BACK TO NATURE
Ah, Friday afternoon. Cheryl had been waiting all week for it to roll around.
Tonight was the night that she was going to show her friend Richard what camping in the great outdoors was all about. She met him by accident one day at ABC, and by some divine force, they became very good, close friends. He almost constantly visited her on the "Wheel of Fortune" set, where she worked, whenever he took a 10 minute cigarette break. He teased her about working on a different game show and that she should come and work for him on "Family Feud" as a 'personal assistant.' By the way, did I mention that Richard's last name is Dawson?
Cheryl packs a few things into her pickup truck, a small black Chevy shortbox. She's got some cooking utensils, a couple of backpacks for hiking, a couple messkits, and two thick sleeping bags.
4:30 comes around and she hops into her truck and heads out to pickup Richard. She could hardly keep her mind on her driving as she tooled down the freeway towards Beverly Hills.
"I wonder what he'll be wearing..."
Throwing an extra pair of socks and an extra undershirt in a backpack, Richard's starting to get excited about his first camping trip. Coming from England, he's never seen a desert sunset or sunrise, or even heard the call of the wild. But he really wasn't sure what was more exciting, seeing the desert for the first time or spending time with a lady whom he'd become quite attached to. As he tosses a couple of sweatshirts in his pack, he smiles, hoping that maybe the desert will be cold enough so that she'll wear one of them.
Forty-five minutes after leaving her house, Cheryl pulls into Richard's driveway and beeps the horn. Richard opens his front door and waves to her as he comes out carrying his stuff.
"Hello, darlin'," he says cheerfully in his charming English accent. She gets out and helps him toss his stuff in the back. Her eyes never left his body.
"He makes that flannel shirt look almost too warm! And those tight jeans are killing me. How did he ever shoehorn himself into those without cutting off his circulation?"
"And good day to you, too, my lovely," she says with an ear-to-ear grin.
Once all is secure, he climbs into the cab next to her, and off to the desert they go.
"So," he asks, "where are we going? And don't say 'the desert', because I already know that."
She laughs. "I know this great spot out near Kingman, Arizona. It's open and untouched and looks beautiful."
He smiles and rests one elbow out the open window and rubs her arm with the other hand. "You sure know a lot about what looks beautiful, don't you, darlin'?"
After driving for almost two hours straight with a man who sang along to every song on the radio, Cheryl goes off the beaten path and follows some old tire tracks off-road to the spot. Richard's head never stayed still; he was looking at the scenery with childlike enthusiasm. This was every western movie he'd ever seen come to life. Every once in a while, she could hear him say 'wow' or something to that effect, bringing a smile to her face. She parks the truck near a small untouched stream that seems to have been put there just for them.
"This is incredible!" he says as he slowly gets out. "I had no idea that the desert was this enormous!"
"Yeah," she says. "I think the desert is the last place on earth that isn't corrupted by human hands." She watches him walk about ten steps or so, then stops with his hands on his hips, just looking at the land. Something about him was making him more intellectually attractive to her. Maybe it was the way he stared at the vastness of the desert, or maybe it was just wondering what thoughts were running through his mind. With a grin on her lips, she walks up behind him and puts her chin on his shoulder. He doesn't turn around, but rather sticks his hands out behind him and holds her against him.
"You like the view already?" she asks.
"Yes," he replies simply. He smiles as her arms come around his waist and give him a little squeeze.
"Come on," she says, "you can help me build a fire so I can cook dinner."
After their dinner of fish, which were caught in the stream, the twosome grabbed their packs and wandered a little ways into the desert. They climbed a few of the buttes and looked at the red floor below. Richard stopped to look at every flower and cactus he saw, obviously intrigued by their ability to maintain their beauty in such a desolate place. He would pick up a handful of the red earth and look at it, letting the small kernels of clay and dirt fall slowly back to the ground. He was really, truly enjoying himself.
As night fell, Cheryl restarted the fire while Richard unrolled the sleeping bags in the bed of her truck. Once he's done, he comes over and sits by the fire. He holds his hands out towards the flames, feeling its raw warmth.
"Mmmmm... this feels nice," he says with a smile. "It's different than a fire in a fireplace." Cheryl looks up from across the fire at his face. He looks so natural and rugged in the firelight.
"You better take off your ring if you hold your hands out near the fire. It'll get hot if you're not careful," she warns. She watches as he works the gold ring loose from his little finger. Something about that simple act was exciting her, but before she could look away, he motions her over to him.
Handing her his ring, he asks, "Can you hold onto this for me? I'm afraid I'll lose it."
"Yeah," she says. She takes off her necklace and slides his large ring onto the chain, then puts it back around her neck.
