It was awkward work. His only tool was a pair of pliers, and the nuts were rusted on to the four bolts attaching the center thwart to the canoe. The bolts tended to twist when he tried to turn the nuts, making them impossible to loosen. After giving the problem some thought, he managed to use the pot gripper as a second pair of pliers to lock the bolt into position, and he was making slow but steady progress on his work, but not without the occasional curse and scraped knuckle.
The sleek yellow canoe was pulled up on the rocks in a tiny nook in the pine-clad shore. They were camped on a low rocky point that jutted out from the southeast side of the lake, affording a beautiful view of the hills and ridges surrounding Monash Lake, as well as the spectacle of the daily sunset. On the west side of the point, where it met the mainland, was the little swampy landing beach where he now worked. On the other side, the shore was steeper, dropping quickly into the depths of the lake: a perfect spot for swimming.
They had arrived here yesterday, after a rather long day of travel, picking their way west along the shore of a large lake, using every point, bay and island to make slow progress against the relentless headwind. Finally they had reached the portage to Monash, barely marked by a beer can on a branch hanging over the water. Monash was a side lake off the main canoe route; a dead end, infrequently visited. The portage was faint and rarely used, and their campsite was nearly pristine. A perfect place to spend their rest day.
This was their fourth day out on a week-long canoe trip, their second of this first summer they had been together. Although they had started out in a hard, chilling rain, the weather had cleared that first evening and it had been sunny with deep azure skies and cool starry nights ever since: perfect weather for August. They had been travelling hard, making good distances every day, even with the many portages. They had become an efficient team, managing to “one trip” the portages after the first day. This meant that Mark carried the canoe and the food barrel, while Monica managed the big pack and all the “loose-age”: paddles, PFD’s and their fishing rod, that could not easily be packed. The big pack was nearly as large as Monica, and she resembled a walking brick, hunched a bit, tumpline on her forehead, taking short steps as she carefully made her way over the rough trails, occasionally swatting at the bothersome mosquitoes and deerflies with her one free hand.
But in truth the bugs were not very bad. It had been a warm, dry summer, and by August, all the blackflies and most of the mosquitoes were gone, lingering only on the damp portages. The steady winds helped too. August was the only month of the year when you could actually relax on the shore in the evenings, warm and untroubled by biting insects. You could have the warmth in June and July, and be bug-free in September, but August was the only month that featured both attributes.
Their side-trip to Monash meant that they would have to re-trace their steps over the portage and back to the main canoe route, but it was well worth the effort to find such a beautiful and secluded spot. They had this lake all to themselves: there were no other good campsites and it was highly unlikely that any other travellers would come here. Six months into their relationship, they made their own world together, and had no need of others.
The lake itself was gorgeous. It was shaped vaguely like an elongated triangle, with the long sides oriented west to east. The west side was fairly wide and cut by two bays that extended further into the low dark forest there. The north side featured high rocky hills, with some low cliffs in the middle section. In the distance they could make out the tiny cabin on top of a fire tower, perhaps 10 km away on the highest hill in the area. The lake narrowed towards the east, ending in a crescent beach, a real rarity on these granite-ribbed lakes. They hadn’t been to the beach yet, but the distant white sands looked enticing. The shores were clad in a mixture of white pine, black spruce, pockets of birch and poplar, and, on the most exposed, least fertile spots, his favourite, the scraggly jack pine, bent into weird bonsai-like shapes by the fierce winds and heavy winter snows.
Finally removing the last nut from its rusty bolt, Mark carefully removed the thwart, tapping it with a heavy stick to free it from the gunwales. Putting the thwart aside, he pulled out the bolts and put them into his pocket, along with the nuts and washers, for safekeeping. Then he repeated the process with the front thwart, removing it too. Surveying his handiwork, he saw that removing the thwarts opened up the area between the stern and bow seats, providing a clear and slightly curved area about a meter wide and three meters long. Lots of room, for what he had in mind. It left the canoe sides a bit flimsy, but that wouldn’t matter for this trip.
Making his way back to the tent site, he saw Monica sitting on the rocks in her shorts and tee-shirt, engrossed in a paperback. He had told her to stay there, saying he was preparing a surprise for her. After some cajoling she had agreed, although she was obviously intensely curious about his plans. He unzipped the tent and crawled inside, leaving the door open behind him. Their single sleeping bag, unzipped to form a quilt, covered the fleece blanket they slept on. They used one bag to save weight and bulk, but really because, at this point in their relationship, they just couldn’t imagine not sleeping together, not being able to touch. Under the fleece blanket, strapped together side by side with a light cord, were their two full-length sleeping pads, self-inflating models with foam inside that expanded when the air valve was opened. At the top end of the bed, their extra clothes were rolled up in as-yet unneeded fleece jackets, which served as makeshift pillows.
Mark folded the two pads together with the bottom blanket, and rolled them up into a manageable bundle, then pushed it out the door before him. He took the pads and blanket down to the canoe and spread them out on the bottom, side by side with the blanket on top. The two pads combined were wider than the canoe, especially as it narrowed towards either end. However the excess simply curled up the curved side of the canoe. It looked like a cozy nest.
They had bought the canoe, used, in the spring, their first major purchase together. It was a 17 foot kevlar model. Sleek and fast, it tracked well, but was perhaps a bit slow to turn, making it not ideal for whitewater. The bottom was two layers with a foam core between to provide stiffness, rather than the usual ridged ribs. For his present purpose, this provided a smooth surface that was ideal.
Mark retrieved a small mesh bag from his pocket, in which he usually kept his socks and underwear, and proceeded to fill it with fist-sized rocks that were abundant on the shoreline. When it was full, he tied the bag of rocks to the stern painter of the canoe, providing a makeshift anchor with about three meters of line. He coiled the rope and placed the anchor in the back of the canoe, within easy reach of the stern paddler.
He returned to the fire pit, where the food barrel, a blue plastic drum attached by straps and buckles to a carrying harness, stood on its end under a shade tree. Mark unbuckled the lid and removed the many zip-loc bags containing their pre-packed meals, as well as sundry items like chocolate, coffee and snacks. These had to be kept packed and sealed so they would not be raided by the inquisitive and apparently starving red squirrels that abounded in the area. He re-packed all the food, except for a bar of dark chocolate which he put in his pocket, in the large pack, which was lying nearly empty nearby. Next, he undid the straps holding on the carrying harness with its shoulder straps and waist belt, leaving the barrel naked to its smooth and slippery plastic skin. He picked up the empty barrel and carried it to the canoe, placing it in the space between the front seat and the bow.
The interior of the canoe now resembled a cozy bed, just wide enough in the middle for two very good friends, and narrowing towards either end. Mark nodded to himself in satisfaction: this was good, this would work. Almost done.
He had been thinking about this, planning it, for weeks, since well before the start of the trip. Now things had come together perfectly: it was a beautiful day, sunny but not too hot, with a light wind blowing from the west down the length of the lake. He felt good. They had made love last night, as they had every night and some mornings of the trip, their need overcoming the day’s fatigue. Even so he felt his excitement and anticipation rising. This would be special, a memory for a lifetime, no matter how it worked out. He was ready to spring his surprise.
He had met her six months ago, in the depths of winter, on a ski trip.
When he had moved to Winnipeg two years ago to start his Masters degree, he had found life on campus in a big city to be soul-destroying. He had no friends or family in the area, and the city itself seemed austere, cold and unwelcoming. But then again all cities seemed that way to him.
He had grown up in what was then a town just outside of Toronto, almost a bedroom community for that city, really. It was a classic suburban upbringing, with two cars in the driveway, a swing set in the back yard, and quiet streets with young maples on the boulevards. He was the youngest of three, spaced closely together: boy-girl-boy. But his family differed from most of the others in the area in one way: they owned a small cottage on a river, about a three hour drive from home.
The cottage itself was nothing special: just a four-room pre-fab with bunk beds in the kid’s bedrooms and a picnic table in the dining/living room. Nor was it particularly isolated: the stretch of river before the rapid was lined with cottages, and the water was alive with powerboats towing all manner of skiers, boarders and tubers in warm summer months. But the river formed the eastern border of a small provincial wilderness area, which abounded with un-cottaged lakes, swamps and creeks. The area was granite-ribbed Canadian shield, with mixed deciduous forest, mostly maple, birch, poplar and oak, but also giant white pines and scraggly spruce clinging to the low lakeshores.
The family piled into their big Dodge woody station wagon and trooped up to the cottage nearly every weekend, summer and winter, and spent their month-long holiday there in August. Mark thought nothing of the long drive, passing the time reading, playing “I spy” or bickering with his brother and sister. The long summer days were spent lazing on the dock, swimming now and then to cool off. Dad would take them waterskiing once a day. On days when the weather wasn’t so fine, he would hike into one of the back lakes with his father and brother. They kept a small plywood boat that his father had made and dragged up the creek during the high water season hidden in the bush, along with a set of oars. The boat was just barely big enough for the three of them, with Mark perched in the bow and his brother in the stern, their father in the middle handling the oars. They would usually wait until the late afternoon to go, because they knew the fishing was best in the early evening. They would row out to the bass hotspots that ringed the shore, casting out their big dew worms impaled on hooks. Mostly they caught voracious sunfish, which often stripped the worms off the hooks, necessitating constant re-baiting. But sometimes a big smallmouth would take the bait, fighting fiercely, leaping out of the water, desperately trying to shake the hook out of its mouth, and often successful in doing it. But they always managed to land five or six nice bass over the evening.
They would hike back in the late evening in the fading light, carrying their catch on makeshift stringers made of forked branches strung through the gills of the fish, the tails often dragging on the ground as they walked. The mosquitoes were often fierce in the dusk, necessitating an application of the stinking repellent, a chemical so reactive it stripped the varnish off their canoe paddles, but which was somehow considered fine to put on a child’s skin. The two boys would struggle to keep up with their long-legged father, who was in a hurry to get back before dark. But they always made it with plenty of time to spare, and a brace of fish to show off to their mother and unimpressed sister.
Their father had been an early adopter of the snowmobile, and the family had a series of the noisy, temperamental machines that saw heavy use during the winter. Luckily Dad was a talented handyman who could fix almost anything, so he managed to keep at least one machine running most of the time. The kids spent hours on these machines, riding the trails and the ice of the nearby lakes, fighting over who would drive and who would sit on the back. Sometimes they would enlist Dad or Mom to tow them on skis, often fashioning a makeshift ski jump on the river ice for jumping competitions. Lots of falls, but never any injuries. Kids are tough.
