By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.Confucius
Granite Falls Campground Declan 20, Everett 18, Rory 20, Cordelia 19
Declan looked up, then smiled over at his brother Everett, who noticed and winked back at him, as they were putting up the tent together.
Life was good.
It had been a ride again. A rough one for most.
Everything started with Declan’s 18th birthday, which was two years ago now and had, in a way, been also the starting gun for college, as high school graduation soon followed his birthday. After a brief summer break the next chapter of his life began. One that most looked forward to, but it only caused major anxiety for Declan.
Rory, who had turned 18 not long after Declan, kept her word, they both attended the state-of-the-art Foxbury Institute together, she for a degree in Physics and Declan studied Computer Sciences.
The first days were just as confusing for Declan and Rory as they are for any freshman. But once they got in the swing of things, all began to happen just as Declan had feared. He could barely function around others, unless Rory was next to him. It was so bad that she ended up trading rooms with a girl in his dorm, different floor but much closer, to be available to calm any of his anxiety attacks around the clock.
Attending lectures and writing papers was no big issue for Declan, but giving presentations was a different story. Once in front of the class he’d freeze up, stuttering nonsense, then would run out in a panic, to the sound of other students laughing. No matter how much they practiced, he couldn’t manage. As a last resort Rory had him wear a fake plaster cast on his leg, so she could be up front with him to ‘assist’. When they did that, he hit the presentation out of the park, nobody laughed but everyone applauded at the end. That way he managed to keep his grades up at a perfect A.
As the semesters passed Rory, now almost 20 years old, began to want to attend parties and experience college life to the fullest. Declan (20) went with her once, but hated it, then after that she went without him. And eventually there was this guy she started going on dates with.
After having the hardest time calming a completely incoherent and freaked out Declan down, Everett learned about Rory sticking her feelers out into the dating pool, so he advised Declan to get a move on, ask her out or she’d have a boyfriend. Panicked, Declan agreed, but didn’t have the nerve to go through with asking her on a date, feeling inferior, which caused him to stutter and just make up a random question without ever asking her out, then return to his brother to find consolation about his recent failure.
Everett, who in the meantime had turned 18, and was attending the nearby Britchester University, administered a new plan of attack to his older brother by dragging still lanky Declan to the gym every single day for a rigorous workout regimen. Within only a few weeks Declan’s physique had noticeably improved, and with it his level of confidence.
If for nothing else, at least Declan’s mind was off the worry about Rory’s dating and he started feeling better about himself, giving him a confidence boost.
Everett's flashback Windenburg downtown
Then one day during a semester break Everett ran into a familiar face at a café. Cordelia Reed, his ex-girlfriend, and his first ever girlfriend at that. Apparently she had come home for a semester break as well. After graduation the old group had been scattered into the four winds, almost all of them away at college and busy with their new lives, that they barely managed to keep in touch beyond liking and commenting on each other’s social media posts sometimes.
“Hey!” he beamed, his heart leaping.
“Rett, hey! Long time no see.” Cordelia smiled back.
“You wanna have coffee together?” Everett suggested.
“Sure, why not?”
He bought her coffee and they found a quiet table, then started talking about random things, memories, college. Her initial hesitance soon changed to warm smiles. Rett had changed a lot since they had been a couple, matured, which did not go unnoticed by Cordelia.
At some point during the conversation Everett asked.
“Can we have dinner together? Soon?”
“Uh, Rett, I ….”
“You have a boyfriend. Of course you would.”
“No, that’s not it. Just … look, it was really nice catching up, but … “
“… but you still hate my guts. Look, I know I was an ass, but I was also younger and very immature. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I have changed, for the better, Cordelia. Maybe enough to deserve another look?”
“Rett, I don’t hate you, just don’t think …”
“Please. PLEEEEASE …. just a dinner? A harmless, innocent dinner. We both need to eat, might as well do it together and maybe share some memories and laughs. That would be cool, right? For old times sake …”
“Fine. Ok. I am free on Friday. Staying with my parents when I am not on campus, assume you remember the address?”
“Of course I do! And thanks! You won’t regret it! I’ll be on my best behavior and you’ll see, I’ve changed. For the better. Grown up. A LOT!”
“All right, in that case, I can’t wait.”
The dinner turned out lots of fun and it was apparent that the sparks weren’t all gone.
So Everett and Cordelia started going out again. Purely platonic for now, but it was obvious that there was a promise for this to become more. Eventually. Maybe.
All that had lead up to the idea for the camping trip.
Present Day Granite Falls
“Hey, you wanna give them some privacy and go swimming with me?” Rory asked Declan after watching Everett and Cordelia flirt for a while.
“I don’t know. I haven’t been swimming here since … you know. The bullying thing where they stole my pants and … that happened here. At that pond …” Declan told her, frowning.
“Come on now Decs, you know I would never do something like that to you. Not like I would wrestle you to the ground and steal your breeches.” Rory tapped her index finger against her forehead.
“Yes, I know. Okay, fine, we’ll go swimming then.” he agreed.
