The Dragonfly

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  Thanks for stopping by.  This is my post for the "Love At First Sight" Blogfest. Make sure and make a trip over and read some of the other great offerings. Enjoy!

The Dragonfly

(c) 2010 Jon Paul

    Heidi Mandrake materialized out of the shade like a mystery, standing ankle deep in the shoal of the creek, wearing a blue one piece swimsuit. Henry knew he would find her here, knew that most summer afternoons she sunbathed by the creek with her girlfriends, listening to the radio and reading a paperback novel. Today he could see she was alone, and a shiver flooded through him.
    He edged down the path until she came into full view, framed by the oak and elm trees that crowded together along the bank. A fire of red hair fell in a blaze down her back. Pearls of water beaded freckled shoulders. Long bare legs. Skin white and cool as vanilla ice cream.
    Henry had never kissed a girl--Heidi Mandrake least of all--but his mind constantly puzzled away at the idea, as if wishing could make it so. Last year, Heidi sat two seats in front of him in English, and he had fallen head over heels for her. Smart. Funny. She wrote amazing poetry and staged poetry readings at the local library. To Henry, she was perfect, although he found it impossible to keep a thought in his head whenever she drew near, and he sometimes went out of his way to avoid her in hallways. Any close contact--once she'd eaten lunch right beside him--left him sick with nervousness for days. He had admired her from afar, and he was quite certain she didn't even know he existed.
    He inched forward, awash in that familiar mixture of excitement and panic, that same ecstatic emptiness that fired the pit of his stomach every time he laid eyes on her. She knelt in the shallow water. Slender hands retrieved stones and turned them over. A constellation of reflections dazzled her face in white-yellow sequins of light.
    He wanted to turn back, but he knew he couldn't do that. His brother Kevin had said he was too afraid to talk to her. He'd taunted him--"Fraidy cat! Fraidy cat!"--and called him a wimp in front of his friends. Even now his ears burned thinking about it. Henry had been angry, withdrawing to the safety of his room, but he had also felt a kind of raw recognition of the truth. Maybe he was afraid.
    The sandbar lay at the edge of the creek like a piece of pie crust. Heidi had set up camp next to a few river rocks: green towel, sandals, a beach bag. A black transistor radio spit out Fifties music. Henry watched as she came out of the water and wandered toward him, curves drifting along above the ground. For an electrifying instant he thought she saw him, but she turned away without any sign of recognition. She put her crimson hair in a pony tail, brushed the dampness from her arms and legs, then lay on the towel.
    Henry's breathing grew shallow. He stared out across the sand at Heidi, who picked up her paperback and started thumbing pages. The smooth expanse of sandbar felt like an impasse; further progress risked stalling him out in the open, in plain view. He hesitated, half-crouching awkwardly behind a tangle of bushes.
    His brother didn't know it, but Henry had tried to talk to her before. One afternoon, he came late to the library and spotted her sitting at a long table near the window, reading a textbook and taking notes.
    For twenty-five minutes, Henry milled and thumbed books in the Arts and Recreation section, his mind ajitter as he troubled over what to say to her. He licked his lips. Act normal, he kept thinking. People do this every day. But when she collected her books and started for the door, panic overtook him. Every atom in his body screamed for him to go after her, but he just stood there like a dummy and watched her leave.
    This is stupid, Henry mumbled to himself, shaking his head. He should have gone with Kevin and his friends to catch horned toads. They'd seen some huge ones that summer, crabbing across the dirt over by the lumber mill. The gang had planned to set out after lunch with a butterfly net and a backpack full of glass jars, but Kevin grew perturbed when Henry said he didn't want to go.
    It was like Kevin thought Henry was trying to show him up in front of his buddies. "You think you're something special?"
    "No," Henry answered. "I don't wanna go."
    The other boys snickered. Kevin displayed a wide smile--things were under control--and grabbed Henry's shirtsleeve. "We need someone to carry the backpack. Who's going to do that?"
    Henry pulled away. "I don't care. I'm not going."
    Laughter echoed off the concrete floor. Embarrassment clouded Kevin's flat, sturdy eyes. Henry started for the door when Kevin announced: "If you don't go, I'll tell Heidi Mandrake that you love her."
    This drew hoots, and peals of laughter. Although Henry tried not to let it show, the words sliced right through him. Kevin's smile returned.
    "Go ahead," Henry said, forcing his voice to sound nonchalant.
