I grunted my dislike at the sunlight which had managed to creep through the window and shine directly on my face. Rolling onto my side, I hid my head under my pillow and willed myself to return to my dream. But even from under the protection of my bedding, I could hear the snores of my campers, the drip of the faucet which had been defective all summer, and the patter of small feet belonging to overly zealous squirrels who were no doubt hoping to find some scraps of food or wrappers which had been left outside last night. No, the damage had been done and I threw my undeserving pillow to the end of my bed as I sat up and glared at the analog clock sitting on top of my trunk.
In the morning.
Way. Too. Early.
I shivered as my sleeping bag fell to my waist and reached for my sweatshirt which had been left on the floor within an arm’s reach for this very reason. With a deep breath, I mustered as much courage as I could find and wiggled the rest of my body free of the warm downy bag and slid my feet into the fuzzy pink slippers which were waiting for me. Padding as softly as I could through the drafty cabin, I passed by the bunks of sleeping girls, envious they still had two hours to sleep, and closed the door to the bathroom as softly as I could.
Instantly, I reached for my bathing suit which was hanging on the back of the door. Of course it was still wet. That’s just what I get for taking my campers for a midnight swim. Now, everyone knows that putting on a wet bathing suit is uncomfortable, but putting on a cold wet bathing suit is considered torture in some cultures and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I brushed my teeth while considering my options: get back into my warm bed and listen to my campers snoring or run as quickly as I could to the lake in a cold bathing suit and enjoy a peaceful morning swim, only me and the fish. My decision was easily made as I imagined the steam which was undoubtedly rising from the lake at that very moment. I tied my dark blonde hair into a messy bun at the top of my head and stripped out of my pajamas as quickly as I could. But my mind was nearly changed as I stood there in the bathroom, naked as the day I was born, and started to pull my bikini bottoms up. It felt like ice running up my already chilled leg and I swore under my breath as I let them drop to the floor, a loud thud resounding through the bathroom.
I turned the squeaky knob on the sink, leaving my fingers under the flowing water and daydreaming while I waited for my desired temperature. It had been a long summer and I had loved every minute of it. My campers, all 14 of them, were lovely girls and we had grown close over the 10 weeks we had been together. It would break my heart to watch them pile on the bus next week and leave for home, but I knew it had to happen. As ideal as summers were, they couldn’t last forever. And this summer-end was definitely going to be bittersweet. Five weeks from now, I would leave for University, be out on my own, and have a fresh start. I would be able to do things I had never done before, things I wasn’t allowed to do at home with my parents breathing down my neck. Not that I was resentful. They were great parents and I attributed a lot of my successes to their encouragement and support. But with support and success came expectations and ultimatums and I couldn’t help but feel suffocated at times.
Still naked, I felt the water heat up enough to cause my finger tips to tingle. I placed my suit in the sink and wrung the cold dampness down the drain. Suddenly, an idea popped into my head which made me smile. The counselors at Diamond Lake Summer Camp always talked about skinny dipping but in all the years I had been working here, it had never happened. Even though I knew I would never tell any of my friends what I had done, and they would never believe me if I did, I felt the spontaneous urge to make good on our empty promise of swimming naked.
I replaced my slippers with a pair of old flip flops and wrapped my bathrobe tightly around me. Sneaking out the backdoor of the cabin, I felt a rush of adrenaline as the chilly morning breeze blew between my bare legs. Thinking of the other cabins filled with campers, all of whom better be sleeping or I could be risking my reputation as the sweetest, most innocent counselor at camp, I walked quickly to the lake. Granted, that wasn’t a reputation I was necessarily fond of, but it was better than Rachael Weaver’s reputation; the girl who had slept with at least two lifeguards, one cook and possibly the camp director’s newly married son. Regardless of Rachael’s tainted name, I couldn’t help envy the freedom she exhibited, even if I didn’t agree with her methods, and wondered how different my summer before college would have been had I let loose a bit more.
As I came to the dock, I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was around. It was a ridiculous thought, I knew, because no teenager in their right mind would get up with the sunrise. I walked quickly to the far end of the dock and stepped out of my flip flops. My bathrobe landed in a pile next to my sandals and I dove in; the frigid morning air on my skin for only a second before the warm water enveloped me.
I surfaced with a smile on my face, floating on my back and watching as the steam evaporated into the clear blue sky above me. I let my mind wander as I slowly paddled around the dock. I thought about college and what it would be like, who my roommate would be, what boys I would meet, what parties I would get invited to. Being the first to admit that my vision of college was somewhat romanticized by movies and chick-lit novels, I was prepared to have my dreams altered upon entering that reality. Nevertheless, I still had five weeks to dream and there was nothing that could stop me.
“Annaleigh O’Brian, what are you doing up so early?”
