idea of what could have shoved her mother over the edge, but doubted it had been her father; he was too nice of a guy. It had to have been something inside. Was Jackie right to fear it could happen to her, too? Where would it leave him?

He pounded on up the causeway with an even pace, thoughts heavy on his mind. It was clear to him that he and Jackie did not have much farther to go before turning back would be a lot harder. It would not have taken much of a suggestion last night, not much effort on his part, to have found himself making love to Jackie, whether she was ready or not, and he suspected she was closer than either of them thought. How close, neither of them would know, until with some gesture, some remark, some touch, they would find themselves in each otherís arms. Under ordinary circumstances he would have welcomed it, but it begged two questions: was she important enough to him to not risk losing her by doing something before its proper time Ė but was she important enough to him to risk hanging on to her, in spite of an unknown factor of what could come?

He knew for damn sure heíd better be able to give the right answer to both questions before he went too much further. For the moment, the tentative answer to both of them was "yes!"

Perhaps sex might come without facing up to a final decision about the second question Ė but if it did, it would be awkward if the answer to the second question turned out to ultimately be "no" Ė or if it turned out to be wrong.

If she hadnít been with him on the trip, then neither question would probably have come up Ė but if he hadnít brought her with him, he might well have missed something worth the effort.

The thoughts churned over and over in his mind as he pounded his way across the causeway Ė Jackie, her mother, sex, his own desires, marriage. Then, out of nowhere, came a thought that made him stop and sit down on a rock, looking out over the water.

Obviously, some kind of stress, whatever it was, must have had something to do with what had happened to Jackieís mother. The strain of Jackie living with him, with all the ongoing sex-related tension, had to be as stressful on her as it was on him.

Things bend before they break.

Perhaps how well Jackie stood up to the stress of traveling with him, living with him, would give him a good idea of what he needed to know.

Oh, well. If Jackie couldnít take the stress, it was better to know now. If they wound up having sex, they wound up having sex. If it got awkward, it got awkward. The only thing to do would be to let nature take its course, without pushing matters, and see what happened.

If he could get along without a hard dick doing his thinking for him, so much the better, but if it happened, it happened.

Mark got back up and started again toward the far shore, which seemed a lot nearer, now.

*   *   *

Jackie lay in her sleeping bag a while longer, but sleep wouldnít come. She knew she should have never had that cup of coffee; it had wakened her more than she liked. Finally, her aching bladder told her she could wait no longer.

It was strange to go outside the tent knowing Mark wasnít there. She did walk a ways away from the camp before relieving herself, but wasnít self-conscious about it like she had been before. She had only been with Mark a few days, now, but it seemed strange to have him away from her. She had grown comfortable with him, comfortable even with the thought that what she had dreamed might happen, could happen, and was even likely to happen, sooner or later. If it did happen, it would remove a lot of barriers between them; they could be even more comfortable with each other.

The question she pondered Ė as she started the stove going again, made some more coffee, and brushed out her hair Ė was whether to just go ahead and let it happen.

There wasnít much water left, but, with Mark gone and no one else around, it was too good an opportunity to not take some sort of a bath. After giving it a good thought over coffee, while she sat on the sand in her pajamas, she realized she would have a lot better bath if she went down to the beach and did her heavy washing, then came back up to the camp to rinse off in the fresh water.

It would have been better if sheíd had a swimsuit, she knew, but the little beach was mostly out of sight of the highway, and even thinking about skinny-dipping with Mark had emboldened her a little. No longer worried about it, she finished her coffee, stripped off her pajamas, got a bar of soap, and walked nude down to the beach.

After Markís remark about the alligator, she couldnít bring herself to go into the water very far, and she looked it over carefully before she waded in up to her knees, and then sat down on the sandy bottom. The salt water didnít raise much lather with the little bar of soap, but she did feel a little cleaner after a while. Still, it seemed strange to be out there in the open, naked as a jaybird, and she made a quick job of it, then hiked back up to the camp.