    They'd been gone an hour before he set out for the creek. He'd struggled to soak the quiet calm out of the air in his room, attempted to read a book, but he couldn't keep his eyes on the page. He couldn't dispel the thought that he had to do something, he had to find out if something was wrong with him.
    Henry frowned. That voice in his brain urged him on, but another voice warned of shame and humiliation if he went any further. Heidi was less than fifty feet away, but she might as well have been on the other side of the world. If his brother saw him now, stuck behind a bush like some goof, he’d laugh--but Henry couldn’t bring himself to go any further.
    If he went home now, his brother wouldn't have to know a thing. He might not remember his threat, or carry it out. Even if he did say something to Heidi, would she believe him? She didn't even know who Henry was. Why would she care?
    "Are you spying on me?" Heidi's voice came out of nowhere and he looked up to find her standing less than five feet away. His heart started pounding.
    Her eyes floated in front of him like two green seas amid a milkyway of freckles. A wet heat radiated off her swimsuit. The way her hair fell free of her brow, the crackle of light in her eyes, these things together gave him an unexpected thrill.
    "Well?" Her tone took on a hard edge.
    He could feel his heart notched against his throat. When he spoke, his voice sounded as tinny as an old phonograph record. "I, was...coming for a swim."
    She raised an eyebrow. "Then where's your towel?"
    Henry looked around like maybe he'd forgotten it. Heidi tilted her head and followed his motions with remote interest, but a hard glint in her gaze told him she didn't believe a word he said.
    Henry tried again: "I...what I meant to say was...for later. I was coming to see for later." He knew he wasn't making much sense. He attempted to force a smile but the muscles in his face didn't want to cooperate.
    Heidi studied him for another second, then shrugged her shoulders and marched off. "It's a free country."
    She returned to her book, long legs sprawled out on her towel. After she left him, he caught his breath, then sauntered out onto the sandbar toward the water, knees and ankles swimming under him like balls strung together with rubber bands.
    An odd cheery weakness washed him along, but his heartbeat still rang in his ears. He migrated toward the water's edge fighting his nervousness, moving in a conscious way, attempting to convey an air of relaxed confidence.
    At first he was certain she was watching him, but each time he glanced in her direction her attention was elsewhere. She turned the pages of her paperback, tapped her foot to the beat of the song on the radio, wrapped a curl of red hair around a finger. After a long while, Henry decided that she had forgotten he was even there.
    His breathing and heartbeat settled down, then he realized he still faced the same problem that had stopped him dead in his tracks at the library. What should he say?
    He skirted along the creek bank toward her, trying to look natural. At one point, he took off his sandals; he scrutinized the trees and sky with great interest; appraised the water; scuffed dry sand with his toes; kicked over clumps and flattened them beneath his heel. After a few minutes he made an overly elaborate play of nodding his head and furrowing his brow, as if deciding: "Yes, I guess I can stay."
    At last he plopped down in the sand about ten feet from her. As soon as he looked up and realized her closeness, his heart rate doubled. He pivoted toward the water because seeing her at this distance felt like looking into the sun.
    "Was it something I said?" Heidi gazed at him over the edge of her book.
    "Why are you sitting all the way over there?"
    Henry traced the wide track of sand between them with his eyes. He was sitting pretty far away. Like a mile away. He wondered if he looked as stupid as he felt, but he shrugged and played it off. "I don't know. It's just where I sat down, I guess."
    "You can sit closer if you want. It doesn't bother me."
    "Ok." But he didn't move. With each passing minute, the initial spark of confidence that had gotten him this far was giving way to an insistent numbness. He closed his eyes. A picture of himself flashed through his mind: head down, sitting here on the river bank like he was made of granite, long after Heidi had gone, through endless cycles of light and darkness and rain, his feet fusing with the sand, river moss growing up on him until there was nothing left.
    It was like he was back in the library. His mind was a blank. Words eluded him. He sensed she was looking at him again. He kept glancing over but she was still reading her book, humming quietly along with the radio.
