The Transmundane, Episode 1: On A Mountaintop

Seitetsu took a deep breath and yelled, "ASHLYN!" Across the campground, a platinum head easily visible above the surrounding gaggle of brunettes turned.

"Tetsu!" Ashlyn waved and, trailing half the pack of girls, advanced to meet him halfway. Her fair skin and almost-white hair glowed in the fading blue light, and plain dark T-shirt and shorts couldn't detract from the grace of her slender form. He'd once looked up her last name, Alflatt, and found it meant "elf beauty"; it never seemed more appropriate than when he saw her at twilight, with blue dusk on her head and shadows in her eyes.

She looked down at him expectantly -- she was four inches taller, though he hardly ever thought about it. "Um..." He hadn't really expected a crowd, although he knew perfeclty well girls never went anywhere alone. Ashlyn raised one pale, perfect brow, though, and he had to continue. Fear is not cool. "Want to go for a walk? There's something I want to show you."

"Take it easy, Tetsu, she's never seen one of those before!"

Ashlyn and Seitetsu turned simultaneously on the speaker, who shrugged and folded plump arms under brown cleavage flaunted by a scoop-necked tank top. "Well, she hasn't."

"Tiffy, do you ever think of anything else?"

"Sure, but not when a guy who looks like that asks me to go for a walk all alone in the dark woods. I mean, look at those legs!"

Ashlyn cut her grey eyes toward him, and Seitetsu's ears heated. "Sure, soccer players have their good points, but did you ever think that maybe he really just wants to show me something interesting?"

Tiffy rolled her eyes. "Hopeless, the girl is completely hopeless."

"Hey, give me some credit," Seitetsu interjected. "If that's what I meant, I would have at least brought a blanket!"

"Cute, but dumb," Tiffy pronounced. "Why tip off Frigid when you could have stashed the blanket behind a tree earlier?"

Ashlyn rescued him. "There's no point arguing with Tiffy on her own ground, Tetsu. Just pretend she's not here while I get my sweater."

Tiffy spent several ostentatious breaths trying to remind him she was, in fact, there, but he carefully kept his attention on Ashlyn's retreating form.

"Give it up, Tiffy, he's like totally smitten with All Flat." Denice Elizalde popped her gum noisily. "Guess he's a leg man." She stretched out one tanned leg and pointed her toes until her sprinter's muscles stood out. Tetsu turned red, but kept his mouth firmly shut.

"Hnf!" Tiffy turned and huffed away, round lycra-clad hips swinging. The rest of the girls followed, snickering "So much for the power of the D cup!", "Maybe if you used enough bleach...", and "Platform shoes!" at her failure.

Finally off center stage, Tetsu let out a sigh and scrubbed his damp palms on his cut-offs. So far, so good. He'd expected her to assume just what Tiffy had, and laugh at him. He snorked to himself. In fact, Tiffy being herself probably did more good there than anything I could have ever said. But I know what she'd say if I thanked her!

Ashlyn, black sweatshirt tied around her shoulders, emerged from the girls' secluded section of the campsite as Tiffy and the others reached it. He couldn't hear them, but it was obvious they were telling her in detail about Tiffy's failure. He didn't feel more than momentarily guilty, though. She's probably already got a guy -- or two or three -- lined up for tonight.

Denice stopped Ashlyn as she broke free of the herd and pressed something into her hand. Ashlyn tried to give it back, but Denice laughed and pushed her toward Tetsu. Scowling, she stomped toward him, and his heart considered sinking, but she smiled and took his hand when she reached him.

Tetsu realized as he squeezed her hand that it was as sweaty as his, and perversely felt better. Ashlyn was so good at playing the cool that suited her complexion that it was a relief to know she was just as worried about going off into the woods with him as he was.

He was still nervous, though less so as the pine forest thickened around them with no sign of Ms Frigarsen -- "Frigid" to the unlucky students under her orderly and morally upright thumb -- coming to drag Ashlyn off to a convent and him to prison.

"Where are we going?" she finally asked, as the trail began to rise more steeply. She looked around at the nearly dark forest. "I guess this proves my point, though; no matter how loud I was, we could have stopped ten minutes ago and still been out of earshot."

His ears turned red again, but embarrassment still wasn't cool. "No blanket, either, you'll notice. Anyway, we're going up there." He pointed to the flat top of the hill ahead of them: not the one that rose above the camp, but the one beyond it.

She bit her lip. "It's getting pretty dark. Are you sure this is a good idea?"

With a flourish, he produced a small flashlight from his belt pack and flicked it on, illuminating the path for a dozen yards ahead. "I'm not a Boy Scout, but I play one on TV. Or something."

She shaded her eyes from the brilliant light, and he noticed that the hand she used was still clutched around whatever Denice had handed her. "What is that?" he asked, and reached up to grasp her wrist.

"Uh. Nothing. Girl stuff." She crammed it into her pocket, and even though she wasn't standing in the light, he could see her face darken. Two and two clicked together, and once again he kept his mouth firmly closed. At least she hadn't let go of his hand.