"He wears this ring on his small finger and it's huge! I had no idea his hands were that big... and strong."
Just as she gets up to walk away, he stops her. "Don't run off. Stay here," he says, gently. Richard sounded so sweet and genuine that she couldn't say no. She sits back down next to him and he puts a comforting arm around her shoulder. "Don't leave me to the elements, Cheryl. I wouldn't know how to defend myself." He squeezes her gently.
"I think you'd figure it out pretty quick," she says with a laugh. She looks at his face, her eyes held spellbound by the majestic green haze in his. "Richard, did anyone ever you that you have the most beautiful eyes?"
He smiles. "No. At least, not by anyone who mattered." He leans closer to her. "You're the first one who matters." Richard takes her hand and says, "You can look at them for as long as you like. I mean it." His voice takes a serious tone as he says, "Cheryl, I think you are the most vibrant woman I have ever met. I mean it. I feel so calm around you, so peaceful around you."
Cheryl smiles back at him and says, "I feel the same way around you, Richard. I like being with you, too. But I suppose everyone tells you that."
He chuckles. "Not really. A lot of people hate me. If they say they like me, it's probably because they feel like they have to it. I bet no one means it."
"I don't know how anyone could hate you. You're a nice man."
"Thanks." He looks up at the diamond-filled sky, then looks back at her. "So, if I'm such a nice guy, why haven't you kissed me before?"
A warm jolt shot through her whole body. "Well, I didn't want to seem like I was pushing myself onto you."
He covers his eyes and smiles, just enough to make a dimple appear in his cheek. "Stop, darlin'. That suggestion might get me aroused." The both of them laugh. Richard looks at her again. "Seriously, love. Why haven't you ever tried to kiss me before?"
She takes a stick and pokes at the fire, trying to avoid the question. "Well... I'm just a stage manager. Do you have any idea how strange it would look if I tried to make a move on the sexiest game show host on television?"
His eyes get bigger. "You tried to put the moves on Bob Eubanks?" he jokes.
"No!" she disagrees, laughing loudly.
He laughs at her response, too. "So, you think I'm the sexiest game show host on television?"
She gets serious again. "Oh, come on, Richard. What woman doesn't? I'm just another lady whose knees turn to jell-o whenever they hear you talk."
Richard turns his face towards the fire. He wants so badly for her to kiss him. He looks back at her, with a small twinkle in his eye and says, "Cheryl, if I asked you to, would you kiss me?"
"Like you do to the contestants on your show?"
"No," he says. "No show, for real. I want to know what it's like to kiss a lady who likes me for who I am, and not for what I've become."
"Oh, my God. He wants me to kiss him..."
"Alright. If you really want me to," she answers. Slowly and steadily, he leans into her and presses his lips tenderly onto hers. For a split second, she didn't feel special, but as soon as she felt his lips separate just a little bit, she knew he meant what he said. He gently pinched her lips between his, his tongue staying back away from her. He touched the side of her face as he tilted his head to the other side as he continued to enjoy her mouth.
When they separated, she opens her eyes and says, "Wow, that was..."
She smiles. "Yeah. Yummy." He smiles back and pulls her in closer to him, resting his cheek on the top of her head.
"You are truly an amazing woman. You've shown me new and exciting things that I've never seen, and you're not afraid to share. You are so special and precious to me."
Cheryl wasn't sure if she should sigh with relief or cry from happiness. "No one's ever called me 'precious' before."
Richard brings his other hand up and strokes her face. "Then they're blind, my darlin'. Blind with ignorance." She couldn't help but wrap him in her arms and hold him close. She closes her eyes and inhales deep, sniffing his cologne from his chest and letting it permeate her soul.
"Hey," she says, raising her head, "wanna make s'mores?"
He gets a puzzled look on his face. "Some more what?"
"S'mores. You know, chocolate and marshmallows on graham crackers."
"Never heard of 'em. But they sound good." She lets him go and gets a grocery bag out of the truck with all the fixings. She pulls out a couple marshmallow toasters that she made out of wire coat hangers.
"Open the bag and stick a marshmallow on the hanger," she instructs. Richard obeys like a well-trained animal. "Now hold it over the fire."
Richard watches as the white marshmallow turns a nice light brown color. "When do I take it off the flame, love?"
"When it's black."
"Black? You mean, when it's burnt?"
"Yeah. It's the only way to eat them!"
He shrugs his shoulders. "Ok, dear. Whatever you say." Once his 'mallow turned black, he takes it off the fire and she puts it between two crackers with a half of a Hershey bar underneath.
"Ok. Go ahead and try it."
