Besides the fact, or maybe in addition to the fact, that we’d broken up nine or ten days earlier, Andrew doesn’t like to dance. So, while I was laughing and spinning and jumping and putting my hands up up to “Single Ladies” or shouting “It’s fun to stay at the,” then closing my eyes, bouncing on my toes and forming a giant Y, a giant M, a giant C and a giant A with my arms, Andrew was lying on the rich grass on a little slope that someone told us later was the edge of the septic bed, not that that was such a big deal, only that it explained the remarkably lush cushion of green. Probably to say good-bye without saying good-bye—my family had always liked Andrew—people were stopping by: my dad to chat between heaving breaths, to sip bottled water and to smoke in anticipation of another spin on the plywood floor; my sister Stephanie to say how much she likes him and how she hopes she’ll see him again then to hand Andrew a baby monitor and ask him to listen for her daughter, Marcie, while she went for a “little walk” with her latest boyfriend, Philip; my cousin, Alicia, and her fiancée, Max, to talk and to strip down to their sports bra and undershirt, respectively, and lay their (matching) dress shirts out on the dense grass to dry. It was Alicia and Max who lay on that same cushion of septic-fed grass and looked up at the sky and noticed the clouds closing in.
When Andrew raced over to me, my heart was in the “Safety Dance” and the sway of my thrifted red dress. I couldn’t understand how weather could inspire such urgency. By that point people were starting to hurry towards cars or towards the hosts’ house or towards our tents in the neighbouring field. The DJ was undeterred, so I was tempted to stay, but “Okay, okay,” I let Andrew hold my arm as he led me out from under the party tent.
A crackling flash illuminated the clouds’ rumbling black bellies as they stormed from the ocean towards the still eerily moonlit Mt. Sadie. As we dashed towards our tent, the wind blew us from the right so that to stay on course we had to walk almost diagonally. When the rain started, it felt like it was coming up out of the ground, so powerfully was the wind whipping the clouds towards Sadie. The tent was bucking against its ropes. Entering the tent gave me two powerful, conflicting feelings. The first was that at any point the wind might lift us in the nylon shelter and sail us over the hedge, the road, the narrow valley and into the side of the mountain. The second was that despite the possible risks, it was imperative that we be in the tent, borrowed from Andrew’s father, who I had, after two years of dating Andrew, still not met. Who I figured I would never meet.
We zipped up the tent. I turned on a flashlight we’d hung from the low center of the ceiling and, kneeling, without thinking, started peeling off my dress, which was soaked on my right side and on my back, but surprisingly dry from my left shoulder to at least my waist.
“I’m sorry,” Andrew said.
“What?” I turned my head.
Andrew was crouched near the tent door, his knees angled to one side, his face averted. “I could wait outside.”
“Oh my God, it’s crazy out there.”
“I’m already soaked.”
“You’re being silly.” I felt badly, but it was nothing he hadn’t seen before. Then, despite the crackling spray of the rain on the tent skin, I heard voices. “What is that?”
“It’s just people in another tent.”
I turned my head left and right to try and focus my hearing, my dress top hanging from my waist. “It’s coming from your pocket.”
He put his hand down and felt the baby monitor there. When he pulled the monitor out, the noise was clearer, like background chatter from a radio play party scene. He looked up at me for a moment and smiled before noticing my breasts, framed by my finest bra, which he told me later was his favourite. “Sorry,” he said, looking down.
“Oh, who cares,” I said.
He nodded without raising his eyes. “Yeah.”
“Whose is that?” I pointed to the monitor.
“Why do you have it?”
“She and Philip went for a walk.”
“In this shit?”
Andrew took a deep breath before exhaling a, “Right,” then repeating himself.
I slid the bra straps over my shoulders and uncupped—or maybe I should say de-laced—my breasts.
“I guess I should go find her. Find Stephanie.”
I twisted the bra around and down so the clasp was above my belly button.