A wet washcloth in what was left of the fresh water did a pretty good job of removing the stickiness of the salt water, and soon she stood under the sun shade, still nude, still a little surprised at her boldness. The sun was getting up a little now, putting a little temperature into what would obviously be a warm day, and the heat of the sun and the gentle little breeze that had sprung up dried her off rapidly. It would be a long time before Mark got back, she realized, and the sun felt good, if still too early to add to her tan much, and feeling it some more would be nice.

Still nude, she picked up her as-yet unused towel and walked around to the sunward side of the hummock, where she spread the towel out on the sand and lay down on it.

She lay back and let the growing warmth of the sun course through her, struck by the difference that only a few days could make. Even a few days ago, in the depths of a Spearfish Lake winter, she would have never dreamed of sunning herself naked, yet here she was, thinking nothing of it. A lot had happened in a very short time.

In the far-off distance, she could make out the top of the Saturnís gantry, just poking itself above the brush. Anyone on top of the gantry, with a telescope at least as good as Markís, could get quite an eyeful if they were to happen to look in the right direction, she thought, although it didnít seem likely, and she wouldnít know if they did.

She thought about the rocket, and the pictures she had seen of it, thrusting itself up into the sky, and all of a sudden broke out laughing. She knew some people saw the rocket as a phallic symbol, its powerful hard maleness thrusting itself up into . . . the thought lead inextricably to the dream she had had of Mark, thrusting his powerful, hard maleness into her as she lay there, wanton and anxious for it.

The symbolism was so trite that she couldnít help herself. They had come close last night; very close, indeed. A word, a nod, the slightest advance on her part, and it would have happened; her virginity, this morning, would have been in the past tense, and she didnít know whether she was happy or sorry it was still intact.

She thought about Kirsten, her best friend, with her fiancé missing in Vietnam. Kirsten had been down that road, who knew how many times, out there on the top of Turtle Hill. She was paying for it now, in agony over her lost Henry, but sheíd had a lot of fun with him before he left; she hadnít let the moment pass by. Dreams of Kirsten and Henry in the back seat on Turtle Hill brought her to thinking directly about Mark and herself, perhaps here on this very beach.

It would have been so easy . . . why hadnít she just kissed Mark, maybe let her hands wander a little, and let nature take its course? Was it because her dad and Sarah expected her to be a good girl? Was it because she had expected herself to be a good girl? Was it because she was supposed to be a good girl? Just what did her dad and Sarah think she was doing with Mark, anyway? They would have a pretty good suspicion of what was going on, and even though their suspicions were totally wrong, they wouldnít believe the truth. Perhaps, the next moment the time was right, she should just let it happen . . .

Suppose she let it happen? Would they think any less of her? More important, would Mark think any less of her?

The thought surprised her. She knew she cared a lot about Mark, but, ultimately, was he that important to her? Could she imagine herself married to Mark?

It was not hard to imagine. He was a nice guy, easily the nicest she had ever known. Unlike Hjalmer, she could see making a life with this quiet, intense man, and it didnít seem like it would be an unpleasant life. Very likely, it had already started, and making it permanent didnít seem like such a big leap, now that she thought about it.

If everything went right, it could happen. If everything went right, they could make a life together . . . if everything went right.

It hadnít gone right with her mother, after all, and she had lived with the fear that things might not go right for her ever since she had been old enough to comprehend it. Was it fair to saddle Mark with such a risk? Was it fair that she was saddled with it?

Worse, was it fair to saddle a child with it?

She lay back, amazed at the thought. Up to this point she had only kissed Mark twice, once at the Spearfish Lake airport, and once at the airport in Kentucky, and here she was, thinking about having children with him!

Still, it was a fair question. Best answer it now, before things get too serious. Perhaps, if she couldnít answer it now, sheíd better get the money out of her pack and get on a bus back to Spearfish Lake, before things got any deeper.