"Anyway, we better hurry if we want to get there and back and still get any sleep."

"Nah, it's not as far as it looks. The path goes pretty straight to the top-- okay, not straight, but it's not hard. Maybe half an hour more."

The path hadn't been hard the last time he had taken it, anyway, but that hadn't been after a full day of organized fun and possibly one too many hot dogs, and Ashlyn got her figure from eating sensibly instead of working out. Halfway up, she called for a rest break, and plopped down on a sandstone boulder between the trail and the scree slope beneath. "Nice stars..." she said, when she had caught her breath.

Tetsu dragged his eyes away from the heaving beneath her light T-shirt and looked up. "They're okay. Still too much light for real mountain stars, though." He waved a hand toward the few lights still showing in the campground below, and the orange haze of millions of sodium streetlights just beyond the horizon.

She leaned backwards, propped up on her hands. "Considering what the view from home is, I'll take what I can get."

"Now you sound like Tiffy."

She laughed. "Yah. Sometimes I just can't believe her. How can anyone have that one-track of a mind?"

"Easy. If she was a guy, you wouldn't think twice about how she acts."

Silence for a moment, then, "Sure I would. I'd think about how much more annoying Tiffo was than you. Not that you're annoying! But yah, you have a point, but she's still so..."

"If guys had something that turned girls' brains off and glands on the way breasts do to guys, most guys really would act just like that."

He couldn't see anything but her smile. Oh. That's what they mean by a bright smile.

"I'm just glad you don't act that way. Tiffy can have the horndogs."

Yet again he blushed, but he knew a cue when he heard one, and obligingly sat next to her on the still-warm stone, resting his hand over hers. "You mean you're going to keep me?"

Maybe he didn't know a cue after all, because she swung her legs -- lovely even by starlight -- to the ground and tugged on his hand. "I'm thinking about it. Anyway, let's keep going; I want to see this mystery you're hiding."

"One mystery coming right up! Or right down, I guess, 'cause we're going up. Um. You know what I mean."

She giggled, and led him up the trail.

Though the crest of the hill still loomed high into the night, the end of the trail wasn't much farther: it led through a narrow cut into the indentation of the hill's crown. It wasn't a real crater, just the head of a valley leading down from a double peak, but its high sides completely blocked the lights of the campground and the diffuse glow of the distant city.

Seitetsu flicked the light off, and in the process of tucking it away ran smack into Ashlyn, who had naturally stopped when the light went out. She squeaked, but leaned back against him, and his arms automatically circled her waist as his face pressed against her shoulder.

"Why no light?" she whispered.

He whispered too, for no reason except that she had. "Let your eyes adjust."

Soft hair brushed against his cheek as she tilted her face up to the sky. "Ooooh..."

Improving night vision gave the illusion that the sky above was slowly filling with ever-brighter stars, glittering in familiar array around the stripe of mottled brightness that was the Milky Way.

"Over to the left there are some rocks to sit on," he murmured, and steered her in that direction as best he could without letting go of her warmth or taking his eyes off the stars.

"Ow. That's a rock, all right." She disentangled herself and climbed up, not quite kicking him in the head; he hopped up next to her and for a long while they lay there in silence on the still-warm sandstone, heads close together on the pillow of her folded sweatshirt.

"Seitetsu, this is beautiful!"

Hah. Preparation pays off! "I thought it'd suit you," he said casually.

She slapped his leg lightly, but then clasped his hand. "Smoothie. Oh, what's that?" The shadow of her pointing finger against the galaxy indicated a bright star rising from the west.

"Space station, I think."

"Wow." She nestled against his side. "I bet even they don't have a better view than this."

"Well, they do -- no air -- but I've got them beat for company."

She laughed quietly. "Careful, someone might think you like me."

"Um. Er." Great, she thinks it's funny. Maybe a meteor will hit me. He relaxed when she squeezed his hand, though, and squeezed gently back.

"How'd you find this place?"

"When I was like eight, my brother and I used to come hiking up here. We weren't supposed to stay out after dark, but one time we got sort of lost and ended up here. I'm surprised I remembered the way, but I guess after the fit Mom threw about us being late, I either had to block that night or remember it forever.

"I'm glad you remembered."

"Me too. I really wanted to show you this."

If he'd been any less immersed in the infinity above, he would have started at the silk-soft, skin-warm touch at the corner of his mouth. "Thank you for bringing me up here, Seitetsu."

Heat spread out across his face from the tingling point of her kiss, but foresight saved him again. "I haven't quite managed to bring the stars down so you can wear them in your hair yet, but I figured I'd give you a sneak preview."

"Tetsu, you are probably the only guy in the entire world who can say something like that and sound sincere."

"Nah, runs in the family. You should hear my brother trying to pick up guys."

She laughed out loud. "I wouldn't think guys go for that sort of thing."

"Me either, but it seems to work. Maybe because no one else tries it, or at least no one else can pull it off. Anyway, it's not like he can do like Tiffy."

"I guess not-- Oh, look! A shooting star!"

