Saturday morning, Maryanne packed her bikini, then pulled it out again. Should she wear it under her clothes? Or would there be privacy to change? Maybe not. She pushed some extra underwear, a towel, a pair of jeans and two camis into the bag, and then pulled on the bikini and a handkerchief top to cover. Workout pants or shorts? Her legs were still pretty pale. She put on the workout pants and threw sunscreen into the bag. This time she’d wear her jogging shoes, but she packed flip-flops and water shoes to be safe. She twisted her hair with an elastic band, checked her make-up, and spritzed body spray on her pulse points. Nobody said anything about bees at the beach!
Maryanne made Lucas’ picture her background image on her phone. She hadn’t had a male friend since high school when holding hands was enough, and guys were satisfied to spend hours on the phone talking. Sex complicated everything. No lingering kisses or long walks once a guy got between her legs.
Lucas tapped on the door at exactly nine o’clock.
“Ready?” He took the bag from her. “What did you pack, rocks?”
Now that they were just friends, she didn’t mind his silliness. She locked her apartment and followed him down the stairs. “Do you always forget to say ‘hello, how are you?’”
“Oh, sorry. How are you?” He unlocked his Outback and opened the passenger door.
“I’m fine, but you haven’t even kissed my cheek.”
“I didn’t think friends should kiss.”
She placed her hands on his waist. “But I like kisses and hugs.”
“Chocolates aren’t enough?” He touched the side of her face, his gaze lingering on her lips.
“They’re only a substitute.” She could stare into those eyes forever. The opposite of Medusa, he turned her insides to jelly. She licked her lips and swallowed.
He bent his head and met the side of her mouth, but she turned her face and caught his lower lip. Luscious and hungry, she sucked gently and opened her mouth and licked. A moan rolled from his throat as he pressed her closer. She wrapped her arms tighter and held on, as if never wanting to let go. His lips, so full and sensual, caressed her, cherished her, then pulled away, abandoning her.
She panted to catch her breath. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh… nothing. We better get going.”
She slid into the passenger seat while he went around to the driver’s side. Nothing wrong my big toe! Maybe he is a repressed virgin.
He started the car and turned on the radio. It played smooth jazz. “Do you get carsick?”
“Huh? Oh, no.” She twirled her hair. “I’m good.”
“Great, we can take the scenic route. It winds around a lot, but it’s beautiful.”
“You seem to know your way around better than I do. How long have you lived here?”
“Arrived in March. I had some money saved and didn’t have a job the first month, so I traveled around and joined a triathlon club. Lots of backroads for training.”
“Hmm… I’ll bet.”
They headed west on CA-84, crossed the Bay and passed through Woodside. The day was bright and sunny, but once they climbed up a steep grade full of hairpin turns, the sun was entirely blocked by spires of redwoods, their dark brown trunks and dark green foliage casting shadows over the roadway.
Maryanne gripped the passenger armrest and swallowed the edge of nausea. The dizzying turns alternated with marvelous views of the valley below. The road curved past the rustic town of La Honda and hooked a sharp left toward Pescadero Creek Road. Thankfully the navigator showed the upcoming loops, but it didn’t alleviate the lurch in her stomach each time the car swayed.
“Can we open the windows a little?” Maryanne asked in a small voice.
Lucas slowed into a turnoff, and several cars passed. “You okay?”
“How can they go so fast?” She pointed at the flash of colors and departing tail-lights.
“Oh, they’re either local or daredevil. I don’t want you to get sick.”
“I’m good.” She squeezed his hand. It was just like him to be concerned. Some men would have taken the turns even faster to impress or scare her. She shook off the image of John’s wicked grin. He dumped her when she threw up in his Porsche.
The dense redwood groves gradually gave way to coastal oaks with an occasional eucalyptus thrown in, and the road descended toward the farming community of Pescadero. Lucas stopped at the solo gas station to fill his ice chest. He bought her a soda. “If you get tired of camping, we can either head back or find a motel in Half Moon Bay.”
A motel? But knowing Lucas, he meant it innocently. She twisted the cap off the soda. “I’d rather camp, unless there are bugs.”
“We won’t camp near the seaweed where the sand fleas are. I know a dune further up, sheltered under a rocky ledge.”
“Sand fleas?” She scratched her arms. “Did you bring insect repellant?”