No, it wasnít fair to saddle a child with it. Whatever else happened, there would be no children, period. Deep in her gut, she realized if she stayed on the trip with Mark, sheíd better start taking precautions, just in case. It would at least put off the final answer to the question for a while, and it could wait a few years.

Was it fair to Mark? After all, it wasnít like he didnít know of her concern, although she should remind him if things got any more serious. Having fun wasnít a problem, even if the fun extended to sex when the time came. Marriage, though . . . perhaps she should try to keep the lid on, just in case.

The sun was getting up more, now. She didnít know how long Mark had been gone, or how soon he would be getting back, but she realized sheíd better get back to the tent and get some clothes on. Itíd be best not to give him any ideas Ė not today, anyway.

Jackie had her cutoffs and halter top back on when Mark got back to the tent, carrying a full pack. "I got water," he said. "I got you sunglasses and sunblock. Best of all," he said, setting the pack down, and opening it, "I got this."

"What?" Jackie asked.

Mark pulled the pack open. Jammed inside, so tight that she couldnít see how heíd squeezed it in without destroying it, was a foam cooler. Inside was an ice-cold six pack of cola, the ice around it still rattling.

"Hey, thatís great!" she said, impulsively putting her arms around him and giving him a quick kiss: number three, she counted in her mind.

"I was able to hitch a ride back," Mark said. "I wanted to get beer, but you canít on Sunday mornings."

"A beer would be nice," Jackie said, reaching into the cold water, pulling out one of the colas, and opening it in one quick move, "But this is perfect."

*   *   *

It was still early the next morning when Jackie, dressed in blouse and cutoffs, finished her coffee, picked up her pack with the now-empty foam cooler and a small collection of their dirty laundry stuffed inside, and started for the highway.

As much as she had sex on her mind while Mark had been gone yesterday, the afternoon and evening had been very low-key by comparison. Sheíd posed for another couple of drawings that still showed her more beautiful than she felt, but she was happy for the compliment. While shopping, Mark had bought a book, but rather than curling up with it, suggested they read it to each other. It turned out to be a good book, Leaves of Grass, by a poetry collection by Walt Whitman, and it led to a lot of discussion and not much reading. Still, it was nice to lie in the shade, with her head on his stomach, and read about praising nature and the individual humanís role in it. They hadnít made it through the book, not by a long shot, and it looked like it would provide several interesting afternoons to come. Sheíd lain out in the sun a bit, too Ė although not naked, like she had been earlier. In the evening, theyíd looked through the telescope some more, and had built a little fire out of dead brush and driftwood. It had been an idyllic day, one to remember as she started out across the causeway.

She was used to walking, and liked it, although not in the extreme heat they had endured Saturday. Her long legs carried her along rapidly, although the causeway seemed to stretch out endlessly. She resolved to stop and take a break somewhere along the way, but never felt quite like it, so she made good time across the causeway and turned to follow the highway into town.

As luck would have it, she did not have to go far towards the center of town before she found a doctorís office: the highest priority item on her mental shopping list, the one she hadnít revealed to Mark. The office wasnít open yet, a sign said, although it would be soon; she sat down to wait.

It was more than a little embarrassing to explain to both the receptionist and then the doctor why she had come, but she was hardly the first girl the doctor had met with her request. After a brief examination and history, she was given a prescription for six monthsí worth of birth control pills, and told of a drug store at a shopping center a half mile up the road.

With grateful thanks that her stop at the doctor hadnít been worse, Jackie set out up the road to the shopping center. The druggist, fortunately, was a woman and didnít have any smart remarks; Jackie stuffed the little oblong boxes into the side pocket of her pack and resolved to keep them a secret from Mark. Still embarrassed, and glad no one knew her, she also bought some condoms at the drug store, since the doctor had told her it would be a while before the pills took effect.

There was a clothing store a couple of doors up from the drug store, and Jackie went there, next. She quickly picked out another pair of shorts, and a couple of T-shirts, one of them reading "Cape Kennedy, Florida Ė Americaís Spaceport", the other one plain white. Then, she went looking for swimsuits.

