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Update: You guys, I messed up. The author sent me a revised version and I put up the unrevised one so I am terribly sorry for the confusion (not to mention the early posting). Here is the revised version:
The screen door slams behind me with a loud creak and double-bouncing bang, announcing my attempted escape.
“Lia? You going out?”
I cringe and exhale then turn and face my mother through the dark screening. She’s dressed in her new red interview suit, a face full of going-somewhere makeup, and her hair up in clips where she’s been straightening it in sections. She’s rushed to the door in her stocking feet, causing a fresh run to start near her big toe.
“Just going for a walk. You’d better change those.“ I point to her foot.
“Shoot!“ She hikes up her skirt and starts ripping the pantyhose off. “What the heck am I doing? I haven’t worked in sixteen years. They’re going to laugh me out the door.“
“They’ll love you.“
“Sure. How could they not want such a strong job candidate? Forty-three, living with my mother again, and did I mention the part about no work experience?”
“Mom. They’re going to love you.”
She gives me a doubtful smile and sighs, the shallow wrinkles on her forehead deepening. “Why do you want to go tromping around in those buggy, thorny woods everyday, Lia? You know I hate it.”
“I won‘t go far. I‘ll probably be back before you even get home.”
I know exactly what this is about. In my mother’s mind, I’m still six years old, likely to wander off and get lost, and this time, never return.
There‘s a pause, and I can almost see the arguments forming in my mom‘s mind, but thankfully she doesn’t have time to make them.
“Well… spray yourself so you don‘t get eaten alive.” She opens the door, thrusting the insect repellant at me. “And stay on the trails. And don’t be late.”
“You don’t be late.” I smile at her. “And good luck.”
I mist my arms and legs, then head into the trees bordering my grandma’s house. My home now, too, as of three days ago. I’ve come here for visits my whole life. Now it’s a little more permanent, which is fine with me. I’ve always loved this place. The hot clinging air, the rambling log house, and especially the deep, dense woodland surrounding it. The locals would probably think that’s kind of strange, since most of them remember when I nearly died out here.
I walk and listen to birds, whining insects, sticks snapping under my sneakers. All familiar and welcoming. And a familiar feeling comes back to me as well. Of hoping for… something. I’m not sure what. I promised not to go far, and I didn’t plan to, but once I got going, it was too tempting to keep on walking, exploring deeper into the woods. Anyway, if I’d kept my promise and stayed on the trail, I never would have found this.
The spring-fed pool is so clear I can see the large flat rocks and green plants lining the bottom. Leaves pirouette from the surrounding trees, landing and floating on the glassy surface. Sunlight streams through the treetops in little pockets, making a kaleidoscope pattern on the moss and springy wild ferns growing along the water‘s edge. It feels like my own magical discovery. Shame to let it go to waste.
My t-shirt and shorts are plastered to me at this point, and my skin actually feels thirsty. August in Mississippi isn’t for wusses. Looking at the clear water, the idea of an outdoor bath is starting to seem too delicious to resist. It’s kind of crazy– I mean, I didn’t exactly pack a swimsuit for my little nature walk– but I could use a minute or two of crazy in my life right about now.
I look around, then laugh at myself and shuck my sweaty clothes, leaving my bra and panties on. There may be three hundred acres of my grandma’s posted forest land between me and the nearest human, but I’m not that brave.
I step into the cool water and slip under, blowing out all the stuffy humid air in my body. After a minute my lungs start burning and I resurface, stand up in the waist-deep pool, and wait for the water to stop running down my face. Then I open my eyes.
There in front of me, kneeling on the mossy bank, is the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen, male or female. This one’s definitely male.