They caught the cross-country skiing craze of the 1970’s, and each of them was outfitted with a pair of wooden skis with three-pin bindings, bamboo poles, leather boots and gaiters. Mark was the most enthusiastic skier, learning the arcane arts of applying pine tar to the skis, and choosing the right wax to use for the temperature and the snow. He loved to go off by himself for hours on end, striding along the snowmobile trails, or making his own trail through the bush. Navigation was much easier than in the summer, and he could, and usually did, follow his own tracks back to his starting point. He loved the challenge of breaking his own trail through deep untouched snow, finding his way using only his knowledge of the land (and a map and compass). The beaver swamps were a joy, offering easy passage, untrammelled snow and abundant signs of wildlife. He loved the feel of skiing: there was a joy in the kick-and-glide motion that, when the snow was good and the wax was right, made him feel so free, almost as if he was flying over the snow.
When they reached their teenage years, his brother and sister lost interest in the cottage, begging to be left behind to be with their friends. Mark was different: he never lost his love for the wild places just across the river. A teacher at the high school started an “Outers Club”, bringing together students with an interest in hiking, skiing and canoeing for occasional trips in the local area. Through the club, Mark developed a small circle of friends who shared his interests, and the cottage provided an excellent base for more extensive trips. During the summer, he and a friend would go on canoe trips lasting as long as a week, dragging and poling up the shallow creeks, freighting their gear over the rocky and often swampy portages, paddling across the lakes and swamps. They tried their hand at winter camping, nearly freezing to death the first few times. They learned as they went: how to dry and pack their own food, how to make a fire, how to cook, how to camp. It was the perfect playground: not so isolated to be dangerous, but it felt like wilderness to them.
Things changed when he started his undergraduate degree at university. Majoring in the sciences, he quickly learned that there was no real trick to doing well: you just had to finish the labs and assignments on time, write the essays and study for the exams. But all that took time, leaving little left over for anything else. By second year he was doing little else but work and study. During the summers he took a series of menial, but relatively well-paying jobs to pay the bills. No time left for canoeing, camping or much of a social life. But his marks were good, he was getting scholarships, and there was light at the end of the tunnel, or so he reasoned to himself.
He had always felt the call of the forests and tundra of the far north. His youthful fantasy had been to paddle the wild rivers of the North. Their very names called out to him: the Dubawnt, Kazan, Thelon, Back and Coppermine. In his imagination the wide-open vistas of the tundra opened before him as he navigated his canoe down pristine ice-water streams, heroically shooting dangerous rapids and tirelessly surmounting gruelling portages. But he lacked the money, know-how, and, if he was honest about it, the will to actually pursue this dream. Somehow he managed to conflate his romantic vision of the Arctic with a desire to actually live and work there, an entirely different thing from a journey of personal exploration. But the Arctic was what he wanted, and go there he must.
And that is how he had ended up in Winnipeg, doing a graduate degree at the University of Manitoba, spending five months of the year in the High Arctic. His research involved catching creatures that lived on the underside of the sea ice, which required, above all else, drilling thousands of holes in ice as much as two meters thick. Living in a field camp, cheek by jowl with other researchers, scrambling for the equipment and resources necessary to do his project. Learning, slowly and often painfully, to work in the numbing cold and incessant wind. Bouncing around for hours on end on a snowmobile or qamutiq, covering the kilometers, drilling the holes, deploying the net, decanting the bugs, freezing his fingers in seawater that felt like icy fire. The reality of it all was certainly quite different from the dream.
The summer and fall months were spent in Winnipeg, where he had a small apartment in a converted house close to the University. Days were spent in the lab, hunched over a dissecting microscope, sometimes dizzy from the fumes of the alcohol preservative, counting and identifying the creatures in his samples. Actually, he had a lot more free time than he did back in his days as an undergraduate. There was very little coursework required, and no exams or essays. The lab was not accessible after working hours, so he was forced to keep a regular schedule. This left more time for other pursuits, and even a low-level social life. A couple of times per month he would get together with other graduate students for a beer and an informal seminar where one of them would present their work in progress. They were generally an affable lot, and he made some casual friendships. But none of them shared his interest in outdoor pursuits.
One of these friends, assuming he was some sort of modern-day hippy, or perhaps a nudist, recommended that he join the local Naturalists Club. The club was mostly a haven for birdwatchers, who dominated the meetings with their endlessly tedious expositions of who-had-seen-what-where. But there was a small clique of members who shared his interest in more strenuous outdoor pursuits.
The club owned a wilderness cabin in a provincial park a couple of hours east of the city. The cabin was a former fishing lodge that had gone bankrupt and had somehow been acquired by the government, who gifted it to the club in return for the promise that they would keep it up and allow public access. This had worked out well for the club, and the cabin was used most weekends throughout the year. Members could sign up for trips to the cabin by canoe in the summer or ski in the winter. Getting there was a big part of the experience. Originally the fishing lodge guests had been flown in by floatplane. The canoe journey was a rugged six hour trip requiring five portages, including a notoriously steep one dubbed the “up and over”. If anything, the winter ski trip was easier, following a rough, untracked trail for half the distance, then the canoe route over the frozen lakes and portages for the rest. If the trail had been broken since the most recent snowfall, the trip could be done in three or four hours. Because of the time required to travel to and from the cabin, most trips included a Friday or Monday, leaving a free day at the cabin.
The cabin itself was basic: two small bedrooms with four bunks each, and a single large room combining a small kitchen with a two-burner propane stove, dining area and chairs arranged around the woodstove. A large picnic table made of hewn poles and chain-sawed planks served as a dining table. In fact all the furniture followed a similar fashion, made from skinned poles mortised together, surfaced with hand-sawn planks, the varnish going brown with age. Outside a woodshed was kept well-stocked by work parties during the fall, and a well ventilated outhouse actually had a nice view of the lake.
Down the hill from the cabin, right by the lakeshore, a small rough-log building looked like it had sat there since the beginning of time. This was the sauna, and it was Mark’s favourite feature of the place. The sauna was wood-fired, so someone would have to go down and light the stove about an hour before it could be used. It was best to stay down there and tend the fire, building it up until the black iron stove glowed dull red in the dim light. The fire-lighter was also responsible for clearing a path to the lake, and in the winter, opening up the rectangular hole in the ice that served as a water source and, for the daring, provided an icy plunge.
Once the sauna was hot and ready, they would troop down the rough rock staircase from the cabin, towels and water bottles in hand. Outside the main sauna was a small anteroom with a bench and hangers on the wall, just large enough for about four people, which was also about the maximum number the sauna could comfortably accommodate.
Mark’s first trip in had been on skis, and he had had trooped down to the sauna with three others, another guy and two women. They squeezed into the little anteroom and began undressing to go into the hot part of the sauna. Mark had never really been in a sauna before, and had no knowledge of the finer points of sauna etiquette. So he watched the woman next to him, a thin chestnut-haired girl about his age named Sandra, out of the corner of his eye, matching his state of undress to hers. She was a sauna veteran, so he supposed she knew the score. She caught him looking at her once or twice and smiled wryly, perhaps understanding his conundrum. First, off with the boots and socks. There were several pairs of plastic flip-flops in the anteroom to keep their bare feet off the icy plank floor. Then, off with the heavy sweaters, shirts, and pants leaving just their long underwear and undergarments. Without hesitation, Sandra removed her undershirt and reached behind her back to unhitch her sports bra, peeling it off and hanging it on the hook behind her. In a rush now, because it was well below freezing in the room, she peeled off her longies and undies in one motion, dropped them on the bench behind her and rushed to get into the sauna. Mark followed suit, stripping down to nothing and following her into the dimly-lit sauna, closing the heavy wooden door behind him to keep the heat in while the two others continued undressing.
A wall of intense dry heat greeted them as they scrambled up onto the highest of the wooden benches that lined two of the walls, each wide enough to seat two with some room to spare. The only light in the sauna came from a couple of candles on the floor in the corner, put there presumably so they wouldn’t melt in the searing heat. A wooden scoop like a gigantic spoon hung on the wall, and Sandra immediately used it to scoop water from a bucket on the lower bench and throw it onto the tray of rocks on top of the faintly glowing woodstove. With a loud hiss, a cloud of hot steam, which he later learned was called by its Finnish name, loyly, rose off the rocks, deflected off the ceiling and enveloped them. The effect was immediate and body-consuming: a moist heat so intense that his skin became soaked in sweat almost instantly. It was all he could do to resist the near-panicked urge to flee to the sauna immediately. But that was not even possible, as the other two just then entered, blocking the door, and then sat together on the high bench on the wall adjacent to Mark and Sandra.
After the initial shock of the intensely hot steam wave, he was able to put his head back, close his eyes and relax into the experience. The warm moist air was like a blanket, cradling his body, draining the tension from his tired muscles and bones. His skin tingled as he began to sweat, the drops of moisture running down his body. The sensations were intense; so beyond the ordinary. Normally, intense heat was something to be feared and avoided, but this was a safe environment: he could walk out whenever he wanted to. That allowed him to savour the feeling of his body warming, use the heat to relax his tired muscles, enjoy the near-ecstatic feeling of his blood vessels opening up, bringing the flow to the surface. There was nothing quite like it: it was wonderful.
Conversation flowed easily in the sauna. At first Mark thought it would be awkward, being naked together with a group of near-strangers. Maybe he would get an erection! But he quickly realized that the sauna was not erotically inspiring. All society’s taboos against nakedness revolved around sex, but sex in the sauna was pretty much unthinkable. Too much work! Mostly they talked about the trip in and their plans for tomorrow, but no subject was off-limits. He was amazed at how intimate he could become with a group of strangers in such a short time. They talked about anything and everything.
Now and then one of them would use the scoop to throw more water on the hot rocks, producing another wave of loyly. Generally this would silence the conversation for a few minutes as they let the steam wash over them, welcoming the sensations it gave them. They also took turns using the assortment of brushes hanging from hooks on the wall, dipping them into the icy water bucket and scouring their skin. Sometimes they would scrub one another’s backs. The cold water on hot skin, the scratching of the brush: this was a sensory feast unlike anything he had experienced before. Glorious.
After a time the heat would build up in their bodies to the point where it started to make them anxious. Time for a cool-off: the sauna was all about contrast, as Sandra explained to him. After stoking the stove, they would troop outside, through the anteroom and down the short snow-packed trail to the dock. One of the guys had earlier used a chisel to open up an oblong hole in the lake ice. Across the hole was suspended log about one fist in diameter, a size easy to grasp. That first time, Sandra had been eager to show them how it was done. She bent down, grasped the pole in both hands, and jumped into the hole, using her arms to push herself fully underwater. She stayed that way for a few seconds, only her hands visible on the pole, then hoisted herself up, shaking her head and giving a loud whoop of joy. She then used the pole to climb out of the water, briefly standing on the ice in her bare feet before she donned her sandals. Vapour poured off her body as it met the cold, dry air, and her nipples were hard and erect with the chill. She looked up at the starry sky and howled with delight.
