“Why did you have sleeping bags in the back if we were just going to the mall to buy you some new pants?” Diane asked.
“We had talked about going camping,” Jack said, wrestling the tent out of its carry bag, aluminum stakes clattering to the ground.
“And a tent?”
“Of course,” he said, stooping to gather the stakes. “What good are sleeping bags without a tent?”
“OK,” she said. She began to kick stick and small stones away from the flat spot in woods he had indicated, slowly and with a pout.
“It’ll be fun, sweetheart,” Jack said. “A real adventure.”
“Yeah, you keep saying that.” Diane hugged herself, pressing the flannel and fleece against her small, tender breasts.
“I don’t have my medicine,” she said in a low voice.
“You can miss one night, right?”
“It’s not good to skip a dose.”
“But one night?”
“Yeah, I guess not.”
Diane helped Jack set up the tent and unroll the sleeping bags. They walked in the woods together, the air crisp and clean, the first bite of fall in the air. They gathered stones and wood for a fire and ate Clif Bars Jack had thrown in the car with the camping equipment. They sat on a fallen tree in front of the fire and held hands.
“You’re crushing my fingers,” he said.
“Sorry,” Diane replied. “I just never spent much time in the woods when I was… when I was younger.”
“Your hands are so strong,” he said, teasing.
“I just said you are strong.”
Her eyes began to brim with tears. He kissed her lips and salty eyes and cheeks until she started to laugh. He hugged her tight and said into the hollow of her neck, “Let’s get in the tent.” He felt her nod. They took off their clothes in the last light of the dying fire, shivering with pleasure from the cool night air and clambered into the tent and their sleeping bags; they had zipped them into a double-wide and huddled together until warm, their bodies entwined.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too,” Diane said. “I love you so much.”
He slid his hand down to her small breasts and cupped one.
“Just be careful,” she said. “They are still tender.”
“They are perfect. Perfect,” he said.
He slid his hand further and stroked her limp penis.
“The hormones,” she said. “It just… it won’t.”
“It doesn’t matter,”
“It’ll be better after the surgery. I’ll get healed up and I’ll be, you know, a real girl.”
“You are a real girl,” he said, caressing her scrotum.
“If I were a real girl…” she said, sadness in her voice. She held his limp penis in her hand and began to sob.
“Oh, Honey,” he said. “Sweetheart.”
“No, I’ll be OK. I just shouldn’t have skipped my medicine.”
“We can go back,” Jack offered.
“No, I’ll just take it in the morning. I’ll be fine.” She pulled him to her and buried her head in his chest. “Just hold me.”
He held her until they both drifted off.
The first crack of a fallen limb didn’t wake Diane, nor did the second.
“Jack,” she whispered. She pushed against his chest to wake him. “Jack!” she whispered louder. He mumbled indistinctly and rolled over. “Jack,” she said again, slapping at his back.
“What’s the matter, baby?” he said absently.
“I think there’s someone outside.”
He propped himself up on one elbow and rubbed his face. “Probably just a raccoon.”
“I don’t think it’s a raccoon.” She sat up and groped around the tent for her sweater and pulled it on.
“Listen,” she said, resting a hand on his shoulder.
For a few moments, there were just the too-loud sounds of their breathing and the wind in the trees. Diane thought she could hear her own beating heart.
“Sweetie…” Jack began, but he was cut off by a rustling outside and the snapping of twigs.
“See?” Diane hissed. “I told you.”
“It’s probably just an animal,” Jack said, finding his own clothes and trying to dress in the dark tent.
“What if it’s a bear?!?”
“It’s not a bear.”
“But what if it is?” She grunted while trying to jam her left shoe on her right foot.
“It’s not a bear,” he whispered loudly.
A fallen limb cracked right near the tent, like a gunshot tearing open the night. They froze, atavistic instincts taking over. All the other small animals of the night fell silent.
“Jack,” Diane said, little more than a frightened sigh.
They could hear it breathing outside the tent. Huge breaths. Ragged. A wave of horripilation ran up both of Diane’s arms as there came a low growl. She answered the thin screech of claws testing the nylon of the tent with a hoarse scream. Jack poked her in the eye as he tried to cover her mouth and she yelped in pain before he could quiet her.
“LADYBOY,” a guttural voice said, the word barely discernible.
“Steve?” Jack said, surprised. “Steve is that you?”
The breathing outside intensified, like the chuffing of a steam engine.
Jack cried out when Diane bit his fingers.
“Who the fuck is ‘Steve?!?’” she managed, before the tent and then a massive body landed on them both.