On that first day in September, Charlie awoke early, as he usually did. He was a morning person by nature and, once awake, was full of energy. He shut off his alarm, as he always did, so that it wouldn’t go off and disrupt his routine and, as he always did, he jumped out of bed and to the floor. One hundred push-ups, followed by one hundred sit-ups, followed by one hundred pull-ups at the bar planted firmly in the jam of his closet door—this was his daily ritual. Except on Saturday mornings. On Saturdays, he woke up exactly one hour later than usual and went to the Quileute Res to hang out with his buddies.
That Monday morning started out no differently than any other he’d woken to in the eighteen years he’d lived in Forks, Washington. Looking briefly out his bedroom window, he saw the two big Lupines that grew at the edge of his parents’ property and the grey clouds that populated the sky ninety percent of the time. It didn’t look like rain, but you never knew in Forks. He grabbed his letterman’s jacket, which he usually wore since the weather almost always called for it, and held it in his hand as he jogged down the stairs.
His mother sat at the kitchen table. Scrambled eggs and toast already waited on a plate for him, a glass of orange juice beside it. She wore the same bathrobe he’d seen her wearing every morning for as long as he could remember. She had new, pink, fuzzy slippers on her feet, though. His dad had bought them for her on her birthday in July.
“Hey, Mom,” he muttered in greeting as he sat in front of his breakfast.
“Good morning, dear.” She lit a cigarette as she read the paper in front of her. “Did you get your English paper finished?”
Knowing his mother wasn’t looking at him anyway, Charlie rolled his eyes. “Mom, I finished my paper on Friday, after the game.”
She reached over and ruffled his hair. He made a sour face and tried to pull away from her.
“Of course you did. Such a good boy.”
“Hey mom, I’m not gonna be home for dinner tonight, ‘kay? Some of the guys want to get together after practice. We need to talk about Friday’s game.”
“That’s fine.” She was barely listening to him. Her eyes were focused on the paper. “Just don’t be out too late.”
Charlie took his plate to the sink and ran water over it. He almost pointed out the fact that he never stayed out late, but stating the obvious didn’t hold much appeal. Instead, he finished his juice and bent to kiss her on the cheek.
“Thanks for breakfast, Mom. See ya.” He grabbed his books on his way out the door.
It was a quick drive to school, as it was only two miles away from home. He went to his locker to stash his books and found Teddy and Jack standing there, waiting for him, leaning against the lockers and laughing about something. Teddy and Jack were on the football team with him—Center and Left Tackle, respectively. Charlie was Quarterback and, as such, the two seemed to defer to him at all times, both on and off the field.
“Hey.” He nodded at them as he approached. “What’s so funny?” He spun the lock in front of him, starting to find his combination.
“Oh you’ll see in about three-seconds,” Teddy said, covering his mouth while he smirked in an obvious attempt to hold back his laughter.
“You’ve got a little love note waiting for you in there,” Jack said and they both started laughing again.
When Charlie got his locker open, he saw what they were talking about as it fell out and dropped to the floor at his feet. He sighed as he put his books inside and then bent to retrieve it—a piece of white notebook paper, folded into squares, with his name written on the outside in rounded, flowery script. The ‘i’ in his name was topped with a heart.
He opened it slowly, a grimace on his face.
I feel very akward writing this, but I simply can’t go on anymore, not telling you how I feel.
Charlie groaned at reading the first sentence, both at what he knew was coming and the misspelling of the word “awkward”.
I have admired you from afar for far too long—almost three years now! I think you are a total fox. If you would just look my way once, I would be happy forever. And I could make you happy, Charlie. Very happy. I’m sure you know what I mean by that, but if you’re curious meet me behind the gym at lunch today. You won’t be sorry.
Girls had been telling Charlie pretty much his whole life that he was good-looking, so he guessed he had to believe it. He just didn’t put much stalk in it and, deep down, he had the feeling that most of them admired the fact that he played both football and baseball and hung out with the “popular” kids more than they were actually attracted to him. He simply didn’t see anything all that extraordinary when he looked in the mirror. He’d always been tall and now stood over six foot, but his height was an inconvenience as often as not. Growing up, he’d been far taller than most of his classmates, and gawky. It was only recently that his height had become an advantage. He had dark brown, almost black hair and dark brown eyes. He didn’t see much special in either of those attributes. He kept himself in good shape, but there were plenty of other guys in school who were bigger. Plenty were smarter than he was and almost all of them had a lot more to say. On top of that, he’d always been a tad bookish and shy and his love of literature was earning him absolutely no points on the coolness scale.