One by one they followed suit, Mark being the last. No question, he was apprehensive. Although not overt, there was certainly some peer pressure here: everyone else had done it, and indeed had seemed to enjoy it. So in he went, slipping into the hole and pushing himself underwater as Sandra and the others had done.
It was, quite literally, stunning. The sheer magnitude of sensation was overwhelming, the intensely cold water activating every nerve cell on his body. A tsunami of the senses. That first time, he nearly panicked, and popped out of the hole like he had been shot out of a cannon. The others remarked that they had never seen a faster exit. On subsequent visits he began to appreciate the experience. There was really nothing like it, an intensity of feeling so strong that the first instinct was to get out, get away. Now. But Mark found that if you could get through that initial shock, you could actually learn to savour the intense rush of burning cold. Pain? Pleasure? It could be either. It really was all about contrast.
They would all troop back into the sauna. More loyly, more heat, more brushing. The second session wouldn’t last as long, as their bodies were already warm. The ice-bath had merely cooled their skin. Then outside again for another dunk. They would usually do this two or three times, exiting the sauna after warming up from their last dunking, dressing and walking back up the hill to the main cabin. By this time it might feel like it was time for bed. Mark always slept well at the cabin.
The first time he met Monica, he had skied into the cabin with an older couple who he knew vaguely from previous outings with the Naturalists. They had driven to the park on Friday morning and set out after a quick lunch in the car.
It was a perfect mid-February day, clear and cold, as it so often was in Manitoba. Indeed the weather was one of the things Mark liked best about the area: lots of sun, cold winters and warm, dry summers. The skiing was excellent, with a few centimeters of fresh powder on the tracks of the group that had gone in the previous week. The lakes were hard-frozen with wind-packed snow on top, and none of the slushy sections that so often plagued the route earlier in the season.
The trip in went quickly, with each of them taking turns breaking trail through the thin layer of new snow, and they reached the cabin in the late afternoon, with plenty of daylight remaining. Mark immediately lit the fire in the woodstove as his companions, Herb and Linda, unpacked their gear and settled in. Another group was expected later in the day. They would be driving out from Winnipeg after lunch and setting out around 3 o’clock, so they would probably arrive just after sunset. That should not be a problem, however, as the weather was good, some of the group knew the route and in any case the last few kilometers were easy going across a lake.
After sharing a dinner of chili and corn bread with his companions, Mark volunteered to get the sauna prepared. It was starting to get dark and the other group was expected to arrive soon. He donned his parka, boots and headlamp and tramped down the hill to the lakeshore where the sauna lay. It was a beautiful evening; no moon, a few of the brightest stars were already visible overhead, and Venus shone brightly over the pale pink western horizon. He used the shovel that was leaning against the small building to clear the loose snow off the path and in front of the door, then pulled the door open and entered the sauna anteroom. He selected some finely-chopped kindling and some newsprint to use as tinder from the woodbox in the corner, then entered the sauna proper.
He opened the woodstove door and laid out the kindling in a criss-cross pattern, then lifted it and placed a loosely scrunched-up ball of newsprint underneath. Pulling out the lighter he always carried in his pocket, he lit the newsprint and watched as the flames caught quickly and started licking at the resinous kindling, quickly igniting it. Closing the stove door and opening the air intake vent, he could hear the roar as the fire started burning fiercely. He let it burn for a short time, then opened the door again to feed in some larger pieces from the small woodbox beside the stove. He could already feel the little room warming up, but it would take a while get hot enough.
Leaving the sauna, he grabbed the shovel and started clearing the short path down to the dock and out to the ice hole. There was still enough light to work outside without a light. He went back and got the ice chisel that was leaning against the sauna, and started chiseling out the ice hole, starting around the edges, then breaking the sheet into pieces with a few well-placed blows. This was not too difficult as the hole had been open a week ago and the new ice was only about 10 centimeters thick. Putting the chisel aside, he used the shovel to clear the hole of ice and slush, leaving a rectangle of inky black water surrounded by white ice and snow. He then cleared the area around the hole of loose snow and pieces of ice, leaving a hard-packed surface with nothing that could cut or scratch bare skin.
Looking out across the lake, he could see some tiny lights bobbing in the distance: the other group would soon arrive.
Switching on his headlamp, Mark went back into the sauna and fed the fire again. It was starting to get warm now, but it would take at least another half hour before the walls and benches had absorbed enough heat and the pot of small rocks on top of the stove had become hot enough to produce loyly. There were some candles in holders on the floor in the corner, as far as possible from the stove. Mark lit two of them, and they, along with the now-faintly-glowing stove, cast a flickering, almost eerie light that was largely absorbed by the dark wood of the walls and benches. Now getting hot in his heavy clothing, he left the sauna and sat in the anteroom, periodically returning to stoke the fierce fire.
At last the sauna was nearly ready. Mark walked back up the hill to the cabin, and saw that the other party had arrived and were just now hanging up their damp outerwear and putting their ski boots in the rack close to the stove to dry out. Monica had come in with two other girls, Jess and Rachel, who were, apparently, a couple. Their trip had gone well, and they had made good time over the now-packed trail. Jess and Rachel were planning to cook a fairly elaborate dinner for themselves and Monica, but it wouldn’t be ready for an hour or more. They therefore elected stay in the cabin and cook while the rest, including Monica, had a sauna. They would have theirs after dinner.
Mark’s first impression of Monica was not particularly flattering. She was not beautiful by conventional standards, but she was…..striking. Her chestnut-brown hair was cut short and parted on one side. Now it was flattened by a long day under a toque. She had high cheekbones, a small chin and a nose that was ever-so-slightly too large for her rather thin face. This rather severe and bookish look was enhanced by the thick rimless glasses she wore. She looked a bit boyish in her loose fleece sweater and wool pants, her figure indiscernible. When Mark first saw her, she was struggling to undo the frozen laces of her leather ski boots, and barely noticed him when he reported that the sauna was ready. But then she freed her boot, looked up, smiled and gave a brief cheer. When she smiled, her whole face lit up, softening her look.
Once Monica had squared away her gear, the four of them trooped down to the sauna, towels in hand, wearing only sweaters in the cold night air. Herb and Lynda led the way into the anteroom, which was barely warmer than the outside and dimly lit by a single candle in a holder on the wall. They were packed closely together in the small room, and had to be mindful to avoid elbowing one another as they undressed. Mark removed his fleece jacket, then his shirt, then sat on the bench to remove his boots. He looked at Monica out of the corner of his eye and noticed that she was watching him surreptitiously, monitoring his progress in undressing and following his lead. He smiled inwardly, remembering that he had done the same thing on his first trip to the sauna, when Sandra had shown him the way.
Mark pulled off his wool undershirt and hung it on the hook behind him, and Monica followed suit, pulling off her shirt but leaving her sports bra on. Mark pulled off his pants, long underwear and socks, put on the sandals he found under the bench, and stood up, naked now, placing his pants and socks on the bench behind him. Monica watched him, openly now, then did the same, ending up standing beside Mark, naked except for her sports bra. She glanced at the others, all of them naked or nearly so now, then smiled wryly, perhaps recognizing the absurdity of her shyness, reached behind her back and unclipped her bra, peeling it off and hanging it on the wall above the bench. Herb opened the door and went inside, followed by the others, then sat beside Lynda on the upper bench, leaving Mark and Monica on the bench on the adjoining wall. Herb then used the scoop to throw water on the rocks, producing a hot wave of loyly.
The shared experience of shocking heat melted any awkwardness that might have remained, and the conversation flowed freely. Herb and Lynda were older, perhaps in their early forties. They had a couple of teenage kids back home, alone for the weekend. Herb was a railway executive, while Lynda worked as a supply teacher. Monica, like Mark, was a student at the university, taking a Masters in adult education. She said that she was the youngest person in the program, and that most of her classmates were teaching veterans from the public school system. Monica was quite open about having no interest in teaching kids. Later he would learn that she had been teased, even bullied in school, for her looks, her interest in sports, her lack of fashion sense, and had come out of it with a poor impression of most of her peers. She said she wanted to teach people who wanted to learn, and most kids, in her experience, didn’t.
She shared a small two bedroom house with Jess and Rachel in a neighbourhood not far from where Mark lived. There were many such small houses in Winnipeg, mostly built during the war, and some of them had become student housing over the years. She had just become a member of the Naturalists at the urging of her housemates, who had talked up the beauty of the cabin and the surrounding area. This was her first trip in, but Jess and Rachel were veterans of several trips by canoe and ski. And indeed she had heard about the sauna, but this was her first time in a real one.
After a few more loyly waves and some mutual back scrubbing using the wooden long-handled brushes they found hanging on the wall, Monica said she needed to cool down. Mark, being closest to the door, led the way outside, down the path to the dock and onto the ice around the hole he had opened earlier. Their bodies steamed as they stood there, gazing up at the stars. New ice had already started forming in the hole, transparent crystals extending from the white edges over the black water. Mark stirred the water with his foot, loosening the delicate crystals, then grasped the cross log and dropped into the hole, pushing himself under water with his arms. A moment of shock and his body became rigid as his muscles stiffened. But he willed himself through it, relaxing his body, and held himself underwater for a few seconds. Then he pulled himself up, splashing a wave over the sides of the hole as his head came out of the water. He shook his head and looked up at the others, a beatific smile on his face. “Fuck, yeah!” he said, then pulled himself out onto the ice and quickly donned his sandals before his feet froze, water running off his skin and vapour rising off his body into the air. His skin felt like it was…singing.
Herb and Lynda were next, each of them plunging quickly in and out of the hole. Mark looked at Monica. She had a nice body: she looked athletic and strong, with visible muscles on her arms and torso. She had fairly small, pert breasts, the nipples hard and pointing slightly upward. Narrow hips but a nice ass. She looked a bit pensive and uncertain. “Look, no pressure, you don’t have to go in if you don’t want to. Just let the air cool you off, that works too. Lots of people don’t do this.” She looked up at him, looked into his eyes. Then she smiled. “No, I want to try this.”
She grasped the log, took a deep breath, and slipped into the water, pushing herself under just as the others had done. Half a second later she popped up, sputtering, and rocketed out like a kangaroo with its tail on fire, clambering to her feet beside the hole. She let out a squeal, a sound so animal, so real, her arms clasped tightly across her chest, her body tense and rigid. Mark watched as she willed herself to relax, lifting up arms, hands skyward as she looked up at the stars, her pale body steaming in the icy air. “That was fucking awesome.”
