Chapter 15: Attract / Attack

After a few minutes she heard the creak of footsteps on the dock’s old wooden boards and felt the tremor of Alex’s walk in the soles of her feet as he came closer. She’d summoned him, but now that he was here, she regretted it. She stayed facing out toward the water. He stood alongside her and curled his arm around her waist, heavy and hot.
She turned in toward him, getting even closer. His arm followed her movement, and he turned in too. They were chest to chest. His face was shadowy but his eyes were silver circles. “Mirror me,” she whispered, her gossamer words hanging in the night air.
First she reached up and laid the palm of her hand on his cheek.
He stayed still, as if movement would frighten her off.
“It’s okay,” she said.
His hand was warm but it made her shiver. The base of his hand pressed against her chin, his palm stretched across the side of her face, and his fingertips rested on her temple.
She curled her fingers, felt at his cheek with her fingertips, and grasped a tiny fold of skin between her middle finger and thumb. Then she squeezed the skin between her fingertips and delivered a brief, sharp pinch.
He let out an involuntary murmur of surprise, but the pain was over by the time he’d registered it. He was peering at her in the dark, his silver eyes narrowing.
“Go on,” she said.
He pinched her, using his forefinger and thumb, which was more awkward and difficult to get a good angle. Even so, he elicited a small reflexive hum of discomfort from her.
Her hand was once more resting flat against his cheek. She added a tad more pressure and then released it, pressed and released, feeling the give of the layered flesh and muscle over his cheekbone. She released her hand and let it float a few inches away from his face. A cool breeze played in the gap she’d created, caressing both his cheek and her palm.
With her palm tickling, she threw her body forward, propelled her hand through the gap, and slapped him with the maximum force she was physically able to generate. The sound of flesh on flesh pierced the quiet night like a gunshot.
Her arm fell to her side. Suddenly her hand was stinging with the sensation of a thousand stabbing needles.
He staggered back a step, his neck flung sideways. “Fuck!” he shouted. His curse echoed faintly as the syllable traveled across the lake and back.
She stood her ground as he straightened up and repositioned himself so his chest was once more nearly touching hers. He recovered his posture although perhaps not his dignity, standing straight and silent before her.
Her hand was throbbing now, heavy and swollen, like her heart had been ripped out of her chest and welded to her wrist.
His chest ghosted against hers, then contracted back, then expanded out again as he sucked in ragged breaths.
“Do it,” she urged.
He lunged forward and closed the narrow space between them. His arms snaked around her waist. He squeezed her body to his and crushed his mouth to hers. He kissed her ravenously, violently, like a starved coyote feasting on a deer.
He sucked on her bottom lip, bit her, his lips and teeth and tongue working her flesh. She tasted the salt on his skin and felt the muscled contours of his chest pressed against her. The throbbing metastasized from her hand to her chest and her groin. Seizing his shoulders, she dug her fingers into the tensed bands of muscles. He moaned and kissed her full on the mouth. She felt his tongue plunging in and she let him go on for another few moments before she shoved him away, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand.
“You stopped mirroring me when it would start hurting you,” she panted, her voice raw and her body tingling. “But the kids can’t recognize that point.” Her hand was shaking as she reached up to sweep away a strand of hair that was caught in the corner of her mouth.
“Are you seriously angry with me right now?” he said in disoriented disbelief.
“Yes, I’m angry!” she shouted, lunging toward him. “Do you even understand what happened to Joey today?”
“So he’s a bit of a daredevil,” Alex said, leaning back and crossing his arms. “So what? He’s a little boy, he’s meant to be adventurous.”
“The kids all want to be you,” Myra said, backing away in disgust, “but they don’t understand the danger in copying you.”
“The kids love me. They should want to be me,” he declared.
“This is exactly the kind of egotistic, selfish, immature garbage I’m talking about,” she spat, walking farther from him to the end of the dock.