“Yes, I’m always prepared. Don’t worry. I have everything we need.” He started the car and made a right turn. The terrain was relatively flat with thick reeds on the right and a hillside full of pampas grass on the left. Interesting how different the vegetation was, separated by a mere road. He turned into a small parking lot where a few cars were parked. It was unattended with a single outhouse in the center.
“This it it?” Maryanne stepped out and looked around. “It looks deserted.”
“That’s the fun of it. Getting away from the crowd.” He hefted a backpack over his shoulders and locked the car.
They crossed the bridge over the estuary and descended rickety steps to a sandy beach. A few teenage girls dipped their toes in the water. Several ramble tumble shelters made with driftwood were piled like beaver homes on the bank. Maryanne and Lucas followed the trail along a levee.
A half hour later, they turned into a sheltered arch made of a jumble of thick branches that grew horizontally and curved around each other before making L-shaped turns upward.
“What a strange tree,” Maryanne said.
Lucas hung his backpack on a branch. “This is Andorra the weeping tree.”
“Why is it weeping?”
“Because the branches are drooping to the ground like it’s too sad to stand up. Come on.” He helped her climb onto a low branch and put his arm around her.
The scent of eucalyptus emanated from the shivering leaves. Lucas’ lips hovered near her ear. “Listen carefully, you’ll hear the voices of two lost lovers, an Ohlone and a Korosta from opposing tribes, who chose death rather than a life apart. Let’s see if we can hear them.”
Maryanne closed her eyes and nestled herself against Lucas’ chest. The branches of the tree creaked in the wind, and she wasn’t sure if she imagined it, but a faint low whistle, like someone blowing over a bottle opening moved within the branches.
“You hear it?” He whispered.
“Yes.” She held him tighter. “I hope our story will be happier. You know I have Ohlone in me?”
“Really?” He sounded surprised.
“Yes, and everything else, Mexican, Irish, French, Chinese. How about you?”
His body tensed. “I’m African American, but my birth father’s white, Australian.”
“Have you met him?” She really should quit, but she was curious.
“No, he died last year and left me money, but never came to see me.”
“I’m sorry.” She rubbed his hand.
“Don’t be. I bet you’re wondering how I came about.”
“Well… okay, sure. I want to know everything about you.”
“I was born May 1985, nine months after the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. My mother was an alternate for the US track and field team and my father was an alternate for the Australian swim team. Since neither of them competed, they had a love affair instead.”
“I hadn’t come along, it would have been a nice memory. But of course, I was a complication.”
“Awww, that’s not true.” No wonder he overcompensated by appearing confident. Poor guy.
“You don’t know my mom. She never competed again. Being an alternate in the Olympics was her crowning achievement.”
“How about your father?”
“He, of course, kept competing, won medals and titles. But he wasn’t about to change his lifestyle because of some black brat he fathered.”
Maryanne swallowed a growing lump in her throat. “You sound bitter.”
“You’d be too if your stepfather kept referring to you as the white sheep of the family. I wish I knew why I was born. Seemed nobody was happy about it.”
“Well, I’m glad, because if you hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you right now.”
“But why do you like me? Is it my body? I mean, that’s what most girls want from me. If they close their eyes, they don’t see my freckles, or my dark skin, whichever doesn’t fit their fantasies. That’s why I don’t give in to their desires.”
Maryanne’s face heated and she pushed away. “Are you saying I only want your body?”
“No, sorry,” he stammered. “You did agree to be friends.”
“That’s right.” She turned away from him. “I also don’t care what race you are, and you’re definitely not some type of fantasy.”
“That came out wrong. I never seem to fit in with anyone.” He sounded dejected. It must have been hard for him growing up different, and wondering why his father rejected him. Maybe that’s why he joked around so much.
Maryanne tugged at his sleeve. “Lucas, I like you the way you are. Honestly. You’re a wonderful man, caring and considerate, like this morning when we were driving. You didn’t take the turns too fast because of me. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.”
He glanced at her. “What do you see?”
“A man I want to get to know, because he has a kind heart.” She kissed his cheek. “I care a lot about you even though you pull silly pranks and say the wrong things.”
“I care about you too.” He put his arms around her. “I want you to be happy.”
“I am when I’m with you.” Maryanne melted into his embrace. Ghostly voices blew through the mass of branches, whispering secrets to her heart, as if she were in love already.