In later years, Mark would know that this, this very moment, was when he had fallen in love with Monica. Of course he didn’t realize it at the time, and if anyone had suggested it he would have laughed off the idea as an absurdity. But this was it.
He had tried to make it clear that no one would think less of her if she had skipped the icy plunge. And he had meant it: no one should be pressed to do anything so far out of their comfort zone. But she had, she had overcome her fear and uncertainty and jumped in. And then she had emerged, embraced the sky, said those words. She had willed herself to do it, then taken the experience and made it her own. It would seem to Mark, years later, that the most important and best part of her nature was revealed, right then and there.
So that was the moment. Everything that happened between them afterwards just intensified his feelings for her, made them more real and grounded. But that was how it started, standing on the ice in the night, their bodies wet and steaming, naked under the starry sky.
The rest of the weekend passed quickly. Mark found himself together with Monica much of the time; sitting together at meals, skiing side by side across the lakes, talking about this and that in the evening. This seemed to happen of its own accord; after all, the others were in couples, so it was only natural that they should form a pair too.
Saturday was another clear and cold day. Mark proposed skiing a circle route, a summer canoe route covering three lakes and four portages about twelve kilometers long. It was a trip he had wanted to do all winter. The others did not want to do anything so strenuous; they preferred to go on shorter trips or even just hang around the cabin. Only Monica volunteered to go. Mark was secretly pleased by this. Already he wanted to spend more time with her and her alone.
They set off across the lake carrying only light daypacks, skiing side by side on the wind-packed snow. It was a perfect day: the azure sky, the expansive lakes ringed by snow-laden pine and spruce trees, the high hills in the distance; the combination was stunning in its beauty. They took turns breaking trail through the deep snow on the portages, the first and probably only people to traverse them all winter. The other lakes were completely untracked, and it seemed almost sinful to desecrate the smooth, almost feminine curves of the drifted snow.
At lunchtime they found a sheltered nook at the north end of a lake, tramped a snow bench with their skis and sat on a few spruce boughs and their packs for insulation from the cold snow beneath. Facing the sun with the reflective snow all around them, they were warm in their fleece jackets and nylon shells. Again the conversation flowed: Mark found this girl so easy to talk to, so easy to listen to. The fact that they were out here meant they had much in common. But it was easy, too, just to sit quietly with her, listening to the sound of the light wind in the trees, the occasional dull thunk of snow falling from the swaying boughs. Looking out across the lake, the low cliffs on the east side, the high hills to the south. Beauty everywhere. Mark felt like he was home, for the first time since leaving home, years before.
Arriving back at the cabin, they sat together in front of the woodstove, drinking coffee and sharing a cake Lynda had somehow managed to bake using the woodstove. They felt tired but content, not wanting to be anywhere else or to be doing anything in particular. After dinner, another sauna, this time with Monica and the two girls. An evening hot chocolate, then to bed, the end of a perfect day.
The spell of good weather ended Sunday morning, with light snow and an increasing and gusty wind from the south causing some drifting out on the lake. As was usual with such a weather change, it had also warmed up and was now only about five degrees under freezing. Knowing that conditions were supposed to worsen over the course of the day, they cleaned up the cabin, re-waxed their skis for the warmer snow, and set off in midmorning, leaving plenty of time to make the trip back to their cars.
The trip back was fun, despite the wind in their faces and increasing snow throughout the day. Mark skied with Monica the whole way, beside her on the lakes, ahead or behind her on the trails, sitting beside her at rest stops and lunch. Out on the lakes, they were unable to see the shore, and the swirling snow and twin ski tracks on the lake’s undulating surface became their entire world. The new snow on the hard-packed forest trail made it very fast, their freshly-waxed skis giving perfect grip and glide.
They arrived back at the parking lot in good time and started packing up their gear, fastening their skis to the roof racks with bungee cords and stuffing their packs into the trunk. Mark walked over to the other car to say goodbye to Monica, Jess and Rachel, exchanging brief hugs with all of them in turn. Jess and Rachel tactfully retreated into the car, leaving Mark and Monica alone for a few minutes. “That was a great weekend,” said Monica.
Mark was nervous. He knew he wanted to see her again, but he had always been terrible at this sort of thing, stupidly shy with girls. “Yeah, it really was. Listen, umm, we should get together sometime. Maybe….go out or something.”
Monica smiled at him. “Yeah, I was thinking the same. I’ll give you my phone number, so you can give me a call.” Of course, neither one of them had a pen or any paper, so Monica had to poke her head into the car door, where Rachel, a knowing smirk on her face, gave her a pen and ripped a piece of paper off an old magazine. Monica wrote down her number and handed it to Mark, saying “Call me. Please.” They hugged again, lingering a bit, then Monica got into the back seat and they drove away.
Mark called her on Tuesday after a long day in the lab identifying and counting his creatures. They agreed to meet for a movie on Friday night, maybe go for a drink afterwards. Mark was nervous. He had felt a real connection to Monica, but that had been in a different situation, a different world really. Would it be the same now? But as soon as he saw her, his trepidations vanished. That smile again, lighting up her face: he couldn’t help but smile back, an almost palpable joy enveloping him as they hugged in greeting.
The movie was, in the most literal sense, unmemorable. In later years, neither one of them would be able to recall what it was called or even what it was about. They sat together in the darkened theater, and somehow their hands found each other, clasping together lightly, their fingers entwined. Mark felt more attuned to just that, the feel of his hand in hers, than anything that was going on onscreen.
After the movie, he asked her back to his apartment for a drink and a bite to eat. They walked there hand in hand, the snow falling lightly from a dark sky, car tires spinning on the slippery streets. Once inside, Mark poured Monica a glass of beer and another for himself, then sat beside her on the saggy sofa. Again Mark was nervous. He just wasn’t good at this sort of thing. He felt silly: it was obvious that they both wanted to go further, to go to the next level, but he just didn’t know how to start.
Then Monica looked up at him, and smiled tentatively. He smiled back, and in that moment, they communicated something beyond mere words. He knew, beyond doubt, that he had no reason to be nervous, nothing to fear. He felt he could be completely open with this person, show her what he wanted and needed. And she would show him.
He reached out with his arm and put it around her shoulders. She leaned in, nestling her head against his neck as he drew her close. She put her head up, leaned back, and they kissed.
Now, six months later, here they were, together on a canoe trip, alone in this beautiful place on this gorgeous day. It was hard for Mark to believe how much things had changed. He was a young man in love, and he could no longer imagine a life without Monica.
Mark returned to the rocky shoreline by the tent, where Monica lay on her side in the dappled shade of the trees, still engrossed in her book. She hadn’t noticed him yet, and he paused and gazed at her for a few moments. Her normally pale skin hadn’t tanned much despite all the sun they had had. She burned easily so she was very careful to protect herself with sunscreen. Her dark hair, now a bit longer than when he had first met her, was wavy from drying in the sun and wind after her morning swim. A wave of warmth enveloped him as he looked at her. They were still in that early stage of love, so passionate, so suffused with tenderness and lust and longing. He could never have enough of her.
“OK, it’s ready, time to go,” he said. She looked up from her book, smiling at him. “Mmm, do I need to bring anything?” she asked. “Just yourself, that’s enough for me”. But then he did think of something. “Better bring some sunscreen. Wouldn’t want to fry your baby-skin.”
She got up, book in hand, and followed him up to the tent, where she ducked in to get the sunscreen. When they got to the canoe, she stood beside it and stared, a knowing smirk emerging on her face. “And what is all this for? What have you done to our ship? And what are we going to do with that barrel?” she asked.
“Emergency flotation. Just thought we’d go for a drift across the lake. Catch some rays. Who knows what might happen?”
She giggled. “Mmm, who knows indeed. Sounds like fun,” she replied.
She helped him carry the canoe to the shore, setting the bow in then sliding it hand over hand until it rested in the water with Mark holding the stern. Taking her sandals off and leaving them on shore, Monica climbed in first, bent over with her hands on the gunwales as she made her way carefully to sit in the bow seat. Mark stepped into the shallow water, then put one foot into the canoe just in front of the stern seat, leaned in and grabbed the gunwales, then pushed off with his other foot, swinging his leg into the canoe and sitting down as they glided out onto the lake.
“First, we paddle to the end of the lake,” said Mark. That was to the west, about a kilometer away against the light wind. They paddled quickly in the nearly empty canoe. They were a team now: he matched his strokes to hers, using his return stroke to correct their course so he could keep pace with her. As they neared the low western shore, Mark started to see bottom occasionally through the crystal clear water. “That’s far enough,” he said, placing his paddle behind his seat. He reached around and grabbed the mesh bag that he had earlier filled with rocks and tied onto the stern line, then tossed it into the water. The rope was about two meters long and the bag just touched the bottom, dragging the canoe to a stop. He pulled in some line until the makeshift anchor was just over the bottom, then tied it off. They started to drift, the stern pointed into the fickle wind by the drag of the anchor in the water. Mark had chosen the starting point so that they would sail straight across the lake, about three kilometers in length. He hoped they would end up near the beach in the far eastern bay, a drift that should take at least an hour.
“Now, we need to get some sunscreen on you. Come, lie down in my canoe nest and enjoy the ride,” he said in his most mock-commanding voice.
“With pleasure,” she answered. She turned around and moved carefully to kneel on the sleeping pads on the canoe bottom, facing Mark in the stern seat.
“Shirt off,” he ordered, and she peeled off her tee-shirt, tossing it behind her into the bow. “Bra too?” she asked, teasingly. “Definitely,” he replied. She reached behind her and unclasped her bra, peeled it off her shoulders and flicked it behind her with her shirt. “Mmm, that’s better,” said Mark, trying to make his voice low and sultry.
She was gorgeous, kneeling on the bottom of the canoe, hands on her hips, beaming back at him. Of course, Mark knew, objectively, that she would not be considered a beauty by conventional standards. But objectivity had nothing to do with it. Mark, like other young men, had been guilty of judging women by appearance, sometimes even rating them by number with his male friends. Monica definitely would not have rated a ten. But the craziness of love changed everything, including his perception of beauty. Right here, right now, to Mark, Monica was the most beautiful girl in the world. He just wanted to be close to her, hold her, lick her, fuck her. Always.
“Lie down on your stomach,” he commanded, and she did, resting her head on her folded arms. He clambered over the stern seat and turned around so that he was astride her, resting most of his weight on his knees, her bare back before him. He reached down and grabbed the tube of sunscreen that was sticking out of her pocket, popped the cap and squirted a zig-zag line of the white lotion onto her back. He started rubbing the lotion into her back with palms of his hands, using long languid strokes, and pausing to knead her shoulders where he knew her paddling muscles ached. She sighed in contentment, the sun warm on her back.
