Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Mark had offered to do the laundry this time, but Jackie had some shopping she wanted to do, so she gave Mark first dibs on the shower. In spite of the powerful humidity in the laundromat, the air conditioning made it comfortable.
The small south Florida town baked in the midday sun. In a way, it was a rather shabby little town that could have used a bit more paint, a bit more grass, and a little less junk in the yards. The same could be said for many cities, including Spearfish Lake, but here there was a tropical languidness among the flat, swampy land and the palm, palmetto, and sand that indicated the mosquitoes could take it back at any moment.
Fortunately, there was a small clothing store not far from the laundromat that offered the potential for what Jackie needed: a different pair of pajamas. The flannel pajamas had proved to be much too hot for sleeping in the tent in the Everglades the past three nights; sheíd slept in her bikini, on top of her sleeping bag. It had been so uncomfortable sheíd thought about sleeping without even that on, but had realized there was a limit to how far she wanted to push temptation.
Tonight, temptation was going to be pushed pretty hard, too; they had rented a motel room, partly for the shower, and partly for the color TV, so they could watch the astronauts on the moon.
The only bed in the room was a double bed. Mark had offered to unroll his sleeping bag and sleep on the floor, but without thinking, Jackie had said it probably wouldnít be any different than sleeping next to each other in the tent. Only later did she realize sleeping next to Mark in a bed, wearing only her underwear or her bikini, was only going to make things more difficult. A lighter set of pajamas might offer a little more propriety, and might make things a little less difficult.
Back in the sleepwear department there was a pretty good selection, in spite of the small size of the store. Folks in these parts must do an awful lot of sleeping, she thought, but then it was kind of a sleepy town, anyway. She cast a long look at a transparent little "baby doll" outfit, realizing from the instant she saw it that the nightie quite clearly signaled, "Take me off! Take me off!" She wondered what she would look like in it, and wondered what it would be like to have Mark take it off her Ė some day. Not now, but some day. On the other hand . . .
She tore herself away from the naughty lingerie and found something a little more like what she was looking for: a loose lightweight cotton job, light green. The top had short sleeves, and was fairly long; it might even do for a top to wear during the day, if necessary. There were shorts that would reach halfway to her knees. It definitely wasnít a sexy outfit; it probably would do for her purposes.
After another long, lingering, wondering look at the baby-doll, she took the pajamas to the front of the store and paid for them.
The heat hit her like a brick again as she went outside; it was hard to endure. She had only been gone from a Spearfish Lake winter for a week and a half, and she hadnít yet become able to handle heat and humidity well, anyway; much as she enjoyed the warm weather, she was a North Country girl at heart. "How miserable it would be to live here," she thought.
While she had enjoyed the last three days of canoeing in the Everglades, it had also been pretty uncomfortable, hot and sticky and wet with sweat most of the time. While the mosquitoes werenít as voracious as they could get in the spring in the woods around Spearfish Lake, they were pretty bad.
While she sat in the laundromat and waited for the washer, then the dryer to finish their cycles, she let her mind unroll over their canoe trip.
There had been no one at the airport when they tied Rocinante down, and they had to hike into town. A man at a gas station had known of a place to rent a canoe, and had even been nice enough to drive them over to the livery. Both Jackie and Mark knew their way around canoes, and had even camped from them on several occasions, so it wasnít like they didnít know what they were doing Ė but their previous experience had been on northern rivers, not in a southern swamp.
Fortunately, the Everglades are a national park, and someone in the National Park Service had the intelligence to realize there were people who wanted to canoe in the place but didnít want to get lost in the almost featureless terrain. They had provided a marked canoe trail and even raised permanent tent sites at various places along the way.
Jackie had always been a girl who tanned easily, and she thought all the time she spent laying out in the sun over at Cape Canaveral should have made her burn-proof. But even the layer of sunblock she had put on as a precaution didnít keep her from getting a touch of sunburn as she spent hours on end in the open, sitting on one of the seats of the canoe. She hadnít quite realized the effect the sun bouncing off of the water would have. Markís skin was less burn-resistant skin; he had really suffered. They had used up all the burn ointment in their little first aid kits, and they stopped fairly often to dose him again with sunblock. At that, he had to wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt to cut down on further damage, despite the heat. Partway through the first day Jackie decided to forego her bikini for her remaining pair of jeans and a T-shirt, in spite of the heat.
