Cherri Red is slowly getting there, and as promised I’m posting the opening scene of the book to whet your appetites. This has been only mildly edited so far, and is likely to change a little in the finished book. For now, hope you enjoy this teaser:
Copyright (c) 2011 JT Harding. All rights reserved.
I sat on a big rock blasted from the hillside pretending to play with my camera while I studied the blonde girl across from me. She hunched over, knees pressed together to catch the peeling from a bright red apple, the shavings curled and gathered on her lap. The girl wore a short chiffon skirt, dusty blue with small red flowers, and a dark pink tank top. The straps of the top crossed and re-crossed the red straps of her bra, chasing each other to her shoulders. The concentration on her face was fascinating, eyebrows pulled together, mouth pursed. The small penknife cut waxy red peel from the apple and the more she cut the more I knew she wanted to finish the job without any breaking.
In the final stage she slowed right down and her tongue appeared at the corner of her mouth, stripping five, maybe ten years from her age. All around us another sixty odd eighteen year olds milled and chattered, but this girl and I were encased in a cocoon of silence. It might as well have been only the two of us on the side of this dusty road. The girl disturbed me, triggering emotions I didn’t understand until much later that summer.
The last sliver of peel fell away and the pretty mouth lifted in a grin showing white teeth, pink tongue sliding back inside as she glanced up to catch me staring and my cheeks flushed. The girl’s grin broadened. She sliced a curve of apple and held it out.
I shook my head. “After so much effort you deserve it all.”
“Tell the truth I’m not so hungry. I’m just trying to take my mind of wanting to pee.”
The girl laughed and withdrew the offered slice, popped it in her mouth and chewed. She cut another slice, held it back across and this time I accepted.
“Me too,” I said.
“You need to pee?” She was delighted, as though I’d deliberately planned this, and the three cokes before we left Bakersfield had nothing to do with the pressure on my bladder.
“For the last hour.”
“I’m going through the woods.”
“I’m Cherri – with an i and two r’s.”
“I’m Dani. Also with an i but only one n. Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise. D’you think they’re ever gonna stop gassing and start walking, ’cause if they don’t I’m gonna have to pull my panties down on the side of the road here and let rip.”
I giggled and ate the piece of apple, the fruit firm and sweet in my mouth, the taste making me think of the apple taste on Cherri’s lips as she chewed another slice. That thought, forming sudden and complete in my head confused me, and I looked past Cherri’s shoulder searching for distraction. The camp owner and his wife, talking together as they had for the last ten minutes, didn’t seem any further forward. Two buses were pulled up on the road, the first with a flat and no spare. The second did have a spare, but the spare was flat, and the bus couldn’t get past the first on the narrow dirt track. According to the man we were three miles from Pinecrest Lake. Their discussion was about whether to walk us all down the road together, or if the man might take a group of us on a trail through the woods which would cut out two miles, but meant climbing the ridge between here and the summer camp. I was hoping he was going to take us along the trail, for the same reason as Cherri with an i. I needed to pee so bad I was sure my eyes were starting to float out their sockets.
Cherri cut another piece of apple and waved it to attract my attention. I took it and bit into a corner.
“What you going to be doing here, Dani?”
“Photography,” I said. Redundant, really. My battered Nikon F2 hung around my neck, and I wore a fisherman’s vest with pockets full of spare film, light meters and two extra lenses.
“Really? Who’d have thought. Fuck, I’m gonna bust if they don’t get their act together soon.”
“What about you? What’re you doing here?”
“Music. My guitar’s on the bus.”
I nodded. It was easy to picture her as a musician, standing on stage wowing a crowd. She was short, not much more than five feet with strawberry blonde hair cut to her chin, curling in the breeze coming up the valley, catching the almost noon sun and flashing white. Her eyes were bright blue, brighter than the sky. The filmy skirt was cut short and showed a whole lot of very nice looking thigh and leg all the way down to neat pumps. Her tank top hugged her small breasts and I really had to stop thinking about her breasts, about the rest of her too. Really. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I’d never had thoughts about another girl the way I was suddenly thinking about this Cherri Red.
“You any good?” she asked, breaking into my thoughts, confusing me for a moment.
“With this?” I lifted the Nikon.
“I think so.”
She nodded back. “Me too. Singing, that is. You go to college to study pictures?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. In the fall. I graduated high school a week ago.”
“Me too. I thought you were older. Thought you must be in college.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that, still young enough to be flattered she thought me more mature than my eighteen years, old enough to worry I was starting to age. I wondered how I must look to her. Too tall, too skinny, dressed in gray combat pants and cotton shirt and the fishing vest, dusty hiking boots, long black hair tied back in a pony tail. I knew I wasn’t beautiful like Cherri, and the thought comforted me. She was going to be chased by all the guys and I wouldn’t need to worry about this stupid crush I was developing out of nowhere.
Behind her things seemed to have resolved into a decision. Mr. Simmons – call me Jeff – waved his arms in the air.
“Okay, okay – everybody listen up. Chrissy is going to take those who want to go with her along the road. I’m cutting across the ridge. Anyone who hasn’t got suitable footwear or is worried about a small climb can go with Chrissy. Anyone who wants to see some country follow me.” He grinned and turned away, not waiting to check how the groups split.
I looked at Cherri. “You ready?”