Not that he cared about any of it, of course. But he had to wonder why a girl like Tabitha just couldn’t — or wouldn’t — leave him alone. He’d known about her crush all along. She made it quite obvious, the way she always stared at him in English and the math classes they’d shared since they were freshmen. She was cute, in a far-too-perky and somewhat artificial way. She just didn’t interest him.
I truth, none of the girls at school had really caught his eye for long. The only girl he’d ever given more than a thought to was Sue Grey Cloud. But she lived out on the Res and his friend Harry Clearwater was already dating her. They seemed to be joined at the hip and Charlie would never think to interfere.
Charlie sighed again as he stuck the note back in his locker and grabbed his copy of Hamlet in preparation for English. He grimaced at the knowledge that he see Tabitha in just a few short minutes. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but neither did he want to encourage them. The guys were still chuckling, but Charlie paid them no mind as he headed toward his first class.
“Oh, come on, Charlie.” Teddy clapped his hand on his back as he walked alongside him. “Why not throw the poor girl a bone?”
“I’m sure a bone is exactly what she wants, too.” Jack laughed obnoxiously at his own joke, though Charlie didn’t find it at all funny.
He didn’t bother to respond to their crude jokes, didn’t waste his breath telling them to mind their own business or to shut up. He just let them say whatever they wanted and ignored them, just as he always did when his friends annoyed him—which was often.
“I’ll see you guys later,” he said as he left them behind and walked into class.
He sighed heavily as he saw Tabitha sitting at her desk next to his, an excited and expectant look on her face as she leaned to whisper to her friend Laurie. She eyed him like he was a prize pig at the fair.
“Good morning, Charlie.” She twirled a lock of her hair between her fingers as she looked at him.
He nodded at her and took his seat, opening his book as an excuse not to have to speak to her. Not a minute later, all thoughts of Tabitha were gone from his consciousness.
He looked up when he heard her enter the room. Her soft thick hair fell in hazelnut-colored waves around her shoulders. Her eyes were alight with the smile on her face and some hidden mischief and even from his seat Charlie could see they were the rich color of milk chocolate. Her lips were a perfect, soft pink.
She handed a piece of paper to Mrs. Walker and looked around the room while the instructor made notes in her roll sheet, adding the new student’s name. Her eyes lighted on Charlie’s for a moment and for that brief stretch of time he stopped breathing. He felt sweat gathering in his palms and his mouth went dry. If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn that her smile grew just a little wider when she met his eyes, but she looked away too quickly for him to know for sure.
“Class, this is Renee Higgenbotham, a new student.”
Mrs. Walker introduced her to the room and it brought Charlie out of his daze. He realized with chagrin that his mouth had been hanging open. He glanced around the room briefly, to see if anyone had noticed.
The teacher pointed out an empty seat toward the back of the room and for the first time in his career as a student, Charlie regretted always sitting toward the front. Renee breezed by him on her way to her seat and he smelled her perfume as she passed—bright and cheerful, like the sun, with a hint of spice. Her skirt fluttered delicately at her knees as she walked by and it was all he could do not to reach out and let his fingers brush one of those knees. The skin of her legs looked incredibly soft.
He felt lucky he’d be sitting at a desk for the next fifty minutes. There was no way he could stand up in the condition he was in at the time.
“Did you guys see the new meat?”
“She’s in my Biology class. Damn, she’s hot.”
“I can’t wait to get my hands on her ass.”
“As if you’ll get your hands on her ass before I will, fuckface.”
“Where’s she from?”
“I heard she’s from, like, Hollywood.”
“Why would she be here in bum-fuck Forks?”
Renee Higgenbotham was the only topic his friends could discuss at the lunch table. Not that he blamed them, really—Charlie could think of little else since seeing her in first period. He hated the way they were talking about her, though. It was as if she were just a new piece of, albeit exquisite, ass, existing only for their amusement.
Finally, when Teddy started graphically detailing how he’d like to have her legs wrapped around his shoulders, Charlie stood from the table and grabbed his lunch tray.
“Hey, where you goin’?” Rusty Fremont, Wide Receiver, asked.