Shrieking at the sound of a voice apart the one in my head, I sat up in the water, careful to keep all my lady bits under the surface. I turned around with a heavy vale of dread hanging over my head and looked up to see who had disturbed my morning.
“Brady, what are you doing here?”
Brady Chapman was new to our camp and had caused quite a stir amongst the female staff on the first day of summer. We weren’t accustomed to having fresh faces mixing with our familiar camp family and the novelty of this newcomer was amplified by his gorgeous green eyes, his dashing smile and his cavalier attitude. He had broken multiple hearts over the course of the summer by rejecting the advances of the more forward girls, but to me he had become the friend I loved to hate. Our friendship had started when I discovered he already attended the University I had been accepted to. I berated him with questions for days on end, all of which he was happy to answer, and when my curiosity was finally sated, I realized I had actually come to respect and like the guy. He was witty and smart, clever and honest. Our banter would last for hours and while I considered him to be one of the more intelligent members of our staff, it irked me that he always had an opposing opinion to mine, regardless of the subject. I had accused him multiple times of playing devil’s advocate just to push my buttons but he had always denied it with a laughing twinkle in his eye.
“I asked you first,” he chided and I rolled my eyes.
“I couldn’t sleep so I thought I would go for a swim,” I responded shortly and prayed he hadn’t seen that I was without proper swim attire. Or no attire for that matter.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Kind of,” I answered honestly. “I was having a peaceful morning until you showed up.”
“I could tell,” he said with a lopsided grin which made my heart flip in my chest and my stomach turn in a knot.
“What does that mean?” I asked, treading lower in the water.
“You just looked so relaxed.” He started to unzip his black hoodie and kicked his sandals off his feat. “I almost hated to disturb you.”
“Yes, well you still have time to turn around and go back to your cabin,” I reminded him.
“I said almost.”
And with that he dove into the water. A short moment of panic overwhelmed me and I considered drowning myself to avoid the inevitable embarrassment that was to come but quickly came to my senses when I realized that as long as my body stayed below the surface, there was no way for him to tell that I was naked. The water was too dark and he would have said something by now if he had seen me earlier.
Brady seemed to stay under the water for an agonizingly long period of time. Enough time, in fact, that I was convinced I could have managed to climb out of the lake and wrap myself in my robe before he had seen anything. Alas, I thought of my escape too late and I had to watch as his head broke the surface a few feet away from where I was nervously treading. His black hair was spiking uncontrollably around his face and his long lashes were catching drops of water as they fell from his brow.
“So you never answered my question,” I reminded him. “What are you doing here?”
“I always go swimming in the morning,” he said, surprising me. “So really, it is you who is disturbing my morning routine.”
“You don’t seem that inconvenienced,” I noted, pushing the water with my hands and moving away from him.
“Yes, well, if I had to share my mornings with anyone, I would definitely choose a beautiful, funny, rather intelligent…”
“Rather?” I interrupted him with a laugh. “I happen to be the most intelligent person you know.”
“I don’t think so,” he said with a grin which was clearly used to taunt me as he swam past me on his side.
I turned with him so I could see his eyes at every moment, wanting to know if they dropped below my face.
“An intelligent girl would be perceptive, not make hasty decisions, consider all possibilities.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” That was often the case with Brady. He spoke in riddles half the time which were too abstract for my linear mind to process, something he used against me whenever possible.
“Don’t get me wrong,” his deep voice lilted over the light echo of the waves on the shore. “I don’t think any less of you, in fact I’m rather pleased to discover this, but I will say I expected more from you.”
“Brady, please, it’s way too early in the morning for this.”
He swam closer still and had the dock not been directly behind me, I would have retreated. But, as it was, I had nowhere to go but deeper into the water which is exactly where I headed.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?”
He laughed at the rapidity of my response. “Why?”
“Because you are talking nonsense and I don’t like it.” That and the fact that I was very naked and he was swimming very close.
He laughed again and then flipped onto his back. “It’s not nonsense and you know it.” I couldn’t help it, I let my eyes travel down his body from his strong chest to his defined abs and finally to his plaid swim trunks.
“Well you have yet to make your point so it’s nonsense as far as I’m concerned.”
His eyes were open but he didn’t look at me. His gaze was turned up to the sky which was becoming brighter and brighter as the early morning moments passed.
“My point is that I’m disappointed you could be so negligent as to forget your swimsuit in your cabin.”
Had I not been so shocked by his statement, I would have commended him on his use of the word negligent, but the situation being what it was, my reaction was to splash water in his direction and gasp in horror with unwanted dramatic flair.
“Absolutely,” he said, smiling as he sat up and wiped the water out of his eyes.
“How much?” I knew my face was a brilliant shade of crimson.
“Enough to know that there are some very lucky fish getting a wonderful morning show.”