He raised himself up on his knees. “Can’t miss your gorgeous ass,” he said. He reached down and started pulling her shorts and underwear down. Monica helped out by raising herself up slightly. He pulled her shorts over her feet and tossed them with the rest of her clothes. He backed up so he was kneeling astride her thighs, and squirted some sunscreen onto her ass cheeks. He rubbed it in, lightly at first to spread the cream, then harder, pressing deeply into the big muscles there. He knew Monica loved this, and she started to moan softly in time with his strokes.
Carefully, he turned himself around, and applied the lotion to her legs, lingering, a little, on her inner thighs. Perhaps unknowingly, she spread her legs a little. But it was not time for that, not yet. “Sunny side up,” he quipped, raising himself so she could roll over. The canoe rocked slightly as they changed position, but it was really quite stable with them both on the bottom, close to the water.
Again he squirted out white sunscreen, this time on the front of her legs and thighs, then rubbed it in. He turned around and repeated the process on her belly, stroking it with his fingers to rub in the cream. Then her shoulders, kneading harder there. Then, finally, her breasts, stroking them lightly with his fingertips, but leaving her now erect nipples untouched. He wanted to lick them later.
Lifting himself off of her, he lay down on his side beside her, and she rolled over so she was facing him. He could hear the wavelets lapping lightly on the side of the canoe, and feel the slight motion as it pulled slightly against the drag of the anchor. From the bottom of the canoe, he could not see the lake or the shoreline, only the azure sky with the occasional puffy white cloud moving slowly towards the east, like a living roof over their own private world. The warm rays of the sun enveloped them like a blanket.
“Shouldn’t you get some goop too?” she asked?
“No, I already put some on,” he replied. He had applied sunscreen over most of his body earlier, anticipating that he would need it.
He leaned in and kissed her, lightly at first, barely brushing her lips with his. She responded, matching his light touch, then pressing in harder, opening her lips to allow the tip of her tongue to caress the inside of his. Then his tongue met hers, just the tips at first, swirling around each other, flicking, teasing. On and on, they were in no hurry.
Finally he parted his lips further and let her tongue worm its way into his mouth, first flicking lazily at the inside of his lips, then pushing in more forcefully, chasing his tongue back, then stroking it with her own, first on the sensitive top side, then swirling around to taste and feel every part. Her tongue felt muscular and strong, yet so soft and slippery as it danced with his own.
After a time she gently withdrew, and he followed her, back through their conjoined lips into her mouth, chasing her tongue with his. His turn now, he thrust his tongue into her mouth as deeply as he could, licking every part of her, even her teeth. Then he concentrated on her tongue with long, languorous licks, stroking her with the full length and breadth of his tongue. She opened her mouth further, inviting, willing him on.
Kissing. That first time, six months ago, that was all they had done for hours on end.
Neither one of them was very experienced. Mark had had one girlfriend, in his final year of high school. Beth was an attractive girl but, in retrospect, it seemed to Mark that they had little in common except wanting a partner to go to dances and parties, and, for his part at least, to actually get laid. Their one summer together brought many opportunities, with both their families often away on weekends, leaving them home by themselves. Often Mark would stay at her house into the early morning hours, downstairs in the family room, ostensibly watching a movie, but really laid out on the sofa together, kissing and petting. He always wanted to go further than her, his hand finding its way under her shirt, and hers pulling it away, his fingers trying to rub between her tightly clenched legs.
But one night after a party, things had gone much further. They had both had too much to drink, and had gone back to her house. Her parents and younger sister were away for the weekend. They had ended up, as usual, together on the sofa downstairs, the TV on, but neither one watching it as they kissed hungrily. Perhaps it was the alcohol, or maybe it was just time, but Beth had let him go further than ever before, lying entwined with him, her shirt off and her pants undone, Mark stroking her through her soaked panties. He was so excited, so hard. “Can we…?” he had gasped. “Do you have….?” she had answered. As it happened he did: he had bought condoms earlier in the summer, keeping a couple in his wallet, just in case.
The sex itself was disappointing to both of them. He had never put on a condom before, and he tore the first one taking it out of the packet, causing him to curse in frustration. He managed to roll second one (he only had two) onto his cock. Assuming the obligatory missionary, he penetrated her too quickly, and she had reacted by going rigid, whimpering in discomfort and pain. He had thrust a few times, then pulled out as it was more than obvious that she was not enjoying it. They had cuddled for a while, and she had told him that it was okay, that she was ready to try again, but by that time he had gone soft, and despite her urgent ministrations, could not get hard again. Humiliated, he had gotten dressed and walked home, now all too sober.
Things were never the same between them after that, and within a few weeks she had dumped him. He wasn’t surprised, or even particularly disappointed, even though he played the jilted suitor for a few days. In truth they hadn’t been a very good fit for each other, and everything had become so awkward after that first attempt at sex that he was, secretly, glad when it ended. In any event they were going to different universities in the fall and would not have been seeing much of each other even if they had stayed together.
He had made many female friends at university, but had never made it out of the “friend zone” with any of them. For some reason most women did not consider him boyfriend material. They liked him, would hang out with him, study with him, but it never went any further than that. The jocks and the bad boys seemed to have all the fun. Studious Mark, who worked hard, rarely drank much and sucked at all organized sports, just didn’t make the grade.
Monica was even less experienced than Mark when they met. She had never had a boyfriend in high school: she was just not the hot party chick that most guys were after. She had only kissed a couple of boys, at the tail end of drunken parties, when everyone became desperate. Those boys had pretended it hadn’t happened afterwards.
Like Mark, she had worked hard at university, getting good marks but leaving little time for much of a social life. Unlike him, she was an athlete, playing field hockey in the fall and ice hockey in the winter. The thrice-weekly practices, home games and road trips took up a lot of time and left her in the company of other girls for the most part. Some of these girls were openly gay, and hanging out with them opened her eyes, showing her that she didn’t have to conform to society’s ideal of femininity. She didn’t see herself as gay, but most of her friends were female, and she found she could do just fine without a man.
When she started her graduate degree, she ended up living with Jess and Rachel, who were friends of friends from the hockey team lesbian connection. Not surprisingly, their frequent dinner parties were mostly attended by other women, and most of them were lesbians. At one of these, a rather drunken affair where some weed was also smoked, she found herself alone with one of the guests after Jess and Rachel had retired to bed, kissing on the sofa amid the empty wine bottles. It hadn’t gone any further than that: they were both a bit drunk, and Monica was sensible enough that she didn’t want to do anything that she might regret the next day. But it had been nice, and Monica could see how it could have gone further if she had let it. Maybe she would, some day.
So that first night, lying entwined together on the sofa in Mark’s apartment, neither one of them could be a guide for the other: they were both neophytes. They started slowly, their lips brushing together lightly. Mark, excited as he was, held himself back: he didn’t want to repeat his experience with Beth by going too fast. From the first, he followed Monica’s lead, feeling her lips press in harder, with more hunger, and following with his own. When her mouth opened and he felt her tongue tentatively probing between his lips, he parted them slightly to let her in.
They soon settled into a pattern that was to serve them well in years to come. Monica would take control, forcing her tongue into his mouth against his mock resistance. He would be passive as she took him, swirling her tongue around his, probing his mouth, tasting him, knowing him. Then she would withdraw and he would follow her tongue with his, into her waiting mouth. Sometimes he would answer with what she had done to him, copying her. Other times he would do something different: probing her lips and teeth, even frankly licking her face. Then he would withdraw, surrendering himself to her again.
Sometimes she was aggressive and hungry, dominating their kissing for long minutes, forcing him to accept her. But always, always she would retreat, if only briefly, and let him take over. Other times he was the one with the greater need. And sometimes they met halfway, swirling their tongues together in a sort of dance, entwining, wrestling in their passion.
They learned that kissing like this was not just a warm-up, not a prelude to better things. It could be an end in itself. It was just so intimate, an invasion of the most personal of spaces. But a welcome invasion. Mark came to know that kissing during intercourse, their tongues entwined while his cock was engulfed inside her, could make him feel so close to Monica, almost as if they were components of a single, pulsing being. Thrusting into her, he would move his tongue in time with cock, sometimes withdrawing to her entrance as his tongue teased her lips, then plunging in deep, his tongue lashing hers inside her mouth. Other times she would lead with her tongue, using it to show him the rhythm she needed.
While the makeshift sea anchor steadied the canoe and kept it oriented into the wind and waves, it nevertheless did not carve a straight path down the lake, tending instead to hunt from side to side, zig-zagging like a water skier behind a boat. They could feel this motion, a gentle nudge followed by sway to one side as the canoe reached the outside of its arc, as they lay facing together, their mouths locked together, their heads moving in synchrony as they kissed, their hands starting to roam over one another’s bodies. The sound of wavelets slapping lightly on the canoe changed in pitch and volume as the canoe changed direction. A gust of wind caught the canoe, causing it to swing a bit more strongly than before, breaking them out of their kiss-reverie.
Monica pulled away, breathing heavily. One of her hands had found its way under his shorts, and he could feel her fingers in his pubic hair, working down towards his now-stiff cock. “You need to get undressed too,” she said.
She rolled onto her back, edging her body towards the center of the canoe at the same time as Mark used his arms to push himself up and kneel astride her. He looked around at the panorama spread out before him: the rocky lakeshore, encrusted with spruce trees crowding right to the water, with some giant white pines farther back; the high hills behind, green-clad for the most part, but with some dark, almost pink granite cliffs; the lake, with the indecisive wind kicking up dark-blue fields of wavelets against the lighter blue of the calmer water; Monica, beneath him, gazing up at him with joy and hunger, naked, her skin pale except for her sun-kissed forearms, neck and face. So much beauty, everywhere. He pulled off his shirt and tossed it to the back of the canoe, then reached down and pulled his shorts down to his thighs, freeing his cock to spring out. Then he lay down beside her again as she rolled onto her side, and kicked off his shorts with his feet. She immediately started rubbing his ass, murmuring “That’s better.”
They started kissing again, their hands now roaming freely, unencumbered by clothing. Mark ran his fingers, slowly and lightly down her body, lingering a bit on her breast, teasing her nipple until it enlarged and stiffened, then over her belly to her curly mass of pubic hair. He twirled his fingers in the curls, working ever downward. Monica raised her top leg and draped it over Mark’s, spreading her thighs so he had better access. He started stroking her labia, first on the outside, then he used two fingers to part the lips slightly and worked his middle finger between them, rotating it in circles over her opening and the soft inner lips. Then he probed inside her soaking vagina, wetting his finger with her juice and using it to lubricate her lips, over and over until they too were soaked and slippery. Slowly he edged his swirling finger upwards, until he was touching the underside of her clit head on his upward strokes, flicking it lightly at first, then gradually increasing the pressure and concentrating it on her firm, slippery nub.
