I had been warned about Billy Joe. He was nothing but trouble, and no decent girl would have anything to do with him. There were rumors at school about Mary Sue's mysterious illness and why she had almost died in the hospital. They said that it was on account of Billy Joe, and that she went to a back-alley doctor in desperation. I didn't know what to believe. Poor Mary Sue pretended not to hear the whispers behind her back.
I celebrated my fifteenth birthday that May. When school let out for the summer, Mama took on extra work because I was home to do the cooking and washing. My two older brothers both worked, but Mama wanted me at home. She had to work outside the home since Daddy died two years earlier. It wasn't until I was much older that I would hear about how men at work made passes at her. At forty, her auburn hair still didn't have a trace of gray, and she was still pretty enough to turn heads. People often remarked on how much I looked like her.
At fifteen, I was too old to go running off to the local swimming hole. Most of them were frequented by little boys who were too young to work. I knew of one that was secluded and hidden away behind the trees. There was hardly anyone ever there, and I loved to go cool off from the oppressive heat. This was in the days before air conditioning. I would hurry to finish my chores and slip away for a spell before cooking supper for my family.
One day I was drying off in the sun after going for a dip when Billy Joe happened upon me. He had a rifle slung over his shoulder. "Ellie, ain't you a sight for sore eyes?"
His cornflower blue eyes flickered briefly over my bathing suit clad body before returning to my face. This was part of his allure. Despite the stories about him, he didn't behave in a vulgar manner toward girls. I had caught boys with much better reputations than Billy Joe staring at my chest. What I didn't realize then was that they behaved that way because of their immaturity. Billy Joe already had the confidence of a man even though he was only seventeen.
His dirty blond hair stopped just short of falling into his eyes, because it was longer and messier than the clean cut styles popular in those days. I doubted that this was by choice. He and his brothers probably cut their own hair, because his family scraped by any way they could. There was a large pouch on his back, and it was obviously full. I didn't want to know what animal was inside, but it might be their supper tonight. They also traded their kills for other things they needed. It was all men in their house. Billy Joe's mama had died when he was twelve years old. That was one reason why I sympathized with him. I didn't yet understand that the rest of my interest in him was due to physical attraction.
The proper thing to do now was to put on my dress over my bathing suit and go home. I went through the motions, but in a much more leisurely fashion than was necessary. The truth was that I was restless and bored, and Billy Joe was the most exciting thing around.
"You come swimming here much, Ellie?"
"Everyday," I said, knowing full well that this was an unspoken invitation. "I'm mostly here by myself." What had gotten into me?
"Might come for a swim myself sometime." He said it in a casual way, but he was watching my reaction.
I wanted to say something seductive like Marilyn Monroe, but I had no practice at flirting. "It's a good place to escape the heat."
"There's all kinds of heat," he said mysteriously before continuing on his way.
These days even a twelve year old would know what he was talking about, but back then we had no internet and my family didn't even have a television set yet. People didn't talk openly about sex. I had only gleaned a glimmer of understanding about sexuality from going to the occasional movie with my friends. The only information Mama gave me was to warn me to keep my distance from boys. I was not yet allowed to date. Except for condemning the behavior of loose girls in hushed and somber tones, my friends talked dreamily about boys they were sweet on.
They would be shocked if they knew that I was planning to spend time alone with Billy Joe. I was nervous as I walked to the swimming hole the next day, but he wasn't there. More disappointed than a sensible girl should be, I took off my dress and waded into the water to wash the sweat off my body. It felt so good that I dunked my head beneath the water. I let out a startled scream as I came up and saw Billy Joe in front of me.
"Didn't mean to scare you, Ellie. I was behind the tree when I saw you coming. The thing is I ain't got no swimming shorts, and I wanted to get in the water before you saw me." Something about the way he said that, like he was embarrassed not to be able to afford them, made me feel for him.
Then I gulped as I realized something. "You mean you got nothing on?"
"Only my underwear," he said to my relief.
There are some things that connect us in our enjoyment of life. Cooling off in the water on a hot summer day is one of those things. It doesn't matter if you're in a creek, like we were, or in the ocean. Splashing around in the water breaks down the barriers between people. Billy Joe and I were soon laughing together, and we were still smiling as we stepped out of the water to dry off.
He had the same kind of work-hardened body that my brothers did, but I had never taken this much notice of them. Physical labor creates strong, tight bodies which was a very good look on Billy Joe, and I was getting an up close view. To make matters worse, white cloth becomes practically transparent when soaking wet, and his underwear was white.
"Don't look, Ellie." Billy Joe's smile, however, said that he didn't mind me looking.
Growing up with brothers meant that I knew what boys looked like "down there." Again, this was very different than seeing my brothers. I averted my eyes as we sat down on the bank and basked in the sun. After sitting in silence for awhile, I had almost begun to doze when Billy Joe spoke.
"You're a beautiful girl, Ellie."
I turned to look into his vivid, cornflower blue eyes. His hand brushed my cheek. "You should head back."
My skin tingled pleasantly where he had touched me as I stood up to get dressed. When I looked at him again, he had his pants on but was still shirtless. Now that I didn't have to look away in fear of seeing something indecent, I couldn't seem to stop staring at him.
"Your eyes are blue as the sky." The words he spoke were unimportant. It was his tone of voice and the way he looked at me that seemed to hypnotize me.
There was a fission of electricity between us as he leaned in to touch his lips to mine. It was the barest whisper of a kiss, but it sparked an irresistible desire within me. The soft, slow kisses continued to overwhelm my senses. I was delirious with pleasure here in our own little private world. He pulled back to look at me, and what he saw on my face must have shown him that I wanted more. When he kissed me again, his tongue gently teased at my lower lip until it parted enough for him to slip his tongue into my mouth. The pleasure intensified as his tongue caressed mine, and I returned his kiss with mounting passion.
I ceased to be aware of time until Billy Joe stopped kissing me. "Until tomorrow, sweet Ellie." He began to walk away and turned to wave at me.
Never had I been so completely aware of being alive as I was then. My entire body felt awake and energized. Kissing was just as wonderful as it had looked on the movie screen. Billy Joe was the only thing on my mind as I hummed to myself while cooking supper for my family.
He was already in the water when I approached the swimming hole the next day. The water cooled me off, but Billy Joe heated me up again with his kisses. He started slowly like he had yesterday but moved on much more quickly to deepening the kiss as he pulled me closer to him.
"Ever been skinny dipping, Ellie?" His hands were splayed against my back as he spoke against my ear.
I had trouble concentrating on his words as a shiver ran through me from his lips ghosting over my neck. "No."
"Want to try it?" His hand played with my bathing suit strap.
Even in the cool water, a flush crept over my face at the thought of being here naked with him. "Somebody might see us. I can't do that."
He gave me a reassuring smile. "Okay. No skinny dipping." Then he playfully pushed me to fall back in the water.
He dove into the water as I tried to retaliate. We messed around like that in the water for awhile. Things remained innocent until we got out to dry off. Then he pulled me into another hot kiss. I was much more aware of how little we were wearing than I had been while we were in the water. It felt so deliciously wicked to be here like this with him. He was pressed against me, and I could feel him. His rough hands slid down my wet back as I moaned into his mouth.
When he spoke, his voice was just as rough as his hands and just as sexy. "You're right, Ellie. We need somewhere private."
"Come over to my house tomorrow," I heard myself say. Was that sultry voice really mine? Even Marilyn had never sounded like that in any of her movies.
I did, of course, come to my senses later that evening. What was I doing inviting Billy Joe to my house? What was I doing with him in the first place? I was supposed to slap a boy who got fresh with me, not allow him to brazenly run his hands all over my body. I knew what was right, but it was like a fever took hold of me when I was alone with him. I was getting hot right now just thinking about it. Stop it, I told myself firmly. Tomorrow I would just refuse to let him in the house.
When I stood looking at him through the screen door, however, I got lost in his bright cornflower blue eyes. I've never since met another person with that exact shade of blue eyes. After he stepped inside, I offered him a glass of lemonade, which he gratefully gulped down. It was another sweltering hot day.
"Would you like another?" I asked nervously.
He set the glass down on the kitchen counter and moved toward me with purpose. "It's not what I came here for." He kissed me like he owned me, and I responded to him with my own hungry passion. "Where's your room?"
Instead of taking offence at his rough and demanding tone, I led him to my room with my heart thundering in my chest. Once there, Billy Joe became more gentle as he slowly undid the buttons on my blouse. He looked into my eyes the whole time. "Been thinking about you all night, Ellie."