“You’re an asshole,” I said, splashing more water in his face. I wished I could swim to the shore and walk away from him but I knew I was stuck. This was not going to end well for me.
“Like I was saying, I was pleasantly surprised to find you in this condition.”
“You’re a 19 year old boy. You would be pleased to find any girl naked.”
“True, but there are some girls who you know you could see naked if you wanted to and then there are some girls who you never think you will have the good fortune of seeing naked. You fall, or rather fell, into the latter category.”
“I am so embarrassed,” I quickly admitted, looking down at the water and blushing.
“Would it make you feel better if I told you that you have nothing to be embarrassed about?”
“No. That makes it worse.”
“Why?” Brady asked with a laugh.
“Because that means you got a good look at my…” I hesitated, trying to find an appropriate word but none came to me, “at my goodies and I’m going to have to see you around campus and every time you walk by, I’ll know you saw me naked.”
“When I walk by?” Brady looked a little offended but he was trying to hide it. “That’s really all you’ll think about when you see me?”
“What else would I think about?”
“Maybe the amazing summer we just had shared,” he suggested with a frown. “Maybe you could think about all hours we spent by a dying campfire just talking. Maybe you could think about the night off we had together and how we were supposed to go see some lame movie with our friends but we bailed and discovered our mutual dislike of popcorn flavored jellybeans.”
“No one would like that flavor,” I said defensively then realized that those moments had meant something more to him. To me, they had been shared with a new friend, a summer companion who would have seemed untouchable had I met him under different circumstances. But to Brady, they had been something different and the look in his eyes said it all.
“Forget it,” he said, turning around and swimming toward the shore.
“Brady, wait,” I said quickly, following him and forgetting that I was still giving the fish a good peep show.
“I’ll see you at breakfast,” he said over his shoulder and I could tell he was hurting.
“No, can we please talk about this?” I surged forward and grabbed onto his arm.
He stopped the second he felt me touch him but I knew his feet were already touching the clay at the bottom of the lake meaning he could run from this conversation whenever he wanted.
“Annaleigh, I know that you see me as just a friend,” he said slowly as he turned to face me. “But I had really hoped you would pick up on my feelings before I had to spell them out to you.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know what to say. I guess I’m not as smart as I thought I was.”
“You really aren’t,” he laughed and I had to smile. “I’ve made it painfully obvious for weeks.”
“I just never even thought that you could see me like that or think of me that way so it never crossed my mind that you could…or that we could be more than what we are now.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you are you, all sexy and charming and probably good at everything that has to do with dating and the opposite sex. And I am me; I know nothing about anything outside of a classroom and have been living vicariously through my friends for 18 years thus making me altogether boring and completely inexperienced.”
Brady laughed. “You really are a stupid girl.”
“So it would seem,” I laughed as well and smiled at him. “So what do we do now?”
“That depends on you,” he answered. “You know how I feel and what I want is nothing less than for us to finish the summer together and for you to get to University and meet all of my friends as my girlfriend.”
“I’ve never been anyone’s girlfriend before,” I admitted.
“If I had just met you, I would have found that hard to believe. But since I know how annoyingly inquisitive and opinionated you are, I think it is safe to say that I am the only man who could stand to be your boyfriend. If you pass on this, you may never get another offer.”
My mouth dropped in feigned offense and I once again brought my hand back to splash water in his face but was stopped by a strong grip around my wrist. Brady pulled me close to him and I could feel the heat coming from his body. The water suddenly felt unpleasantly cold and I longed to drape my limbs around his warm torso but I refrained.
“So what do you say?” He asked, looking deep into my eyes. The golden specks within his emerald irises were glowing in the sunlight which was now streaming from above the trees. “Will you give me a chance?”
I could barely breathe let alone speak for my reality had changed in a matter of seconds. The friend I had loved to hate was now standing so close yet in a completely different light. I smiled and nodded my head as every memory of our time together suddenly took on new meaning.
“Smart choice,” he said with a grin and then bent his head to kiss me. His lips were cold and damp from the water but felt deliciously wonderful against mine. All at once, my head was floating toward the sky as my body remained grounded, wanting to be as close to him as possible. But as soon as his hand wrapped around my waist, I pulled away, cursing myself for not wearing a bathing suit.
“I’m still naked,” I reminded him and he laughed again at my predicament.
“Let’s get you out of here, then.”
He reached for my hand and started to pull me to shore.
“Wait!” I pulled my hand away. “You have to promise not to look.”
“Annaleigh, I’ve already seen everything.”
“Please?” I begged him. “Just get out and close your eyes.”
“Fine,” he finally gave in. “If that’s what you want.”