“Away from you idiots.” He barely saw their shocked expressions and certainly didn’t listen to their calls for him to come back to his seat and asking what his problem was.
He dumped what was left of his lunch in a trash can and turned abruptly, intending to spend the last half of his lunch period in a quiet corner somewhere, when something soft but firm planted itself right into his torso. He put his hands out instinctively, catching it from falling to the ground.
“Jeez, I’m so–” His breath caught in his throat as he found himself looking down directly into the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. They gleamed up at him in amusement.
“If you wanted to meet me, you could have just asked my name,” Renee said, smiling sweetly at him.
“I’m sorry, I—uh—I guess I wasn’t—my mind is–” Charlie groaned inwardly at his sudden loss of appropriate speech. Then he noticed that he still had his hands clasped around the girl’s upper arms. He dropped them abruptly.
“Elsewhere?” Renee was still smiling, a bit of mischief alight in her chocolate-colored eyes.
“Yes. Apparently.” He swallowed hard, but could not look away from her face. She had a light smattering of freckles splashed delicately across her nose and cheeks and her skin was the color of caramel, with pink highlights, like cherries, on her cheekbones.
“I’m Renee,” she said, holding her hand out to him. It took him a second, but he finally realized he should shake it and he did.
“Charlie Swan. Sorry I almost knocked you over.”
“It’s okay. No harm done. I’m still in one piece.” Renee looked down at the floor briefly before looking back up at him through her eyelashes, her head still bent forward. “You finished with lunch already?”
“Yeah. I was just headed–” He ran a hand nervously through his hair. “Um . . . I thought I’d get some reading done.”
“Reading? On your lunch period? Don’t you do enough of that in class?”
He smiled shyly and felt the heat of a blush at his ears. “Well, I’m in the middle of a really good book, so. . .” He shrugged as his words trailed off.
Renee shuffled her feet and continued to smile up at him. She was a good deal shorter than he and had to tilt her neck significantly to do so. “Oh. Too bad. I don’t really know anyone here yet and I have no one to keep me company at lunch. Since you’re now officially my first friend here, I thought maybe we could sit together.”
“Oh.” Charlie looked up and saw that his friends were all staring at him, gawking, their mouths wide open. He turned his back to them, shuffling his feet. “Sure, I can sit with you.”
She smiled and if he didn’t know she could do much better, he’d swear she was flirting with him.
“What about your book?” she asked.
“The book will be there later.” He shrugged and led Renee through the cafeteria line and finally to a table.
“What sports do you play?” Renee asked as she opened a yogurt container. She motioned with the lid toward his letterman’s jacket.
“Football. And baseball. I used to run track, but I don’t really have time anymore.”
She nodded, a bright smile on her face. He wondered if she ever stopped smiling. He hoped not.
“Yes, I can imagine so many sports would take a lot of time . . . What positions do you play?”
“Quarterback. That’s football, of course. I’m a pitcher in baseball and I also play first base.”
He shrugged. “I guess. It’s fun.”
She smiled at him again and he almost forgot what they were talking about as he looked into her beautiful eyes. He’d often read passages in literature about falling into dark pools and almost drowning there and he’d always found that stuff sappy and sentimental, before. Now, he understood completely.
He cleared his throat. “What about you?”
“I don’t play football. Or baseball, for that matter.” She winked at him, still smiling.
He chuckled and blushed. “No, I mean, what do you do? For fun?”
She shrugged and took another bite of yogurt. “Oh, I don’t know. Lots of things. I like movies. I like concerts. I saw Duran Duran just before we moved here. Do you like them?”
Charlie’s shrug mirrored hers. He hated Duran Duran. They were pussies and only chicks liked them. He was more into Def Leppard and Van Halen. “They’re okay. Where did you move here from, anyway?”
“Southern California.” She sighed. “Huntington Beach. Do you know it?”
“No, sorry, I don’t. I mean, obviously I’ve heard of Southern California. Just not Huntington Beach.”
“It’s wonderful.” She popped a tater tot into her mouth and held the small package out toward Charlie. He shook his head, declining her offer. “I used to go surfing every morning before school.”
“You can surf here, sometimes,” Charlie offered. “First Beach out on the Res has good waves and it’s a fairly protected coastline, so it doesn’t get too rough. I mean, you have to have a wet suit. . .”
