Chapter 23: Trenton, North Carolina - June 11, 2006
“You packed your tent, your sleeping bag and your bug spray?” Dad asked as I zipped up my back pack.
“Yes, Daddy.” I said, not bothering to look over my shoulder.
“And Cindy is going to be there the whole time, right?”
“Yes. She’s going to be in the tent between mine and the boys. She’s going to watch us like the little old hawk she is.” I replied, turning to face him. My father sighed, smiling at me. He looked so much older now than he had before, gray showing up in his hair and on his beard.
“Okay, kiddo. I trust you. Remember that. Don’t make me have to drive an hour to pick your ass up at 2 am because you did something stupid.”
“I won’t. I’ll aim for 4 instead.” I winked at him, tossing my backpack on. “Dad, it’s only one weekend. Two nights. I’ll be back before you even know I’m gone. Are you going to be okay with just Momma and Gram?”
“I sure hope so. Tell me again why I didn’t have a son. Too many females in this damn house sometimes.” He smirked at me, glancing up at the second floor. It was silent, Momma having her usual mid-morning nap. “I have a surprise for you. Hold on.” He disappeared into the dining room, coming back with a gift bag in hand. It was a purple paper bag, a white balloon tied to the strings. “Happy birthday!”
“Daddy, you didn’t have to get me anything. We could have waited til I came back to celebrate.”
“Oh, c’mon. It’s not every day my little girl turns 16. Open it.” He said, holding it out to me. I took it, reaching inside of the bag. I pulled out a light blue square jewelry box, a white ribbon tied around it. TIFFANY & CO was typed on the top of it in white lettering. I glanced at Dad.
“Whatever this is, you can take it back. It’s probably too expensive for us.” I said, holding it out to him.
“Abby, I pulled an extra shift or two for it. It’s fine. Just open the damn thing.” He reassured me, pushing it back. I slowly undid the ribbon and pulled the lid off. Inside, there was a locket necklace. The locket was a silver oval, little hearts imprinted on the front cover. My name, Abby, was also engraved into it in elegant cursive. With my nail, I popped open the locket. On the right side was a picture of Momma, Dad and me. On the other side was a small poem.
“A family is only a strong as the love felt in it.” I read aloud. I felt tears fill my eyes as I looked up at Dad. “I love it, Daddy. Thank you. Can you tell Momma I said so when she wakes up?”
“I sure can. Here. I’ll help you put it on.” He stood, taking the chain from the box. I lifted my ponytail so he could clasp it behind my neck. The locket rested above my cleavage, the silver metal looking nice and shiny.
“I probably should leave it home while I go camping.” I said, biting my lip.
“No. I think you should wear it so I know I’m with you the entire time. Watching every move you make. Everyone.” A horn honked out front and I could see Cindy’s blue station wagon idling at the curb.
“Yes, Daddy. I get it. I’ll behave. Have a good weekend, okay?” I gave him a peck on the cheek before heading for the front door. He followed behind me, leaning against the post on the porch as I jogged down the steps. Cory climbed out of the front seat, pulling it up so I could squeeze behind him. He winked at me as I neared the car. He gave my Dad a wave as I climbed into the back seat. Henry was be here as well, the fourteen-year-old was engrossed in a video game in his hand. His black hair was cut short to his scalp and his bean pole figure was dressed in a hoodie and jeans. He made a noise to acknowledge I was there as Cory put the seat back and hopped back in.
“Happy birthday, Abby!” Cindy said, pulling away from the curb.
“Thanks. Thank you for letting me come along with you guys this weekend.” I replied, tossing my backpack in the back of the wagon and buckling my seat belt.
“Well, it wouldn’t be an adventure without you there too.” She said, grinning at me in the rear-view mirror.
“Pretty sure it’s henry that makes everything an adventure.” Cory said, tossing something at Henry. His little brother swore, the object hitting him in the forehead. He dropped the game in his hand and tossed it back.
“Boys, I will leave you on the side of the road and make this a girl’s trip.” Cindy warned. The two grumbled under their breaths. The mood in the car lightened as we left town, heading south on the highway. Cindy’s family camp was an hour away, located at a camp grounds just east of the Croatan National Forest. I went there with them a few times for day trips and a family reunion last year. It was a beautiful little place, set on White Oak River. It’s quiet, peaceful and far enough away from all my problems.
