Tuesday, April 10, 2007

MOONLIGHT FLIGHT - short story

This is another short story based on a chapter from my novel, We Danced to Ray Charles. It occurs towards the end of both summer and the novel, several chapters after the last few stories I've posted. As always, any comments, whether brickbats or bouquets will be welcome.

Bayou Bill


Moonlight Flight
by Bill Fullerton

There were five of them back in the summer of ‘68.

All were life-long friends.

But everything changes.

By the time they reached the bluff above Bear Lake, started a smoky fire, put on insect repellant, opened the first round of beers, and found comfortable spots, it was getting dark. The ominous clouds that had been building all afternoon were keeping the temperature semi-reasonable and hurrying the Louisiana twilight.

"Do you think it's going to rain?" Mark Cahill was staring up at the indecisive clouds. For the big, congenial, frat-rat this was less a question than a conversation starter.

Tall, bearded Walt Marshall, who by virtue of being in his mid-twenties was the "old man", tilted his head back to study the dark forms. "Nope. Those clouds are just teasing us."

"I sure hope you're wrong." In a group of competitive athletes, Willie Carter, son of a black preacher, was the best. "Football practice starts next week. Two-a-days are rough enough without having a heat wave adding to your misery."

"Don't forget the drought." Lanky, sandy-haired Bob Hemphill grinned at his old friend. "Hundred degree heat plus no real rain since June means that practice field is going to be extra hard."

"Thanks for reminding me, old buddy."

"Heat stroke and skin abrasions build character," said Walt. "What kinda team's Grambling going to have this year, anyway?"

"It's like I've been telling these guys all summer," Willie gave the group his big, teasing grin, "we’re gonna be so good, it'll remind folks of when yours truly quarterbacked the mighty Black Knights of Kisatche High to the state title."

"You know, it's a good thing you're leaving town this weekend," said Bob, speaking over the chorus of jeers and hoots of derision. "One more crack like that and we might have to take stern measures."

Willie stuck out his chin in a show of mock belligerence. "Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Like, do you remember what happened when we heard you made first-team, all-state?"

"How could I forget? I thought you guys were talking about taking me out for a steak but instead, you threw me in the lake."

"We had to do something to keep you from getting the big head," said Amy Marshall. A classic green-eyed, red-haired beauty, she was Walt's kid sister and the group's unofficial ringleader.

"Sure y'all did," said Willie. "But next time, when I win All-American, please wait until summer. Believe me, that water's a just a tad chilly in April."

Mark motioned toward the lake. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, we'd be willing to start practicing right now."

"Maybe later. I've already had one bath this week. But if any of you want to check out the lake water for me, feel free."

While everyone else kept talking, Amy opened a bag of potato chips and looked at the four men sitting nearby. Her three best friends and the big brother she'd almost lost in Viet Nam.

For her, this was a perfect moment. Well, it would be perfect if Mark weren't dating that damned Bebe Boudreaux. Why the hell was he so nuts about someone like that? Sure she was tiny and cute, but his friends all despised her. Willie thought she was a racist, Bob thought she was a bitch. Walt thought she was trashy. Amy didn't think, she knew Bebe was all of those things.

What's more, she would be so bad for Mark. If they ever got serious, something Bebe obviously wanted, it would break up the group. Both of those were things she wanted to avoid. Besides, knowing Mark was in Bebe's crosshairs had reminded Amy just how much she wanted him for herself. It’d been that way since last spring. At a party, Mark had found her alone and crying. Both had recently broken up with long-time steadies. When he took her in his arms, they began kissing.

She’d felt something very special, and had wanted to feel more. But then Mark had stopped. So what did that mean? And how did she really feel about her best friend?

Amy had counted on having the summer to sort out her feelings. But with Bebe moving in on Mark, she knew time was running out.

So far, she didn’t seem to be making any progress at getting Bebe out of the picture. Part of her problem was she and Mark were best friends, always had been. And so far, she hadn't been able to change his point of view towards her.