Trying to find an end that's small enough to fit into his mouth, Richard says, "I suppose there's no way to eat this neatly, huh?"
"You don't eat s'mores neatly, Dickie. They're supposed to me messy."
He looks at the s'more again. "Oh." He manages to bite a big hunk off the one side, letting the melting chocolate and marshmallow ooze from the corners of his mouth. "Hey, these aren't bad," he tries to say with his mouth full.
While watching Richard, a neat and proper English gentleman, Cheryl has made hers and chows along with him. "Told ya. This is official campout food." She reaches up and wipes some of the stickiness off his baby-smooth face and holds it in front of his lips. "Forgot some."
He looks her in the eyes as he licks the sugary sweetness off her finger. "Thanks." He takes another big bite, letting the same thing happen all over again... and loving every minute of it.
"You're getting marshmallow all over your face again," she points out.
"You told me that there's no way to eat these politely."
He sets his s'more down in the messkit she brought for him. "So? So come over here and kiss this sticky stuff off my face."
"Kiss it off?" she asks, amused.
"Yeah. And use your tongue. Make sure I'm spit and polished."
She laughs as she touches his face and brings him closer. Just like she was licking an ice cream cone, Cheryl lapped the gooey white stuff off his lips and his chin, swallowing it. "Mmm. That tastes soooo good," she says. Richard enjoyed feeling her kiss him with her tongue. "There you go. All nice and sparkely clean."
"Aww. I wanted more."
"More tongue?" she asks with a smile.
"Yeah. I liked it." He turned on his little boy charm as he smeared a little melted chocolate on his lips and chin. "Please do it again."
She smiles. "Messy, messy boy." This time, he licks some of the sweetness from her tongue as she licked him again. Her temperature was going through the roof; she felt like she was on fire.
After they've stuffed themselves on junk food and some very tasty kissing, they lounge fireside in each others arms, watching the stars and listening to the night music made by the crickets. The moment is suddenly shattered by the howling of a distant coyote.
"What was that?" Richard asks with a small amount of fear in his voice.
"A coyote. I think." Another howl comes from someplace closer. Cheryl snuggles close to Richard, clutching his chest.
"Do they bite?" he asks.
"Bite? Yeah, just before they eat!" She stands up and jumps in the bed of her truck. "Hop in." Richard, showing off as usual, hops over the edge of the bed without using the tailgate.
"Now what do we do?" he asks. Cheryl looks at her watch.
"Well, it's 11:30. Wanna turn in?"
As they're situating the sleeping bags, Richard says, "Here. Put yours under mine."
She stops. "Why?"
"Well," he begins, "I thought maybe you and I could share mine. To sleep in." She looks a little unsure; she knows how he acts on camera. "I won't try anything funny. I promise, no jokes."
She laughs. "Ok." They both take off their hiking boots and Richard climbs into the sleeping bag.
"Come on, love. Time to snuggle," he says with a grin on his face. Cheryl slides into the bag and into Richard's strong arms. "There you go. No coyote will getcha now."
"Of course not," she says. "They'll have to pry me out of the arms of a wolf."
Jokingly, he responds, "Hey, that's not nice. I couldn't help it. You were walking through the woods to see your grandmother and you stopped to talk with me." She starts laughing. "By the way, would you like your red hood back?", he asks. They both share a laugh.
Laying on her side with her back against his chest, she asks, "Richard, how come you're not seeing anyone? I mean, you're so nice and charming. Any woman with a brain would snatch you up right away."
He sighs. "I don't know, dearheart. He strokes her cheek again. "Guess I'm not as desirable as you think."
"I think your very desirable."
He smiles. "Really?"
"Yeah. You're funny, sexy, and very intelligent. What's not desirable? You're everything a woman could ever want all rolled into one."
"Stop it, I'll blush," he says, as he imitates Paul Lynde. She rolls over on her other side and faces him as she laughs.
"Go ahead and blush. Who's gonna know besides us?" she says. And at that moment, she finally realizes that now is the time to tell him what she's felt for such a long time. She plays with his collar as she says, "Richard, I love you."
He slowly stops laughing and brushes his fingers through her hair. "You love me?"
"Yes. I can't go on pretending I don't anymore. I want to be the one woman who woke up and smelled the roses and took you off the singles shelf. I want you for my own."
"You don't think I'm a... a vain, temperamental ego-maniac? Or to use the vernacular, a slimeball?"
"You're too beautiful a human being to be any of those things. I don't believe any of it. Anyone who'd say that about you is just jealous of everything you possess."
He gives her a sideways grin and says, "You mean I'm not gonna make you change your mind about me?"