A small hike later they arrived at the pond, Rory took off her clothing revealing her very feminine figure in the bikini while Declan pulled his shirt over his head, dropping it carelessly to the ground. When his eyes met Rory’s he noticed an odd expression on her face, so he looked down on himself, then back at her.
“What?!” he asked.
“Nothing. Just wow. I had no idea that was underneath your shirts! I am surprised you even bother wearing a shirt. Not your typical video game nerd bod.”
“Oh … hee hee hee … yeah … Rett’s been working me hard.” Declan flexed his new muscles a bit before even realizing it. Her admiration went down like honey and made him feel ten feet tall.
“I’d say! So this is pretty new, right? Pretty sure when we went to the public pool last year that looked different. Or am I really that blind and oblivious?”
“Nah, it’s pretty new and nowhere near done yet. He’s a tough coach. For the first week or so I could barely walk. Replacing flab with firm hurts!” he smirked crooked.
“So that’s why you were acting so weird. With you is always hard to tell if that was some new quirk or another hang-up, so I didn’t say anything. I can’t believe you kept this a secret, you dawg! Can I … would it be weird if I …” Rory pointed at his chest.
“Oh, no, not weird. Go ahead.” Declan smiled nervously, but incredibly proud. A girl asking to touch him? And not just any girl, but Rory? Yes, please!
Rory looked at his chest with awe as she carefully touched it, running her fingertips across his chest and stomach, and the innocent caress did something to him, he couldn’t help but inadvertently let out a moan, startling himself and her, their eyes met and locked.
But instead of his usual flight instinct another, new one took over. He touched her too. Gently, carefully.
“Beautiful.” he simply said, then he timidly touched her chin. Where that instinct came from he had no idea, but it felt natural.
She just looked at him, but he could feel the dynamics had clearly shifted between them. His heart and mind was racing, but he also felt an odd inner serenity. Amongst other things that were a lot less serene, quite the contrary. Those were powerful, wild and primal.
It felt like slow-motion and time lapse at the same time.
Then there was the kiss. His first ever and their first ever together.
Whenever the kiss threatened to stop, one of them would restart it …
Again … and again … forgetting the entire world around them.
Breathlessly they eventually stopped kissing, smiling at each other. After staring into each other’s eyes for a moment, Rory’s smile changed into a devious smirk.
“What?” Declan asked smiling.
As a response she suddenly and without any warning shoved him backwards hard, he stumbled and ended up in the water with a loud splash. When he surfaced he looked shocked.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Here …” Rory stifled her laughter, offering her hand to Declan to help him out, but with an equally devious grin he instead pulled her into the pond with him, which turned into carefree play with splashing and laughter.
And, of course, more kissing.
When they returned to the campground, hand in hand, Everett looked up while Cordelia was busy with dinner, he smiled knowingly.
Rory disappeared into her tent to change, Everett found Declan for some one on one talk.
“Sooooo … what’s the news there? Judging by that grin and the hand-holding you two scored a homerun back there, huh?”
“Progress. Definite progress.” Declan smiled at his brother.
“That’s what I like to hear! How much progress?”
“Which base did you make? Kissing, fondling, all the way …?”
“Oh! Uh, kissing. Just a little. That’s already a lot more than I was expecting, but I’ll take it.”
“Looks like we both scored something big then. We’ve been up to a little bit of the same over here. Still just harmless, but the right direction for sure. The more time I spend with her, the more I realize I need Cordy in my life. Not really sure why I ever messed around on her in the first place, but that lesson has been learned. And she seems to believe me.”
“Congrats! So, she’s forgiven you?”
“Let’s just say it looks like a definite maybe. I think she is strongly considering giving me another chance. Anything beyond that remains to be seen.”
“That is definitely good news. Uh, Rett? What do I do next? I mean, not … anything risky. I want to go slow, but … how? And when? Last thing I want to do now is blow it all by either going too slow or rushing something. And with my issues it’s probably best for me to have a bit of a plan.”
“Well, we’re gonna have a little dinner together here in a moment, afterwards we’ll probably just chill by the fire, so you kiss her, hold her, that type of stuff. Since we’re all already pretty beat from the hike up here, you then walk her to her tent and see what happens. Either a kiss goodnight or maybe she’ll even invite you in. If she doesn’t, don’t freak. I am counting on taking things super-slow with Cordelia unless she initiates anything. And tomorrow evening, when we drop her off at home and you walk her to the door, you ask her out. So you have between now and then to think of a few places to take her. I am going to do the exact same thing with Cordelia.” Everett instructed patiently.
“Okay, thanks Rett. Oh, and thank you for not laughing. And also thanks for being my personal coach. My new body in development was a big hit with Rory. You really are the best brother any man could ask for.”
“Ah, save it bro, you’re welcome. I love you, dude, and I really want you to be happy, really happy finally. You deserve it. And once back home tomorrow evening, after our workout, we’re gonna talk nookie moves, so you don’t end up playing possum whenever you two get there. Now let’s eat and celebrate our second chances.”
While this became one of the fondest memories of all four involved, a camping trip none of them would ever forget, they all left as single as they had arrived, but all with a new outlook and a promise of something good that could grow from the tender seed of romance that had been planted with a kiss.