That had only made it even more uncomfortable and sweaty. They had tried to rinse some of the stink out of their clothes in the brackish water, with only limited success, and the humidity was so high they had never really gotten dry again.
In spite of the discomfort and the sunburn, it had been an interesting trip. They met very few people, but there was so much to see! There was a wide variety of bird and animal life, and they spent a lot of time with Jackieís little backpacking binoculars, watching some of the exotic birds to be found. Mark had sketched some of the birds they saw, and they had agreed a bird book was going to be high on their list of priorities of things to buy. They didnít push hard, at least partly because of the heat, but partly because they wanted to enjoy the ever-changing panoply of nature that unfolded before them.
Theyíd learned to travel only in the morning and the evening, and stay quiet in the shade during the worst of the midday sun. During their long noon breaks, they did more bird watching, fished a little, read to each other, and Mark worked with his sketchpad and occasionally took photos. In the loneliness of the place, with virtually nobody else around even on the marked canoe trail, Jackie considered posing topless or even nude for Mark, but never could quite bring herself to make the offer.
They had originally planned to spend a week or so out in the Everglades, on a long tour, but midway through the second day they came to a good place to turn back and return by a different route. They both agreed it would be nice to get a motel room, take a good shower, and watch the astronauts on the moon. Their decision to turn back wasnít made lightly as they did want to watch the astronauts. They did agree, however, that they might want to do a longer Everglades canoe trip in the future.
With the laundry done, Jackie loaded it into her backpack and started off down the road toward the motel. She walked slowly in the heat, trying to avoid working up a sweat, but it was a long time before she made it back.
The motel was a grubby little mom-and-pop place that had seen better days, but it had the essentials they required: a shower, a television, and a bed. Fortunately, the motel also had an air conditioner, and it was working mightily to remove the humidity from Markís long shower when Jackie walked in the door. Mark was sitting on the bed in his underwear cutting his toenails.
"Here, put on some clean clothes," Jackie told him, opening her backpack.
Mark took the clothes she handed him, and joked, "I was beginning to wonder. I could see you leaving me here, with nothing to wear but a single pair of undershorts."
"Come on," Jackie said, "You know I wouldnít do that to you. Did you leave any hot water?"
"As far as I know," he replied. "I didnít have it cranked up real hot, but man, it felt good!"
Jackie grabbed some clean clothes, headed for the bathroom, and stripped. It felt good to get out of the grubby cutoffs, T-shirt, and underclothes. If she had a chance, they would be washed before she and Mark left town, and since it was a cheap motel room and the astronauts planned several EVAs, they would probably be there a couple of days.
How wonderful it was to use a flush toilet! Ė the first time in a week or more. How wonderful the shower felt! In the ten days she had been with Mark, she had been swimming several times, and had sponged herself off on occasion, but nothing made her feel cleaner than a nice, hot shower. She gave her hair a good wash and let the stream of water soak away the grime of days. She felt like a new person when she finally got out of the shower, toweled herself dry, and pulled on clean jeans. She started to pull on a bra, but her shoulders still stung from the sunburn. She decided to experiment with going without one, and just made do with a T-shirt. Her hair hung wet around her shoulders, but she hoped it would dry soon.
She came back out into the main room as Mark was turning the TV off. "Did you find out what time the EVA is?" she asked.
"They didnít say much about it, but it looks like itíll be in about three hours," he replied. "Itíll probably be a fairly long one, so we probably ought to think about getting something to eat before it starts."
"Can we wait an hour or so? Iíd kind of like to let my hair dry out a little before we go out."
"Sure," he said, "No reason why not."
"By the way," she asked, just a little curious, "Iím kind of wondering how you registered us here. Under both our names?
