It was a beautiful fall, the trees red and gold and orange interrupted by patches of green. Hannah always loved the drive to the coast, but in fall it was best. Hannah had the window rolled down and one dimpled arm on the door of the red pick-up as she leaned out to enjoy the feel of the wind in her wavy brown hair. Slightly plump (she still had not lost her baby fat) and slightly plain (she still had not developed any character to speak of), Hannah suffered from the frequent delusion of youth that she could only be loved for herself.
The person who presumably filled that role was sitting behind the wheel of the red pick-up, singing along under his breath to the music of "The Who" on his tapedeck. "Nobody knows what it's like, to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes," Jesse sang, intensely off-tune. It was a song he could identify with. He too had blue eyes, and he too was misunderstood. "You know," he said to Hannah in his soft voice, "there's a lot of truth in some of these songs. A good rock song says as much as a lot of literature and philosophy."
Hannah smiled indulgently. Certainly some popular lyrics were quite sophisticated, but to try to get philosophy from "The Who" was going a little far. Hannah's mother had a lot of philosophy books in her shelves, and even though Hannah hadn't read them, the much vaunted process of osmosis must have had some effect on her. She was named after Hannah Arendt after all, and at least she knew who that was.
But Jesse was five years older than Hannah, and at eighteen, this was an enormous amount. He had a lot to teach her. He was adventurous and independent and he loved the outdoors. On a whim, he had packed up his things and come out to Oregon, looking for something better. He took frequent trips to the coast and the mountains, and he took Hannah with him. Hannah was appreciative. Besides, he was a hunk. He was tallish and slimish and equipped with beautiful blue eyes and soft, shoulder-length brown hair. His eyes were a little on the small side and his lips a little on the thin side, but all in all, Hannah felt lucky to be going out with a guy with his looks and his pick-up.
"My love is vengeance, that's never free," Jesse sang. He had a mean cut over one eyebrow from a barroom brawl he'd been involved in the night before. She was sure he must have been provoked; Jesse had such a gentle voice and soft eyes. Hannah trusted her two-week knowledge of him more than her mother's jealous two-minute appraisal.
"Gonna to buy a tank and an aeroplane," Jesse was singing as they reached the parking lot. "When she gets herself with me won't be no time to explain."
The lot was full, but the picnic tables were empty, and as Hannah jumped down from the truck, she could see why. There was an incredible wind blowing, the kind of wind that would steal a shawl and lash you with sand for good measure. "We'd better leave the food in the truck," she called over to Jesse through her whipping hair. "See if we can find a decent spot first."
"What a wind!" Jesse said. He came over and put his arm around her naturally. Heads bent to fight the wind, they walked over to the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach. Hannah couldn't figure out where the people were who belonged to all the cars--the beach looked almost empty. They would have it to themselves, the dark blue-green water and light blue sky, the rocks jutting out of the ocean and the pines turned away from the wind.
Hannah's misgivings faded and she felt content. "I love it here," she said. "I wish I could get away like this more often."
Jesse squeezed her shoulder and looked down at her seriously. "I'm probably doing it all wrong with you, girl." He called her "girl" in a tone of endearment Hannah found very pleasant.
"What do you mean by that?" Hannah asked, putting her free arm around his stomach and hugging him close.
"I'm too good to you."
Hannah laughed. "Oh, Jesse!"
"I mean it," Jesse said, sounding slightly offended. "Bruce says the trick is not letting a woman come to close. You let her know she's important to you, you be too nice to her, and she just uses you."
Hannah laughed again, more uncomfortably this time. "I don't think I'd like Bruce."
"Maybe you would." Jesse's single eyebrow descended upon his small eyes.
"But I like it when you're good to me."
"Yeah, you're different, Hannah," Jesse said gently, his eyebrow lifting. "You're still a girl. My Oregon girl."
Hannah heaved a sigh of relief at the shift in mood. "But woman enough, don't you think?" she said, laughing and stroking Jesse's hair. "I wasn't exactly completely innocent when I ran into you."
"If you had been, I wouldn't have slept with you."
Hannah's arms fell to her sides. "Huh?"
"If you'd been a virgin, I would have respected that."