“Quileute reservation. It’s not far from here. I hang out there a lot on the weekends.”
Renee looked down at her tater tots before putting the last couple into her mouth. He watched as she chewed them slowly, her pink lips subtly pursed together, and he felt his heart pounding as she swallowed and looked back up at him.
“Well, maybe you could take me out there some morning. You know, if I wouldn’t be intruding.”
Charlie ran his sweaty palms against the thighs of his jeans and swallowed again. “Oh. No. I mean, yes, I could take you. It wouldn’t be an intrusion.” He had visions of Renee in a tight wetsuit and was again glad he was sitting down, the tabletop hiding his obvious enjoyment of that vision.
He listened to her talk for the next fifteen minutes, mainly about what her life was like back in Huntington Beach and how she liked to paint. He merely added the occasional “Yes” or “No” or “Not really” and “That’s cool”, all the while watching her animated face light up and the corners of her eyes crinkle when she smiled. She seemed very interested in the gossip of the moment. She asked about various people as they walked past their table and he would tell her their names, if he knew them, and if they played sports or were in the drama club or whatever. But since Charlie didn’t pay much attention to gossip, he didn’t have much to tell her and they moved on fairly quickly. She asked him what his sign was and he had no idea. When he told her his birthday, she went on for several minutes about Virgos and what they were supposed to be like, but he simply shrugged. He thought some of the things she said might have been accurate, but some were not. She seemed very intrigued by the fact that he was a Virgo. Even so, he started to think he wasn’t interesting enough for her. Finally, the bell indicated that lunch period was over and they rose from the table.
“Can I walk you to your next class?”
“Sure.” She smiled coyly up at him. “I’m not even sure where it is, so you can show me.”
He looked at her schedule. She had a Psychology class that was on the other side of the campus and three flights of stairs down from the Biology class that was next on his agenda. Her class wasn’t far from the cafeteria, though, and for that, he was sorry. He wanted to spend much more time listening to Renee talk and watching her smile and he was afraid their walk might be his last opportunity.
They strode in silence for a few minutes, his hands sweating as he struggled to think of a topic of conversation. The fact that he wasn’t much of a talker had never bothered him before.
“How tall are you?” Renee piped up as they rounded a corner and walked toward her classroom.
She chuckled and looked up a him. “How tall are you? Like six foot?”
Charlie nodded and shrugged, embarrassed. It had been a long time since he’d felt awkward about his height, since most kids were finally growing and almost as tall as he. “Yeah. About that.”
She nodded. “Yes, you’re what I call a ‘Full Tilt’.”
He looked down at her, but she was looking at the books in her arms. Her Psychology textbook was large and looked heavy and she also carried a few others. He instinctively reached to take them from her and tucked them under his arm while she smiled sweetly at him.
“What do you mean, ‘Full Tilt’?”
“I measure peoples’ height by how far back I have to tilt my head to look at them. You’re tall. I have to go for the Full Tilt.” She giggled at her description and Charlie felt the heat at his ears again.
“Oh. Sorry.” He didn’t know what else to say.
She stopped in front of a classroom door and reached for her books while he looked up to make sure they had stopped in the right place. He would have to run to make it to Biology on time.
“I’m not,” she said, looking up at him, slyly. “I like tall.” And with that, she turned on her heel and headed into class.
Charlie stood there in a daze until he heard the final bell, at which point he took off in a sprint toward the opposite end of campus.
He didn’t see her again for the rest of the day, but that didn’t mean his mind wasn’t continuously assaulted by visions of her. He met the guys from the team at Rusty’s after practice and it was all he could do to keep his mind on the game as they drank Cokes, ate nachos and discussed their strategy for Friday’s game against their rivals from Port Angeles. It was a big game and he knew he needed to focus, but he couldn’t keep his mind from wandering.
“What’s up with you man?” Rusty asked as the other guys all walked up the stairs and out of his parents’ basement. “First you ditch us at lunch, now you’re barely here. Is it the new chick?”
“What?” Charlie blanched at the notion that he could be so transparent. “What makes you say that?”
“‘Cause you sat with her at lunch. And ‘cause she’s a total babe.”
“She asked to sit with me at lunch. And anyway, I barely even know her.” He started up the stairs, Rusty behind him, chuckling.
“Yeah, but you’d like to know her.”