"No, ĎMark Gravengood, two in party,í" he said. "The question of being married never came up. Iíve got a feeling this is the kind of place where they donít ask too many questions they really donít want answered. You got anything you want to do while your hair is drying? Maybe read some more Leaves of Grass?"
"We could, I suppose," she said. "But when we came in here and I saw the phone, I realized I ought to try to call Dad and Sarah. I donít want to, but I know I should at least try."
Jackie hung her head and collapsed onto the bed beside him. "Petrified," she said quietly.
Mark reached out and pulled her to him. "Itís not going to be easy, I know, but itíll get worse the longer you wait."
"God, I know, Mark. What do I tell them? The truth? That despite my best efforts, Iím still a virgin?"
"Thatís not quite the truth, and you know it," he laughed despite himself. "Still, Iíd rather you didnít tell them that despite MY best efforts youíre still a virgin."
Markís attempt at a joke fell flat. She just shook her head, and he could see she was trying not to cry. It would not do to have her calling home if she was unhappy or upset; he wouldnít let her until she felt better.
"I never told my folks we were thinking about you coming along, either, and I never even left them a note," he said, far more serious now. "If they know youíre with me, itís only because they heard about it from your dad or Sarah. I guess I have to wonder about what they think about it, too."
"Itís a little different for you," Jackie said quietly. "Youíre a guy, and you were away for four years in the Army."
"Yeah, I suppose it is," Mark said. "But, I suppose it could be worse, too. Think about Roger and Kathy."
Jackie looked up at him. "I donít quite follow you."
"It had to be tough for them. Remember what Roger said? ĎThings like that arenít supposed to happen to Methodists.í Theyíre pretty serious about their church, and I got the impression their folks are even more serious. Donít you think it was tough for her to say, ĎHey, Mom, Iím pregnant!í It had to have been damned embarrassing, at best."
"She never talked about it, even when we were alone together," she said. "But I kind of got the impression they had patched things up with their families. Iíd bet they spent a long time on their knees, praying about it, before they told them."
"Iíd bet youíre right," he replied. "Would it make you feel any better if we prayed about it before we call your dad and Sarah, and my folks?"
"I donít know," she said, sitting up. "I donít think like that. I mean, I believe in God, and like that, but Iíve never been much of a church person. Dad kind of got mad at the church back home, back when I was little and Mom got sent away. He said he didnít get any help from them, just whispers and hypocrisy and gossip, and we never went to church after that. I was real little, then, and Iíve never gotten in the habit."
"I know what you mean," he nodded. "My folks were never real serious church-goers, and they kind of dropped out of the church years ago. But looking at Roger and Kathy kind of makes me think weíre missing out on something."
"It could be," she said. "You usually think of church people being pretty dull and narrow-minded and straight. Somehow, Roger and Kathy, drinking beer and racing up to their tent every chance they got, just donít fit into that mold. Maybe theyíve got something there."
"Maybe we ought to stick our noses into a church now and then on this trip, just to give us something to think about."
She thought about it for a moment. "Iíve never even read the Bible much," she said finally. "What do you think about when we get done with Leaves of Grass we get a Bible and read it the same way?"
"Letís just hold it to the New Testament," he said, noticing her attitude had improved a lot in the last few minutes. "At least to start off with. What I remember from Vacation Bible School is the Old Testament is mostly a lot of begats and only a little good stuff. Do you still want to call your dad and Sarah?"
"Iím still not looking forward to it," she said, more soberly. "I mean, letís face it. No matter what we tell them, thereís no way theyíre going to believe weíre not . . . oh, hell, Iíll say it anyway, weíre not screwing ourselves silly every chance we get, like Roger and Kathy. Iím not sure Iíd believe it myself."
"Youíre right," he nodded. "Under the circumstances, anybody would think that." He reached out and pulled her toward him again, to cuddle her close. "And, they would have a right to think it, no matter what the truth is."
"It might be easier if it was the truth."
