I did what I usually did when I came home. I grabbed what hardly passed as my dinner and opened the back door. My barefeet were cold on the wet grass, but the welcoming smell of autumn nights was in the air. I climbed up the wooden ladder to the tree house that Dad and I had built the summer I turned eight.
I picked up my favorite worn book from the stack and snuggled up with the blankets and pillows on the scratched wooden floor. The little lights I had added last month twinkled in the darkness, like tiny little stars against the sky.
“Rose?” A faint whisper caught my attention. In the darkness I couldn’t make out who stood beneath the tree house ladder.
“Who’s there?” I said, clutching my mom’s old blanket to my chest as my heart beat fast. He emerged out of the shadow, his left dimple prominent as ever as he grinned from ear to ear.
“Mark?” I said, “What are you doing here?” He started up the ladder. For a split second, our hands touched and I felt electricity run through my body.
I looked at my watch. It was a few minutes past midnight. What could Mark possibly want in my treehouse this early in the morning?
Mark walked towards me and draped another blanket over my shoulders.
“Thanks,” I stammered as his fingers lingered on my shoulder.
He spoke, breaking the awkward silence. “So, do you hang out here this late all the time?”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
“Why aren’t you at home sleeping?” I laid down on the pile of pillows and blankets, snuggling into the side of the tree house. Mark sat down on the floor across from me. He was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a dark green v-neck that brought out his mop of dark brown hair.
“You could say I was in the neighborhood,” he said, giving me a mischievous grin. I scooted closer to him, feeling his body heat reverberating into the chilly air. “Something tells me you have time to explain,” I said, trying not to sound flirty but secretly not minding.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” he said.
His fingers brushed on my collarbone. They were hot, almost as if his fingers had branded me.
He continued to stare at me, . I could feel my cheeks burning.“Rose, I think you’re incredible.” I couldn’t believe the words that had spilled from his lips. Had he been in love with me all this time too?
His strong hand made its way up to my face and I relaxed.
He cupped my chin with his left hand and ran his right hand along the nape of my neck. The darkness was surrounding us, and I leaned in closer, smelling his sweet breath, until I met his lips with mine.
He drew away slowly, his hand still on my face. “You’re beautiful, you know that, Rose?” I snuggled up against him, a warm heat in the early morning breeze.
We lay there stealing silent kisses with only the constellations as our audience while time was froze.
“I want to show you something,” he said. “Follow me.” He grabbed my hand and pushed off the blankets.
“Where are we going?” I asked. He only put his fingers to his lips, signaling that this was our secret.
Behind a nearby house, there was an old quarry. The quarry had stopped operating years ago, but it was full of fresh water. We called it Briar Lake because of the small prickly bushes that lined the area by the banks.
The water was black, like a pool of ink. The rocks surrounding it rose up like a castle, and the quarry it’s moat. The “No Trespassing” signs were weathered and beaten, leaning towards one side from the countless windy days.
It had been a frequented spot in town during the summer months to cool off in the heat. Families and teenagers would line the small banks of rocks to enjoy time in the water. I used to swim there too. We all did. But that was before they realized how dark the water was. How cold the water was. How sometimes people who went to the quarry never returned. But I was safe with Mark. I knew he would keep me safe. I hadn’t had this much fun since my mom left.
“You up for a swim?” He said, his hands moving towards the hem of his shirt. I nodded, my legs and arms numb to the cold.
I shimmied out of my t-shirt and shivered against the cold. Mark came over and set his clothes down next to mine. He rubbed my arms, warming them up instantly.
“You ready?” He asked, stepping even closer to the water’s edge. Normally I would have felt embarrassed about being this exposed in front of a boy, but Mark was different. Gone were all my fears and worries. Stepping over the edge of the rock, I followed him into the black, endless water.