Monica started to moan and move her hips, thrusting herself against his finger, willing him to press harder. He tuned himself to the movements of her body and the cooing, almost plaintive sounds she made, interpreting them, responding to them, pressing harder when she thrust against him, lightly flicking her when she withdrew.
All the while kissing. She used her tongue to guide him, to make him know her needs. A trick they had learned together: he would pretend that his tongue, withdrawn into his mouth, was her clit, while she used her tongue as his finger, stroking and probing his tongue as she wanted to be touched by him. His finger responded automatically, bypassing conscious thought, moving as her tongue directed. Her breathing became heavier, with an audible moan on every exhale.
He could have done this all day, he took such pleasure in pleasing her. But he felt her hand move down between their bodies, then her fingers touched the sensitive underside of his cock, sending a jolt of electric pleasure through him. She brought her fingers up to their joined mouths and pushed them, one by one, into her mouth, then his, wetting and lubricating them. Then she started rubbing his cock again, pressing harder now, moving the loose skin up and down the length of the hardness beneath. Her slow, rhythmic stroking sent a river of pleasure flowing from the base of his penis to the tip. His stroking of her cunt became erratic and finally his hand dropped away: it was nearly impossible for him to maintain his focus while she was doing this; she would win this contest every time. He couldn’t help himself: he started bucking against her fingers.
Monica was really the first girl Mark had touched in that way. Even with Beth, who he had actually fucked, if only briefly, he had only rubbed her through her panties. So that first time, when his hand, inevitably, started to sneak under her jeans, he really was flying blind. But it was always so easy to learn with Monica.
She may have been inexperienced with sex, but that did not mean she was a stranger to sexual pleasure. Monica had masturbated, regularly and frequently, since the age of twelve. Several times a week she could be found in bed, her head propped up with pillows, knees bent and thighs apart with her hand between her legs, fingering herself. She could focus on herself, her own pleasure and needs, and easily bring herself to orgasm, occasionally more than once. She loved the way it felt and how relaxed and calm she was afterwards. Often she masturbated to help herself get to sleep.
So, that first night together on Mark’s sofa, when she felt his fingers working their way under her pants, she had no false sense of virtue, no “don’t touch me there” reaction: she reached down and undid her belt, snap and fly, giving him unobstructed access to her cunt. She was already soaking wet and hot, and she wanted to be touched. But Mark was clumsy: at first, he just penetrated her with his finger, and then his thumb, thrusting it in and out like a tiny cock. Definitely not what Monica needed: she had reached down and clasped his hand in hers, pulling it up and pressing his finger down on her clit. She guided him, forcing his finger to move the way she wanted, with the pressure she needed.
Mark had been a willing disciple: he wanted nothing more than to give Monica pleasure, so he modelled his movements closely on hers. Even so, it had taken weeks before he could bring her to orgasm with his fingers alone. More often, she would take over, rubbing herself fiercely, hard and fast until she came. He had to learn to read her needs, and because she didn’t communicate them verbally, he had to interpret the pitch and intensity of her moans, the way she moved her hips, the way she stopped moaning and threw her head back just before she came. Even now, she would often pull his hand away and substitute her own. He didn’t mind: it was wonderful to be with someone who so obviously enjoyed sexual pleasure.
That first night, Monica was equally clumsy in her ministrations of Mark. Trying to undo his pants to reach his cock proved impossible while he was stroking her, face to face on the sofa: his arm was in the way and there was not enough room. Eventually, wanting to feel him, to give him what he was giving her, she had rolled away from him, clambered off the couch and onto her knees on the floor, and frankly started to undo his pants. He had helped her by lifting himself up while she pulled his pants and underwear down over his thighs.
His penis, released from its fabric prison, had sprung up, desperate for attention, and she had started stroking it, at the same time leaning over to resume kissing him. But she had never touched a boy like that before, and was unsure of what to do. She started rubbing the top of his cock with the palm of her hand, petting it as she would a cat. This was actually painful for Mark: her hand, dry and un-lubricated, did not slide smoothly but rather skipped over his dry skin, gripping it uncomfortably. Distracted from his kiss, he reached down and clasped her wrist with his hand, stopping her.
Mark, like almost all other boys, had been masturbating regularly and frequently from his early teen years. Lying on his bed, he would start slowly, stroking his fingers on the underside of his cock, savouring the feel of it as his cock hardened. But it wouldn’t take long before he was pumping himself fiercely, desperate for release as he felt the orgasm rise from his balls. Often he would pause at the last moment, right on the edge, trying to hold himself there: it just felt so good. But he could never do that for long: his hand would start pumping, almost of its own accord, and soon he would be beyond the point of no return, pulsing his load of semen onto his belly.
So Mark, like Monica, knew how he needed to be touched. What Monica was doing was borderline-painful, and he had reached out instinctively to stop her. But then he was unsure what to do: he didn’t know how to talk about this, it was all so new to both of them. Then he remembered what she had done with his hand: she had shown him.
So he had taken her hand in his, and pressed her fingers against the smooth underside of his penis, the most sensitive area for him. He had moved her fingers up and down the length of his shaft, pressing just hard enough to move the skin without sliding her dry fingers over it. She, like him before her, was a willing learner, and soon she was stroking him just the way he liked. He had started to move his hips involuntarily; it was impossible for him not to thrust against her fingers. She answered his need by pressing harder, stroking faster. Before long he reached down, again, to stop her. He could easily come this way, but he didn’t want to. Not yet.
Over the months that followed, she had learned that she could easily arouse him with her fingers. His needs were simple: the male was not a complex beast. It was even better with lubrication, usually saliva on licked fingers, or her own juices. It was so easy to make him come this way, if she wanted to. But that would end things, and usually she wanted him some other way, first.
“Jesus, slow down,” gasped Mark, unable to stop himself from grinding against her fingers.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, a coquettish grin on her face.
“It’s too good,” he replied in a low raspy voice. She slowed her hand and lightened her touch. Monica had gotten very good at reading Mark, and she knew just how far she could go before he reached the point of no return. His thrusting also slowed, matching the pace of her hand. Finally only her wet fingertips were lightly stroking his cock.
“I know what you need,” she said in a sultry voice. She wriggled onto her knees, while at the same time pushing him onto his back towards the middle of the canoe, then clambered on top of him, kneeling astride, her knees on either side of his hips. The canoe rocked as she moved. She threw her head back and looked at bright blue sky, her joy etched on her face. “This is fantastic. Thank you,” she said.
She grasped the gunwales, one in each hand, and moved backwards so that his cockhead was pressed against her, just ahead of her opening. Then she started moving her hips back and forth, rubbing his cock against her slit from the bottom, over her vagina and up to her clit, wetting him with her juices, getting him ready.
He wanted her so badly, it was all he could do to resist the almost overpowering urge to thrust upwards, to push into her as his cockhead glided over her entrance. But he did resist: he wanted her to be in control. He wanted her to take him, when she was ready.
Finally she slowed her movements and paused with the tip of his cock between her inner lips, resting there for a moment, rotating her hips ever so slightly. Then she started lowering herself onto him, his cock sliding smoothly into her silky vagina as she took in his full length. She let out a low, guttural moan as she bottomed out, his cock so deep inside her, and just held him there, her eyes now closed, a look of rapture on her upturned face. She remained still, but he could feel the muscles in her cunt gripping his cock as she clenched down on him, then released. Clenched, then released.
She started rotating her hips, stirring herself slowly on his cock. He could feel the slick walls of her vagina licking every part of his cock like a giant all-enveloping tongue. His entire being was focussed on his cock, almost as if it was his whole body, enveloped inside her.
At last she lifted her hips, sliding upwards until only the tip of his cock remained inside. She held there for a moment, then dropped down onto him, taking him in again. And then again, and again, slowly ramping up her pace, thrusting down onto him. He answered by pushing up as she enveloped him, meeting her thrusts with his own. Faster and faster. It was his nature to want to increase the pace, to push into her harder and faster, but he fought this urge, letting her lead. She liked to set the pace when she was on top.
She was fucking him hard and fast now, almost bouncing on his cock, her hands still grasping the gunwales, using her arms to support her upper body. Then she started to arch her back and move her hips in a sinuous motion, still thrusting onto him but rotating her cunt at the same time, increasing the pressure and sensation for both of them. Above him her body was framed against the sky, her firm breasts swaying slightly as she moved, her eyes closed, her mouth slightly open with a grimace of intense pain, or pleasure, or maybe both. The canoe began to rock and she timed her movement to enhance it, the entire vessel moving with them, water sloshing against the sides. Fucking under the open sky, their entire world moving, dancing with them.
Mark could feel himself getting close again. He willed himself to slow the pace, opposing her movements with his own, slowing her down. She opened her eyes and looked down at him, smiling now, her face shining in the sun. She slackened her pace, finally coming to a stop, his cock still deep within her. Then she pulled off of him, sliding back until the shaft of his cock was pressed against her clit. She began to grind down on his cock, her clit sliding against his shaft, using him.
She pressed harder, forcing her clit against his slippery cock, sliding it up and down the shaft. Even so the feeling was not so intense for Mark, and he knew he could hold out longer now. He looked at her: he could tell that she was getting close now, gasping, groaning in time with her thrusts, her face locked in grimace, her entire being focussed on the source of her ecstasy. On and on; pumping herself against him, rotating her hips slightly now, moving his cock beneath her. He started to move with her, tentatively at first, getting into her rhythm, meeting her movements with his own. Her pace constant now; any faster and she would lose her rhythm. On and on, moving together now, the canoe moving with them, rocking slightly, the sides creaking as she pushed down on the gunwales.
Her moans ceased and she increased the pace still more, impossibly fast and hard. She threw her head back, eyes closed, face rapt. Finally, a long, guttural moan, forcing herself down on him with all her weight, holding herself there, sliding her slit along his shaft. Two, three, four more thrusts, then she relaxed the pressure, withdrawing a bit, and collapsed forward on top of him, finding his mouth with her own. He forced his tongue into her mouth and she sucked on it rhythmically, milking it, sighing gently as her breathing subsided.
Mark shifted slightly, his cock moving against her as he did, reminding her of his need. She withdrew from his kiss and pushed herself up with her hands. “Now you,” she said, then rose onto her knees and moved forward until her cunt was suspended above his head. She lowered herself down a little and he started licking her, stroking her entire slit as she moved back and forth. She lowered herself still further, wetting his face with her sopping cunt, then raised herself up again and moved farther forward. She grabbed the blue barrel from where it was stowed in front of the bow seat and put it down crossways in front of her, then leaned over until it was under her belly, supporting her upper body, her ass in the air above his head. She started rolling on the barrel back and forth, her ass and cunt moving above his head, enticing him.