The wind whined, the rain drummed harder against the nylon and the tent leaned against Andrew. He pressed back against our shelter, reached for the zipper. “Okay, I guess I’ll— Oh my God,” he said when he saw my breasts. “Please.”
“I think you should fuck me,” I said.
He opened his mouth like he was about to speak, then closed it. He looked past me. He held the monitor up and opened his mouth again, closed it again.
I pulled my dress over my hips, sat down and slipped it the rest of the way off, the sleeping bag whispering beneath me.
Andrew watched. Andrew dropped his knees down so he was no longer squatting there. Andrew dropped his knees down between my spread feet.
I held my arms out to him.
He bit the right side of his upper lip.
I reached between my legs and grabbed his belt, black and unfamiliar. He’d borrowed it, too, from his father. The buckle came away easily in my hands.
At that point, I was not imagining that we would get back together. In the maybe three weeks since we’d broken up, my roommate’s boyfriend had set me up with some handsome single friend of his, Luke, and I had slept with an ex-girlfriend, Beth. Both encounters were pleasurable in their own way, but mannered and, well, awkwardly new. Even with Beth. That afternoon, when Andrew had arrived early at my apartment, wearing Old Spice and a suit he later told me his mother had purchased for him before his high school formal, despite the strangeness of his dress and the masking of his scent, it was as if his smell set all the other smells in my place right, the smell of my roommate’s piss and fruity Body Shop soap, my plants’ damp potting soil in my sun-warmed back window. Plus, my grandfather had worn Old Spice. I offered Andrew coffee and he offered to make it and even that, even the coffee made with the same beans in the same grinder and the same French press, suddenly smelled right again, smelled like the coffee I drink.
He asked then, sipping hot coffee in the mid-afternoon light of my apartment, if I was sure that we wanted just the one tent, that his dad had more. I told him again that I wasn’t sure how big the field was or how many people were pitching tents there and that I thought one tent was better, but if he’d feel more comfortable, then whatever we could make it work.
Even with all that warmth he’d made me feel when he was at my place, I experienced that as sadness, or disappointment at least. I did not experience it as desire. Even when he told me, “You look great,” and smiled to break your heart, I didn’t anticipate that there we’d be, together in his dad’s tent in the chaos of a storm, listening for my sleeping niece and having the best sex we’d ever had or maybe making the finest love we’d ever made. Whatever you want to call it, it was thoughtful, it was sensual, it was confidant. It was hot.
We were lying there in the bare brightness of the flashlight looking at each other, Andrew’s hand resting between my thighs, I running my knuckles gently along his cheekbone and jaw line, when we heard Steph saying, “Andrew. DeeDee? Andrew? Deanna!” in an urgent whisper, so desperate to be respectful of people sleeping, but also determined to be heard over the storm.
“Oh, shit,” Andrew said. He sat up and started looking for the monitor, looking for his pants.
“Here,” I said to him, “I’ll tell Steph we’re here.”
“Right. Sure. Right.”
I unzipped the tent and called my sister. She was soaked. “Are you naked?” she asked. Before I could answer, she said, “Is Andrew with you?”
“He’s got your monitor right here.”
“Well, well,” Stephanie said. “Hi Andrew.”
“Hi Steph. How is it out there?”
“Like I went swimming. Like I’m still swimming.”
“Yeah,” Andrew said. He handed me the monitor.
“Deanna looked good tonight, didn’t she?”
“Yeah,” Andrew said.
“Probably still looks good. Did Marcie make any noise?” Steph asked.
“I don’t think so,” Andrew said.
“No,” I said. I handed my sister her device.
“Not that you guys heard anyway.”
“She was fine,” I said.
“I was joking,” Stephanie said. “See you two in the morning.”
“I guess so,” I said.
I was hoping to leave early, though. I had plans to meet someone, a date, but in truth I was already planning to skip it.