Charlie stopped and turned back toward him. “Listen, you shut up about her. You guys shouldn’t talk about her like that.”
Rusty held his hands up in a defenseless pose. “Like what? I didn’t say anything.”
“No, but you were thinking it. And you all were saying stuff at lunch. She’s . . . She’s a nice girl. You guys all need to learn some respect.” He turned and started back up the stairs.
“Jeez, look who’s touchy all of a sudden.”
Charlie didn’t even bother to respond. His touchiness wasn’t really “all of a sudden”. He’d never cared for the way the guys talked about the girls at school. Some of them even went into graphic detail about what they did with their girlfriends—girls they were supposed to care about. He never understood how they could be so disrespectful (and he didn’t even believe half of what they said, anyway).
Rusty was right, though. While he never participated in their locker room talk, he usually just kept his mouth shut and tried to tune them out. He had never reacted so strongly as he had at lunch that day and again in Rusty’s basement. He wasn’t sure what it was about Renee that made him feel so protective of her. She was just so sweet and full of light and life. He didn’t want anyone messing with that.
Rusty was also right about the fact that Charlie wanted to get to know her better. In fact, he thought all night about getting to know her—his hands getting to know the caramel-colored skin of the adorable knees he’d glimpsed as she walked by him; his lips getting to know her soft, pink ones; his teeth and mouth getting to know her perky breasts. He took a shower immediately when he got home and again in the morning, so that he could have some privacy with his thoughts, and the sound of running water to mask his moans as he touched himself while thinking of “getting to know” her.
He arrived at school early the next day, excited to see Renee in first period English, and was rewarded with her bright smile as she walked in the room. Unfortunately, her smile was directed at Teddy Moon, who was walking next to her and had made what could only be presumed was a stupid joke, since that’s the only kind Teddy knew. He immediately thought of the comments Teddy had made the previous lunch period about wearing her ass for a hat and grimaced.
He knew there was nothing he could do about it, though. Teddy always got the girls he wanted, whether he deserved them or not. Usually, Charlie didn’t care. But now . . . well, now, he’d just have to suffer.
The foul mood he’d been in since first period only seemed to magnify as Charlie walked through the lunch line. He plopped a plate of macaroni and cheese on his tray and grabbed a soda, turning to head for a table. He had no desire to sit with Teddy or any of his football buddies, but since he always sat with them and he knew they’d figure something was up if he left them again, he headed in that direction.
“Hi.” Renee stepped in front of him and he almost mowed her down again.
“Jeez. Um . . . hi.” He put a hand on his tray, to catch his soda from falling off of it.
Renee smiled up at him and he swallowed. Hard. Her hair was so shiny. It looked like silk and he wanted to run his fingers through it.
“Sorry,” she said. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to say hi.” She looked down at the floor before looking back up at him, flirtatiously. “I thought you would have said hello in English this morning.”
He felt blood rushing to his ears. His emotions were a war of embarrassment and anger. He knew he didn’t have any right to be mad at her, but he was. At least . . . maybe not at her. But he was mad.
“Yeah, well . . . you looked . . . you looked a little busy.” He shifted his weight to one foot as he looked down at her, determined not to let his embarrassment show anymore. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“You mean Teddy?” She chuckled and twirled a bit of her hair through her fingers.
He merely nodded in response and she shrugged.
“I don’t know. He’s nice, I guess. But. . .” She looked around before stepping up on her tiptoes, leaning into him as if she wanted to tell him a secret. He bent down, instinctively. She smelled like vanilla. It made his mouth water.
“He’s not as funny as he thinks he is,” she whispered.
Charlie’s head swiveled quickly toward her in surprise. She was grinning up at him, settling back down on her flat feet. Her smile was sweet and a little mischievous and he couldn’t help himself. He started to laugh. In a moment, she was giggling along with him.
“You’re right about that,” he said.
“Anyway, he’s not my type.”
She was still grinning up at him and Charlie peered at her, serious again. He had no idea how to read this girl.
“So what is your type then?”
Renee bit her lower lip in a way that made him get tight in his pants. She backed away a little, moving toward the cafeteria line.
“I told you,” she said. “I like tall.”
“So is that all you look for? Tall?”
Three days later, they were eating lunch together, just as they had every day since Renee had started attending Forks High. Charlie reached over and grabbed one of her french fries, making her swat at his hand, playfully.