He reached up with one hand to raise her head, so he could give her a kiss. As she pressed up against him, Mark realized all of a sudden she wasnít wearing a bra under her T-shirt, and the realization filled him with excitement. Several times, now, they had been so close to tearing down this final barrier between them that just a little shove, the right word or gesture on his part or hers, would have resulted in their making love. They had learned to live with the limits they had placed on themselves, even though both realized those limits were only temporary. Was this the time for a little word or gesture, perhaps a gentle touch of the breast burning him through the thin cotton of her T-shirt? Life with Jackie would be a lot simpler; there would be no more of this bottled-up tension, no more of having to juggle around simple things like changing clothes . . .
But somehow, this didnít quite seem like the right time. In the mood she was in, there wasnít much to keep her from picking up and going home. She could go home, let on he had made a pass at her and she had fended it off, and retain most of her honor. There wasnít much he could do to stop it, and heíd have lost her forever Ė but the longer she stayed with him, the less chance she would have to do it.
They kissed for a while, and she rested her head on his shoulder. "If thereís anything I can do to make it right," he said softly, "Then I will. If it comes down to getting married, then it comes down to getting married. Iím game."
"Iím not ready to get married, yet," she said. "Not that I wonít be ready to marry you some day, but not yet."
"Iím not ready, either," he admitted, "But Iíve come to realize the possibility is there, and Iíve kind of come to look forward to it. I think you and I know each other well enough now to say if we did decide to get married at the point weíre at, weíd stand a good chance of having a pretty good marriage. Knowing that, if getting married is what it takes, then Iím ready."
"But Mark, you know I like you an awful lot. Iím wondering if I like you so much Iím not willing for you to take the risk of marrying me. My mother . . . "
"Weíve been over that," he interrupted. "Itís a risk, I know, but itís one Iíll take if I have to. What youíre saying is youíd rather be married to someone who doesnít respect you, who beats the hell out of you every other day, just because you donít like him as much? Seems to me that would increase the risk of something happening to you, not lower it! Come on, Jackie, it doesnít make sense."
"Iím glad you feel that way," she smiled. "Itís not going to come down to getting married just yet, I think, but itís nice to know you feel that way."
"Iím not saying weíre going to get married," he said. "Although thereís a good chance itís going to happen. But, if we ultimately decide not to get married, that shouldnít be the reason. Good enough for you?"
"Good enough for me," she smiled.
"Are you ready to call home, now?"
She nodded. "As ready as Iíll ever be. I donít really want to do this, but I canít put it off much longer."
Jackie got up off the bed and went over to the phone, on the desk next to the television, dialed the operator, and placed a collect call to Spearfish Lake. When she heard her fatherís voice on the phone, she was seized with an almost overwhelming desire to hang up, but she swallowed and said, "Hi, Dad."
"Jackie," his voice came over the line. "We got your letter today. How are you?"
"Just fine," she said. "A little sunburned from being out in the canoe too much, but otherwise, Iím just fine."
"How was the canoe trip?" he asked.
"A lot of fun," Jackie replied, a little surprised. She had expected her father to fly off the handle at the sound of her voice, but he seemed interested, and not angry. She relaxed visibly and told him, "We saw alligators, and all kinds of birds. Itís really an interesting place. We wanted to spend more time out there, but we were both getting sunburned pretty bad."
"Is everything all right with you and Mark?"
"Couldnít be better," she told him. "Markís been a perfect gentleman, and weíve had a great time. Howís Sarah?"
"Sheís been a little worried about you," Walt said. "Hell, Iíve been a little worried about you, too, but I was pretty sure you were in good hands and werenít likely to get into any real trouble. You havenít, have you?"
"Except for the sunburn, no," she said, "And Mark got it a lot worse than I did."
Across the room on the bed, Mark let out an inaudible sigh of relief. From the trend of the conversation Ė and he was only hearing Jackieís end Ė things seemed to be going a lot better than either he or Jackie had feared. He hadnít expected any real negative feedback from his family about taking Jackie with him, unless the Archers had made some waves; now, he looked forward to a conversation with them, this evening when they were both home from work.