Momma’s condition has been growing worse day by day. Her crying episodes have been increasing, her just locking herself in her room. She was refusing to see anyone but Daddy now and if she thinks Grams is coming too close, she breaks the nearest object. There was barely anything left in their room and she hadn’t been out to her studio in what felt like months. Her paintings have gone untouched and her easel was collecting dust. It was like the person she was before no longer existed. She was an emotional empty shell of the mother I once knew. She hasn’t spoken to me much either. When I do see her, she stares into space or talks to herself. Daddy says it’s the new medication she’s on. I think it’s her mind giving up on her. Whatever it was, she liked to pretend I wasn’t there. So, I did my best to do just that. I spent as much time out of the house as I could, practically living at Cory’s house when I was able to. I left the house early for school and came home after I knew she’d be in bed. It was just easier this way, staying out of my Dad and Grams’ ways.
The station wagon pulled into the campgrounds about an hour later. We bounced a bit along the dirt road until Cindy stopped in front of lot 435. She killed the engine, putting the emergency brake on to avoid the car rolling anywhere. We all climbed out, dragging the equipment with us. Cindy made Henry leave his game in the car while they set up the tents. I set up my own, keeping it an even space away from the other ones. Cory assembled his and Henry’s as well as Cindy’s while she carried all the rest of our things over to the supplied picnic table. We seemed to be the only ones on this side of the camp grounds, no other tents, cabins or RVs to be seen. Our sight over looked the river, people kayaking on it and sea gulls flying overhead. I smiled at the smell of the fresh air, summer creeping in the June breeze.
“What do you guys want to do first?” Cindy asked, sitting down. I tossed my back pack in my tent and fixed my sweat shirt. I knew it was going to be chiller up here so I dressed in a black hooded sweat shirt and a pair of jeans.
“Go home.” Henry mumbled, plopping down at the table. Cory shut him a glare, pounding in the last tent stake.
“You didn’t have to come. You could have stayed home.” Cindy said, rolling her eyes. I smirked to myself, hiding it behind my hands as I pretending to itch my nose.
“Abby and I want to walk down by the river. How about you guys find us some dinner and we’ll meet back here in an hour?” Cory suggested, tossing the rubber mallet back in the car.
“Sounds fair to me. I was thinking something from that little place at the front of the park. Come on, Henry.”
“I wanna go with them.” Henry said, shoving his hands into his hoodie. Cory flashed a look at Cindy who nodded. I was apparently missing something.
“No. I need your help. Come on.” She stood, hooking her arm with his. She practically dragged him towards the car. Once they were in, she started the engine and started off down the path to the entrance.
“Any reason you wanted to get rid of them?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at Cory. He shrugged, walking towards the walking path that led to the river. I followed.
“No reason. Just thought it was a nice evening for a little walk. That’s all.”
“Sure it is.” I replied. Together, we walked down the path. It was about a half a mile trip, the path easy enough for anyone to take it. Here and there, people were scatted at sites and different activities like horse shoes and bocce ball. Kids were running around, throwing frisbees at each other while others were playing soccer in a big empty patch of sites. There was a playground across from the opening of the river, younger children swinging on swings and sliding down the slide. Someone was unloading kayaks into the water as we passed, a couple a little older than us laughing as they climbed into the smaller boats. Everyone we passed was smiling and enjoying their time away from home. It made me smile as well, happy to be with Cory and his family to relax.
“Wanna sit?” Cory asked, pointing at a bench that was on the bank of the river. I nodded, stepping towards it. I sat, him sliding in next to me.
“It’s so beautiful here. I’m so glad that you guys invited me.”
“Well, we kinda planned this trip on your birthday for a reason. I figured you could use the time away from home.”
“That’s the understatement of the century.” Sighing, I leaned forward and propped my elbows on my knees. “Thanks. I appreciate it. It’s one of the nicest birthday presents I’ve ever gotten.”
“That’s not your present, goofball.” Cory laughed. Reaching behind him, he pulled something from the back pocket of his blue jeans. “Here.” He held out an envelope. “You can’t open it yet though, okay?”
“What? Why would you give me it now then?”