With her long torso and slender build, Jackie was hard to fit for a one-piece swimsuit, which was what she really wanted, partly because it was what she was used to, and partly because it might not be so suggestive. However, she didnít see anything she liked that had any chance of fitting. Finally, a short, heavy-set salesgirl with a thick southern accent told her, "You ought to try a bikini. You really have the build for one."

"You think so?" Jackie said. "Iím too thin for one."

"Nonsense," the girl said. "I wish I could wear one, but Iím too heavy. Now, you have the perfect build for a bikini, and since youíre so hard to fit for a one-piece, you really ought to try one."

It finally came down to a choice between a green terry-cloth bikini, held together with plastic rings at the hips and between the breasts, and a nylon number with a brown and gray paisley type print; it seemed even scantier than the green one. "Which one do you like?" she asked the salesgirl.

"I think I like the brown one," the girl said. "I think it would be a little sexier on you. Besides, the nylon will dry out in about fifteen seconds, while the terry-cloth one will take all day. I donít like laying around in a wet swimsuit."

The salesgirlís argument made sense; Jackie decided to take the brown and gray one, but wondered if sheíd have the courage to wear it in front of Mark. At least it was lightweight, and the top could double as a halter top. Maybe when they were backpacking, the bottom could double as a spare pair of panties, too, she realized.

With that under control, she put her purchases in the pack and headed back toward the causeway. She had seen a convenience store not far from the corner, and decided to tank up the water jugs and get some cold beer there; there was no point in carrying the weight an inch farther than necessary.

She stopped at the store, bought a candy bar, and surveyed the magazine rack, but didnít see anything she really wanted to buy. She bought some food, ice, and beer and filled the jugs, then realized she was going to have to walk with all this back across the causeway in the warming morning. The load would be at least as heavy as the one sheíd packed over the causeway the first time. It would be hot when she got back; she didnít look forward to carrying everything and wished she dared hitchhike, as Mark had done the day before.

As she walked out of the store, a short, blonde girl about her age left a taller man beside a car with their home-state license plate. Seeing the plate, so far away from home, made Jackie feel a little less far from home. "Hi, neighbor," she said, slinging her pack.

The girl came up to her. "Hi," she said. "Are you camping around here?"

"Over on the other side of the causeway," Jackie told her.

"Is your campground full?" the girl asked. "The woman inside said she doesnít know much about the campgrounds around here, and my husband and I are looking for a place to camp until the launch."

"Weíre not in a campground," Jackie told her. "My boyfriend and I are just tenting for free out in the scrub, just at the other end of the causeway. Thereís no johns or anything, but plenty of room."

The girlís husband came over and joined them. "All the campgrounds for miles around are full, and they arenít crazy about people tenting, anyway. Theyíd rather rent a site to someone with a motor home forty feet long."

"Well," Jackie said, "Youíre welcome to camp over around us, somewhere. I guess itís OK; we never asked. We just walked in off the road a ways."

"Whereíd you leave your car?"

"Didnít bring a car," Jackie said. "We flew in, and backpacked the rest of the way."

"Youíre walking?" the girl asked. "Weíll give you a ride."

Jackieís new friends proved to be Roger and Kathy Griswold, from Arvada Center, perhaps a hundred and fifty miles south of Spearfish Lake; Jackie could remember flying over the little crossroads town while she had been following where she and Mark were going, their first day out of Spearfish Lake.

It only took a few minutes to get back across the causeway. A hundred yards past the little path into their campsite, Roger found a little-used two-rut path out into the brush that stopped after a short ways. Probably a place where kids went to park and make out, Jackie realized, but a perfect place to leave the car where it wouldnít be noticed.

She led the hometown couple into their camp, where Mark was standing, shaving, wearing a T-shirt and a swimsuit heíd bought the day before. "I brought us some company," Jackie told him.

