Chapter 25: The Passing of the StormMature

I was a wild animal, scratching at the bark of a tree. It was a slender, deciduous tree that often swayed in the wind, leaves weeping down on thin vines. A young willow, striving to understand its place in the world.

Amidst this flood.

The water rose. It churned, and it climbed higher still. Sloshing against the trunk, it boiled my feet and foamed like rabies at the mouth of a foul beast.

I don't want to drown! Grow, tree, grow!

I tried to climb, but I was weak. My claws pulled at the bark, but it fell loosely between my paws. The wind whistled violently through the towering heights of the tree, and it seemed as if the tree itself was crying out.

Have I hurt the tree?

Waves crashed against me, and the tree swayed, threatening to fall in the wind. I struggled to climb higher, leaves brushing softly against me and two branches ahead. Two branches that always seemed out of reach. If only I had one more.

Yes, there it is!

It was the new branch I'd been longing for. Just in the right spot. Just at the right height. And yet, it wouldn't come out. It was stuck in a knot of bark. Dark, blackened bark. I scratched at it with my claws, eager for it to burst forth. Eager to endure the storm.

Then, the wind rebeled.

Nooo! Nooo. No.

I could feel that firm branch. I dug my claws in, and clung to it as the wind and water tried to pull me away. Rasping bark threatened to close in around my paws. The wind pushed me away, sliding me off the branches upon which I stood, and into the water below.

It boiled my flesh and steamed my blood until all I felt was coldness. The coldness of being alone. I turned to look, and the tree had fallen. It drifted away, towards the adjacent bank.

I do not understand! Why, tree? Why did you fall? I trusted you!

I listened to the wind, and it gave me answers. The tree had been too young, the storm had been too strong, and my need was too great. The wind told me that I am loved, though. The wind told that me I am loved. Loved.

I will not drown? How can this be?

The wind asked me to trust.

How can I trust without a tree to cling to?

The wind told me to believe.

I found myself on the hard, wet bank. There were only leaves now, and a stump. Then, the flood drained away as if a dam had been broken. The water sunk into itself, and I heard the wind and knew that I was not alone!

 

Narrator: Crystal Jennings

 

Velcro had never hurt so much.

"I'm sorry," I sobbed, as he sat beside me under a towel. "I didn't mean to be so -- forward." Inside, I felt like such a tramp. What did he think of me? Tramp. Slut. Such words did not matter to most men, but CJ was not like most men. "I wasn't myself. It won't happen again."

He smiled compassionately, and his eyes seemed caring despite it all. And yet, he had nothing to say. He turned to look up at the stars. Moments passed. The last words I could remember hearing from his lips had been: "No, stop!"

"Say something," I pleaded. "Anything."

He whispered, quietly, like the wind, "I understand."

I was outraged, "How can you understand? You've never been jilted the way I have! Your petty little crush on Penny!? You think that compares? I don't see you wandering around fucking everything in sight like some kind of animal."

"Fucking? No. Loving? Yes."

I stared, baffled, gaped. How can he be so calm?

"I admit, I went too far as well. I had no right to take off your --"

"Wait, 'Loving everything in sight', are you telling me this isn't real, this isn't genuine?"

There was that silence again. The wind blew whisps of his wet hair around. I wanted to wipe the moisture off his cheeks. And all the while, he looked up thoughtfully at the stars.

"I wouldn't say that," CJ said. "If that were so, I don't think either of us would be sitting out here. We'd be inside, in separate bathrooms, crying."

I frowned, wondering and worrying about what he'd say next.

"It's not healthy to start something so soon after being turned down. Rebound. It can crash and burn, turning nasty. We've both seen it before," he said. His body looked frigid.

"So then what are we?" I blurted.

"You were singing my favourite song, at the time I needed to hear it most," he told me. "I don't think that's coincidence."

"I could say the same thing to you," I answered, my tone still making it obvious that I was disgusted with myself. Because he was a guy, and because I practically knew how guys behaved, how guys thought, I felt reluctant to blame any of this on him. Others would have gone for my top a lot sooner. Others would have let me finish what I'd been trying to do.

"What did you think of me before tonight?" he asked suddenly. "Be honest."

I gulped. I knew the best thing to do was to start talking, no matter what I'd say, so that it'd be as close to the truth as I could muster. "I pegged you as the silent type. Shy. Too shy to bother thinking about beyond anything other than friendship."

"But you thought about it anyways," he ventured, "because you're a teenager."

"Yeah," I admitted, digging deep into my mind for that quiet speculative fantasy I knew I'd once had. "Gentle, weak, brilliant, introverted, pretty face, not my type."

"Effeminate."

I nodded. "Only in certain ways."

"Was that accurate?"

The question shocked me. I had the overwhelming urge to say 'yes', knowing that it was not what would preserve our relationship. It was, but it didn't cover the unexpected. I'd never felt so empowered or so emotionally intimate with a man.

"Yes or no."

"It was an insufficient analysis." God, we sounded like robots. Big words, cold and harsh data-crunching to compromise or rationalize a relationship.

I'd broken his concentration. He was a robot no more, and so I stopped being one as well.

"Feelings I've never felt before, in places I've been before," I said, before he could speak. "That's how I know they're not misplaced."

It scared me, how cold and analytical he had suddenly been. But I had made it through his sieve, and that's all that mattered to me.

"You don't care to cross-examine me?" he asked, surprised.

"No," I said. "You may have been shy, but your feelings weren't hard to read. I didn't read them at first though, Greg did. I told him you weren't my type, told him you were too skeletal. Honestly, I thought he'd deliver you to the same fate Kieth faced."

He flinched at that; he must have heard the stories from Joshua. And then he looked up at the stars again. I looked up too, and pointed out a shooting star.

He didn't see it, but he laughed and urged me to come inside. We walked into the kitchen, dripping onto the linoleum, and made our way to the basement. Apparently, the bathroom was taken. Besides, our stuff was upstairs. So, we went back up and walked through the dance floor, which was emptier than it had been. However, Juliet pulled off CJ's towel, which had been over his back.

There were scratch marks everywhere. Up and down his arms, across his back in several directions, raking across his chest.

I blushed.

Joshua gave a small smile from where he sat on the couch, "So, did the raccoons get you two or what?"

"Umm... yeah," said CJ, as he grabbed his towel back from Juliet who was howling with laughter, "You've gotta send a specialist out there. They invaded the hot tub!"

"I can't show you where they got me," I blurted. However, because so many people had been looking at my nails, someone lifted up my hand and exposed where the velcro had rasped my skin.

"Yup, they got her too."

I was glad that nobody could tell what had caused that rash. Thankfully, Adam wasn't around. Nobody said the word velcro. We went upstairs, and changed one by one into dry clothes.

The End

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