“Of course not. How superficial do you think I am?”
“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “How superficial are you?”
He chuckled as she rolled her eyes at him. He had learned to relax around her . . . at least, for the most part. He felt comfortable enough to talk about most anything with her. Or not talk, if that was his choice, which it often was. She didn’t seem to mind that he didn’t have much to say.
“I look for . . . well, lots of things.”
“Like what?” He stole another french fry and she sighed and pushed the little white paper baggie that held them closer to him as he smiled at her.
It was her turn to shrug. “I don’t know. Lots of things. I don’t like dumb boys.”
Charlie felt good about that. He knew he was far from dumb.
“You have to be . . . interesting,” she continued. “You know, I don’t want to be bored.”
“Hmm.” He didn’t know what to say to that. His ego deflated just a bit at her words. He knew he was also far from interesting.
“So are you ever going to take me surfing?”
He looked up quickly at her question. She did that a lot—changed the subject of conversation abruptly, leaving him reeling and scrambling to catch up.
“Um . . . Sure, I can do that.” He dusted salt off his hands by rubbing them against his thighs. “You want to go Saturday? Tomorrow? It might not even rain this weekend.”
Her face brightened in a huge smile, which made him feel almost giddy. “Yeah, sure. What time?”
“Well, I usually go over to the Res early, and isn’t it best to go surfing, like, really early?”
“It depends on the tides.” She shrugged. “But yeah, I used to go at six in the morning.”
“Okay. I’ll pick you up at six, then.”
Renee laughed. “You really want to pick me up at six a.m. to take me surfing?”
“Sure, why not?” He shrugged.
She looked at him, incredulous. “Six in the morning?”
“I’ll be up anyway. Why, you wanna go later?”
She continued to look at him for several moments, her mouth slightly open, making Charlie think things he really shouldn’t be thinking. Things about her tongue, which was giving him pink glimpses of itself, and her sweet lips. He cleared his throat and looked down at the table, trying to get hold of himself. When he looked back up at her, she was smiling, making him smile in return.
“Okay. If you want to pick me up that early, be my guest.”
She gave him her address and they made their plans as he walked her to her next class, her books under his arm.
She was waiting for him, sitting on her porch with two mugs in her hand, when he pulled into her driveway. She wore blue jeans and a faded yellow sweatshirt that read “Surf City”. It was unzipped slightly and he could see the ties of her bathing suit around her neck. She had a bag slung around her shoulders and he saw a surfboard laying behind her.
He jumped out of the car as she stood to greet him, smiling, of course.
“Have you been waiting long?” he asked. “I’m not late, am I?” He was concerned. He was never late.
Renee shook her head. “No, not at all. I just thought I’d wait out here so we didn’t wake up my parents.”
Charlie paused, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he looked at her. Her beautiful hair was pulled back into a ponytail that bounced behind her and her long, slender neck called out, begging him to take nibbles out of it.
“Here,” she said, handing him one of the cups she was holding. “It’s OJ. If you’d rather have coffee, though, I can–”
“No, no.” He reached for the cup and took it from her. He had just had a huge glass of orange juice at his house, but there was no way he was going to say no to anything this girl offered him. “I don’t drink coffee. This is great. Thanks.”
They stood in awkward silence for a few moments, both of them taking sips from their orange juice and noticeably trying to look anywhere but at one another. Finally, Charlie bent to retrieve her board. It wasn’t too long, which he was thankful for, since he wasn’t sure how it was going to fit in his Mustang.
“Shall we get going?”
In the end, they put the board in the back seat, it’s top end poking out the window, which he rolled down to accommodate it. He let Renee control the radio, even though she left it on some pansy New Wave station out of Seattle. They were fairly quiet on the ride there. She gazed out the window at the thick trees and then the rugged coastline as they passed. Charlie would glance at her periodically and it was all he could do not to reach over and run his finger down the tendons stretched beneath the skin of her neck.
“My dad says it’s pretty warm for Washington this time of year,” she said, turning toward him and abruptly bringing him from his daydreams about her skin.
“Um . . . yeah, it is.” He shifted in his seat. “You’re lucky, really. Don’t know that you’ll be wanting to surf much longer.”
He looked over at her when he heard her chuckle.
“This is warm? I have three blankets on my bed at home and I’m wearing thick, wool socks right now. I know I have a wetsuit, but I’m still nervous about getting in that water.”