"I didnít expect weíd be out here by ourselves forever," Mark said.

"This is Roger and Kathy Griswold," Jackie said, making introductions. "And this is my boyfriend, Mark."

"You like some coffee?" Mark said. "The waterís hot."

They had to scramble to come up with four cups Ė Jackie wound up drinking coffee out of a small cooking pot as they sat and got to know each other. "I take it youíre down here to see the launch, too," Roger said. "Iíve never seen one. It ought to be great, but as soon as we see it, weíre about going to have to be getting home."

"Vacationís about over, huh?" Mark asked.

"No," Roger said. "Iím a farmer. I work about 800 acres of grain and dairy cattle with my dad."

"Seems like itís getting time to start plowing," Jackie commented.

"Well, normally it would be," Roger said. "But itís been kind of cold and wet, and when I talked to my dad a couple of days ago, he said we might as well stay over an extra week, since weíre on our honeymoon and all."

Mark shrugged. "I guess, being a farmer, June wouldnít exactly be the prime time for a honeymoon."

Roger snickered a little; Kathy set down her coffee cup and blushed. "Letís just say our wedding was a little unplanned. I mean, we sorta had to get married," she finally stammered.

"We were going to get married anyway," Roger said, just a little shyly. "But it didnít quite come off like weíd planned. But, I think itíll work out for the best."

Mark looked at Jackie, who looked back at him, just as hard. Not a word was exchanged, but their faces carried all the communication they needed. Jackie was very relieved at her stop at the doctorís and her purchase at the pharmacy earlier that morning. "If thatís what you think, then itís all that matters, I guess," Mark said diplomatically.

Now it was Rogerís turn to blush a little. "Itís just this sort of thing isnít supposed to happen to Methodists."

"But it did," Kathy added. "It ought to work out in time, though."

Mark shook his head. "The best thing is to not let it bother you. If you want to camp here, letís finish our coffee and Jackie and I will help you unload. Thereís a nice little spot to camp around the bay a bit."

Camping out of their car, Roger and Kathy had quite a bit more gear than the backpacking Mark and Jackie, and several trips were required through the brush to the little campsite fifty or so yards away. They had a large umbrella tent and heavier sleeping bags, a cooler and a camp stove, another sun fly, and even a table that cunningly unfolded to seat four in only moderate discomfort. The day was warm by the time the Griswoldís camp was set up. "You guys like a cold beer?" Roger asked.

"Love one," both Jackie and Mark chorused. The four of them sat down under the Griswoldís sun fly and talked about their travels. It was clear Roger and Kathy had tried to see everything there was to see in Florida in two weeks. The Griswolds, however, were fascinated by Mark and Jackieís trip. "Iím tired of traveling after two weeks," Kathy said. "Iím just looking forward to staying in the same place for a few days. I canít imagine being gone all summer, or even longer."

"Well, weíre still getting used to it," Jackie said, sipping at her beer.

"You rebuilt this airplane of yours?" Roger asked.

"We rebuilt it, Jackie and I," Mark said. "In fact, we only finished it a week ago today."

"It does not seem that long," Jackie said. "It seems like it must have been a year."

"I think you guys are going to have a wonderful time," Kathy said. "Me, Iím about ready for a swim. Is the beach any good?"

"Iíve only been out about waist deep, earlier this morning," Mark said, "But the bottom is pretty solid. You mind if we join you two?"

"Sure, come on," Roger said. "Weíll get changed and meet you down there."

Mark drained his beer, but Jackie took another sip and took the can with her. They walked around the hummock where the telescope sat, and down to their tent.

As soon as they were out of earshot of the Griswolds, Jackie said in a low voice, "Do you get the feeling of, ĎThere but for the grace of God, et cetera?í"

"I donít know," Mark told her. "They obviously fit together pretty well. It might not be all bad. Iíve got one question though."

"Whatís that?"

"What happened to our brother and sister act?"

