Ecclesiastes 1:8 No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
I sat at the library table, waiting for Althaea to choose her latest books to check out, and wondered what it was about this girl that intrigued me. She was different, that was for sure. I had heard the rumors about her and her family already. Everyone is quick to fill in the new kid, believe or not. It’s like they figure if they share the rumors about others first, maybe the ones that are floating around about themselves may not sound as credible to the new kid. I’d been told to steer clear of Althaea because she gave off a weird vibe. What does that even mean? Regardless, I wasn’t picking up any strange vibe from her. She was definitely intense, but in a “not a shallow teenager kind of way.” She didn’t seem to be caught up in the usual teenage fare, and I guess I found it refreshing. I found myself wanting to know more about her, but afraid to scare her off with too many questions.
I looked up to find her standing before me.
“I’m gonna head out. Thanks for walking with me.”
“What are you doing now? Want to hang out for a bit?”
She looked startled at the question.
“Umm, I have homework.”
“I do too. We can do it together if you want.”
“Umm, okay I guess.”
She set her bag down on the table across from me.
“How about we find somewhere outside to hang out. Fresh air makes me think better.”
Althaea paused for a moment, smiled at me, then gathered her stuff once more and said, “Let’s go.”
She walked out the door so quickly, I wondered if she was just going to break into a run and leave me behind.
“Where are we headed?”
Althaea – September 1966
I don’t know what possessed me to take him to my favorite place. I had never shown anyone, but here I was taking a complete stranger to my special spot. As soon as the words flew out of my mouth, I flew out the door, knowing full well if I didn’t move I would have to find a way to take it back.
There was just something about this boy. He seemed to connect with me in a way no one else ever had. Anyone who had been come close eventually let their preconceived notions of me win out and hightailed it back to the rumor mill, fresh with more fuel to add to their fire.
James is new though, and maybe that’s partially what made me want to hold onto the notion that he may not be caught up in the rumors just yet. For once, I hoped for a friendship that was untainted. Even if for just a little while, I wanted to feel what that was like.
“So, where are we headed?”
I walked a little faster now that he had caught up to me.
“I usually do my homework not far from my house. There’s a big open field between my house and yours. Have you seen the treehouse?”
“I’ve seen it from a distance, but haven’t ventured out there to check it out. Figured it was private property.”
“It’s just past our barn, my grandfather built the treehouse on the largest oak tree he’d ever seen.” She paused..
“He always said that tree was a gift from God, and it was meant to have God’s children in it, laughing, playing, and dreaming. That there was no better place to dream than perched up high, surrounded by nature. My mom says she spent a lot of time in it as a young girl, but as she got older she spent less and less time there. I love it. I’ve played in it since I was five and still spend time in it every chance I get.”
“Wow. I don’t think my family has anything they’ve had for that long. As often as we’ve moved, there’s no one place I can say I could go back to and feel like home. It must be nice to have lived in the same house, the same town, your whole life. Everything is familiar. You have a connection to everything and everyone around you, and I imagine everyone knows each other.”
“Well, yeah, I love the tree and the big open fields around the house. The only house nearby belongs to The Carmichaels, then yours not far off. Everything else you mentioned isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ve seen places I’ll probably never see in my lifetime.”
“I’ve seen some cool places, but being the new kid repeatedly isn’t easy. I feel like I’m always walking into a party where everyone else is sharing a secret, and to top it off I wasn’t even invited to attend so all eyes are on me.” James laughed, but I could sense he didn’t really find it funny.
We walked in silence until we reached the treehouse.
“It’s even cooler up close than what I can see from my bedroom window. Can we go up?”
Althaea hesitated, suddenly feeling like she was opening her underwear drawer in front of a stranger. She held onto the ladder with one hand, and turned back to look at him before making her way up.
James must have taken two rungs at a time, because he was right behind her when she reached the top.
She set her bag down next to a wine barrel and plopped herself down.
James looked out over the open field.
“Althaea, you are one lucky girl! This is the best!”
Althaea blushed as he turned to look at her, then walked over and sat down beside her. She had never had a boy sit so close to her before and certainly not one as cute as James. She reached for her bag, and started pulling schoolbooks out. James did the same.