    Then, he thought he caught the flicker of her eyes upon him an instant before they dropped to the page, and it dawned on him. She was waiting. She was testing him, seeing what he would do next. Paralysis still gripped him like a spell but he knew he had to say something, anything. His mind fumbled and the words came out of their own accord: "Do you come here often?"
    She dropped the book to her lap and rolled her eyes. Henry was staring so intently at the water that he didn't notice.
    "What the heck was that?"
    Henry ignored the urge to scramble to his feet and run.
    "That's like the oldest pick up line in the book. I mean, that line is so old it's a joke now."
    Henry flushed with embarrassment and dropped his chin to his chest.
    "Try it again."
    At first he thought he heard her wrong and looked up, confused. "What?"
    Heidi brushed the bangs out of her eyes and flashed a broad smile. White teeth, laughing at him. "Try it again. It's not rocket science. Just say something natural."
    He squinted into the sun, feeling naked under the high canopy of the sky.
    She continued: "Like—ask me about the weather."
    He cleared his throat and spoke in a monotone. "Do you think it's very hot?"
    She picked up her book again. "Ok. Maybe not."
    Henry looked away, feeling like an idiot. He wished he had stayed at home. Coming all the way out here was a stupid idea--what the hell had he been thinking, anyway?--and now things were worse off than before. Sure, if Kevin had spilled the beans, Heidi might have thought he was a weirdo, but now she knew for certain.
    Heidi would tell everyone. He cringed thinking of Kevin's laughter when he heard about it. Here he sat, too dumb to talk to a girl, too scared to leave. He gave Heidi a long stare, but it was clear she'd forgotten him again, that the pages of her paperback were more interesting to her than he was. Some lead character probably had her wrapped around his finger and there was no way—
    "Did you know we had a class together?" His voice quivered but he managed to get the words out.
    Slowly, inexorably, she looked up. "What?”
    "We had a class together. Last year. English. Harris. Third period."
    "I know."
    Henry did a double take. "You know?"
    "I know. You're Henry Letourneau. You sat in the back row all year and didn't say a word to anyone."
    "I did?"
    "Yes, you did. Pretty rude if you ask me." Heidi looked back down at her book and flipped the page.
    Henry shook off her retort. He felt like he was on a roll and needed to keep going. "I...I-I like your poetry."
    She turned her green eyes up at him with a sudden skeptical curiosity. "Yeah? Name one of my poems."
    He frowned at Heidi and tried to think. She had shared so many of her pieces in class. There was one he remembered in particular but the title eluded him. Finally, he sighed and simply started talking.
    "The one about the woman in the field in the summer. She turns into an insect. I can't remember what the poem was called. But it was beautiful, the way her arms turned into wings, the way you talked about her heart withering away to nothing which made her want to fly away and never come home. I don't know why, but I really liked it. I still think about it sometimes, especially at night."
    When he stopped to catch his breath, Heidi stared at him for a long moment. An eternity. Those green eyes. He felt them in his soul.
    "But what was it called?" she asked at last.
    "I-I don't remember."
    "That's too bad." Heidi got to her feet, dusted the sand off her towel and wrapped it around her.
    Henry stood up too, trying to suppress the alarm rising in his chest. "Where are you going?"
    "Home. It's late." She turned off the radio and dropped it in her beach bag.
    Henry ran his fingers through his hair. He wanted to stay cool, but in the back of his mind he wondered if he'd blown it, if he'd missed his chance and would never talk to her again.
    "My friend Martha was supposed to meet me here today," Heidi said as she gathered her things. "But I guess she forgot. Does that ever bother you, when people forget?"
    Henry looked up, nodded.
    "Yeah, me too. People are careless, you know. They don't pay attention." She looked around. "I guess that's everything."
    He grumbled his agreement and stood there, feeling empty-handed and lost.
    She started across the sand away from him. The light was failing; the pale sun hovered behind a cloud. Just before she floated out of view she stopped and turned back, calling out to him: "I'm Heidi, by the way."
    He said "I'm Henry" before remembering she already knew that.
    She nodded her head and laughed. "Listen, I don't know whether you're interested or not, but I have a poetry reading at the library tonight. Six o'clock. Maybe you'd like to come."
    Five minutes after she left him, he remembered the name of the poem. He laughed as he strapped on his sandals and brushed himself off. It was so obvious. A warm satisfaction smoldered in his chest. He took his time, wandered up the path, followed in her footsteps with a half-smile, feeling clean like a blue sky after a summer storm.