“A little torture is good for the soul.” He smirked, winking at me.
“Fine.” I muttered, taking the envelope. I shoved it into the pocket of my hoodie.
“But, there is another one you can open now.” He handed me another piece of paper. I quickly unfolded it, scanning the words on the page.
Dear Miss Oliver,
We would like to thank you for your submission of the short story, “Til We Meet Again.” After consideration, we have picked your piece to be published in our short story collection. You will receive a free copy of the book after it is published and set for sale. Congratulations and thank you again.
CEO of Penguin Publishers
I glanced at Cory confused. “What does this mean? It has to be a mistake. I never submitted anything to them.”
“No. I did. I took one of your short stories about a month ago when I was at your house. I made a copy of it on the computer and mailed it to them. Yours was picked out of 3,000 submissions. Only twenty other people were picked as well. I hope you’re not mad.”
“Mad? This is incredible! I’m getting something published!” I exclaimed, smiling at him.
“You deserve it. After everything you’ve written and worked for, I thought it was something you might get picked for.”
“Thanks, Cory. This is the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.” Leaning over, I kissed him on the cheek. His ears turned pink along with his cheeks.
We walked back to the camp site, meting Cindy and Henry. They were setting out a nice dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs and fries. We ate, chatting about what we had planned tomorrow. Cory was hoping to take my over to the river to do some fishing. Cindy wanted to visit the small town nearby. It was a tourist spot, small shops and stores for people to buy souvenirs at. Henry just wanted to hide somewhere he could play his video games. He was at that cheerful age where nothing matters but what he wanted. Cory would rather shove him in the river than share a tent with him the whole weekend. I hoped for Henry’s sake he had the sense to keep his mouth shut when they were in there tonight.
The sun began to set while Cory and Henry built a fire in the small fire pit. I helped Cindy clean up our garbage and grab the stuff for smores from her back seat. The boys had a nice fire going as we sat on chairs around it, the heat feeling nice as the heat from the sun vanished with it. We made s’mores, roasting marshmallows on the flame and squishing them between graham crackers and chocolate. They were delicious, tasting like a bit of heaven in my mouth with each bite.
“Hey.” Cory said softly, nudging my arm. I glanced in his direction, the sound of Cindy and Henry bickering on my other side softening. “Follow me.” He stood, wiping his hands on his pants. I peeked at Cindy, hoping she wasn’t looking. She was too busy arguing with Henry to notice me get up and following Cory. I followed him in the dark for a few moments until we came out in a small clearing. He stood, looking up at the sky. It was dark, little white lights twinkling down at us. The moon was full as well, shining brightly.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“You can open your other present now.” He stated.
“It’s dark, though. I won’t be able to read it.”
“Here.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a travel size flash light. Turning it on, he handed it to me. I took it, pulling the envelope from my back pocket. I ripped it open, pulling out the paper inside. I read it quickly. “You bought me a star?”
“I did. It’s right there.” He pointed up at the sky, as if I was going to pick out the one he was talking about. “I figured that since you are going to become one, you might one to look up to every night to try to be like.”
“Thank you, Cory. It’s beautiful.”
“Not as beautiful as you.” He said softly. I was thankful of the darkness as my cheeks burned when I blushed. I heard him shuffle as he tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “Happy birthday.”
“It’s been quite the birthday.” I replied.
“I didn’t want to ask you before because of everything going on but we did promise to discuss this once you turned 16. So, do you want to try being boyfriend-girlfriend?” He asked.
“I haven’t really thought about it. I didn’t think you would ask me so soon.” I honestly replied, sliding the paper back in my pocket. “Do I need to give you an answer right now?”
“No. I’ll wait. I’ve waited this long. A few more days won’t kill me.”
“It won’t be too long. I promise.”
“Alright but can I do something before you decide?” He asked.
“Okay.” He stepped closer to me and leaned in. His lips pressed against mine for the first time in over a year. They felt warm to the touch and soft. His arms wrapped around my waist as I rested my hands on his shoulders. He pulled me closer, his fingers massaging the muscles of my back. I always loved kissing Cory. It was like a high I never felt before. Granted, he was the only boy I’ve actually kissed, I always imagined he was better than most other people. He broke the kiss off, pressing his forehead against mine.