"Uh huh." Hannah shoved her hands in the pockets of her jeans. "And you don't respect me, is that it?"
"I didn't say that," he objected mildly. "I just think a girl's virginity should be saved for someone special." Jesse looked out at the brilliantly blue ocean. "I think if I ever marry, I'd like to marry a virgin."
Hannah gave a short laugh, looking at Jesse in disbelief. "Good luck finding her. You almost hit the jackpot with me."
"I know," Jesse said, sliding his hand to the nape of her neck and kissing her. "I could kick myself for not having been a little earlier."
"But then we wouldn't be sleeping together. You would have to respect me." Hannah was trying desperately to make a joke out of Jesse's unfortunate comments, but he didn't respond.
"The wind is only up here," Jesse decided. "Down on the beach it will be protected."
"No it won't. The wind is coming from the west."
"Northwest," Jesse corrected her. "We should be able to find a sheltered spot." He went back to his truck and got out the small red and white Coleman cooler. Hugging her jacket around her, Hannah followed him halfway, and he threw her the blanket.
The path down to the beach was lined with trees, sheltering them some from the wind, but as soon as they emerged from the protection of the skimpy forest, a strong gust did its best to tear the blanket from Hannah's arms. "Shit!" she said. Her excremental expletive was hurled somewhere farther down the beach.
Jesse headed for a big rock to the north of them, and they scrunched their heads into their shoulders and made like turtles for their trudge against the wind. When they were finally standing behind the boulder, Hannah heaved a huge sigh and dropped the blanket in the sand.
"See!" Jesse said triumphantly. "What did I tell you?"
They spread the blanket out on the sand, being careful not to go beyond the bounds of the protection provided by the boulder. Crab and French bread, nutcracker, knives, forks and hammer emerged from cooler and backpack. Hannah pulled off a crab leg and cracked the shell with the nutcracker. "Jesse, what did you mean back there when you said I was different?" she asked, not looking up from what she was doing.
"You haven't learned the tricks yet, girl." He bit into a piece of bread.
"The games women play," Jesse explained, his mouth full of French bread.
"Do you think all women play games?" She dug the meat out of the leg with a knife and spread it on a cracker.
"Well, they can't be trusted, that's for sure."
Hannah looked up from her crab. "You talk as if all women were the same."
"I know women. You treat them well and they just fuck you over. I'm too mellow, and I keep getting fucked over." Jesse pulled a leg off the crab and broke it in two. His soft voice had become harsh.
Hannah looked at him and tried to figure out how he saw himself. She had been charmed by a gentleness in him when they'd first met, but mellow was something else entirely. Jesse and another guy had crashed a party Hannah was invited to, and she had been slightly high and slightly drunk and wandering around guessing people's sun signs. She had looked into Jesse's soft blue eyes and said "air" and then "Libra," and Jesse had been infinitely impressed. Only it wasn't quite fair, because he was actually on the cusp of Scorpio.
"Is it mellow when you get into a drunken brawl?" Hannah asked, looking at him skeptically with the excessive wisdom of the over-bright eighteen-year-old.
"Come on, girl, not that again," Jesse complained. "I've already told you, he deserved it."
Jesse ignored the question. "Usually I let people get away with too much. Everyone back in Chicago said I was too mellow."
"That was Chicago, this is Oregon."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Jesse asked unbelievingly.
"What's mellow in Chicago isn't exactly mellow in Oregon, I guess."
"Are you trying to tell me I'm not mellow? What do you know? Everyone's always told me I'm mellow." The crab was lying on the blanket, forgotten.
"But how could you get into a fight in a bar?" Hannah asked again in her youthful stubbornness.
"You weren't there. You wouldn't understand." Suddenly Jesse remembered the crab and tackled another leg with determination.
"No, I guess I wouldn't," Hannah muttered, seeking comfort in seafood. There was definitely comfort to be found there. It was excellent, tender and moist and mildly fishy, the flavor enhanced by a dab of mayonnaise. Hannah convinced herself it wasn't that important, and at the moment she had the sun and the sand and the crab and the blue of the sky and the sea. She rhymed everything together so neatly that she was left with only a slight uneasiness. But she also avoided asking Jesse any more questions.