I smiled at my victory and watched as he walked to the shore, the water revealing more and more of his tanned body with each step. I followed at a safe distance until I felt the clay between my toes and then I stopped, waiting for him to exit completely and make good on his promise to close his eyes. And that’s when I saw it: Brady’s bare ass. He took one large step and his hips broke the surface of the water and with the next his entire backside was visible to me.
“Brady!” I said with a laugh. “Where are your shorts?” He did have them when he got in the water, didn’t he?
“Oh, man,” he said turning around and I squeaked in shock as he was fully exposed to me, clapping my hand to my face and covering my eyes. “It felt like I was missing something.”
I had to laugh as I peered through my fingers at him. He was walking slowly back to me, a cocky grin on his face. Cocky. The connotations of that word had reached their full potential that morning.
“Do you feel a little less embarrassed now?” He asked when he was close enough to touch.
“I guess,” I laughed again. “But I think I might just be in shock at the moment.”
“Are you ready to get out of the water then?”
“Brady, as valiant as your efforts were, I still don’t want you to see me naked.”
He twisted his lips but I knew he wasn’t defeated just yet. Then with one sudden movement, he lunged for me and wrapped his arms around my waist. I squealed in excitement and panic and felt him pull me tight as he started moving us toward the shore. My arguments and fighting did nothing to deter him and I could feel the protection of the water slipping away as he started to run backwards.
“Brady! Stop! You are going to fall!”
But it was too late. I landed on top of Brady’s naked body and heard him release a loud grunt as he hit the ground, mere feet away from the soft cushion of the lake.
“Oh no!” I looked down at his pained face and tried to control my laughter. “Are you okay?”
“No,” Brady answered, his eyes closed and brow creased. “There are pinecones where pinecones should never be.”
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. The giggles started in my belly, traveled up my chest and escaped my mouth before I could stop them. I tried to cover my mouth with the back of my hand but I could see one of Brady’s green eyes opening just slightly to glare at me.
“It’s not funny, you know?”
“It’s a little funny,” I said, laughing uncontrollably.
He closed his eyes again and moved for the first time, one hand reaching for my hip and the other reaching for my face. Brady didn’t open his eyes until I had gained control of my giggles, though his face appeared peaceful.
“Are you done?”
“Yes,” I answered, letting my hand fall on his chest. “Are you all right?”
He opened his eyes and looked directly at me. “The girl I have been fantasizing about all summer is lying naked on top of me. I’m doing just fine.”
“About that,” I said, blushing furiously, “I hope you realize that this is not going to happen again for a long, long time.”
“Are we talking Hours? Days?”
“Months,” I shrugged. “Maybe years. Decades.”
Brady smiled as if he didn’t believe me. Looking down at him, his hair still damp from the lake, a thin smile on his lips, and his eyes teasing me, I was no longer sure I believed it. I bent my head so I could kiss his lips. It was strange to be kissing Brady, our nakedness aside. Honestly, the thought of kissing Brady had never seemed like a possibility so I had never even entertained the idea. It surprised me how natural it felt, how comfortable I had become in such a short time.
“I should probably get back to my cabin,” I said quietly once our kiss had ended, my fingers tracing the lines of his face.
Brady nodded but his arms tightened around me. “This is going to be great. You know that, right?”
“I know it,” I said, kissing him once more and then pushing off of him and sitting on the ground, attempting to cover as much as my body as I could with my limbs. I tried not to let my eyes roam Brady’s body as he sat up next to me but that was nearly impossible.
“I’ll get our stuff,” he said rather awkwardly, as if his confidence was wavering.
“I’ll close my eyes,” I teased him. I made good on my promise and kept my eyes closed, mostly for my sake because if I couldn’t see Brady’s naked body, it was easier to pretend that I wasn’t naked as well. After only a short time, I felt the comfy cotton of my robe around my shoulders and I opened my eyes to finish wrapping myself. Brady extended his hand and I gladly took it so he could help me to my feet.
“Brady?” I asked, as we started walking back to the cabins, his fingers weaving through mine. “Thank you for spelling it out for me.”
I glanced up at him and could see the smile on his face. “Annaleigh, you are very welcome.”
I smiled and lifted his hand to my lips, kissing his knuckles quickly.
“So,” he said timidly when we reached my cabin. “I guess I’ll see you at breakfast.”
“I guess so,” I grinned at him and let go of his hand.
“What are you going to be thinking about when you see me?”
I gave an embarrassed laugh and looked at the ground. “I’ll probably be thinking about you naked.”
“Yeah?” He appeared excited.
“It’s pretty much seared into my brain.”
He gave me a lopsided smile and kissed my cheek. “I’ll see you soon.”
He took a few steps before I called after him. “Brady! Just so I don’t get anxiety over this, will you promise not to tell anyone about what happened this morning?”
Brady’s smile could have melted ice as he made his promise. “We’ll keep it between you, me, and the fish.”
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