“Yeah?” he said, following her and egging her on. “Just because you’re afraid of everything and see death everywhere, that doesn’t mean you need to regulate the activities of little kids like a warden overseeing a prison full of rapists and murderers.”
She spun toward him. “I know you have no conception of responsibility over the well-being of others,” she accused. “And as long as you’re having fun, you don’t give a damn what else happens. But apparently,” she continued, jabbing her forefinger into his chest, “you’re not even the slightest bit bothered that you set an example that caused a boy to bash in his own skull.”
He was struggling to control his emotions, and she saw his mouth quavering. But when he lost his fight for emotional restraint, his mouth twisted into a lewd smirk and he teased, “Ride me, Athena.”
The heady heat of her anger and lust charred into embarrassment.
His voice softened and he said, “The drawing was of you.”
Her eyes were prickling. “I know,” she said.
He took her hands in his and continued, “The kids all wanted to be you.”
“Yeah,” she whispered. Then she pulled her hands out of his warm grip and ordered, “Don’t use them as an audience.”
He chuckled. “They’re all I have,” he said. “You won’t even look at me unless it’s through the kids.”
“It’s desperate,” she said, grimacing. “It’s foul.”
“I’m desperate,” he said. He reached his arms out toward her, apparently seeking an embrace.
But she scoffed and swatted him away with her forearm. She said, “Camp ends in two days. You can’t go another forty-eight hours without a sloppy make-out session in the dark?”
With his arms hanging at his sides, he laughed again, yet again more unhappily bitter than genuinely amused. “Come on,” he whined. “This isn’t blind lust, you know that. I mean, you are the only female over the age of eleven in a ten-mile radius,” he conceded. “But I’m attracted to a hell of a lot more than your post-pubescent body.”
“Wow, thanks,” she said, scathingly sarcastic.
“I’m attracted to the way you turn every shitty camp meal into a feast,” he said.
“Mm,” she dismissed, tight-lipped and uneasy.
“I’m attracted to the way you carried that canoe on your shoulders like it was nothing,” he said. When she shrugged, he added, “My back is still killing me from yesterday,” and she let out a quiet laugh. Her entertainment was streaked with malice, but he still laughed with her.
With the shadow of a smile still on his lips, he pushed on, “I’m attracted to your dedication to the kids who depend on you.” His lips straightened into a solemn line and he said fervently, “You’re the most selfless person I know.”
She met his gaze, staring into the black pearls of his pupils ringed by silver shavings. Her heart was thudding in her chest like horses’ hooves.
Another smirk flitted across his face and he said, “Your selflessness gets me hard whenever I look at you.”
“Ugh,” she said.
“Kidding! Kidding,” he said. “Well, not really,” he admitted. “You can feel if you want.” When she groaned again, he quickly amended, “But you don’t have to.”
“You’re too kind,” she said drily.
“Wow, I’m really fucking this up, aren’t I?” he said.
“Yes,” she fired back. But as she watched him rub his eyes in a pitiful blend of misery, frustration, and exhaustion, her stomach clenched. “No,” she said more gently.
He sighed. “I know you think I’m reckless. I am. I just don’t have that much to work with.” Ticking off one finger with each claim he said, “You’re stronger, you’re smarter, you’re kinder.” His hands fell to his sides and he said, “I’m better at pulling off really dumb stunts. And I’m truly sorry if they end up hurting someone besides myself.”
“You should be,” she said.
“Okay, fine,” he said. He knelt down and then sat on the edge of the dock, dangling his bare feet over the edge. Craning his neck to look up at her, he said, “We established that I’m a well-meaning, shitty guy. But besides that, what do you think?”
She bit her lip in thought. “I think you’re a genius artist,” she said, looking down at him.
He patted the wooden plank next to him and said, “Sit.”
She dropped down and sat cross-legged next to him.