“And willing.” She rose off the rocky bench and cut another slice of apple, cut a second and handed to me and I took it, my fingers sticky from the juice of the earlier piece and we walked across the road and into the woods where a wide trail twisted through trees. Off to one side were tall sequoia, but here the trail cut through Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine. Even as I identified the species I experienced a touch of guilt I recognized them. I blamed my Dad, always pointing stuff out, always asking did I remember what this was called, what that was. But I found it difficult to blame him for anything too much because he had made me who I was, and I liked myself well enough to be grateful.
Cherri put her hand on my arm and held me back.
“Let ‘em get ahead, Dani. I need to swing off and empty my bladder before it empties itself for me.”
I laughed, lifting my hand to muffle the noise. “Great idea. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much like I’m about to explode.”
She rolled her eyes and we slowed, allowing the other thirty or so kids in our group to draw ahead. As soon as they rounded a turn in the trail we slowed right down. Cherri looked to the right, me to the left, searching for some spot where we could slip off and cut loose.
“How ‘bout here?” Cherri stopped and pointed to a small clearing in the pines.
I glanced back, forward. “If anyone comes along they’ll see us.”
“If we go here, yeah. But there’s a kind of smaller track goes up the far side. We’d be out of sight. Come on.”
We turned aside and strode up the track, narrow, overgrown, barely a track at all. I pushed past Cherri and kept moving up the slope. A good spot appeared behind a boulder that had broken loose and tumbled down the hillside. I turned off the path and practically ran to the side of the rock.
Cherri was still with me. I stopped.
“I’m gonna pee here,” I said.
“I know. You told me. This is a good spot. I thought I’d pee here too. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Um… I guess not.”
She laughed. “Come on, it ain’t like I’ve got anything you haven’t seen before.” She stepped around me, turned away and squatted. She lifted her short chiffon skirt with the pretty red floral print and pulled her panties down to her knees. She obviously needed to pee as bad as me because the stream that emerged was violent. The sound of her peeing made my bladder start letting go and I had no choice. Frantically I unzipped my cargo pants, pulled my panties down and squatted. Relief flooded my body while urine flooded the ground between my hiking boots.
In front of me Cherri finished. She looked around and tugged a handful of grass to wipe herself with.
“I hope this isn’t poison fuckin’ ivy.”
I laughed, suddenly relaxed as my own stream continued. I seemed to have been peeing for minutes. Cherri pulled her panties up and stood, letting her short skirt fall back to cover herself. As she turned back I was aware how I was squatting in front of her, still loudly peeing. Cherri looked for a long moment then turned away, casual, as if she’d seen the sight a million times.
Finally my stream became a trickle. I grabbed a handful of leaves and wiped, pulled myself together.
Cherri turned back when she heard me zipping up.
“Well,” she said, “I guess we’ve been really introduced now. I’m Cherri Red, but you know that.” She held out her hand and I stared at her fingers. She laughed. “Oops. Maybe we’ll leave the introductions till later.”
“I’m Dani Walker,” I said. We started back down the track. “Is your name really Cherri?” I glanced at her, glanced down because she was at least six inches shorter than me.
“Cheryl Redmond. That’s the name my folks gave me, but I prefer Cherri Red.”
“As in the fruit.”
“You got it, Dani.” She looked at me. “I guess you being a photographer explains the weird clothes.”
Weird clothes? “They’re practical.”
“That’s what I said, wasn’t it? You’re pretty, Dani, but you don’t make much of yourself, do you?”
Right then Cherri confused me. As the summer went on I would grow to realize she was incapable of holding back even the smallest emotion or tought, but this early I found her openness a little shocking.
I had no idea what to say back to her, fumbled around and said, “You’re pretty. I’m just ordinary.”
She laughed, delighted. “I am pretty fuckin’ hot, ain’t I? But so are you, Dani. Wear something short and sexy and you’d be a knockout, babe. You’re so tall, so elegant, and your hair…” She rolled her eyes and I laughed. I liked this Cherri Red. Not as much as I would grow to like her later, but I liked her pretty fine from the start.
We reached the main track and turned left. We’d been ten minutes and now there was no sign of the others. We stood on the track and listened. Wind in the trees. Somewhere the sound of running water. Nothing else. No footsteps. No conversation. No shouts.
“D’you think this track goes all the way to camp?” Cherri asked.
“Dunno. I guess.”
“We could go back to the road, try and catch up with the others.”
“It must go to camp,” I said.
“Yeah. Surely does.” She went ahead. I watched the way her short skirt swung from side to side, the way her slim legs covered the ground. As she walked she passed through occasional beams of sunlight which caught in her honey-blonde hair, making it glow. It suddenly felt hot in the woods. I lifted the battered Nikon, released the lens cap and fired of three fast shots.
Cherri heard the shutter and turned back, saw me with the camera to my eye. She grinned and I caught two more shots. Then she pushed her leg out and posed and I got three more and she laughed.
“Is there any film in that thing?”
“Sure.” I wound on ready for the next shot, replaced the lens cap. The camera swung between my boobs as I caught up with her. My fisherman’s vest chinked and tinkled with spare cans of film, two light meters, one pocket weighed down by a 200mm lens, another by a 35. The camera itself carried an 85mm lens, my favorite length, great for portraits and candid shots. I knew all about cameras, had known about them since I could walk.
Cherri waited for me to pass and I glanced back.
She waved me on and I frowned.
“Go on. It’s my turn to look at your ass now.”
The way my mouth dropped open made her laugh wildly, the sound filling the forest and echoing back from some bluff.
Copyright (c) 2011 JT Harding. All rights reserved.