Once the potato chips were finished, she quietly blew into the empty container, twisted the opening shut, and then slammed the inflated bag into her palm. There was a loud, satisfying "bang" followed by startled cries. Amy had their attention. "Do you guys remember when we all went skinny-dipping that summer before junior high?"

The first person to answer was Walt. "I do. It was right after I took the picture of y'all holding that big stringer filled with all those little-bitty fish."

"They weren't that little," she insisted.

"Maybe not, but y'all were so grungy, I told you to get in and wash off. I just wish I'd had some film left to take pictures of that scene."

"Talk about your blackmail," said Mark.

"Speak for yourself," said Bob. "I looked like a young Greek god." He paused to duck the initial volley of objects aimed at his head, and then continued. "But best I recall, you and Willie were a tad chunky and Amy could have used a pound or two."

Skinny and self-conscious when in junior high, Amy's height to weight ratio had long since reached a tall, willowy near-perfection. She grinned at Bob's remark, but continued talking to her brother. "That day, why didn't you come in with us?"

Walt shook his head. "I'm not sure. Maybe I felt too old. I was already in high school, remember?"

As the four guys kidded each other about skinny-dipping, Amy wondered what she should say next. As the group's only female, she could either turn the conversation onto another, safer subject or keep it heading towards the obvious outcome. She glanced around the group until her gaze came to rest on Mark. He looked over and gave her his familiar, reassuring grin. It didn’t register. By then she'd made up her mind.

She looked back at her brother. "Walt, would you still feel too old?"

"How should I know?" he said, giving her a surprised look. "Were you planning on jumping in the lake?"

Mark's response was just what she'd expected. "Hey, that sounds like a great idea! Let’s all do it."

The men began daring each other to go skinny-dipping. It was almost dark, but thanks to the firelight, she was soon viewing four bare, male backsides, three pale and one dark, racing for the lake.

Although left alone on the shore, she wasn't ignored. After hitting the water, the men began calling for her to join them. "I don't think so," she answered. "That's just what I need, a reputation for going skinny-dipping with four guys."

Amy knew saying no was the only logical decision. For one thing, going in would mess up her hair big time. But they'd all be going back to college soon. This might be her last chance to do something to get Mark's mind off Bebe and onto her.

From out on the lake, teasing chants of, "Amy's a chicken, Amy's a chicken," accompanied by imitations of chicken squawks interrupted her thoughts.

The men couldn't see the determined look on her face as she got to her feet. "Okay, you creeps. I'm coming in."


Mark stood waist deep in the cool water, watching as Amy began to unbutton her shirt. "Y’all turn around until I get in the water."

It was an unnecessary gesture towards modesty. With clouds hiding the moon, there was little light. That, plus the campfire burning behind her, meant the only thing visible was her silhouette.

The request was answered by a derisive chorus of boo's, whistles, and cries of, "Take it off. Take it off." Walt's voice cut through the din. "Come on, Sis. Don't start playing shy on us just because you're the scrawniest person here."

"Walt Marshall, you'll pay for that," yelled Amy as she tossed her shirt to the ground and began struggling with her jeans. In Mark's opinion, that silhouette in the firelight looked anything but scrawny. Still, count on Walt to come up with the perfect line to get Amy moving.

Once she joined them, there was a lot of horseplay, even a short-lived football game featuring an old sneaker Willie had found on the shore, but very little swimming. It was during a lull in the action, that Amy suggested Mark "toss" her. It was an acrobatic stunt that would involve him heaving her straight up out of the water. If done right, she'd have time to arch forward and re-enter in a controlled dive. They'd done this many times in the past, but never in the dark-much less while skinny-dipping.

"Are you sure?" Mark was both surprised and a little dubious.

"Of course, I'm sure. Come on. It'll be fun."

When everyone else began urging them to give it a try, he agreed. "All right. But you guys aren't fooling me. All y'all want is to get my head under water."

He took Amy's hand and helped her into position standing in front of him, facing away. The dark lake water was lapping at her pale, bare shoulders. When he asked, "You ready?" she nodded.

