Alice thought Jimmy Ray looked like a soldier. He could have been—had he been born just three years earlier, he would have been eligible for the draft, but Germany surrendered shortly after his sixteenth birthday. He wasn’t upset about it. A couple of the boys from his school had been shipped away, and one had come back without any legs. Mayor Dobbs had made Jimmy Ray give a speech at Zebulon’s welcome-home ceremony to honor the veterans, and twelve-year-old Alice had sat perfectly upright on her picnic blanket just in case his eyes happened to fall upon her.
Now, four years later, having slipped away from all the square dancing, Alice and Jimmy raced down the bank of the river, the last streaks of orange and purple sunset beginning to fade beyond the water. Alice pulled Jimmy by the hand, full of giddy energy.
“Princess, where on Earth are you taking me?”
“As far as it takes for my Daddy not to find me.” Alice turned around to face him, now walking backwards and tugging his arm with both of her hands. After coming upon an uneven patch of soft earth, she tripped over her back foot and tumbled into the cool, nighttime grass. She shrieked with surprise, but before long Jimmy Ray was on the ground with her, rolling with laughter. The cream-colored ribbon that had been holding pieces of her hair back had come loose, so she pulled it out and didn’t bother to re-do it. She shook her fingers through her hair to make it lay the way she wanted it to.
“I like it like that. A little wild, just like you.” Jimmy’s voice was low. Alice hummed happily.
“Gimme your wrist.” Jimmy obliged. Alice tied the ribbon around it in a nice little bow, adjusting it gently. There was an elegant quality to her fingers, Jimmy noticed. Most women living in Zebulon had rough hands, due to all the farm work. Not Alice. “There. Look how pretty you look,” she teased.
“Not nearly as pretty as you.”
“You’re really layin’ it on thick tonight, huh?” smiled Alice, letting go of his hand.
“What, you want me to stop?” Jimmy raised a smug eyebrow.
“I didn’t say that.” The two of them held eye contact until Alice started giggling. Jimmy pulled her into his lap, her legs perpendicular to his. “Oh my,” Alice said softly.
Jimmy smoothed his hand down the length of her hair, bringing a section of it over her shoulder. “Miss Murphy, has anybody ever kissed you before?” Alice shook her head. “Well, isn’t that a surprise. I’d have thought every boy in North Carolina would have been beggin’ on their knees for just one kiss from you.”
“I’ve been saving it for someone special,” said Alice, casting her eyes down as a demure façade.
Jimmy Ray placed his hand gently along her jaw, brushing his thumb against her cheekbone. “D’ya reckon I’m special enough?”
Alice felt a chill on the back of her neck. “You just might be.”
After a moment’s hesitation, eyes darting across faces, warm breath on cool skin, Jimmy Ray pressed his lips softly to hers. Unsure of exactly what to do next, she tensed a bit—but soon she let go and followed his rhythm. It was like a freshly-picked strawberry on a hot day, sweet and juicy and just right. He gently grazed his teeth along her lower lip, making her gasp. “People write songs about this feeling.”
“Oh, I’ll give you something to write a song about,” Jimmy grinned. He rolled them over so that Alice was lying with her back on the grass while he was on his side, propping himself up with his forearm. He placed a hand on her hip to pull her in close. Their second kiss was deeper, more fervent. Alice couldn’t fathom why two tongues sliding against one another could feel so damn good. When his lips brushed her neck, it felt like her body didn’t even belong to her own consciousness anymore. She was a limp Raggedy-Ann doll at the hands of Jimmy Ray Dobbs.
“Don’t you go givin’ me a hickey, now, we’ve got church tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t dare, I can’t risk your Daddy comin’ after me with that shotgun of his.”
Alice tittered. “He wouldn’t.”
“You sure ‘bout that?”
They kept at it for a couple more minutes, until—
“Jimmy Ray, are you feelin’ raindrops?”
“Princess, I don’t feel a—” a bolt of lighting illuminated the night sky, followed shortly by a loud crackle of thunder. “Well now.”
“I don’t want to go home yet,” Alice whined.