He rolled over and got up onto his knees behind her. Using one knee to spread her legs, he moved forward until the front of his thighs were against the back of hers, his stiff cock pressed against her ass. They were both higher up now, so the canoe rocked more easily with their movements. He reached down and pushed his cock between her legs, then pulled up on it so it was pressing against her clit, rotating it with his hand. She whimpered, then reached back with her own hand, pushing him back until the tip of his cock was between her inner lips, suspended over her entrance, wanting him inside. He withdrew his hand and held himself there momentarily, then entered her fully with one long, deep thrust.
He paused, his cock deep within her, her ass pressed tightly against his thighs. Savouring the moment: the lake, the waves heavier now, slapping against the canoe as it weaved against the pull of the anchor; the distant hills, clad in their green garb, furred on top by tall pines; the pink rock of the lakeshore, hints of white foam where the waves had spent their force; the scurrying clouds against the blue sky, with the sun blanketing all beneath with its soothing warmth; the soughing wind, waves lightly sloshing against the canoe beneath them; and the woman on her knees before him, his love, her pale skin glowing in the bright day, his cock so deep inside her. Somehow he knew, even then, that this was one of those, a single frame in the movie of their life together that he would cherish, always.
But he couldn’t stay long, his need was so great. He started moving, pulling out his cock until only the tip remained within her, then pushing in hard, as deep as he could go, sliding easily inside her, the slick walls of her vagina stroking him deliciously. The barrel rolled under her as he moved, helping her to answer his thrusts with his own, pushing back against him, then rolling forward as he withdrew. He reached down and grasped the barrel, one hand on each end, and used them to move her on his cock, pushing and pulling it as he thrust, rolling her against him. He rolled her forward so her ass was higher, raising himself up with her, fucking down on her, more leverage, more motion, more depth.
Faster now. He wouldn’t be able to hold out for long, it was just so good. He started rocking her against himself rhythmically, not thrusting so hard now, but forcing her against him, using her. The deliciousness began, a warmth spreading from his balls and down the front of his thighs. He tried to slow down, make it last, but it was no use, no way to stop. So close now, almost to the point where he wouldn’t be able to hold back, the point of no return.
“Wait,” she gasped. “Come in my mouth.”
That first night, together in his apartment, they hadn’t fucked.
She had brought her hand back to his cock, stroking more gently now. He had turned his head, breaking their kiss. “I…haven’t got any….condoms,” whispered Mark softly, his breathing ragged. It was late, and there was no place nearby to get them.
She had looked back at him, her eyes sparkling, a shy smile on her lips. “That’s okay, we’ll have time.” With that she had gone back to kissing him, her tongue searching his mouth greedily. Still kneeling beside the sofa, Mark lying on his back, she had kissed her way down his body, lingering for long moments where his neck met his shoulder, on each of his tiny nipples, his nearly hairless chest, the crease where his belly met his hips. Finally reaching his cock, she had taken it tentatively in her mouth. Here again her inexperience showed: she took him with her head pointed downwards, her tongue lightly licking to top of his penis. Her touch was light, tentative, almost timid. She started bobbing her head up and down, stroking him with her lips, tongue and mouth.
It felt good. Tantalizing. But her touch was so light: Mark needed more. Still he didn’t want to thrust into her mouth, didn’t know how to tell her what he needed. He wasn’t even sure himself. Later they would come to know that it worked much better if she faced the other way, with her tongue caressing the exquisitely sensitive underside of his penis. She would kneel between his legs, first swirling her tongue around the tip, then the upper shaft. Finally she would take him in to her warm, wet mouth, her tongue working the bottom of his cock, bobbing her head slowly, her cheeks slightly indented as she sucked. He loved this, but still he had never been able to come this way, even though she had asked him to. Just lately she had started using her hand and mouth in combination, sucking and licking the upper half while her lubricated hand worked the bottom. He could thrust, her hand stopping his cock from going too deeply into her mouth. She had brought him close, that way.
But not that first night: she had sensed that what she was doing was not quite what he needed, and returned her mouth to his lips. He had kissed her greedily, swirling his tongue around hers, reassuring her, thanking her. The cycle had begun anew, using their hands and fingers to caress one another. He had licked her nipples, amazed at how hard and big they became, then took each in turn and sucked lightly, her hand on the back of his head, pulling him in.
He had licked her, too, Monica sitting upright on the sofa, legs spread, Mark kneeling before her, his face in her nest. When he had first put his tongue between her lips, licking the wetness there, the taste and smell had shocked him. It was so strong, tangy, rich with musk, so redolent of sex. At first it had been too much, and he had pulled back for a moment. But just for a moment; he had sampled her again with his tongue, adapting to her, the musk pulling him in, finally penetrating her with his stiff tongue, tasting her there. He had licked her up and down her slit, stroking her lips, then concentrated on flicking her clit with the tip of his tongue. She had started moaning, then, grasping the back of his head and pulling him in. But still, even though she enjoyed it, he couldn’t give her the pressure and rhythm she needed, not yet. After a time, she had pulled his head back up, placing his mouth on her breast.
He would learn that she needed control and more pressure than he could provide with his tongue alone to reach orgasm. In time he would find ways to please her this way: using his fingers and tongue at the same time, or, best of all for her, letting her ride his mouth, sitting on top, facing his feet, grinding into him while he stroked her clit with his tongue. Even then, it would be months before they could bring her to orgasm this way.
Hours of kissing, stroking, licking, touching: they both became desperate for release. Mark had kneeled beside her as she lay on the couch, his hand between her legs, stroking her the way she had taught him, his mouth on her nipple, alternately licking and sucking. She had become wild, bucking her hips onto his hand, willing him to stroke harder, faster. Finally, desperately, she had reached down and put her hand under his, replacing his fingers with her own. Working herself fiercely now, writhing, thrusting, opening and closing her thighs on their conjoined hands, his over hers. He had moved his lips to hers, thrusting his tongue into her mouth, stifling her cries. This had calmed her, reassured her, given her permission. At last she turned her face from his and bucked her hips upward, pressing hard against her twirling fingers, writhing against them, a guttural moan escaping her lips. She had subsided slowly, her body relaxing onto the sofa, her fingers still stroking her slit, lightly now. Their first orgasm together.
She had rested for a few moments, cooing softly, regaining her breath. Then she had roused herself and sat on the floor beside him, left side, their backs against the sofa. Leaning in to kiss him, she had started stroking his penis with her right hand, fingers on the bottom, thumb on top, squeezing lightly, moving the skin over the hardness beneath.
“Show me,” she had whispered. He had covered her hand with his own, squeezing her fingers onto his cock, then moving her hand up and down his length, stroking him, answering his need. To Mark if felt familiar; after all, he had been bringing himself off for years in much the same way, his right hand on his cock, pumping himself to orgasm. Still, her hand felt different than his own, but he was so worked up now, had waited so long: he needed to come. Pumping faster now, he had put his head back, closed his eyes as they worked. Closer and closer, the warmth spreading, electric pleasure. Then finally, sweet release, as his semen pulsed out of his cockhead, dribbling onto his belly, moistening their hands.
He kept stroking, lightly now, for a time, wringing himself out. Finally stopped, their hands separating.
She had used her fingers to stroke the little pool of pearl-coloured semen on his belly, marvelling in its slipperiness. Smiling, giggling a little, she said “Wow, I didn’t know there would be so much.” Then she had leaned in to kiss him, lightly now, their all-consuming urgency diminished.
Their first morning together. He had woken up before her, a pattern they would always maintain. They had finally made it to his bed, nestling under the covers, Monica turned away from him on her side, ass nestled on his belly, his arm draped over her body. He hadn’t slept with anyone before, at least not since he was a child. In the dim twilight of his room, he had untangled himself from her, gotten up and gone to the bathroom. When he returned, she had turned over, awake now, bleary-eyed, a shy smile on her face.
“Hi, beautiful,” he said.
She giggled, answering “Hello, gorgeous.” Awkwardness broken, she had gotten up and stood before him, naked. He took her in his arms and they kissed, lingering, their bodies pressed together. Then she had pulled away and gone to the bathroom. He took the opportunity to get dressed.
After a simple breakfast of boiled eggs, toast, juice and coffee, they had gone outside into the crisp morning air for a walk. Inevitably, without discussion, they ended up at the local drugstore. Cruising the aisles, they weren’t even sure where to look for what they wanted. Finally they found them in the “Sexual Health” section: a rack featuring a bewildering array of condoms. Lubricated, ribbed, ultra-thin, ultra-sensitive, reservoir-tipped, flavoured: an embarrassing variety. Eventually Mark had just picked out the most regular, least ostentatious product on offer: a ten-pack of the store brand, no gimmicks.
They walked home hand in hand, mostly in silence, Mark holding the little plastic bag. Finally Monica had looked up at him, asking “Have you ever….done it…before?”
“Once, sort of…” he answered.
She laughed. “What does that mean?”
“Well, it only happened once, and we never even finished. I’ll tell you about it some other time.”
They walked in silence for a while. Finally Mark spoke the unspoken. “And you?”
“No, never,” she replied quietly, sounding slightly embarrassed.
“Not even close?” pressed Mark.
“No. I mean, I’ve made out with a few guys, but it never went anywhere. And they were usually drunk,” almost blurting out the last part.
Silence again. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “We’ll learn together,” he said.
They started kissing as soon as they got in the door. Hungry, wanting what they knew must happen. Mark had taken her by the hand and led her into the bedroom. She started undressing right away and he followed her lead, tossing his clothes aimlessly on the floor. Once naked she dived onto the bed and he followed, taking her into his arms, locking his mouth on hers, feeling her warm skin on his. When her hand found his cock he was already hard, and when he started stroking her she was already wet.
Mark reached over to the bedside stand where he had placed the box of condoms. Opening it, he had ripped open the tiny foil envelope and carefully removed the folded latex disc within. He sat up and worked the condom over his hard cock, smoothing it out until his cockhead was enveloped by the condom tip. He had learned since that first time: even read the instructions.
Monica lay on her back on the bed, knees raised and thighs spread: after all, this is the way they had shown it in sex-ed. Mark rolled between her legs and used his hand to work his cock into her slit. It slipped upwards, the sheathed head pressing against her clit. She gasped, then reached down and pushed his cock down so that the tip nestled between the folds guarding her entrance.
“Now?” gasped Mark.
“Yes,” she croaked, and he pushed in, too hard really, barely in control. Monica gasped, a dull stabbing, somewhere between pleasure and pain. Then she pulled his head to hers and kissed him, wildly, victoriously.
