Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines

Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines
The Laughing Cherub



(And it’s all part of the same story!)
by Mary Elizabeth Raines

WHEN I WAS 13, my best friend, Patsy, invited me to spend a weekend at a lakeside cottage that her family had rented. While some girls our age were already blossoming into desirable, savvy teenagers, Patsy and I lagged seriously behind schedule, or so I thought.
Looking back on photos from that period, my body was actually ripening into a very tasty teenaged morsel, but I was completely unaware of the fact. I felt clumsy, stupid-looking and ugly.
What I felt, Patsy embodied to an exaggerated degree.
Her Scandinavian blonde hair was home-permed into silly, unappealing rows of miniature yellow sausages. The look did not flatter her. Patsy possessed a pug nose that was frequently congested, overly thick lips, and perpetually squinting eyes that were nearly invisible behind a massive pair of glasses. The glasses had coke-bottle lenses and a baby-blue plaid design on the frames. Her mother had selected these horrifying glasses in the mistaken belief that they made Patsy look cute—but then, her mother was also the one who gave Patsy the dreadful perms. 

Patsy’s rear end was growing much faster than the rest of her...and the rest of her was pudgy. This gave my friend a very odd walk. Probably because of the strange distribution of weight, whenever she needed to move, she would bend her upper body forward at an awkward angle and then hurl herself headfirst, her feet doing their best to keep up. It always looked as though she was being propelled by her massive, churning bottom. She bumped into things a lot.
Patsy’s daily summer costume consisted of three alternating pairs of pastel-colored Bermuda shorts and a frumpy sleeveless blouse with a rounded collar that buttoned high up under her chin, which is what most of us 13-year-olds wore back then. Patsy’s shorts were always just a little bit too tight, not because she intended to be provocative, but simply because she was growing so fast. Within days of purchasing this last batch of shorts at the beginning of the summer, she’d swiftly outgrown them, and her mother refused to spend anything on new shorts. “We’re not made of money,” she would say, stubbornly shaking her head at her daughter’s pleas to buy more clothing. Patsy’s shorts always seemed to gather in the backside crack and bunch up around her chunky fanny, sadly focusing even more attention on it.
My friend’s personality predictably matched her appearance. She was not one of the cool kids. Her reactions and responses nearly always embarrassed me, for Patsy would laugh like an awkward but vociferous hyena one moment, and whine like an annoying preschooler the next. Adding to that, she was pathetically, almost surrealistically gullible.
I liked her a whole lot.

Upon our arrival at the lake for our weekend vacation, we discovered to our giggling glee that the inhabitants of the rental cabin next to ours were a family from Chicago with two scrumptious-looking boys who were about our age (!), and their chatty, sociable younger sister. We had scarcely unpacked our suitcases when the sister spotted us, pranced over to our dock, and immediately broke the ice.
Patsy and I were painfully inept around boys, but the lake did something magical for us that weekend. Patsy managed to come off with a certain low-keyed grace that had never appeared before. The water, where we spent most of our time, disguised her lumbering frame, as well as drenching her dreadful curls, and for once she actually didn’t look too bad. Swimming without her thick glasses was another plus. Naturally, she couldn’t see much of anything, but the resulting struggles she endured simply to figure out where she was helped reduce her normally over-abundant chatter to a pleasant minimum, and the water muted its volume.
As for me, my hormones went into high drive the instant I saw the boys, and stayed in the red zone all weekend long.
We spent two full, heady days with the next-door crowd, incessantly and insatiably playing a nonstop game of King of the Mountain on their raft in the lake. The object of this game, as we played it, was simply to wrestle everybody else into the water and claim the raft for oneself. One then became king or queen, albeit briefly. We played inexhaustibly for hours and hours, interrupted only by meals. It was charged with the kind of sexual tension that is unique to seventh- and eighth-graders.
I scarcely remember the sister, but I can still see the boys vividly. Rob and Bill were 13 and 14 respectively, and gorgeous to behold. Both of them had golden athletic bodies, taut and lean, rippling with youthful muscles. They smelled of sunshine and young male pheromones. Their teeth gleamed white behind genuinely happy grins, while their dark eyes smoldered with intelligence, kindness, and deep promise...or so, at least, it seemed to me. Both had beautiful tendrils of brunette hair.
Although they were each, to my adoring eyes, amazingly strong, Bill, the oldest of the family, had the deeper voice and was indisputably the most powerful member of our group—the alpha male. Whenever he wanted, he could easily and effortlessly fling any of us into the lake, including his oh-so-cute younger brother, and claim the raft for himself. Bill was, however, a generous and good-natured regent. Setting a masterful pace, he permitted each of us in turn to spend a giddy, joyous length of time reigning on the raft before he would reassert his dominance. I noticed that he held back the assaults of the others and permitted me to have an extra-long cushion of grandeur and power on the rare occasions when I managed to dominate the raft.
Bill was the true King of the Mountain, and we all knew it.
Here’s how the hours went for me: after a gentle flirtation, either Bill or Rob would suddenly grab my hands, and, palms together, giggling, we would wrestle and writhe for awhile, our slick wet bodies pressed close, thigh against thigh, until whichever boy I was with would finally throw me into the water. Now and then, to my ecstatic pleasure, the boys pretended to weaken and would let me throw them into the water.