“Well, I guess we better get started on our homework,” she said without looking up.
“Yeah, I guess so. What are you working on? I have Algebra and an English essay.”
“Ewwhh, I hate Algebra! I have U.S. History and an English essay.”
“I’m actually good at math so if you ever need help, I’m your guy!”
Althaea laughed at his enthusiasm.
“What’s so funny? Math is reliable. As long as you follow the formula, everyone gets the same result.”
Althaea looked up at him.
“I guess I just find it hard to put forth so much effort into solving something when everyone is expecting the same result.”
James looked at her for what seemed like an eternity.
“You say the most interesting things.”
Althaea changed the subject.
“I love to write. It’s my favorite thing to do aside from reading. If I’m not creating my own stories, I’m diving into someone else’s.”
“The only book I read consistently is the Bible, and the truth is I only read because my parents have always forced me to go to Sunday school. It’s expected.”
“I love to read. Nothing better than losing myself in a good book.”
James noticed how her cheeks were getting flushed as she spoke. He had never felt that strongly about anything he had ever described. This girl was special.
Unaware James was staring, Althaea chattered on.
“The writers have visions of new worlds to be discovered, adventures around every corner, and characters so different from us they stay with me long after I’ve turned the last page. Through books, I have done things I know I could never experience in ten lifetimes, let alone one.”
She paused to catch her breath before continuing.
“Can you imagine writing stories that take someone on an adventure every time they read your words? These authors words have an energy all their own as they float across oceans, climb over mountains, twist and turn along winding dirt roads, flutter through open windows and make their way into living rooms, kitchens, studies, offices, bedrooms, and back porches.”
She suddenly looked up at James and they stared at each other. She didn’t dare say another word, realizing she had just gone on and on, making a complete fool of herself.
She knew she was holding her breath, but didn’t dare breathe. James had the most beautiful eyes she’d ever seen. They weren’t some piercing blue or emerald green like they describe in books. They were just plain old brown eyes, but the way they were taking her in, they made her feel like the most important thing in the world to him.
He leaned in closer to her. She could feel his warm breath on her. At least one of them was breathing. She knew what was about to happen. She also knew she wouldn’t stop him.
He ever so softly placed his lips on hers, as though testing the waters. Her lips parted just enough for his to fit within hers. Top lip covering lower lip. He reached his hand out, and placed it on hers. She found herself leaning in, wanting more, an urgency building up in her she didn’t quite understand, but one she knew she needed to satisfy. His tongue pushed her lips open just a bit more and she found herself welcoming its invasion. His other hand reached up and touched her face. She could only imagine how red her cheeks must be in this moment, but none of that seemed to matter. He was all that mattered in this moment. This stranger, this boy who had just strolled into her life as though she’d been expecting him.
Her tongue sought his and she felt her insides throb as her heart beat faster. Was she even breathing because she felt like she was drowning and never wanted to come up for air. He slid even closer to her, never taking his mouth off hers. His arms came around her waist as she was overcome with a desire completely foreign to her. She had read enough books to know where this was headed, what this feeling was that was suddenly taking over her mind and body. She had just never actually experienced it.
Was she panting? Oh my God, what was he to think? Surely, he had done this before given the way he was making her feel. She tried to slow down her breathing, but there seemed to be no slowing any of this down. She put her arms around his neck and took him by surprise with the force of her own tongue. Her breasts were now pressed up against his chest, and his arms held her there. Could he feel her excitement through the thin wall of fabric separating them? Suddenly, she stopped.
“What’s wrong, Althaea? I’m sorry. I know we haven’t known each other long.”
“It’s okay. I’ve just never…”
“Never what? Kissed? You could’ve fooled me.”
She laughed and turned her body slightly so she was no longer facing him. Instead she looked at the opening to the treehouse and the top of the ladder peeking through.
He put one arm around her, and pulled her to him. She found herself putting her head on his shoulder. How long would he hang around? How long before he learned about her family and decided he couldn’t be around her anymore?
A voice floated up from a distance.
“James? Are you out here?”