"I donít know," Jackie said. "I guess Iíd just be more ashamed of lying than I am of the truth, especially to someone from so close to home."

Since Mark already had his swimsuit on, he waited outside while she changed. She hadnít confronted the thought of actually having to wear the gray and brown bikini in front of Mark, yet, although she knew sooner or later she would; wearing it in front of total strangers made her hesitate even more, although there wasnít a lot of choice, now. She wiggled out of her clothes and pulled the tiny pieces of fabric on; there seemed to be very little cloth and an awful lot of her. She hesitated at the tent flap, a little scared to be seen as nearly undressed as she was. She was going to be so embarrassed . . .

She heard Kathyís voice float up from the water: "Are you guys coming?"

"Be right with you," Mark called back.

There was no putting it off. Mark would have to see her dressed like she was. For an instant, she thought of pulling on a T-shirt, but knew that only put off what was to come; then, she threw back the tent flap, crawled outside, and stood up.

Mark let out a low whistle. "Wow," he said, "You look great. You make me proud youíre my girlfriend."

Having faced up to the inevitable, Jackie turned around so he could get a better view. "You like it?" she asked.

"No," he said. "I love it. Letís get down to the beach."

Before she could have any more second thoughts, he took her by the hand, and together they walked down to where Roger and Kathy waited.

The other couple was already frolicking in the water when Mark and Jackie arrived. It hadnít been quite clear before, but now they could see Roger, though shorter than Mark, was considerably more muscled; with his hat off, they could see he was already starting to go bald. Kathy probably weighed about what Jackie did, but her weight was packed into a frame nearly a foot shorter; she was a lot more rounded out than Jackie, and perhaps even a little heavy for her red and white bikini, which was scanty even by Florida standards.

The next half hour was rambunctious; there was a lot of splashing and yelling and horseplay, but very little swimming actually went on. Jackie didnít have much time to feel self-conscious about wearing her new bikini; she was having too much fun playing in the sun and the water with Mark and their new-found friends.

After a while, the four of them wound up lying on towels on the shoreline, talking and letting the sun and the air dry them off. "This is such a great spot," Kathy gushed. "Jackie, Iím glad we met you. This is the best time Iíve had on this trip."

"You mean we havenít had other great times?" Roger said, joking.

"This whole trip has been wonderful, you big old dog, you," the little blonde said, rolling on her side to face her husband.

"Thatís more like it," he said, rolling over to face his wife. Mark and Jackie could see the other coupleís arms around each other, with some heavy-duty kissing going on as two pairs of hands wandered over their partnerís body, nearly oblivious of the watching eyes.

"Iím glad you brought them," Mark whispered to Jackie, laying close beside him. "Theyíve been fun."

Jackie rolled up on her side, mostly to look at Mark, but she couldnít help but see the scene a few feet away. She could see Rogerís hands untie the back string of Kathyís bikini, and could not help but wonder how it would feel to have Markís arms around her that way. "They seem to be enjoying themselves," she whispered back, then rolled over further to kiss him.

In but an instant she felt Markís arms enfold her, and her arms went around him. She could feel the roughness of the sand sticking to his arms as they pressed on her skin, laid bare by the bikini, and could feel his hands as they groped up and down her body, and everything felt wonderful. Somewhere in there, she could feel Markís hand on her breast. His touch felt warm and glowing, and she arched her back to draw herself closer to him.

How long they lay there, kissing and groping and nuzzling, they never knew. It seemed like an instant, and it seemed like forever, and neither of them wanted it to stop.

Looking over Markís shoulder, Jackie could see Roger and Kathy get up. "Look," she whispered to her boyfriend.

Mark rolled over and broke contact to look over his shoulder, to see their friends scamper up the path to their tent, arm in arm; Kathy was carrying her bikini top in her hand. He rolled back over to face Jackie and whispered, "Now, is that inspiring, or what?"