On our final afternoon at the cottage, this game led to an event that marred what had otherwise been a perfect weekend. After a particularly wild and slippery skirmish, I succeeded in tossing everyone off the raft, even Bill. As I strutted alone on my roost, catching my breath and crying out, “I’m queen—queen of the mountain!” it hit me that something was terribly, dreadfully wrong. There was a strange and dire silence.
Looking down, I saw the two boys bobbing mutely in the water beneath me. While Patsy was paddling around, squinting, trying to figure out where she was, the boys stared up at me intently. Their smiles had disappeared, and their normally animated faces were completely expressionless. They were acting strange, and it was palpably obvious that the magic of our play had been dispelled.
I frantically tried to figure out was going on. Suddenly, to my horror, I realized what it was. In the last battle with Bill, without me feeling it happen, the straps of my swimsuit had started to come undone. As I’d pushed him into the water, unbeknownst to me, the top of my swimsuit had collapsed entirely and was now hanging down from my waist. There I stood on the raft, dripping wet, with my budding apple breasts and taut nipples exposed for the whole world to see.
I was a modest girl and no one had ever seen my bare bust before, not even the girls in the seventh-grade gym locker room. I was horrified.
My agonizing seconds of topless exposure seemed to drag on for hours. I stood there, half naked, frozen like a squirrel on the road in front of a racing car. It was obvious to me from their blank expressions that the boys were utterly disgusted by my mishap. Feeling immense humiliation, I was finally able to gather enough momentum to turn around clumsily and pull my swimsuit back up.
Bill saved the day. As I refastened my swimsuit straps, he suddenly began to whoop and splash his brother and the girls in the water, and we proceeded to resume our game as though nothing had happened. I soon forgot my moment of shame, and nobody said another word about it.
At the end of the afternoon, when we were all going our separate ways for supper, Bill and Rob ever so casually invited Patsy and me to go with them for a canoe ride after we finished eating. To our delight, Patsy’s mother, who was normally unreasonably strict, assented. We ate as fast as we could. When the boys came to our dock to pick us up, they were in not one, but two canoes.
Now even though he did not have quite the panache of his older brother, it was Rob who had won my 13-year-old heart. I felt a little threatened by Bill’s more evident masculinity, with its traces of new body hair and his harder, bigger muscles. Rob was cuter, smoother, and had not yet so fully emerged into manhood. My heart, therefore, sank with rejection when Rob invited Patsy to join him in his canoe, and, like a left-over wallflower, I was forced to climb in with Bill.
After all, I thought dejectedly to myself, what boy is going to want to be with me after seeing the top of my swimsuit fall down?
It never once occurred to me that Bill—the King of the Mountain—had called first dibs, and Rob was the one who had to settle for the leftovers. 
The approaching sunset promised to be spectacular, with big streaks of pink and orange already making an appearance. Motorboats were scarce in those days, and our canoes were the sole vessels on the clear, warm lake. The air was fragrant with the scents of late summer, and the only sounds we heard were gentle splashes as the paddles dipped into the water. Our side-by-side canoe ride was quiet, tender and shy. The boys did all the work. Patsy and I sat on vinyl cushions in our separate vessels like courted queens.
Then Bill paddled away from his brother. He told me that he wanted to show me a special place. He masterfully swept our craft through a little canal under a rock tunnel that separated two adjacent lakes. It was like being in a secret cavern. When we were on the other side of the tunnel, out of view of Patsy and Rob, with the rose- and gold-tinted sunset water licking the edge of our canoe, Bill leaned over and kissed me.
It was my very first kiss. It was so unexpected and swift—really just a rapid little brush of the lips—that I was taken by surprise and didn’t have time to savor it.
I wanted more.
But Bill suddenly became awkward and mute. He turned around and paddled back through the tunnel, where we joined up with Patsy and Rob on the return voyage to our cabins. As we climbed out of the canoes onto the dock, Bill suggested casually that perhaps we might want to accompany them later that evening to a nearby casino where there was going to be a teen dance.
I felt giddy. My head started spinning, along with certain other parts of me. Not only had I just been kissed for the first time; I was now being asked to go on a date! I had never been on a date, much less gone to a dance, except for junior-high square dances, which didn’t count. The only way to get to the casino would be on foot, strolling along a dark road and crossing a romantic little footbridge in the warm summer night, with the crickets and frogs serenading us.
I began to fantasize, envisioning how Bill and I would hold hands as we walked. And how we would kiss. And kiss again. In my lusty 13-year-old imagination, we would never even get to the dance, but remain in the dark, kissing and kissing, and kissing some more….
Then Patsy’s mother squelched all my yearnings. It was almost as though she could read my mind.
“No,” she decreed, with a sour expression on her face, “you girls  most definitely can not go to the dance.” Her rationale was that it would make us too tired for the drive home the following day!
This woman was not only exceedingly stubborn; she was apparently bent upon ruining my love life forever. Patsy made the critical mistake of resisting her. Even the hint of resistance was all that she needed to dig her heels in. Patsy finally slumped and whispered to me that there was simply no way on earth we would ever get her mother to change her mind. As the guest of her family, it was not my place to argue.

