The Softer Side
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by Robert Buckley © 2010
Julie had the prettiest ankles of any girl I ever knew. She didn’t seem to have many friends that summer we met at camp. At least none of the other kids went out of their way to play with her, but she didn’t seem to mind. Most times I saw her she was sitting atop a big rock that overlooked Lake Quinepekwet, her red hair fiery in the sunshine, reading a book or drawing in a sketch pad.
She was poor; I could tell by her clothes. She didn’t have much of what you’d call “summer things.” I don’t think she even had a bathing suit; not that it mattered, she didn’t go swimming much with the other kids. She got to go to camp because her parish sponsored her. I got to go because my mom got a big discount. We weren’t exactly rich either.
Julie wore the same few t-shirts and a pair of jeans with flannel lining that really was for winter wear. But, I figured that’s all she had. Anyway, she always had the leg cuffs rolled up above her sneakers with no socks, which is how I got to notice her ankles. Of course, as I got older, I realized that certain parts of a girl were likely to draw a guy’s attention. Legs, hips and breasts would each come to have their own allure for me. But that summer, the most beautiful parts of any girl I ever knew were Julie’s ankles.
So one day I climbed onto her rock.
“Hi,” I said.
She just kept reading, but then her eyes kind of slid my way and she said, “Hi.”
“Oh. Good book?”
“You already said ‘Hi’.”
“Yeah, but that was before I knew your name.”
She giggled. That made me feel really good for some reason.
“I was just watching you,” I said.
She looked at me, her face sort of frownish. “Watching me? Why?”
“Well ... because ...” I figured I’d go for broke. “Gee, Julie, your ankles are really pretty.”
She looked down and raised her legs. “They are?”
“Yeah. I mean, really pretty.”
“Really?” She said, as if she couldn’t believe me.
“Could I ... would you let me kiss your ankles?”
“Kiss my ankles? You want to kiss my ankles?”
I shrugged. “Never mind. Forget I ever said ...”
“Yeah,” she shrugged. “Sure.”
So I did, and she started to giggle again.
“No, it’s okay. I like it ... it just tickles.”
So, I kissed her ankles some more ... a lot.
The next day we met at her rock and she let me kiss her ankles again. But Mr. Walker, the camp director found us and I knew we were in big trouble, but I didn’t know quite why. Julie and I were kept apart for the remainder of our time at camp.
I remember Mr. Walker, who kind of looked, walked and talked like a zombie, say, “What do you want to kiss a girl’s ankles for? Boys don’t kiss girls’ ankles, just sissies do that. Do you want everyone in camp to think you wear girl underwear?”
I couldn’t make the connection between kissing Julie’s ankles and girls underwear. But it sounded like a bad thing. I was embarrassed, but I remember being really pissed too, like I hoped Mr. Walker would get eaten by a bear, or something.
I never saw Julie again after that summer, but I never forgot her ankles or her giggle.
I grew up, fell in love a dozen or so times, married, had a couple of kids, was widowed. I wondered from time to time what sort of life Julie led.
I was working for a newspaper and occasionally wrote a story for the Sunday magazine. The editor wanted me to do a story about people who placed ads on Craigslist and other places for lost friends and lovers. He wanted it for a Valentine’s Day piece.
So I started perusing the ads, jotting down ones I thought might have a story behind them, and that’s when I spotted it.
“Looking for the boy who liked to kiss my ankles at Camp Quinepekwet. Contact Julie.”
My heart stopped, I swear it did for a second.
I left a message at the number in the ad and waited. I knew if I got a reply it would be a grown woman’s voice, not the giggly little girl’s voice I cherished in my memory. But then she called, “Jeff? Is it really you?”
Yes, it was a mature, womanly voice, but still there was something of the sweet little girl there too. We talked a long time about things like families and jobs and disappointments and joys.
We arranged to meet at a little Italian place I liked. I wanted to bring her something special to mark our reunion.
When the hostess showed me to her table, it was all I could do to hold back my tears. She was beautiful. Her red hair had lightened to a kind of strawberry gold, flecked with silver. And her smile lit up the room.
I knelt and took her foot from under the table. She giggled as she slid her behind in her seat to give me easier access.
I placed the gold chain and charm around her ankle, and then I raised her ankle to my lips and kissed it. She giggled again.
Somewhere across the room, I heard a woman say, “Now, there’s a man.”
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