Most anything was worth it, the Alone Girl thought as she gazed out at the meadow. The grass had a hay-like smell and the world was clean and heavy with dew. In the near distance, the apparition of a lake of clouds. It was late summer in Vermont, the Jeffersonville area to be exact. The girl and her mother were visiting friends in Burlington who also had a lovely summer cabin in the nearby mountains.
An awkward time of life, the girl was about to enter the ninth grade. In an attempt to forge her own path, the girl was working on her look. Photos show a smoldering glance, almost obscured by long dark blond hair. The girl slouched in photos, not yet accustomed to the power of her figure, embarrassed by and self conscious of it. She would learn, in time, but it would be too late.
The benefits of visiting in Vermont were counterbalanced by the fact they would have to return, eventually, to New York. Time spent in an idyllic setting would evaporate just like the lake of clouds in early morning. It would seem like a dream, always like a dream. But it was real, truly.
The girl would spend an abundance of time with another girl who was socially awkward. The girl would classify her old acquaintance as “different.” And she was. But the girl was always kind to others, especially those who were different. Besides, it was companionship in a place where the activities were limitless.
On this day, the girls and their mothers were not slated to go to the old swimming hole. The mothers were headed to a nearby town for lunch and window shopping. The girls were on their own for the day. After an early lunch the girls headed down the small road for a visit to the cow pond at the nearby farm. They knew not to swim in it. It was loaded with leeches. But there was always a chance for a glimpse at the horses, the huge Belgian draft horses.
By noon, the sun was hidden behind thick clouds and the air was thick with moisture. The allure of the pond had passed and the girls were headed back to the cabin to read, one of their favorite pastimes. A jingling noise and the beat of heavy hoofs pounding on the dirt road captured their attention. They were horse crazy, after all. Two draft horses, in full harness, were creating powder puffs of dust as they made their way toward the girls. Two strapping young men were astride the horses. They were the boys from the farm and brothers. Hard to know their ages but they had to be in their late teens, bodies well muscled from their farm labor.
The girl’s friend knew them slightly and hailed them. They were in the process of dragging fallen logs from the woods back to the farm. Did we want to go with them? Without a backward thought, each of us swung up behind a brother. The Alone Girl was not used to riding a draft horse, her supple legs stretched to their limit. Her companion, Ben, encouraged her to hold on to him to keep steady. The fiercely independent girl resisted, she didn’t need a boy to tell her what to do. As they began their climb into the woods, she found herself losing her balance and grabbed the boy around the waist.
Up until this time, boys were fun to have around because the girl was proficient in athletics. She could throw and catch just as well as most boys and also excelled at kickball. This was different, though. Pressed against the back of a sweaty, muscular young man wasn’t such a bad thing, the girl decided. There was an underlying odor of the sweat of hard labor, but there was also a fresh smell of hay and sunshine. And the muscles she felt through the boy’s tee shirt were much more developed than the boys at home.
Disappointed when Ben swung down to hook up the lumber to be dragged back, the girl exchanged glances with her friend. It was hard to suppress grins. The horses were turned and they headed toward the farm where they knew comfort awaited them. Resolved to enjoy the ride back, the girl settled against Ben’s back and reveled in the experience. When they reached the smaller dirt road where the girls would get off, the boys helped them down. In a halting fashion, the other boy announced there was a square dance that Saturday and the girls were welcome. The Alone Girl explained she would be back in New York by then and her friend would be back in Burlington. Maybe another time, the boys said as they began leading the horses to the farm.
The Alone Girl knew there would never be another time. Instead she vowed to cherish that experience and store it in her memory for the long haul. The girls never divulged the experience to the adults. They knew they would have been reprimanded for running off with strange boys. Indeed, it’s a wonder the experience remained innocent. But innocent it was, and sweet. Whenever the air is thick with humidity and the smell of turned earth is prominent, the girl’s mind travels back to that sultry summer afternoon when her face rested against the boy’s back amidst the smell of his honest labor. And she knew boys would occupy a different place in her mind from then on.