Frustrated and foiled, Patsy and I went to bed early that night—her mother’s idea, so that we wouldn’t be tired on the drive home. We were full of regrets and loss. We had been quartered in a small room in the cabin where we shared a double bed. After the light was turned out, both of us sighed and tossed on the sheets, toying with our broken dreams, as the balmy summer-night’s wind blew the curtains against knotty pine paneling.
And then Patsy got a brilliant idea. Since we couldn’t be with the boys, she said, why didn’t we pretend? She would pretend to be Bill, and give me a kiss. Then I could pretend to be Rob, and give her a kiss. This way, we could kiss all we wanted.
It sounded okay to me. I had never in my life heard of women kissing other women romantically, and the whole arrangement seemed more silly than naughty, but I was willing to give it a shot. Maybe it would feel good.
Patsy proceeded, very self consciously, to put her arm around my shoulder. We lay awkwardly on our backs like that for a while, side by side, unsure of how to proceed. Then she talked to me in a fake gruff voice, trying to imitate the way she thought Bill might speak. She said gushy things to me. I knew in my heart of hearts that no 14-year-old boy would ever talk like that to a 13-year-old girl. But I let her continue and tried as hard as I could to get worked up.
I couldn’t. It was strange in an uncomfortable way to sense Patsy’s arm around me. She sure wasn’t Bill.
Still, we had agreed to kiss. I reluctantly went ahead with my commitment.
Kissing Patsy was not just neutral; it was downright depressing. She hugged me during the kiss, and both her lips and her body felt soft and puffy in a seriously icky way. The comparison to Bill’s muscular, masculine physique was dismal. Our kiss made me feel gray and sad and hollow, and even more cheated than before.
After our kiss ended, she wanted me to pretend to be Rob, but I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm. I apologized, and went to sleep instead. The following morning we drove home without ever seeing the boys again.

In the week to come I got the idea of writing an enthusiastically friendly, self-promoting letter to Bill’s and Rob’s sister, who had given me her address in Chicago. (This was 1960, and it would be decades before email was invented.) My hope was that she would share my letter with her brothers, who would, of course, be enthralled. Maybe they would even be inspired to write back. I sent it off and then stalked my mailbox impatiently for days, waiting for a return letter.
When I eventually got a reply, it was not from either of the boys, as I’d so fervently wished, but from their sister. Even so, I eagerly ripped open the envelope containing her correspondence, hoping for details about her brothers. I was disappointed. She had the gall to write only about herself, and never even mentioned Bill or Rob. Not long after that, I moved away and I didn’t see Patsy again for a long time. We were 18 years old the next time we got together for a reunion.
Something astonishing had happened to my friend in those intervening years. Patsy’s once goofy personality had disappeared, and was replaced by that of a self-possessed, smoky-voiced young woman—one who wore contact lenses. Her eyes, as it turns out, were blue and rather large now that they weren’t squinting. Her bust had finally caught up to her rear end. She was more than proportionately balanced, so she stood up straight and walked in a normal way. The perm was gone, and Patsy’s long silky blonde hair, cute nose,  generous proportions and full lips—those same lips that had once brushed mine!—had miraculously gelled together in a whole new way, giving her the appearance and demeanor of a Swedish sex kitten.
I have lesbian friends who, in experiments like mine, felt differently than I did and discovered who they really were. For me, it was not to be. Had Patsy and I managed to enjoy ourselves that night, my life might be very different today. I might not have invested in nearly as many pairs of stiletto heels and quarts of eyeliner as I have over the years...and could still have wound up with a super-hot girlfriend that everyone would envy.

© 2012, M. E. Raines 
Copying in whole or part prohibited by law; please feel free to link to this post

If you enjoyed this story by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines, you might like reading her book of short stories, now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle: THEMAN IN THE GPS AND OTHER STORIES by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments!