Chapter 7

School let out and Curtis headed to Maryland. I still had some summer activities to organize and the planning for the fall was never too soon but as a salaried employee I could pick and choose my hours during the summer months.

I still wasn't sure if I was supposed to call Shavaun - she seemed to be calling the shots and I didn't want to appear too aggressive or intruding.

My phone rang on a Thursday night and I recognized Shavaun's number on the caller ID.

"Hey," I said happily.

"It's my father's 70th birthday party on Saturday," Shavaun informed me. "You want to come?"

"Would that be okay?" I asked.

"Of course," she laughed. "My parents would be thrilled to see you."

"I see them once in a while when I'm visiting my parents," I said.

"Come any time after one o'clock," she instructed. "It's in their back yard."

"My parents will probably be there," I said. "They'll be happy to see you too."

"They're nice people," She said before hanging up the phone.

My parents are nice people. I didn't have the same issues with them that Shavaun had with her mom but her Dad was much more accepting and easy going and he had a good sense of humor. My parents went with the flow in every social situation and I never heard them say anything bad about anybody in the neighborhood even when rumor and gossip ran rampant in earlier years.

I drove to my old Hilltop neighborhood in Hillsboro on Saturday and parked my car in my parent's driveway, walking to Shavaun's parents' house on the next street just as I had done a million times as a kid. I could hear the music and laughter coming from the Kelly's backyard from three houses away.

"You came!" Shavaun shrieked when she saw me enter the back yard, running to me and giving me a hug. She was wearing a pretty white summer dress, printed with pink roses

"Why wouldn't I?" I laughed.

I noticed that Shavaun had adjusted her hair style (and color) again

"Blond streaks?" I asked with surprise.

"Too cool for you?" She teased. "It'll look good while it lasts."

She wrapped her arm around mine and showed me off to her parents and siblings and some of the old neighborhood gang as well as new people I never met. Shavaun explained whose house the new people were living in now and what happened to some our previous neighbors. A surprising number were dead which made me feel old.

But Shavaun's parents were looking good and Mr. Kelly was in a great mood on his birthday. We reminisced about childhood memories of the neighborhood and it was fun catching up with Shavaun's siblings too.

It was a unusually warm late June day with some humidity so it was important to find some shade or go into the house for respites from the sun. I got hot and sweaty anyway.

You can only catch up with people you haven't seen in twenty-five years for so long before the conversations become stale and boring.

We were saved by the birthday cake and the song and Mr. Kelly thanked everybody for coming and celebrating his big day with him.

That wasn't the end of the party, however, as the celebration continued in full swing with plenty of food and music.

"God, I love him" Shavaun beamed about her father.

"He's a great guy," I endorsed.

"Do you want to take a walk?" Shavaun asked a while later when even she had begun to lose interest in the socializing.

"Sure," I smiled with relief.

I seriously didn't realize where we were going when she walked us off the hill and down to The Turnpike path that eventually led to the Blue River.

The path we used to take to Rabbit Hole was still there, although a bit overgrown and scattered with beer cans and other debris. I was preoccupied with talking about some of the people I had been chatting with previously to understand where Shavaun was taking us.

"Do you think it's still there?" She asked when we got closer to where the secret turn off was for The Rabbit Hole.

"I can't imagine it wouldn't be," I replied. "I doubt they would have filled it in or something."

"I haven't been there since that day," she revealed quietly.

"Me either," I said with sadness in my voice. "There's the path," I said, gesturing to some brush by a large tree.

"You can barely see it," She said.

"Just like when we were kids," I recalled.

We walked through the tunnel path through a jungle of brush and vines that finally led to the ledge on the other side of a line of brush that overlooked The Rabbit Hole.

"Would you follow me Down The Rabbit Hole?" Shavaun asked and I knew she wasn't talking just about the swimming hole in front of us.

"Yes," I answered.

We stared at each other. I saw her mouth twitch with amusement. "Come on," she smiled.

I followed her down the embankment to the flat rocks by the still water.

Why now? Why this moment in this place? Too much time had passed. Were we waiting without knowing we were waiting? Were we each other's dream all along, ruined by that one moment of temptation that left us feeling so much regret, remorse, shame and guilt that it killed our friendship? Had we been too afraid to take the next step back then so instead we closed the door? Wrote our own sad ending?

And now, all these years later, were we now ready to go back and try it again, this time embracing what we had been avoiding all along?

"Do you think skinny dipping is hereditary?" Shavaun asked.

I knew she was referring to Curtis in the lake with the daughter of the Dining Facility worker.

"I think skinny dipping is as natural as a bath," I replied.

A gentle breeze fanned us as we stood on the rock. We shed our clothes as if on cue, without being prompted or asking questions.

When we were naked, she touched me and I touched her and I knew at that moment that it was meant to be.

Shavaun leaned in and we kissed. I ran my hand along her back, then her ribs and up to her face I felt her breath on my face and then she turned and stepped into the water and I dove in after her.

It felt as natural as that day when Jenny spurred us on.

Shavaun swam to me and she wrapped her arms around my neck and she pressed herself close to me and we made love in the water.

She clung to me when we were done, floating like a lily pad. "Do you think..." she started to say.

"Yes," I answered.

"You don't even know what I was going to say!"

"Yes I do," I assured her. "We are going Down The Rabbit Hole together."

"I'm no longer shy," she informed me. "When I'm with you."