24 bolts from the blue:

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Awwww I could totally relate to that obsessive nervousness of what do I say, what do I do, should I go over there or abort the mission. Nicely done and fun to read from a guy's POV.

Laura said...

Beautifully written, Jon. I enjoyed it.:)

propinquity said...

Absolutely beautiful. It felt like a lovely watercolor, capturing a moment on a creek bank on a summer afternoon. It left me with a feeling of satisfaction and joy.

Well done.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I really enjoyed this scene. I love the awkward moments between Henty and Heidi, and I'm left wanting to read more -- want to see Henry attending the poetry reading and what happens next.

Postman said...

Looks like you managed to relate (and perfectly capture) every single one of those insecure, empty, desolate, fearful feelings an adolescent boy goes through when attempting to talk to/impress a girl. Not to mention the nigh-indescribable feeling of being "clean like a blue sky after a summer storm."

I like the characters you've created as well. They seem real. That may seem like a small thing but it isn't, not to me.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stunning read. I love the way his legs were like balls held by rubber bands, the way he felt naked under the high canopy of sky. There were so many of these fresh, vivid descriptions. And these characters were so real and natural that I was compelled by their story. Wonderful work.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Poor boy!
Between confident girls and his brother, he is all but doomed. I hope you've thought of ways to rescue him.
Very atmospheric, Jon.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Fabulous, totally sucked me in. You painted a great picture, and I loved the tension. I certainly remember feeling that awkward and obsessing over certain boys the same way. So glad adolescence is over! :)

Christi Goddard said...

That was great. And thanks for stopping by my blog as well. :-)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Love reading how a guy's mind works by a guy author. :) I felt nervous for him. I also remember things after it's too late.

ThePreyers said...

You've done a marvelous job of capturing their voices. I love how Heidi pushes Henry to find his courage. Wonderful!

Jon Paul said...

Wow! Thank you all.

I am really bowled over by your kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and relate your thoughts. For a guy like me, just starting out on this writer's journey, the support and encourage is a powerful motivator--and will help me keep at it.

So thanks!

Merissa said...

I'm so glad I got to stop by and read your love at first sight blog post. It was just great.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Wow...this was just...huh. Will amazing cut it? I was so drawn in. Truly. The characterization, the pacing, the dialogue. It was all so beautiful and genuine. Heidi felt so real to me, the way she moved, the curling of her hair with her finger, the tapping of her foot. And Henry was just adorable with his insecurities. It was like being a child again. OMG, the awkwardness of adolescence--you captured that so perfectly. What a tender, moving story. Would love to see this expanded.

Jon Paul said...

Carlina--I'm absolutely floored. Thanks for the kind remarks. They really give me confidence that I have half a clue with this fiction thing. I'm still not convinced, mind you, but it's a step in the right direction.

Thank you so very much for stopping by and having a read.

roxy said...

I really enjoyed this post. I definitely felt for Henry, and I liked that this scene was done from his pov. Excellent writing and storytelling. Thanks for letting me read it!

elizabeth mueller said...

LOL! Wow, Jon Paul, you are very good with appealing to the senses.

Were you ever a girl watcher? You depicted Henry very well. And you, being a man, characterized Heidi just well!

I had to laugh (Reason for my LOL). Heidi is so well thought out as a girl. First she shuns him then she asks why he's so faraway then she taunts him. She knows she had him wrapped around her pinkie and he follows through like a devout puppy!

You are wonderful at characterization!!!

Jon Paul said...

Roxy, Elizabeth--Thanks for the nice remarks. I'm just getting back into stride on writing fiction, so it feels good to hear that folks are enjoying my work.

Thanks so very much for stopping by!

Tara said...

What great characters. I felt the nerves, and I felt for poor Henry!

Jon Paul said...

Tara--Thanks! And thanks for stopping by!

enk said...

Wow - that pretty much says it all about this short. Funny - I can relate to both the boy and the girl...You captured that "I'm in love and it makes me feel like I've been punched in the gut" feeling perfectly...

Jon Paul said...

Erika--Thanks for reading. It means a lot. I'll be sure to drop you a note once in awhile in the future when I post new stuff!


foldingfields said...

I really bought into the characters and it was nice having an "in" to a young man's mind/insecurities. Most of the men in my life are quite monosyllabic and I get that, but I do want to know what they're thinking!
It was a believable story and I really enjoyed it--I just wanted the boy to call out to the girl, "Dragonfly!" Wanted that final interaction, but I was very satisfied with what you offered. :)

Rainey said...

This was such a beautifully written story. I'm in love with little Henry! His character is immediately accessible and relatable to anyone that had a crush as a youngster.

The open ending left me with a lingering delicious feeling that the potential of new love carries. Thank you for that.

Waddaya wanna say?

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