Jackie pulled him tight and kissed him again. They kissed for a long time before she whispered in his ear, "Do you want to go up to the tent?"

Mark kissed her briefly and whispered back, "Do you really want to?"

Jackie pulled him tight, and was silent for a moment. "I guess not," she said, "But Iím willing to if you want to."

They pulled each other tight and held on for a while before he whispered back, "When youíre ready, Iím ready." And he was ready, painfully so. "But if youíre not ready," he continued, "Then Iím not."

"I want to say yes so bad it hurts," Jackie said, a tear coming to her eye. "But I donít think we should." Mark held her tight; she could feel his strong arms around her bare body. She stayed silent for quite a while, just trying to draw herself closer and convince herself she had made the right decision. "I mean, sheís married and sheís already pregnant."

"Itís not like itís the same thing," Mark whispered back.

Jackie was crying a little more now, and Mark could feel it. "She was pregnant before she got married, and I donít want it to happen to us," Jackie said. "I donít want to get pregnant and have you feel you have to marry me."

"It seems like it worked out for them," Mark said quietly, "But I guess youíre right. Maybe weíd better quit this and go get dressed."

"Thatís not it," Jackie said. "I donít ever want to have a baby and have it risk what happened to my mother happen to me." Jackie was quiet for a little longer. Mark could hear her sob a little, and then say, "Can we just lay here and hold on to each other?"

"Of course," Mark said, pulling her to him even more closely, and she held on as if the whole world would come apart if she let go.

Neither of them knew how long it was they lay there, holding on to each other and kissing, but after a while, Jackie was able to realize just how much she enjoyed holding onto Mark, and having him hold onto her. There came a time that she was able to just rest her head on Markís shoulder and enjoy the closeness. "Mark," she said finally, "Would it offend you if I told you Iím falling in love with you, and I just donít know how to handle it?"

"Would it offend you if I told you the same thing?" he murmured.

"I mean it," she said, rolling onto her back, but keeping her head on his shoulder. "Youíve been so incredibly kind and understanding to me, and I just donít know what I should do."

"Well, just realize Iím falling in love with you, too, and I donít know how to handle it," he said. "But I keep being afraid Iíll make the wrong move and blow it, and I donít want to."

"Thatís just it," Jackie said. "Youíre such a nice guy, Iím not sure you should be falling in love with me. You could be letting yourself in for something neither of us can handle. Iíve had to live with it, but I donít know if I should ask you to live with the risk, too." She sat up, and looked at him. "I meant what I said about not daring to have a baby. I know I canít ask a child to live with the risk of losing me."

"Well, I can concede you that," Mark said, a smile growing on his face that was inexplicable to Jackie. "To be perfectly truthful, I havenít thought about it, but Iím not too crazy about kids, anyway. I mean, I was never very happy with myself as a kid. All I ever wanted to do was grow up so I could get away from kids."

"I guess youíre right. I mean, Iíve spent a lot of time with Johnnie, and I know what a pain he can be. Itís almost like Iíve had a kid of my own, and why bother? But thatís not the point, and you know it."

"Jackie," he said, "Thereís a risk youíll get smacked by a drunk driver the next time you walk across the causeway. Or chomped up by an alligator the next time you go swimming. We have to live with risks. These things happen. I guess all I can say is I can risk it with you, if you can risk it with me. Iím falling in love with you, and thatís worth a fair amount of risk."

"Iím falling in love with you, too," she said. "And, I think weíd better go up to the tent and get a beer and relax, or weíre going to have to go up to the tent and go inside."

"Iíd just as soon lie here and look at you," Mark smiled. "If we go up to the tent, youíre going to have to put your top on."

Jackie blushed and looked down at herself. Sure enough, her bikini top was lying in the sand; it had to have come off a long time before. No wonder Markís hand had felt so warm on her breast!

She took the top in one hand, and pulled him into a sitting position with the other. "Letís go get that beer," she said. "At least you told me about the bikini top before Roger and Kathy got back down here."

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