“You called him? Oh, and thanks.” Penny seemed surprised.
“I did. I read Mama’s next letter and she asked me to call him. So I called him and asked for my car. I’m mailing my keys to him.” I wondered if the keys were even still out in the mailbox, I hadn’t bothered checking.
“So you aren’t mad at your Mama?” Penny put another roll on my plate.
“I’m not sure. It wasn’t her fault that I couldn’t see her faults. I’m not exactly mad, just kind of lost.” I didn’t know how to explain the things I felt.
“Well, I’m proud of you. You’re changing.”
“I guess I kind of am.” Something inside of me was very different from before. Even though I had not healed yet from losing my Mama, or from gaining my Father, I was feeling better about things in general. “Thanks for lunch! I’m heading back out.”
“Have fun.” Penny handed me the sun block and sent me on my way. I tucked it in my bag, still determined not to use it, and headed back out into the heat of summer. My stack of letters were dwindling down, and I wondered how many more secrets Mama had in store for me-- none I hoped.
After another hour or two in the sun, I wasn’t keeping count, Penny came out and set up her chair beside me. “You finished making changes to that perfect little cottage?”
“Yeah, I think I’ll leave the rest. I might rip out the cabinets.” Penny smiled, knowing that I was against changing anything in the first place.
“You better not! It’s not like you’ll live there permanently, just leave it alone!” Penny had at least four houses around the South East. Couldn't she just leave this one alone?
“I just want it to look good for the party tomorrow night!” Penny sipped her beer and yawned. “I was up all night cleaning.”
“I figured you would be!” I took her beer from the cup holder and had a sip, cringing at the after taste.
“Want to go shopping with me tomorrow?” Penny loved an excuse to shop.
I had a whole closet full of unworn clothes, but for some reason agreed to go. “Who all is coming to this party anyway?”
“Everyone who is anyone will be there!” Penny smiled. I kind of hoped that Father would be there, but didn’t ask. I actually wanted to see him for the first time in years.
By the time the sun went down, my skin was on fire. I was red, felt nauseas, and my body was hot to the touch. “Ohhhh, what was I thinking?” I asked myself as I slipped out of the clothes that were too painful to wear.
I turned on the TV and eased myself down onto the couch. The cool fabric against my naked body soothed the sting. I had wanted to feel pain and had definitely gotten my wish. I must have been a sight! Lying there red with white stripes where my bathing suit had been, answering Jeopardy questions aloud. After awhile I fell asleep. It had been a long day.
“Addy?” Junior was standing above me, wide-eyed.
“Junior?” I opened my eyes and tried to sit up, the pain jolted me back to my senses. He hadn't planned to come over and I was surprised to see him! “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“I called, but you didn’t answer. Are you sunburned?” Junior took special care to stare directly into my eyes.
“Oh!” I looked down and realized that I was as bare as the day I was born. “Throw me that blanket?”
Junior did as he was told, and the blanket felt like knives against my skin. “Have you put anything on it?”
“No.” I sighed. I couldn’t imagine slathering anything over it. Why had I done this to myself?
“I’ll go see if Penny has anything for it.”
“Okay.” I managed to stand up and head up to the bedroom for some clothes. In other circumstances I would have been embarrassed about the fact that Junior saw me as naked as a jaybird, but as my skin shriveled up and died, I didn’t have the presence of mind to care.
“Penny had aloe and ibuprofen.” Junior called up the stairs.
“I can’t come back down.” I called, slipping into a button up shirt and panties before lying on the bed. I closed it around me, but didn’t button it. “I’m decent now.”
Junior came in and made a sad face. I looked pitiful. “Take this.” He set a pill on my tongue and put a bottle of water to my lips, a stream of water trickled down my neck and chest.
“Thank you.” I tried to smile.
“You crazy girl.” Junior climbed into bed beside me, keeping his distance. “I should have called you and reminded you to wear sunscreen. Didn’t know I needed to!”
“I did it on purpose. Coping mechanism for a girl who is too chicken to cut.” I had always heard about the people who cut little slits into their skin to release the pain through pain, and could never imagine doing it. Maybe this was my own way of releasing pain through pain. I wasn’t really sure.
“Shhh. Don’t say that, Addy.” Junior probably thought I was crazy. If I wasn't careful I was going to scare him away.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what has gotten into me.” I mumbled. I almost felt drunk from the sun. Junior was still keeping his distance.
“You need to put this aloe on.” He squeezed some into his hand and dabbed it on his cheeks and nose. He had gotten some sun at soccer camp too.
I took the bottle and squeezed the cold blue aloe into my palms. It smelled like spearmint. I cringed as I slathered it on my red hot legs. I couldn’t hide the pain.
“Lie down.” He took the bottle from me and began to rub the radiant gel into my claret skin. “Relax.“ I watched as Junior slowly made his way up my body. His hands were strong and warm, yet his touch was soft and gentle. I had almost forgotten the pain that radiated from my skin. Junior’s eyes held mine as he respectfully pulled the shirt open and exposed my bare chest. He worked the lotion up my belly and sides, and around the white indicators of where my bikini had been. My skin was polka dotted with chill bumps and my nipples were hard little knobs. I could see the restraint that Junior was exercising, and felt safe. “Roll over.”
I did as I was told, sliding my arms out and leaving the shirt beneath me on the bed. Again, Junior started at the bottom and worked his way up, skillfully kneading my scarlet flesh. I felt his breath against my neck as he worked the aloe into my lower back. I couldn’t tell if the tingling sensation that I felt was from the aloe or from his hands. “Thank you.” I whispered.
Junior stayed silent. He held my hand in his, he was finished. I rolled over and looked at him. His chest was rising and falling with each breath that passed through his lips. He was such a gentleman and I told him so. Junior shook his head and closed his eyes. “If you only knew the things that I want to do to you, you wouldn’t call me a gentleman.”
I slid back into my shirt, buttoning it this time, and put my head on his shoulder. My skin was soothed, my heart was racing, and I realized that I wanted him to do the things that were in his mind. If I hadn’t been so tender and sore, I would have asked him to make love to me. Instead, I whispered “I love you.”
Junior kissed me gently, said “I love you too, Addy,” and held me close. He loved me too! The words kept replaying through my mind as I drifted off to sleep. Finally, I would never have to be alone again. Junior loved me too!