Tetsu snapped his gaze in the direction of her pointing finger, just in time to see the streak fade out. "Bright one."

"What'd you wish for?"

"Uh." It seemed like cheating to wish she'd say yes, but a waste to wish for anything else. Except me and her, together forever... Oh yah, she'll go for that. "If I tell you it won't come true," he weaseled.

"Then I guess I can't tell you my wish. Too bad, you would have liked it."

"Then I hope it comes true!"

"Me too. I think."

She can't possibly mean what I think she means. Geez, I guess I was right about guys thinking like Tiffy. He felt himself blushing, and that wasn't all. Being a guy sucks. Well, if I'm already dying of embarrassment... "Ashlyn, would you like to, um..." Am I really gonna ask this? Can I really not?

"Um. Tetsu, I like you a lot, but..."

"AUGH! No, not that!"

"Oh." She sounded as mortified as he felt, which didn't really make him feel any better. "What, then?"

No backing out now. "Do you want to go to Hawaii with me?"

"Do I what?"

"Not just me! I mean, with my family, not like I'm trying to kidnap you to some tropical love nest." But only because I can't afford it. "You know how my dad's always entering those contests? Well, he finally won one. Trip for four to Hawaii during Christmas break, nice hotel for a week..."

"You, your mom, your dad, your brother... that's four."

"Shoji doesn't want to go; he just got a new boyfriend, and his crowd at college is planning to go skiing during that week, and he's just generally too cool to hang out with his family, so there's this spare ticket..."

She was quiet for a long time. Great, she thinks it's a flimsy cover over the tropical love nest scenario. She'll never speak to me again.

"Have you asked your parents?"

"I thought I'd see if you were interested first, so they don't get a chance to mock me."

"You're giving the chance for mockery to me? How sweet!"

He winced. "Well, but if you mock me, I can just run off and become a monk. It's harder to live it down when it's family." I guess it's time to pick, Catholic or Buddhist?

"Oh." She sounded honestly distressed. "I didn't mean I really want to mock you! It's just... I've had guys ask me out before, but none of them asked me to leave the continent with them!"

"But I'm not just any guy!" I'm way more insane than any six other guys, in fact.

She squeezed his hand, which he suddenly realized she had never let go of. "No, you aren't. Wow. Hawaii." Another long pause. "Can I think about this? I mean, I need to ask my parents and stuff."

"Sure. But think fast, or my mom might give the ticket to some relative. Like Aunt Consuela, the lingerie model-- BAD Seitetsu.

"I'm sure you'd cope. Isn't Hawaii full of gorgeous young things in bikinis?"

He finally risked a glance over at her face, and found her looking into his eyes from inches away. "I guess, but why would I want to settle for second best?"

Her lips curved in a smile, parted to say something... and with the distinct sensation that the mountain had just vanished from under him, he rolled onto his side, shifting his face forward that final tiny distance.

It was obvious in the first second that she knew a lot more about kissing than he did, but abstract ideas like that were hardly a flicker on the edge of his consciousness. She's so soft! Soft welcoming lips, satiny bare legs, soft breasts squashed against his chest, belly soft against--

AUGH! She's going to think... He flinched away, but her arm circled his waist, holding in place as she stretched against him again. Oh. She wants... He ran his hand down her back to her rear, and she shivered. Oh my god, we're going to...

They both gasped as she broke the kiss, and pulled away enough that they see each other's faces (which left their lower bodies still pressed together; Seitetsu was certain he was going to explode any second). "Remember what I said a minute ago?"

We're not going to. "Yah, I remember. 'But.'"

"Don't look like that! I'm not saying-- well, okay, I am saying 'no', but just 'not now', not 'not ever'."

He extricated his other arm from under her and flashed the light on his watch. "Okay, how's um 10:15 sound?"

She prodded him sharply in the ribs and he flinched away, breaking that agonizing contact. "Tiffy may be right when she says Japanese-Mexican guys are the hottest in the world, but I still have standards. When I lose my virginity, I want a proper bed and time to do it right, not a rock in the middle of nowhere when we're already going to get busted for sneaking off."

He sighed and sat up. "Then we better go, or I'm going to have to fling myself from the mountaintop in frustration."

Even by starlight, he could see her face redden as she looked down. "Um, yah, I noticed you were um. I could turn my back while you um. I mean, that looks uncomfortable to walk with... How about you just show me where the line for flinging forms now?"

He carefully stared off into the distance, surprised his face wasn't drowning out the stars. "I'll be okay." This is either going to sound really flattering, or really stupid. "It's something a guy has to get used to, with you around." Stupid.

"Oh. Um, thanks." He heard the rutch of sneakers on stone, and then felt a tap on his shoulder. Ashlyn was still blushing furiously, but smiling and holding her hand out.

He grinned embarrassedly and let her pull him to his feet. "Thanks." Still holding hands, they walked back along the trail.

Contents 2: The Cavern of Doom -->

This file was last modified at 2158 on 08Jan04 by trip@idiom.com.