Authors: Laurie Boyle Crompton
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For Aidan: my little prince and laughing star
The soldiers were all exactly alike, excepting one, who had only one leg; he had been left to the last, and then there was not enough of the melted tin to finish him, so they made him to stand firmly on one leg, and this caused him to be very remarkable.
Hans Christian Andersen
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier”
My dark hair whips my bare back as I gain on the form cycling through the trees up ahead.
I may have just found my afternoon plaything. A perfect male specimen riding through the forest alone.
Exactly what I need
Thrusting my shoulders over the handlebars of my mountain bike, I pedal faster. My tires gobble up the dirt trail as I close in.
My boy-toy-to-be turns his head and I get a glimpse of his profile under his helmet's visor. I recognize that face. Jay Something-or-other from school. My front tire wavers for just a breath.
I had been hoping for some random boy to have fun with, but this is a boy from my class who is way too serious. Bordering on lame. Don't get me wrong, Jay's intelligent and I like a challenging conversation. But I'm not looking for a conversation today.
I'm looking for an afternoon fling.
I churn my strong legs back up to speed. He may not be the most exciting mark, but I'm trying to escape a nearly catatonic state of boredom. An hour ago I was lying on my deck, too hot to read the trail guide I'd laid over my face, when I heard a wasp chewing on the wood railing. The munching sound got louder and louder until I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I finally shouted, “Go chew on somebody else's damned deck!”
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Clearly, Dyna is ready to spend a little time with her own species.
“Heads up!” I stand on my pedals, lean over, and give two solid knuckle raps to Jay's helmet as I glide by.
Technically, I should be wearing one, too, but I ache for the wind. It's the reason I'm wearing just my bikini top and shorts and would probably ride naked if it wouldn't get me arrested. I glance back at a surprised-looking Jay, shift to a fast coast, and leave the next move in his hands.
Do you have the spirit of an adventurer hidden in there somewhere, Mr. Serious-bordering-on-lame?
I keep my eyes on the trail, but a smile spreads across my face as Jay catches up.
Okay, game on
. I change gears and pedal faster. The trail we're on connects with the woods behind my house and runs sixteen miles to the north and south. I usually prefer spending time on it by myself, no matter what season it is.
Nature is most pure when experienced alone.
But I'm always up for a fun drive-by encounter with a boy when I'm bored.
I'm impressed Jay manages to match my pace and notice that his arms are actually quite muscular for a pale and overly serious type in a dorky bike helmet. “You're Dyna, right?” he pants.
“The one and mighty.” I glance at his chin-strapped face. While he's not my type, he is probably what some girls consider swoon-worthy. His green eyes are rimmed with blond lashes, and even at this speed his straight teeth charm me when he smiles. I, personally, am not a swooner, and I don't really get girls who are, but I may have underestimated my afternoon plaything.
I call to him, “It's so hot my tits are melting off!” Jay takes this as an invitation to turn his head and openly check out my rack.
“Still there,” he confirms with a grin.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on them for me.”
“Anytime.” He's obviously not looking for a deep and meaningful relationship.
I just want to stir up this simmering July afternoon. And while fooling around is a definite possibility, I'm not about to hand over my pink. Past attempts have been made by a few bold boyfriend-types, but I'm keeping that territory unexplored until I find the right guy.
“What do you have planned for the summer?” he asks as I slow our pace.
“Hanging on the mountain.” I look over at him. “Literally.
. I've gone rock climbing almost every day since break started.”
School finished nearly two weeks ago and I've been hooking up with a few random climbing buddies on the ridge. Our conversations basically consist of calling out things like
“On belay!” “Tension!”
After a few pedals Jay says, “Yeah, I've been superbusy, too. Working on building my clips.”
He interprets my silence as a desire for more details. “That's sort of like a portfolio for writers. I need them for my college applications.”
“And here I figured you meant you'd been scrapbooking.”
He laughs, and I turbo-blast down the trail. I'm nearly flying, but he speeds up and manages to keep less than a bike's length between us.
Now things are getting interesting.
I launch my bike over a protruding stone just as a striped caterpillar with a suicide wish inches into my pathway. Twisting my handlebars sharply, I avoid running the little guy through.
The caterpillar is spared, but my landing is shit and my back tire slides in the dirt.
My arms tense.
I struggle to keep from veering off the trail but plunge into a full-on skid.
A sour taste fills my mouth as I'm thrust toward a solid row of trees.
The wall of bark is coming at me fast. Leaning hard, I aim my bike so it's sliding sideways, tires first. I tense for impact.
In the background Jay shouts, “Ohmygod!”
I grunt and dig in.
Pine needles and dirt form a violent cloud as I spin my wheels.
Come on, Dyna!
Powering through with everything I have, I finally grab traction. Regain control. I graze lumpy roots with my pedal, just clearing the tree.
Jay stops to process my near-blow, but I don't even slow down. My heart pumps pure adrenaline as I devour the trail. Tingles surge through my limbs. A rabbit makes way, and the air is filled with chirps and chatters.
I am the most alive thing in the woods right now.
I look back and toss a laugh to Jay. He lunges forward to catch up, but I keep my advantage all the way to the Wallkill River. When I reach the bridge I automatically rise, stand on my pedals, and let go of the handlebars. As I glide along the rumbling wooden planks I lock my knees, fling my arms open wide, and surrender to the river's vastness. The fresh air embraces me.
This is the only romance I'll ever need.
Jay speeds by me and my bike falters.
What the hell?
I grab my handlebars and he swings into a sideways stop, blocking my way.
My tires yelp against the brake pads. “What do you think you're doing?” I jump off my pedals onto the bridge's even planks.
“I could ask you the same thing.” He reaches to steady my bike and looks at me the way my parents might if they were the type to give stern parental glares. “You almost ate it back there.”
“I'm fine. It was no big deal.”
He laughs incredulously. “Are you always so wild? I mean, I heard you were a daredevil. You have a pretty epic reputation at school. But I didn't know you were semi-suicidal.” His eyes are wide and the crease of concern in his forehead softens me. I wonder if he'll kiss me later.
“Don't worry, I'm not some psycho chick with a death wish. I've never even had a broken bone.” Jay is gripping my bike so tight his knuckles look ready to pop. “Hey. Sorry if I scared you. It's just sort of my family's motto: Risk nothing. Do nothing. Die anyway.”
Mom and Dad both have that saying tattooed on their shoulders in the form of a flying raven. My brother, Harley, rebelled and had his put on his rib cage, but I'm thinking the shoulder will work fine for me. I have a few other tats in mind, back of the neck, hip, inner wrist, but Dad's making me wait until I'm eighteen. He's pretty sure once I start with the ink I won't want to stop. He might be right.
Jay shakes his head, and I wonder if I should be looking for someone else to hang out with.
Someone who won't look at me this intensely.
Finally, he moves his hand from my bike to my bare waist. His touch sends a tickling wave across my stomach, but it's probably just that human contact thing I've been lacking.
“Nice family motto. Can we try that âDo nothing' part for the next hour or so while I catch my breath?”
I look down the bridge and see a couple lounging on one of the wooden benches in an intimate embrace.
“Sure,” I say. “But not here. Let's go
down by the swim hole.”
“Swim hole?” Jay looks up and down the trail.
“Figures,” I tease. “How long have you lived here? I'll show you.” Veering around him I head off down the bridge and challenge, “But you've got to keep up, Scrapbook Junkie.”
I glance back to see Jay leap onto his pedals. His straight teeth are set in a grimace as he flies past the stagnant couple and bears down on me.
I laugh with delight and speed up.
As we race down the path, Jay explains he doesn't usually ride the trail. He was on his way to the library to do some writing and spotted a flyer with a picture of a lost dog. The sign said the dog was last seen around here and he decided to take a detour to see if he could find it.
“So, you're telling me you went searching for some stranger's runaway dog? Like that's your job or something?”
Jay gives me a sheepish nod and I can't decide if this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard or the most adorable.
I make a sharp right turn onto the hidden path that leads to the swim hole and grind my bike to a halt. Jay stops, loops around impressively fast, and pedals after me again. The water isn't very far off the main trail, but it is well hidden.
“Did that sign back there say âNo Trespassing'?”
“Pshaw.” I laugh. “Just the water company. They don't really mean it.”
When we reach the swim hole Jay sucks in his breath. “Holy shite, I never knew this was here.”
“Cool, huh?” I try to imagine the oasis as if seeing it for the first time and have to admit it is pretty picture-freaking-esque. The water reflects the sheer, towering rock face that closes the swim hole in along the back and one side. Trees leap at every imaginable angle and splotches of sunlight dance in their shadows. To our right the woods rise up sharply with a well-worn path that leads to an enormous moss-covered rock outcropping. The natural diving platform peers over the swim hole and butts up against the rock face about halfway up the sixty-foot cliff.