“No one said you have to. I think there’s a boathouse not too far down.” Jimmy stood up, offering her a hand. The rain was coming down harder now; Alice watched as a single drop made its way down the strong contours of the side of Jimmy’s face. “Better hustle, little lady, we don’t want you catchin’ a cold.” Alice bounded ahead, leaping and twirling in the warm summer rain. She stretched her hands up toward the sky, smiling at the dark grey clouds. There was still a gap for the moon to shine.
“Alice, you ain’t got shoes on?!” Jimmy was incredulous. Alice Murphy was a one of a kind.
“Who says I have to wear shoes?”
“You’re not my mama.” Alice smiled as she stepped closer to Jimmy, getting up in his face.
“Well, it looks like I’m gonna have to carry you, then.”
“You- HEY!” Alice squealed as Jimmy Ray scooped her up in his arms, breaking into a run. He set her down again when they reached a neighbor’s fishing dock, with a small shack for storing boating supplies settled in the rushes nearby. “I do believe that being carried by a handsome man is my preferred method of transportation.”
“I’m at your beck and call.”
The boathouse contained a relatively clean canvas tarp and some cushions meant for lawn chairs, which the young lovers equipped to make a small nest. They quickly re-oriented themselves to the position they had previously been in. Jimmy sat up to remove his suspenders, and Alice helped him unbutton his shirt. He cast it aside, still wearing a sleeveless undershirt. His fingers moved to the buttons at the top of Alice’s dress. He paused, awaiting a response: she nodded, so he proceeded. Soon Alice was wearing only a thin cotton slip dress, through which the curves of her body were easily seen. Jimmy Ray gently cupped one of her breasts in his hand, making her breathe in sharply when his thumb brushed over her nipple. She reached up to kiss him again, her hands tightly wound in his hair. Jimmy wrapped her legs around his waist, and braced his own body by gripping a wooden ledge behind Alice’s head. She could feel him against her, through his pants.
“Are we— are you going to—” Alice’s voice was breathy and ragged.
“Only if you want to.” Jimmy’s blue eyes held a kind of earnestness Alice had never seen before. She swore she could see the entire universe within them.
“I want you, Jimmy Ray. I want all of you.” He kissed her again before sitting up on his knees to unbuckle his belt. “Wait, wait.” Jimmy froze. “Have you ever done this before?”
Jimmy rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. “Only once. She got real scared halfway through, worried that the Lord was gonna come down, crackin’ His whip to send us straight to Hell.”
“I don’t believe that any God would take the time out of His day to stop two people from lovin’ each other.”
“I sure hope not.”
Jimmy Ray pulled down his drawers only as much as he needed to, taking himself in his hand. It was quite dark in the boathouse, and neither of them could see much. Alice felt him line up against her entrance before pushing in just a small amount. She tried as best she could to relax her body, inhaling and exhaling deeply. He pushed in a bit farther, and she felt a twinge of pain. Not unbearable, but noticeable.
“You doin’ okay?”
He readjusted, and then pushed deeper. One more time, and his hips were pressed flush against her own. She shuddered as she tried to become acclimated, shifting upwards to get more comfortable. She heard him groan, and the sound sent shocks of electricity deep inside her belly. He began to move at a gentle pace, hyperaware of how Alice might be feeling. Eventually the pinching sensation subsided, and she could begin to enjoy herself. The back-and-forth motions didn’t do much for her, but the mere thought that her body was causing Jimmy to unravel at the seams was enough for now. His voice sounded rough and gravelly when he said, “You are more beautiful than Aphrodite. You know who that is?”
“The Greek goddess of love,” Alice whispered.
When Jimmy climaxed, he made a noise so exquisitely broken that Alice thought she just might die. He pulled out, resting beside her, and draped his arm across her stomach. She held him there.
“If you said this was Heaven, I would not disagree.” The soothing sound of the rain against the wooden roof mixed with the warmth between their bodies began to make Alice’s eyelids droop. “We can’t sleep here, Jimmy.”
“Why not?” He sounded asleep already.
“M’parents. They’re prob’ly still out lookin’ for me.”
“Ten more minutes.”
They lay there in silence. Alice felt Jimmy’s chest expand and contract with every breath. “You really are somethin’, Alice Murphy. You really are somethin’.”