“I’ve wanted to do that for over a year now. I missed kissing you.” He whispered. He cupped his hand on my face, running his thumb over my cheek.
“I think that’s cheating, Mr. Forester.” I responded, trying to catch my breath.
“Just wanted to level my playing field. That’s all. We should get back before Cindy sends out a search party for us.” Taking my hand, he led me back to the camp site. Cindy was opening her sleeping back in her tent while Henry was already inside of his.
“There you two are. Time for shut eye. Everyone in their tents, okay? No funny business or everyone will be sleeping in here with me.” Cindy said, smiling at us.
“Yes, aunt Cindy. I’ll see you girls in the morning.” Cory said, giving my hand a squeeze before heading for his tent. I climbed into mine, zipping it up. I heard movement in the tents next to mine as everyone climbed into their sleeping bags. I pulled off my hoodie, t-shirt, bra and jeans, tossing a white t-shirt on. I shoved everything into my pack before climbing into my sleeping bag. Fluffing my pillow, I laid back and listened to the sounds of nature. I could hear crickets and the sound of the water in the river below. Soft snoring mixed in with it, telling me Cindy was asleep. I smiled to myself, thinking of the day I had just had. It had been an amazing day. I hated to see if end as my eyes slowly closed.
The sound of the zipper on my tent opening a little while later made me wake up. Looking over, I watched as it came undone and Cory quickly climbed inside. He zipped it back up, kicking his shoes off on the other side of the tent. Turning, he grinned when he saw I was still awake. “Hey.” He whispered, crawling towards me. “Figured you would still be awake.”
“Well I wasn’t until some creep breaking into my tent woke me up.” I whispered back. I unzipped my sleeping back, pointing at the space next to me. “Want to lay down?”
“Sure.” Laying down, he slipped into the area next to me and tossed the blanket over the both of us. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer. “Haven’t slept like this with you in a long time. Not since your Dad caught us.”
“Ugh. That day was crazy. Feels like a life time ago.”
“I know what you mean. Hard to believe we’re both sixteen now. I remember being ten years old and meeting this dorky new girl in my class.”
“Dorky? Please. Nerdy at best.” I replied, winking at him.
“I suppose that is a better term. Can’t imagine what my life would be like if you didn’t move here.”
“Mine either.” I whispered, rolling over so I was face to face with him. “You’re the one thing in my life I don’t have any regrets over, Cory.”
“Really?” I nodded. “Abz, there’s something I gotta tell you. I don’t want you to freak out though.”
“I hate when you start off with that.”
“I love you. I’ve loved you since the day I first met you and I know I’m going to keep on loving you til the die I die. I know we’re young but I just feel like you’re the one person put on this planet I was destined to meet. The reason I bought you that star is because you are the brightest thing in my life and I wanted you to have something like I do.”
“I already do, Cory. I have you.” I felt my heart swell as he confessed his feelings for me. Gripping my shoulder, he pulled me closer and kissed me. It was gentle at first but grew with passion as time passed. I positioned myself so I was on my elbow but he suddenly rolled over, pulling me on top of him. Sitting up, he ran his hands down my sides until they rested on my hips. His jeans were digging into my bare thighs and I ignored the fact it was the first time he had seen me without pants on.
While we kissed, I tugged on the collar of his t-shirt. I pulled bringing it up his torso. Lifting his hands, he let my pull it off and toss it to the side. We locked eyes as he gripped the edge of my t-shirt. “It’s okay.” I whispered. Reaching down, I moved his hands before pulling my shirt off for him. The air was cool on my exposed skin and I felt oddly comfortable being mostly naked in front of Cory. It felt natural, almost as it had happened before. Returning to the kiss, I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed our bare chests against each other. I felt something underneath my ass harden and I gasped into the kiss when I realized what it was.
“Let me know if you want to stop.” Cory whispered, looking up at me. I nodded, balancing myself on his lap.
“It’s fine.” I replied. Wrapping his arms around me, he rolled back over and laid me down in the sleeping bag. He kissed my cheek then my neck, followed by smaller kisses down the area between y breasts. Using his hands, he gripped each of them and gently massaged them. It felt amazing and my body arched in reflect. He moved his hand from my left breast, replacing it with his mouth. The mix of his hot breath and the cool air on my skin was tremendous. I let out a soft whimper as he moved from one breast to the other. I bit my lip, doing my best to contain the noises I was making. I felt his hands move from my bosom and slide down my body under they stopped on either side of my hips. Looking down, I saw he was glancing up at me.
