Alive in the World
The excursion was Giselle’s idea. Teresa was unsure whether to be relieved or nervous about this piece of information. Giselle had arrived at the school nearly three months ago, and Teresa prided herself on her ability to completely avoid an interaction in that time. She would speak to Giselle once she knew what to say, once she decided how she wanted their work relationship to pan out. But Giselle’s lips were still so pink, the soft curves of her face still so entrancing, and Teresa lost all confidence in herself.
But Giselle had suggested this outing, a combination of the students’ music and art classes, and as the headmistress had given her approval, Teresa had no choice but to acquiesce. It was spring. The girls loved being outside. Teresa had noted the increase in the number of bodies out on the lawn during lunch and evening hours. Girls on blankets, in the grass, dress hems pulled up to their knees or even higher, arms thrown over their heads, mouths open in girlish delight. Teresa had been one of them not too long ago. Fifteen years old. Breathlessly alive, slowly growing aware of her own body, the way the air felt against her skin, how her toes looked curling into the dirt.
An excursion to the lake, she said to the headmistress, was a perfect idea.
This, before she learned Giselle had suggested it.
Teresa stood now on the deck overlooking the lake. Several girls sat sketching or painting. Huddled together in groups as an excuse to talk and giggle as they worked. Heads bent over sketchbooks and canvas, the occasional chin tipped up in a laugh. The sun glinted off their hair and Teresa thought, I was once this way.
She looked at Giselle, at the shore of the lake teaching students a new song. She held a guitar on her lap, fingers gently curled around the neck and strumming, and Teresa thought, Those hands once touched my skin.
A prickle spread along her arms at the thought. She glanced down at her sketchbook, upon which the form of a woman reclining on a bench had begun to materialize. Cheeks flushing, Teresa flipped the page over. With the warming weather, Giselle had taken to reading in the courtyard in the early evening. She would lie there reading and Teresa would lie in her bed, willing willing willing herself not to look out the open window, peer down at the bench just below her room. The breeze would sigh in past the curtains, and she could never tell if it was just her imagination that it carried Giselle’s gardenia scent.
Teresa began a new sketch. Her charcoal swept across the page in rough, fierce strokes, building into something innocent. The pink flowers that bloomed on the nearby bushes.
“Taking this exercise seriously, are you?”
Teresa halted in her movements to look up at the source of the voice over her shoulder. Giselle’s teasing gaze met hers, lips quirked up in something softer than a smirk. Her hair was loose, brushing her shoulders. She’d removed the cardigan she had arrived wearing, and if Teresa had less self-control, she would press her nose to the collarbone she knew would be warm and sweet.
“Just excited,” Teresa said.
Giselle lifted an eyebrow. In that moment she was beautiful, tousled, as fresh and
wholeheartedly human as the students.
Flashes in Teresa’s mind of spring days, a smile against her mouth, nervous fingers on smooth thighs, dress slipping off her shoulder, hazel eyes above hers, she was once this way, she was alive, too, her very soul bursting with the knowledge of her space in the world.
“I think it’s time for lunch,” Giselle said.
The girls spread blankets and took off their shoes and rolled up their sleeves and ate with the shameless hunger girls could only display around each other. Crumbs falling out of their mouths as they spoke. Lemonade spilling down their curved chins. Fingers dripping with juice from the strawberries.
Teresa shared a blanket with Giselle, who spoke with her mouth full and sat with one
knee propped up.
“I missed this,” Giselle told her.
I don’t even remember how to do this, Teresa wanted to say. I am not the girl you used to know.
I am not Teresa who laughs loud, who unbuttons the top of her dress, who writes her name on every spare wall in the school, who sneaks barefoot into the kitchen at night for cake, who kisses the most beautiful girl she’s ever seen for no other reason than she just wants a taste.
“Why don’t you take off your shoes, Teresa?”
Teresa shook her head. Undeterred, Giselle slid her hand along the toe of Teresa’s shoes.
“Let me help,” Giselle said.
“The girls may need me.”
“Not like this.”
Giselle moved closer, close enough Teresa could smell the gardenia, see the freckle beneath her left eye, feel her breath on her cheek. Giselle’s hand slid up until it reached Teresa’s ankle. Finger tracing along the skin there. Teresa shivered.
“Your eyelashes are so pretty, Teresa.”
She leaned back on her hands as Giselle unbuckled the shoes, reached higher up her calf under her dress as she slipped them off.
“Giselle,” Teresa said, because no other word could break through the fog that had descended upon her.
Giselle removed the other shoe.
“There,” she said. Her hands were cool on Teresa’s legs, higher, on her knees. She was so, so close.
“Are you going to kiss me?” Teresa hoped she did not sound too eager. That her voice did not quiver in hopeless anticipation.
Teresa looked. The students had abandoned the blankets and instruments and sketchbooks. They splashed into the lake now, arms open wide, dresses billowing in the water, seeming to sing, We are new, we are new with every joyous curve of their bodies.