Placing his hands on her waist, Mark exhaled to offset his body's natural buoyancy and then began pushing his way down toward a squatting position at her feet. To reach that goal, he had to use her body to help propel and guide his descent. As his hands slid down her sides and his body brushed against her skin, Mark found himself struggling to ignore the feel of that warm, silky, and very naked flesh.

Once in position he tapped on her feet, the signal for her to rise up on tiptoe so he could cup a heel in each hand. When everything was in place, he shifted forward slightly and she leaned back against his shoulder, letting him know she was ready.

That's when Mark lost his struggle. The touch of her legs along his chest, the smooth contour of her thighs resting lightly against his shoulder, the sensation of her hip nestled against the side of his face, it was more than he could ignore. There was an excited churning in his stomach and a dizzy confusion inside his skull. His mind wouldn't work. His body couldn't move.

Amy twitched her legs as a reminder she was ready, but he couldn't respond. It took oxygen deprivation to break the spell. Almost out of air, he began propelling her upward. But the long pause had gotten them out of synch. A knee buckled, a hand, or was it a foot, slipped and while only halfway out of the water, Amy began falling awkwardly back into the lake.

Once the choking and gasping ended, neither of them got any sympathy from the onlookers. "That has to be the most pathetic excuse for a toss I've ever seen," said Willie, his voice thick with feigned disgust.

"Yep, that was pretty sad, you two," agreed Bob.

"You two nothing, it was all his fault," insisted Amy, pointing at Mark. "He even looks guilty."

It'd become so dark she was the only one close enough to make out his expression. But Amy was wrong; the look on Mark's face had nothing to do with guilt. Its source was a storm of other emotions so strong and unsettling he could barely breath. Finally he managed to croak, "I'm innocent. And I must have swallowed at least half the lake."

Amy drifted closer and put a hand on his shoulder. "You poor thing," she said, giving him a wink that belied her teasing tone. "Do you need help, maybe some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? I think Bob got a merit badge in first aide? Would you like for him come help?"

"Nothing personal," said Bob, "but if I've got to give him mouth-to-mouth, I say let nature take it's course."

This strong show of compassion continued until Walt broke in, "I can't stand it. I promised myself I wouldn't do this, but seeing what a shambles you and Mark made of things, I'm wondering if you want to try that overhand toss we did once?"

The overhand was tougher to pull off because the thrower had to squat with his hands shoulder high like a weight lifter about to lift a barbell over his head. This made it harder for the person being tossed to keep their balance. But since the thrower could extend their arms straight up during the toss, if everything worked just right, the results could be a high and spectacular ascent.

Everyone but Mark agreed he was unfit for duty. After a feeble protest, he moved out of the way so Willie and Bob could get into position on either side of Amy.

The clouds that had promised but once again not delivered any rain were breaking up and the lake was suddenly bathed in bright moonlight. This made it easy for Mark to watch as, after a good deal of talk and shuffling about, Walt disappeared beneath the surface. A moment later, Amy went soaring into the warm, night sky.

It was a high, absolutely perfect toss. Willie, Bob, and Walt were covered with spray which partially blocked their view. Mark was the only one who saw all of Amy's moonlight flight, and he was transfixed.

Whenever he remembered the event, it was always in slow motion. The sight of her wet, nude, nymph-like body soaring gracefully above the lake was beautiful, and erotic, and devastating. The emotions still battering him instantly coalesced into a total and all-consuming love.

He’d been fighting that feeling since they kissed last spring. Thanks to Bebe, he thought he might be winning. Now he knew better. But guys like him didn’t stand a chance with a girl like Amy. Making a move on her would just cost him his best friend.

Mesmerized, he watched Amy’s graceful, moonlit form arch slowly and then begin heading back toward the lake. As she sliced through the dark surface, Mark knew he was in trouble. After finally making love with Bebe, the girl he always wanted, he'd fallen in love with Amy, the girl who'd always been his friend; the woman he could never have.

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