“Is this okay?” He asked. I nodded, afraid to speak. Placing a thumb into the lining of my underwear under each of my ass cheeks, he slid my underwear down until they were completely off. He tossed the black lacy panties to the side of the tent. His hands traveled up my legs from my knees, stopping below my inner thigh. His right hand shifted and I shuddered as his finger traced the opening of my womanhood. He did it again, my hips bucking each time he touched a certain area of my skin. I bit my pillow as he continued, the amazing feeling causing something to build inside of me. I wasn’t sure what it was but it made me want to howl out in pleasure. He picked up the paced, adding pressure to the area as he went. My knees trembled as the building feeling reached a new height, causing my whole body to shake. A burst of pleasure consumed my body and mind as my eyes rolled back into my head. I wasn’t sure if that was an orgasm or not but I knew I wanted to feel it again.
Cory shifted his body, pulling his jeans off while I came back to planet Earth. I sat up as he did, eyeing the now bulging guest in his pants. I had never seen a penis before. Not even on television. I’d never watch porn to get an idea and in North Carolina, sex education wasn’t the most advanced class there was. Cory’s was beginning to get out of his dark blue boxer brief, pushing against the fabric. Reaching out, I touched it through his underwear. He let out a hiss when I did, closing his eye. My fingers trembled as I ran them along the entirety of it through the cloth material. When I reached the opening, I moved it until it maneuvered its way out. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen. It reminded me of snake with a mushroom cap shaped head. It was warm to the touch and felt different than the rest of Cory’s skin. It was soft and hard at the same time. Each time I touched it, it seemed to move towards me hand. Cory gripped my hand in his, moving it so my hand wrapped around the shaft of it. He guided it up and down, giving me the notion to follow this movement as he let go. His breathing was getting harder as I did. Like me, he was enjoying whatever that feeling was. I did as he did with me, picking up the pace. Suddenly, he grabbed my hand again and stopped me.
“Lay back.” He panted. I nodded, doing what I was told. He crawled over me, spreading my legs with his. Leaning in close to my face, he tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. “Are you sure about this? We don’t have to go all the way.”
“No. It’s okay. I want it to be with you. I’m ready.” I whispered. He gave me a small smile before kissing me. Pulling back, he positioned himself between my thighs and adjusted himself. I felt something near the until now none operable ride entrance. I gripped my pillow, awaiting the pain that I always heard came from losing your virginity. Angie was the only person I knew that had lost it already and she said it felt like getting stabbed with an ice pick a punch of times. I squeezed my eyes shut in anticipation as he slid himself inside of me slowly. It felt a little comfortable as he did, the feeling new to me. A slight pinch was growing as he went deeper. It was like a paper cut almost. Cory glanced at me as he gripped my hips.
“You ready?” He asked.
“Just do it.” I replied. Nodding, he pushed his hips forward with a quick motion. The pinch turned into a jabbing feeling that made me swear under my breath. He stopped as I did, giving me a worried look.
“It’ll hurt a few more times but will feel better soon.” He said softly. I nodded, hoping he was telling me the truth. He pulled back slightly before pushing back in. He did this a few times, the pain ebbing away with each thrust. Soon, the pain was replaced with that feeling I had from before. My cries were getting louder, causing me to bury my face in my pillow. His breathing was becoming labored again as he left kisses on my neck and cheeks. I gripped his shoulders tightly, digging my nails into him as the sensation increased. He picked up his tempo, making the feeling grow quicker. My body began to shudder under his, the explosion of pleasure hitting me. He swore under his breath, biting my collar bone slightly as he yanked himself out of me. He collapsed slightly on top of me, both of us trying to catch our breath. After a while, he shifted so he was lying next to me. I wrapped myself around him, pulling the sleeping bag over us.
“Well, that was better than I thought it would be.” I whispered.
“Did it hurt?” He asked. I shrugged.
“Only for a second. I’m okay, Cory.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I know you would never hurt me. I trust you.”