He pushed the blouse off my shoulders and down my arms before he kissed me again. Without breaking away from the kiss, he managed to unhook my bra. Then he kissed his way down to my cleavage before removing the bra. He dropped it on the floor and quickly leaned down to take my nipple in his mouth. I gasped at the unfamiliar sensation.
Billy Joe picked me up and laid me down on the bed. He took his shirt off before he lay down beside me and kissed me as his rough hands caused me to moan and arch my back as they caressed my sensitive breasts. I ran my hands over his bare chest, and he responded with a low moan. He then moved his mouth down to my breast and began to tease my nipple with his tongue. I moaned loudly in wild abandon as my hands grasped his hair.
That was when my brother, Bobby, burst through the open doorway of my room. "Ellie! What the hell?"
Billy Joe rolled away from me in haste, and I flung my arms over my breasts. I was lying on top of the covers, so I couldn't hide under them. I burned with shame as I gaped at Bobby. His arm was bandaged, but it had been fine this morning.
He turned his rage on Billy Joe, who was scrambling into his shirt. "How dare you touch my sister? I'll kill you!"
"It won't go no farther. I'll never touch her again, I swear." He took off running before Bobby could say another word.
I was still cowering on the bed with my arms crossed over my chest. "Please, Bobby. Don't tell Mama."
"Billy Joe?" Bobby spat out at me. "How could you take up with that trash? Do you know what he did to Mary Sue? Got her pregnant and left her to deal with it herself."
"How did you get hurt?" I asked, trying in vain to change the subject.
Bobby had been pacing furiously back and forth in front of the bed, and he rounded on me with a venom I'd never seen in him before. "You've been carrying on with him under our roof."
"No! He's never been here before today. It won't ever happen again. Just please don't tell Mama," I pleaded again.
"Get dressed." He looked at me in disgust and walked out of the room.
I hurried to get decent and then rushed out to find Bobby sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his good hand. "Bobby." I approached him carefully.
He sighed and looked wearily at me. "Tell me how far it went."
"What you saw…" I winced at reminding him what he had seen. "That was it." I looked at the floor and rushed on. "I was out on the porch when I saw him passing by. He was parched and asked for a glass of water. I gave him some lemonade, and we got to talking. Then he kissed me and…"
"You swear you've never been with him before?" Bobby asked.
"I swear it." I didn't dare tell him about going to the swimming hole.
"Mama's got enough on her plate to worry her with this. Bonnie and I are getting married. She'll be here to keep an eye on you when I go back to work."
It was too much to take in. "You're getting married?"
He leveled a hard stare at me. "If I see him anywhere near you again I'll kill him."
Within a week, my nineteen year old brother was married in a small church ceremony. There was no reception, because there wasn't enough time to plan one, and we couldn't afford it anyway. Bobby, who was fortunate that the cut on his arm wasn't that deep, went back to work. Bonnie was now living with us, which meant that I couldn't sneak away from the house anymore. It was nice to have help with the chores, but I was upset about how abruptly things had ended with Billy Joe. By the time school started, he was already linked with another girl. I didn't dare try to talk to him there for fear of attracting gossip. I was still afraid that my brother would kill him. He also didn't say anything to me, but I would sometimes catch his eyes lingering on me.
My nephew was born seven months after Bobby got married. I could have called my brother a hypocrite, but he would have answered that he did the right thing by marrying Bonnie. In time I understood that he had saved me from making a big mistake. I didn't kiss another boy for two years, and he turned out to be my future husband. Mama got married to her second husband about a year before I married Roy at the age of eighteen. My virginity was still intact on my wedding day, because no other boy had tempted me to throw caution to the wind the way Billy Joe had. My new husband and I moved to Texas, so I lost track of Billy Joe.
I still think about him sometimes when I imagine what it would be like to be with another man. I've never cheated on my husband, but I've had crushes on other men over the years. Billy Joe was a small town Casanova, but he's always the one that comes to mind when I play the what if game. What we had was so simple compared to the complexities of love and the ups and downs of married life. It was the kind of wild lust that overwhelms better judgment. More than anything, I think he represents my youth. Looking back at it thirty years later, I see it for what it was, but it still has a certain appeal. Billy Joe will always remain in my memory as my first kiss and as the boy who awakened my sexuality during that one hot summer.
This story was an experiment for me. I wanted to write something different than a straight up love story.