He swung his legs back onto the dock and lay flat on his back, his arms sprawled out with his elbows bent and his hands on either side of his head. He stared upward, and after a few moments he raised his arm and pointed up toward the sky. “There’s Lyra,” he said. “The harp.” Rhyming on purpose, he asked, “Do you see Lyra, Myra?”
“I see it,” she said, glancing up.
“You’ll see it better lying down,” he said. “Don’t strain your neck.”
She lay next to him, the dock supporting her head and neck as she stared up at the stars. “The brightest star is Vega,” she told him.
“Yeah?” he said. “I don’t know the actual astronomy. But I know that Orpheus played the lyre so well that he charmed Hades into reviving his dead wife.”
“He did,” Myra said, letting her arm drop down onto the dock, “until he looked back when he’d promised Hades he wouldn’t. So Hades kept his wife in the underworld forever.”
Alex turned onto his side toward her. He gazed at her face in profile. “That’s why I’m such a wild child,” he said. “It keeps me from looking back when I shouldn’t.”
“Mm,” Myra agreed, only somewhat sarcastic. “Always moving forward in search of the next way to stir up trouble.”
“Precisely,” he said. Reaching out to run his fingertip along her profile, down her forehead, over the bridge of her nose, and across her lips, he said, “Instead of checking to see if a beautiful woman is following me.”
She nipped at his finger. “Right, because she’s definitely not.”
He rolled again, getting close to her side, supporting himself on his elbow and leaning over her. His face hovering inches above hers, he swept her hair back from her cheek and whispered, “No, definitely not.”
He leaned down and she stretched up. As she raised her head a few inches above the dock, their lips met. They kissed with soft yielding lips, like melted caramel taffy. He slid his hand behind her hair and stroked her neck with his fingers, the soft skin behind her earlobe with his thumb.
When they drew apart, Myra’s face was hot and her lips were tender.
“You fucking goddess,” Alex whispered reverently. His hair was tousled and his cheeks had a darkened, shadowy quality that light would have illuminated as a deep red flush.
She wanted to touch his cheeks to feel their heat, but instead she reached out to him and said, “Help me up.”
He took her hand and she pulled against his grip to sit upright on the dock. Dizziness hit her immediately, but she closed her eyes for a few moments, and when the worst of it passed, she opened her eyes and got to her feet.
He was still sitting, and he reached up for her hand. This time she helped him stand. When he stumbled, she caught him. He said sheepishly, “My foot is totally asleep.”
“Uh huh,” she said.
He didn’t defend himself again, only kept his grip on her hand and sporadically leaned on her as they walked up the hill back to the mess hall.
The kids were still fast asleep, sprawled out on the floor in their sleeping bags. Their ensconced legs overlapped in a messy jumble of bodies, and their sleep-slackened faces turned upward with lips parted and breath whooshing slowly in and out.
Alex released Myra’s hand and they each picked their way through the tangle of forms to arrive at their respective places. Myra crawled into her sleeping bag and Alex wiggled into his.
“Goodnight, Myra,” he whispered. She couldn’t see his face anymore, but the words floated through the dark room.
“Goodnight,” she whispered back.
She turned onto her side, enjoying the feel of her sleeping bag’s slick, cool nylon against her cheek and arms. But her bra was biting into her side, and the more she squirmed to alleviate the discomfort, the worse it became. Finally she fumbled inside the sleeping bag to unclasp her bra. She slipped the straps off her arms and removed the garment from her body. At last having freed herself, she shoved her bra to the bottom of her bag with her bare feet.
Now that she was finally comfortable, she closed her eyes. Exhaustion from the extraordinarily long day suddenly overtook her, muscles fatigued and mind drained. As she sank into drowsiness, she felt the hum of life around her, the nine sleeping souls. She sensed the thrumming of young heartbeats like hummingbirds, and the steady pumping of another adult heart like an eagle. Her own heart skipped like a cormorant wheeling in endless circles over the surface of the water. The pulsing fugue served as a makeshift version of counting sheep, and the aviary ushered her into a deep sleep.