Sixteen

Life had never been sweeter. Cole and I strolled hand in hand down the street to Temple Beach where we threw down our towels and lay prostrate in the sand. Dozens of tiny white crabs hustled busily around our bodies, captivating and delighting us with their antics. The sun poured down upon us, hot and scintillating. We didn’t need to talk. Every minute with Cole was pure delight. We went boogie boarding in the cool surf. We studied, hunkered down together in the library. We savored coconut ice cream cones at the Seasider. Every minute was even more glorious than the last.

 Gage played his guitar for me and we explored. We set off into the wild jungle overgrowth behind the school following a convoluted, treacherous rut that barely passed for a trail. It wound intricately through the writhing root systems of the gargantuan trees towering overhead. The forest floor was thick with woody vines, mossy boulders and plants with leaves as big as my body.

Flowers popped out from the crisp, green backdrop in brilliant reds, oranges and yellows. The air smelled fresh and animated, vibrant with life. The hike soon became a climb as we hauled ourselves up and over massive boulders and tree roots blocking the path. Soon, we were both covered in a thin layer of slimy, mossy undergrowth.

After hours of exploration we emerged onto a thin road bordered by a curtain of tall, yellow grass waving gently in the breeze. It made soft swishing sounds as it swayed, sending up a sweet aroma that filled the air like perfume. The sun was just caressing the horizon line, casting a fine layer of magenta over the earth and turning the grass from golden to a burnt orange hue.

I stopped to take in the beauty of it all. Gage halted next to me, his thumbs looped loosely through the straps of his pack. We paused for a moment, our breath suddenly the only sound registering in my ears. Then he slid one long arm around my waist and kissed me boldly.

Gavin and I left campus behind altogether. Life with Gavin was nice restaurants, elaborate excursions and a group of bizarrely attractive and upscale friends who moved with the confidence of young royals. Most importantly, life with Gavin meant new adventures. The first time I went out with Gavin and his friends, they took me to an elegant Asian restaurant where waiters waltzed around us with a steady flow of sushi and other elegantly adorned edibles. Gavin’s friend, Makai, a fellow BYUH student who modeled in his spare time, grabbed an inflated looking chip, scooped up a hearty serving of something green and popped it into his mouth. He swallowed it happily, licking his fingertips clean with satisfaction.

“You have to try this,” he said, pushing the bowl toward me. “It’s excellent.”

I copied his action exactly, wanting to look like I ate exotic food all the time. I was so intent on pulling this off, I didn’t even notice that everyone had stopped talking. They were watching me, fixated. Almost instantaneously I could feel flames leaping up in my mouth. The blaze seared across my tongue and erupted up my nasal cavity. I felt like I’d just snorted powdered ghost peppers and glass shards. I could feel my face swelling up in protest.

Still trying to maintain some semblance of dignity, and not wanting to panic in front of everyone, I swallowed hard. The appetizer, which I now realized must have been creamed jellyfish venom, left a cauterized trail down my throat. I tried to wash the inside of my mouth out with the abundance of spit that was boiling up rapidly in response. My saliva threatened to overflow and leave me foaming rabidly at the mouth. My eyes involuntarily began to water. It felt as if steam were seeping from my nostrils like a cartoon bull.

“Pretty hot, huh?” Makai grinned.

I made a strange gargling sound and reached leisurely for my glass.

He laughed.

Gagging back a flood of saliva, I wheezed, “That’s really strong. What is it?” I drained my cup in one desperate gulp before adding, “Why are you so calm? I feel like I just licked a scorpion’s butt.”

Shrugging, he replied, “It’s Wasabi. I grew up eating it so it’s not as strong for me. You handled it better than some people though.” He snickered and popped another chip full into his mouth. No one else even touched it. It was one of many new and fascinating things I would discover that night and many other nights like it. The growth of my ever expanding world was increasing exponentially.

In Gavin, I seemed to have met my intellectual equal. We were both fascinated by politics, religion and culture and we both loved to debate. It was a fencing match of wits; each of us dancing around the other, making counterpoint after counterpoint, always watching for the kill. We elaborated and expounded upon our viewpoints, giving a bit here and conquering a bit there. I liked the way his lip curled up into a smirk when he talked. He was a wealth of information. His insights were fresh and intriguing. Surely there had never been anything better.

In between it all were nights spent sitting on a sidewalk curb, listening to ukulele music; days spent absorbing the words of a culturally diverse array of instructors; hours spent painting, drawing and sculpting; and snippets of time spent with Kesa, Emiri and Paige, savoring the constant stimulation of our novel environment. Life had never been sweeter.

This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.

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