We had just unloaded the last of our camping supplies from the car, dumping them unceremoniously on the lower half of a three-person bunk bed, and collapsed on to the adjacent futon to catch our breath. We weren’t going to otherwise use the bunk, so it made an excellent storage space. Gene had picked me up before dawn and the day had stretched into late afternoon as we drove to the oceanfront campground at one of Washington’s beautifully green state parks. We were exhausted from packing, the long drive, and then dragging everything into the rustic yet comfortable yurt we’d rented for a mid-week respite. Each yurt was designed to sleep a whole family, so it was more than he and I needed, but we had zero enthusiasm for the smaller option of tent camping.
Not keen on unpacking anything, we decided to have a look around the camp and take in the coastal evening waves. Autumn felt much colder near the shore, so we donned puffer vests over our long sleeve thermals and tucked our heads into knit caps. Gene’s hat covered his ears and all of his short but thick black hair, and I tried not to be too obvious about the fact that I thought his warm face with its bushy eyebrows and wide nose appealed to me even more when framed by the ribbed fabric. But I must have stared too long because he let out a small laugh and grinned at me, making the laugh lines crinkle up around the corners of his eyes. I could’ve kissed him right then, but he distracted me by pushing the long strands of my red mane over my shoulders and tugged on my cap.
“You look so cute in your little hat,” he teased me.
The summer had been unusually hot, and I’d spent most of it piling my hair on top of my head, so he hadn’t seen me in a hat the whole time he’d known me. He had occasionally worn a baseball cap or a flat cap, but I’d never seen him in a beanie. While his hat just had a little square printed with its brand name, my cap had little planets and green alien heads on it, and I suddenly felt slightly self-conscious wondering if I seemed too juvenile. Despite my age, I still liked cute things. I’d also been single for ages and hadn’t really worried about how I looked or behaved until I met Gene.
I didn’t get the chance to return his playful compliment because, just as I was about to say something, we were interrupted by another couple walking by with three young kids in tow. The apparent husband was a tall, lanky, and bearded white guy who approached us ahead of his brood to shake Gene’s hand and then mine. He said his name was Jim Coleman and then introduced his blonde and blue-eyed wife as Sarah. Their kids were miniature triplicates of Sarah and I forgot their names as soon as he said them. Knowing I was inclined to be bashful, Gene spoke for both of us.
He gestured toward me and said, “This is my girlfriend Kittie Cullers and I’m Gene Trinh.”
He’d never called me his girlfriend before or used any other possessive description along with my name. I wondered if it was a subconscious male reaction to Jim’s use of “my wife,” or if something had quietly changed between us while planning our getaway. Whatever the reason, his words tugged on my heart strings and filled my stomach with little flutters. I could feel a rush of warmth on my cheeks.
We had to go through the requisite explanations of how long we were staying and where we’d arrived from along with offering polite gratitude at being invited to join Jim and his family “any time” for campfire conversation or other activities. When the young family finally trod on their way to the shore, Gene and I looked around and outwardly cringed at just how close all the yurts were to each other. Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot, the little yurt village was at capacity, and we anticipated that socializing, however much we might have preferred time alone, was going to be an expectation.
Walking down by the water, we purposefully selected a path to admire the scattered driftwood and rolling waves in the opposite direction of the Colemans. When the sun was heavy on the horizon with a brilliant pastel hue across the sky, we stopped to gaze at it as wide fingers of the ocean stretched out across the sand toward us. Gene wrapped his arms around me, hugging me close to him as I tucked my head against his shoulder and put my hands on his back, squeezing him. He rested his head on top of mine for a few moments as we stood in silence, but I felt a shift him, as if the air pressure had suddenly altered, and he dropped his face down to mine, his lips brushing my lips. I tilted my head upwards and he kissed me in a rush, his tongue eagerly seeking mine as soon as my lips parted. His kiss was heavy and hungry and different from his ginger kisses that he gave me while we sat on my sofa back home. I pressed my lips harder against his, trying to serve him with a passion to equal his.