Jackie and her father talked for about fifteen minutes, with Jackie bringing him up to date on all the highlights of the trip, never intimating she or Mark had been anything but perfect little angels. She was much happier when she hung up the phone.
"Sounds like it went pretty good," he said.
She shook her head. "I think he thinks weíre sleeping together, I mean, the way most people would say it. But, I think heís made up his mind to accept it, since whatís done is done and thereís not much he can do about it."
"Well, itís not like we didnít know people were going to think what weíd expect them to think," Mark said. "Hell, even Roger and Kathy figured we were shacked up together, but they never said anything about it."
"They wouldnít have believed the truth, either," Jackie said, still smiling. "In fact, like I said, Iím pretty sure I wouldnít believe it, either, if I were someone else looking at us from the outside."
Mark glanced at his watch. "Well, itís like this," he teased. "We could either make what everybody thinks is happening really the truth, or we can go get something to eat. We could get either one done before the EVA comes on, but not both."
"Let me brush out my hair, and then weíll go eat," Jackie told him as she got up and went to her pack for her hairbrush, then replied with her own tease: "Weíve got time to eat, but if we get started on the other thing, weíll be all night, and we wonít get to watch the EVA or have anything to eat."
"Thatís what I like about you," he said, looking for his shoes. "Always practical. Always first things first."
* * *
They had to walk nearly half a mile to a little greasy-spoon restaurant that was open, and they barely got back to the motel room in time for the start of the EVA of the Apollo 15 astronauts. It was a long one; the astronauts had taken the little moon rover with them for the first time, and they were away from the lunar module for hours. It was very interesting for both of them to watch the astronauts explore the lunar surface, and see up close sights never seen by man; it excited them both to be part of the exploration.
They got so wrapped up in watching the TV that Mark never did get around to calling his parents that evening. After a while, Jackie went to the bathroom and put on her new pajamas and joined Mark on the bed where they continued to watch the astronauts on the moon. Mark made no comment about the pajamas, and any thoughts of doing anything more than lying there half-upright, with her head resting on his shoulder were forgotten. They talked very little, and then only about what was happening on television, but were satisfied to just cuddle with each other.
In spite of everything, after a while Jackie fell asleep, still with her head resting on Markís shoulder. As she lay there softly breathing, Mark felt a great sense of contentment fall over him. Sex with Jackie would be nice, when the time came, he realized, but with her, he had achieved almost everything else heíd craved, and more. She was a friend, a companion, someone he could share experiences with. Feeling very daring, he let his hand come to rest on one of the sleeping girlís breasts. It felt soft and warm and comfortable, and he just let it stay there.
It wasnít like being with Mei-Ling, he realized. This was better. Sex could come in its own good time, but this was exactly what he wanted.
After a while, he fell asleep too, with the TV still on, his hand on her breast, and his head resting on hers.
* * *
Everglades City, Florida
April 20, 1971
Dear Dad and Sarah,
It was so good to talk to you yesterday, Dad. Iím just sorry Sarah wasnít there. I would have liked to talk to her, too.
Last Friday, Mark expected weíd be here long enough to get some of the pictures from Cape Canaveral developed, and we got them back today. Iím sorry we didnít get any pictures of the Apollo going up, but we were too busy watching to take pictures, and really, we were so far away they probably wouldnít have looked like much. But I am going to include a picture of Roger and Kathy and Mark and me at our little camp near Titusville. We had a really good time with Roger and Kathy, and I hope we can see them again someday.
I already told you about our Everglades trip on the phone. Weíre going to stay where weíre at today, so we can watch the astronauts on the moon again, then tomorrow weíre going to be on our way. Mark says there are a few other places he wants to see in Florida, but theyíll probably pretty much be one-day stops. Iíll let you know the next time weíre going to be in the same place for a few days, so you can send mail to us then.
Iím so happy that you werenít angry with me about my going off with Mark. Iíve tried to be a good girl and not do anything that you would be ashamed of, and Mark has made it easy for me. So far, weíve had a lot of fun, and I like him a lot, too.
Iíll write or call again in a few days. Say "Hi" to Johnnie for me.
I love you,