With one sleeping bag as a mattress or maybe a top sheet and one as a comforter, we pressed together and fell asleep to the sounds of the quieting storm. The first time I woke up, my skin where it touched Andrew’s was soaking wet and hot like I couldn’t imagine skin being hot. I moved as far from him as the tent and the shared sleeping bags would allow. The rain had stopped, but everything was dripping. The second time I woke, Andrew was mumbling and shouting wordlessly in his sleep. I said his name and shook him awake because I was worried he would wake the other campers. Without opening his eyes, Andrew told me that something had happened to Marcie, that he didn’t know where Steph was and something had happened to Marcie. He threw the top sleeping bag off and said, “I have to go find her.” I told him that he’d been dreaming, told him to go back to sleep. I put my hand on his bicep and its heat was startling in the early morning chill. The third time I woke, it was dawn and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get back to sleep. And not because of the radiant heat of Andrew’s body, though I was deeply aware of it.
I got dressed and stood outside the tent for a while. Mt. Sadie was surrounded by clouds, though these clouds could easily be called mist so gently indistinct were their borders compared to the full-bellied storm clouds that charged her last night. I waited for the wind to blow a break in them so I could see Sadie’s peak. It didn’t come quickly enough for me and I walked back towards the party tent and the house.
As I had hoped, the desert table had been left out and there was still coffee in the large thermos. I had a cup went back to the tent.
I unzipped the door and squatted just outside the opening. Andrew was awake and lying on his back with his forearm over his face. He moved his head so he could see me with one eye, then he covered his eye back up.
“Good morning,” I said.
“I had the worst sleep,” he said.
“There’s still coffee out. It’s cold, but . . . ”
“No,” he said. “I feel— I don’t feel right.”
I touched his foot. “You’re really hot. You were really hot through the night, too.”
“I had the weirdest dreams. Or not weird, but frustrating. There was something wrong with Marcie, but I couldn’t figure out how to get into her room. I swear, it was, like, hours of dreaming about how to get into her room.”
“You want me to get you some water?”
“I think we should just go. You’ve got that thing, right? We should just go.”
“I’ll cancel, if you want to stay.”
“No. I’m going to cancel it.”
Andrew got dressed. I put my things into a duffel bag, he put his things into his back pack. We took down the tent. Anything Andrew could do sitting down, he did sitting down. By the time we had the car packed, Steph and Marcie were up. Andrew sat in the driver’s seat while Steph asked us why we weren’t staying around to help clean up.
“Andrew isn’t feeling well.”
“Too much to drink?”
“He has a fever. Maybe the flu or something.”
“Aunt Tanya’s making breakfast.”
“We should go.”
“Do you have any Tylenol? That’s good for fevers, right?”
“You want Baby Tylenol?”
“Alright. Marcie, say good bye to your Aunty DeeDee.” Marcie just buried her face in her mother’s shoulder.
I grabbed my niece’s foot and gave it a shake. “Bye, sweetheart.”
“Will you say good-bye to Andrew?”
Marcie looked at him and waved.
Andrew lifted his hand and smiled. When I got to the car, he asked if I’d mind driving. “Not at all,” I told him.
We were a few stoplights from the field where we’d slept, from the house where we’d celebrated, when Andrew said something quietly.
“I’m sorry,” he said. I took my eyes off the road for a second to glance at him. He had his thumb over one eye, his fingers over the other. “I don’t mean to ruin the party.”
I told him I’d had a great time and the pleasures of last night and the rain and the dancing all flooded my body again and filled me up. I put my hand on his knee.
Andrew put his hand on top of mine. “You’re probably going to get sick, too.”
“I’ll help you if you need it,” he said. “If you want,” he said.
“Yeah,” I managed to say. “I do want.” I don’t think he noticed I was crying.
Toronto, April 2016
Emoji Sequence: Diane Dechief, whose sequence is inspired by a true story, which she promised to share once Lee was finished his fiction
Story: Lee Sheppard