“Well, I guess you’ll get used to the cold, the longer you live here.” He looked down at his shorts-clad legs. “But, you know—nobody says you have to get in the water, if it’s too cold.”
“Huh. You just woke up this early on a Saturday to come by and take me on a scenic drive, right?”
“Renee, I always get up this early anyway, honest.”
He looked at her and she was watching him. He felt heat at his ears yet again and wondered if she’d ever stop making him nervous. There was a part of him that hoped not.
“And anyway,” he said. “I really can’t think of anything else I’d rather do this early on a Saturday.”
He turned his eyes back to the road, but not before he saw the wide smile that brightened her face at his words.
She did surf, in spite of the cold. Charlie tried not to watch — he really did try — as she peeled her blue jeans down her legs and unzipped her sweatshirt to reveal the bikini she wore beneath: yellow, covered with little flowers. As she bent over to pull up her wetsuit, he thought he might well drop dead from a heart attack. He turned his back to her and adjusted himself in his shorts.
“Hey, can you help me?”
He turned back around to see her reaching around her back, struggling with her zipper.
“I can’t get the zipper. . .” she said. Her face was scrunched up comically from her efforts.
Charlie chuckled at just how cute she looked as he walked toward her.
“Hey, don’t laugh at me!”
He shook his head as he finished zipping her up and he rested his hands on her shoulders. They fit perfectly into his palms and he wanted to leave them there, to caress her shoulders, her neck, her arms. Instead, he gave her a little squeeze and bent slightly forward, putting his lips to her hair.
“I would never laugh at you, Renee.”
He sat on a piece of driftwood and watched her surf — or try to surf — for only about an hour before she gave up. She looked beautiful out there. Her long ponytail whipped behind her and her thighs clenched, her hips shifted as she rode wave after wave before they inevitably sent her crashing into the icy water. Finally, the wind picked up, and the swells along with it, making it not only quite cold but almost dangerous for her to be out in the water, and she relented. She looked exhausted when she finally walked toward him, her board under her arm. He took it from her and handed her the towel she’d brought in her bag.
“I’m glad you came in,” he said as he watched her squeeze water from her ponytail. “I was starting to worry I’d have to call in the Coast Guard.” He laid her board up against the driftwood he’d been sitting on and Renee wrapped the towel around her.
“Oh my god, it’s freezing.”
“Well, let’s get back up to the car. You need to get out of those wet clothes.”
There was a moment of awkwardness when they reached the car and Renee grabbed her clothes from where she’d left them on the front seat. Charlie wiped as much of the water and sand from her board as he could before putting it in the back. He was nervous. And he knew she was, too. After all, she was about to strip off her clothes out there in the open. In front of him.
He turned toward her to find her still standing by the open passenger door, shivering, and if she wasn’t so pale from the cold he would swear she was blushing. He smiled, trying to put her at ease.
“Renee, don’t worry. I won’t look. See? I’ll go way over here on the other side of the car and I’ll turn my back to you.”
He turned away from her and started toward the driver’s side when she called him back.
“Well . . . but wait.”
He stopped in his tracks, his breath coming faster. He hoped she wasn’t teasing or tempting him, because he didn’t trust what his response might be if she was.
“I need you,” she said.
He couldn’t help himself. He muttered a soft obscenity as he felt a pang of . . . something at her words. His heart felt as if it had grown three sizes and was now too big for his chest. He could barely breathe.
“Can you help me with the zipper?”
He knew what she meant, of course. She needed help unzipping her wetsuit, just as she’d needed help zipping it up. But he didn’t know if he’d be able to stop there, even as he walked back toward her.
He took the zipper between his fingers and slowly lowered it. Accidentally — or subconsciously, maybe — he trailed two fingers along the skin of her spine as he did so. Her skin was almost ice cold, but was smooth as silk.
“Thank you.” Her voice was low and she looked at the ground. He wanted so much to grasp her by the shoulders and pull her back to him, flush against his body.
She shivered, bringing him out of his daze and he backed away again, clearing his throat as he turned to walk toward the other side of the car, as he’d promised. Though he kept his back to her, he could hear her muttering and shivering, even over the wind, which seemed to pick up even more now that she was trying to get out of her wet clothes.
Finally, she said, “Okay” before sliding into the car and shutting the door behind her. When he got in beside her, he found her shivering, her legs brought up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them.