He had started thrusting right away, faster, harder than he should have, the condom dulling his sensations, making him need more. For Monica, after the initial moment of pain, it felt….good, but she sensed right away that she would need much, much more to reach her peak. She saw Mark’s need: he was trying to slow himself down, but she could see that he was nearly there already, that he needed release.
“Come. Just come,” she whispered huskily. That was all he needed: he started thrusting into her desperately, abandoning all reticence. Within moments he exploded into the condom, pumping into her in time with the pulsing of his cock. Finally, reaching down to secure the condom with his hand, he rolled off of her, spent. She turned to face him and they kissed.
“Sorry,” he said. “That was….”
“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “We’ve got lots of time,”
The second time was better, the third better still.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, they learned to read each other’s needs, adapting to please one another. Their pace was different: Mark, like most young men, came to orgasm quickly, and had trouble, at first, lasting long enough for Monica. She needed more time. They soon learned to communicate, mostly without words, Mark letting her know that he was getting close, that they needed to slow down. Usually then they would change what they were doing, shifting positions, starting anew. Making it last.
They came to know that it was better, much better, for Monica to come before Mark. “Ladies first” was their private jest. Mark became a zombie after orgasm, just wanting to nestle his head between her breasts, basking in the warm afterglow of his ecstasy. Often he would fall asleep. So, when their excitement mounted, they would concentrate on her, making sure she reached her peak before him.
Monica came to love fucking, the feeling of fullness in her vagina, the pulsing, bass notes of pleasure, so different from the soprano singing of her clitoris. But she couldn’t come that way: most women didn’t, she would later learn. Her clit was the center of her pleasure, the only route to release. She loved positions that would pleasure her both ways: sitting astride Mark, his cock deep inside her, her fingers stirring her throbbing clit; spooning on their sides, her ass against his belly as he thrust into her, his fingers, or hers, stroking in time with his hips. So many routes to pleasure, open to them now to explore, together.
Mark loved it when she came while he was fucking her. He didn’t need or try to come at the same time; in fact he preferred not to, so he could concentrate on her pleasure, feel her writhing against his fingers as he pushed into her, the contractions of her vagina on his cock as she took him in as far as she could, bent forward, back arched, sharing her ecstasy as she came. It was simply not possible to be closer than this.
He came to love her taste: tangy, slightly salty, a muskiness so evocative of sex, of her, only her. Knowing this, she would touch herself and bring her fingers to caress his nose: The merest scent of her would make him hard. He loved to lick her, make his tongue stiff and taste her inside, probe her clit until she writhed and thrust into his face. But she hadn’t come that way, not yet. Still, so delicious, a sensuous delight.
She loved it too, often licking and sucking his cock after he had been inside her, savouring her own scent and taste. Usually she would go down on him while they were lying side by side, facing each other, or with him on his back, her on her knees between his legs. She had quickly learned his anatomy of pleasure, that smooth area of loose skin on the underside of his cock, just below the head, that was most sensitive. Licking him there would drive him wild, but he hadn’t come that way, not yet. Once she had brought him so close that he had cried out for her to wait, warning her. That time, she had stopped and climbed on top of him, taking him into her cunt, finishing him that way. But she knew, someday, soon, she would share his ecstasy as he pulsed into her mouth. She wanted to know him that way, too.
Monica rolled herself forward on the barrel after his next thrust, pulling herself off of his cock. Mark was shocked: he had been so close, just a few thrusts away from exploding into her. He looked down to see his cock, shiny with her juices, pointing straight out, a bead of creamy whiteness at the tip, pulsing, almost quivering. Desperate.
She raised herself up on her knees, grabbing the barrel in both hands and rolling it over the front seat into the bow. Then she turned herself around, a bit too quickly, rocking the canoe dangerously as she did. Mark raised himself up, grasping the gunwales with both hands, and they gazed at each other for a moment. Then they kissed, Monica working his lips open with her tongue and plunging it into his mouth, swirling it around. Then she stroked the bottom of his tongue with the tip of hers, while slowly withdrawing it back into her mouth, urging him to follow. He did, going in as deeply as he could, his tongue tensed and stiff. She locked her soft lips around his tongue and sucked in, her cheeks pursing inwards slightly. Then she started pumping her mouth on his tongue while flicking the tip with her own, working it with her lips, her mouth, her tongue, almost as if it was a tiny cock.
At last she pulled away, kissing his neck, his chest, backing up a bit and putting her hands on the floor of the canoe so she could reach lower down. When she reached his cock she just flicked it with her tongue, sending shockwaves through Mark: it was so sensitive to the slightest touch. Then she took the smooth head, still wet from being inside her, into her mouth, swirling it with her tongue, teasing him, just a little.
Mark’s hands clenched the gunwales tightly, his knuckles whitening. He was still just so close. He resisted the urge to thrust, to just start fucking her mouth, knowing she had to be in control. He looked down and saw that she was gazing up at him, her eyes shining, her head rocking slightly as she worked his cock. Sensing his need, she reached behind him and put her hands on his ass, pushing him deeply into her mouth. He felt the tip of his cock gently rubbing on the roof of her mouth as the full length of her tongue stroked the underside, curling upwards to lick him there.
She used her hands on his ass to start pumping him into her mouth, slowly at first, then increasing the pace, controlling him with her hands. Her wet lips slid easily over his cock, her cheeks pursed slightly as she sucked, all the while her tongue stroking him, keeping to her rhythm. Then she brought her right hand to her mouth, putting her fingers in with his cock, stroking him, wetting her fingers with her slippery saliva. She grasped the base of his cock with her hand, thumb on the bottom, fingers on top, and started working him in time with her mouth, her wet digits sliding easily over the smooth skin. Left hand on his ass, she started urging him on, harder, faster, her other hand keeping him from driving too far into her mouth. Closer now, he couldn’t hold back for long. Didn’t want to.
And just then, unbidden, a vision came to him. The two of them, much older, their hair streaked and greying. Clear blue sky, rocky point, azure lake. Naked in the sun, making love, their sleeping mats spread on the rocks beneath them. Slowly, deliciously, attuned to each other by long familiarity, knowing one another’s pleasures. Almost as a dance, one flowing into the other, he completing her movements as she did his. Sensing her needs, slowing his pace to meet hers. As she moved faster to please him. Moving in unison, locked in love’s embrace.
The vision faded quickly as he felt the unstoppable tide rising again, starting at the base of his penis, flowing up to the tip, then spreading down his thighs, a warm, creamy blanket of electric, sensuous pleasure. Nothing could stop it now, the pressure building, almost unbearable, such need, an almost painful hunger for release. His hips started moving, pushing into her, out of his control, final thrusts now, one, two then…..his cock pulsed, spurting into her mouth, jesus gawd ofuckofuckofuck. Pulsing, again and again, sweet release, she kept pumping her mouth and hand on his cock, not slowing down, taking him, knowing him, owning him, her lips and mouth almost frictionless now as he filled her mouth with his semen.
Gradually his spasms subsided, and he put one hand on her head, slowing her. One, final, delicious pulse, but the creamy blanket of his pleasure remained, enveloping his cock, his balls, his thighs as she worked her mouth on him, slowly, gently, so slippery now. His muscles, so tense moments before, began to relax, and he pushed her head back gently, releasing his cock from her mouth. He looked down and saw her flick her tongue out, taking the last bead of moisture off the tip of his cock. Her face flushed, eyes wide, throat moving as she swallowed.
She put her hands on the gunwales and pushed herself upright, facing him, then put her arms around him and brought him close. Dazed with ecstasy, he kissed her, forcing her lips open with his tongue, pushing inside. He could taste himself there. Their tongues intertwined, sliding easily against each other, sharing his issue.
Finally, carefully, they lay back down on the bottom of the canoe, him on his back, her on her side with her head on his shoulder. He put his face in her warm hair, kissing her there, breathing in her scent, a hint of woodsmoke. Warm sun on their skin, drying off the light coating of sweat there. The wind was stronger now, building up over the full fetch of the lake, and the canoe was moving faster, straining against the drag of its sea anchor. They could hear the wind, soughing in the trees of the nearby shore, and the waves, larger now, slapping against the hull when it presented its side to them. They lay there dazed, in the embrace of the warm sun, lost and dreamy in their love.
Suddenly the canoe lurched, straightening against its tether, rousing them from their near-slumber. This was followed by a series of smaller bumps, finally slowing the canoe to a stop, stern into the wind, weaving back and forth in the waves. The anchor had found bottom. Releasing Monica from his arms, Mark sat up and looked around. They had reached the low-lying east end of the lake and were now resting at anchor. The shore, about ten metres away, was uninviting: low and forested right to the edge with spruce and cedar trees tilting into the lake at crazy angles. But they were only a short distance south of the small bay where Mark had, yesterday, spied the sandy beach with his binoculars.
He looked down at Monica, still lying on her side, head propped up on hand. “Hey, beautiful, let’s go for a swim.”
“Mmm, sounds good,” she said, and began to climb carefully onto her knees, taking care not to tip the canoe. Mark watched her as she crawled to the bow seat and climbed on, picking up her paddle to brace the canoe. Mark then climbed onto the stern seat and grabbed his own paddle. Monica drew the bow out so it was parallel to the shore, facing north towards the bay, while Mark pulled in their makeshift anchor, letting it drain before putting it in the stern behind him. Monica had already started paddling, keeping the canoe off the shore, and Mark joined her, matching her strokes as they headed towards the bay, watching the muscles in her back and shoulder ripple as she moved.
Only minutes later they nosed the canoe into the bay and saw the beach there: a narrow strip of grey sand, strewn with driftwood, the dark spruce forest behind. The water was calm here, sheltered from the full force of the waves by the low spit that guarded the entrance to the bay. They ran the canoe onto the sand and Monica got out, pulling the bow onto the beach. Mark stepped out into the cool water, then joined Monica at the bow to pull the canoe out.
The beach sand was warm on their feet, and they were still hot and sweaty from their exertions under the sun. Monica took Mark’s hand and laughed, her eyes sparkling. Then she ran into the water, towing Mark behind her. Releasing him, she ran faster, then dove forward, arms extended in a shallow dive. Mark followed, feeling the embrace of the cool lake envelope him as he submerged. Then he surfaced, shook his head and watched Monica as she swam strongly, far better than he could, then stopped, treading water, head back, looking up at the sky. Mark rolled onto his back and floated there, watching the puffy clouds scudding across the deep blue sky, the sun, just starting to slide down towards the west. He was so high (had he ever been higher?) from the sex, from the beauty all around him, from this woman who he loved with an intensity he could not have imagined mere months ago, from the future he saw together with her, stretching out before them like the expanse of the lake.
He wondered, in the moment, could it ever be better than this?