“Jeez, Renee, are you all right?”
Her teeth were chattering and all she could do was nod in response. Charlie immediately turned the key in the ignition, starting the car and turning on the heat, pointing all the vents toward her. Of course, the car was cold so the air coming through the vents wasn’t exactly warm.
“Hold on a minute,” he said, and he exited the car, opening his trunk and pulling his letterman’s jacket out from where he’d stowed it that morning. He hadn’t thought he’d get cold, but it paid to be safe in Washington, or you often found yourself sorry. And caught in a sudden downpour, freezing your ass off. He handed her the jacket as he got back in the car.
She looked at him with wide eyes as she wrapped it around her shoulders. She was swimming in it, which made him smile.
“Wow,” she said. “Thanks.”
He put his hand on the headrest behind her as he put the car in reverse and backed out of his parking spot. He knew that the sooner the car warmed up, the sooner the heat would kick in and the sooner Renee would thaw out. He headed toward home, glancing at her every few moments. She still sat in the same position, shivering, her teeth chattering. Her hands had disappeared into the sleeves of his jacket and she crossed her arms over her legs in front of her.
“Dammit!” he exclaimed as he pulled over onto the road, beside a stand of trees.
She looked at him, alarm written in her eyes. “Wha—what it is?”
Charlie shifted in his seat and reached out to her, pulling her into his arms and to his chest. “Come here, Renee. If you catch pneumonia, I’ll never forgive myself.”
She fell into him gratefully, pressing her face into his broad chest as his arms wrapped around her. She shook and shivered against him as he rubbed his hands up and down her back.
She pulled her head back, abruptly. “My hair . . . it—it’s wet—and. . .” She looked down at his chest, her teeth chattering.
He put a hand at the back of her head and pulled her face back to the warmth of his chest. “Don’t be silly, Renee. I don’t care about getting a little wet.”
They sat there cuddled together, the car running and the heat blasting, for several minutes. And even though he was only trying to warm her frigid body, even though he was concerned that she might catch her death of cold, Charlie couldn’t help but notice the way Renee’s form fit so perfectly against his. Her tight little body felt exactly right—soft and curvy in all the right places. He wanted nothing more than to explore that body with his hands, his lips, even his teeth. Internally, he chastised himself for his thoughts and shook his head slightly, to try to clear his mind.
“Jeez, Renee. If I’d known this was going to happen, I never would have brought you out here.”
“I don’t know,” she whispered, her shivering starting to taper off. “I kind of like this.”
Charlie looked down at her face, which looked up at him. She was smiling, a blush starting to come over her cheeks.
He swallowed, his heart pounding. He looked down into her chocolate-colored eyes and felt himself falling. His stomach dropped with his descent.
“Well,” he muttered. His body shook at his own shock that he could even speak. “I didn’t mean this, exactly.”
Her fingers peeked out from under the sleeve of his jacket and ran along his cheek. She was no longer shivering, though her hand remained cold.
“I know that’s not what you meant.”
Her palm molded itself to his cheek as she glanced down at his mouth. He licked his lips and she looked back to his eyes. The freckles that sprinkled her cheek called to him and his arm tightened around her shoulders as he bent his head toward hers, settling his lips against her cold nose. He kissed several of her freckles, feeling the sudden exhale of her breath against his neck before he moved his lips to hers.
Her lips warmed under his and as his hand cupped her cheek, he felt that warm, as well. Her fingers threaded themselves in his hair, pulling him down toward her and when he felt her sweet tongue run softly along his lower lip, his entire body became engulfed in flames. He opened his mouth and took hers in a deep kiss, almost crushing her to him in his fever.
When he finally let go of the kiss, when he finally pulled back, just enough to catch his breath, she was smiling up at him. He could feel her breasts moving against his chest as she breathed, deeply and fast. Her hand tickled the hair at the back of his neck and she glanced quickly again at his lips before looking back to his eyes.
“Well,” she said. “That’s one way to warm me up.”
Charlie was startled at first, in a bit if a daze, but when his thoughts cleared, Renee was giggling and he couldn’t help but chuckle along with her. And he knew in that instant, in the sound of her giggles, echoing through his Mustang like the laughter of some mystical, magical fairy putting him under her spell, that his controlled, ordered world would never be the same again.