"Well," he says as he puts an arm under her head, "then I guess I'm just going to have to let you love me."
She cuddles in close and says, "I'm afraid so." Their lips meet again, feeling better than the last time. She couldn't believe how soft and sweet his lips are. Cheryl's hand reaches up and slides over his ear as she holds him to her, compelling him to roll partially onto her. Gently his mouth moved off of hers and down to her chin, then down the side of her face and onto her neck. She could feel his breath escape from his nose and settle in her ear. Her mouth was right in front of his neck and she kissed it softly, making him groan.
"I wish we could stay out here forever," he says. "Nobody to bother us, just you and me."
"Mmm," she hums, "that'd be wonderful, wouldn't it?"
"Absolutely." He retreats from her neck and looks at her as her fingers feel every razor crease in his face. "Do you think you and I have a future together? Please say that we do."
"Yes. I want someone to come home to after work. Someone to meet me at the front door and kiss me when I walk in. I'm middle-aged, Cheryl, and I'm missing out on one of life's greatest gifts." He nervously giggles and adds, "Don't worry, I'm not asking you to marry me."
She's astounded. "You mean you'd consider marrying me?"
"Definitely. But that's only after we've spent plenty of time together. I don't want to rush you into anything, you know."
"Richard, say the word and I'll spend the rest of my life with you."
He smiles kindly and says, "Not yet. Let's just take things one day at a time. And one kiss at a time." He bends down and kisses her again. Cheryl's heart was melting quickly with every word he said. She parted her lips as they kissed and he took full advantage of it. Gently he tasted her lips with the tip of his tongue, trying not to scare her. She wasn't able to control her herself and touched his tongue with hers, slowly and passionately dancing in his mouth, then into hers. He could taste the chocolate she licked from his face. This is the smoothest kiss she's ever received.
"You are the greatest kisser in the world," she says after they pause for a breath.
"And just think," he says with a smile, "I'm all yours."
She hugs him and says, "Oh, God. Just hearing you say that makes me happy."
"It makes me happy, too, darlin'. Very happy."
Morning comes quickly in the desert. In the early hours, the temperature is already in the mid-70's. This is what Richard found when he awoke the next morning, with Cheryl sleeping by his side. He smiles and carefully brushes some of her hair from her face before he gets out of the sleeping bag. He's as quiet as a church mouse as he grabs his boots, puts them on, and hops over the side of the truck. He gingerly takes out his back pack and retrieves a clean undershirt and heads for the stream.
Cheryl, in the meantime, stirs and rolls over. Her face comes to rest on a pleasingly warm spot that smells just like Richard. Her eyes open to see that he's not there, but her ears hear water splashing. She gets up and looks over the edge of the truckbed, and sees Richard washing up in the little stream.
Cheryl almost went into cardiac arrest when she saw the water rush down his muscular, perfectly tanned chest, dripping off his nipples and his chest hairs and soaking the waistline of his jeans. She watched as he cupped his hands again and brought some of the cool water up and into his brown hair, saturating it. He shakes his head and lets his hair fall where it wants, curling a little.
Still ringing wet, Richard stands up and puts his white undershirt on and looks at Cheryl with a smile. "Well," he says, looking at himself, "wanna have a wet t-shirt contest?"
She starts laughing as he walks over to her. "You win. I don't stand a chance this early in the day." Richard leans over the edge of the bed and kisses her on the lips. He climbs up on the back bumper and looks down at her with a huge smile. He didn't realize it, but his head was blocking the sun in such a way that when Cheryl looks up at him, it looked like a halo. She reaches up for his belt, pulling him down into the bed. "Get in here, boy."
"What the-" He tumbles into the box and rolls over onto his back where he's immediately covered by Cheryl.
"I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?" she asks, feeling his chest for any 'broken' parts.
"Na. I'm fine." He playfully grabs her by the shoulders and says to her in his best James Cagney impression, "So, are you gonna make out with me for a while, or what?"
She laughs. "If you think you can handle it."
Pulling her closer to his mouth, he says, "Go ahead and try me, sister." As their lips pressed and clutched each other, his hands wrapped around her waist and squeezed. Kissing down to her ear, he says softly, "I can't wait until you and I can really make love."
"What's stopping us from doing it now?" she asks.
He lifts her chin and looks her in the eyes and says, "I want that moment to be extremely special, love. I don't believe in doing that kind of thing on a whim. The timing must be right."
"But we're alone-" He puts a finger over her lips to stop her from speaking.
"Yes, I know. But I want to make it the most memorable experience of our lives. A lady like you deserves to be romanced with candlelight, champagne, maybe even some soft music. When any two people make love for the first time together, it should be meaningful, not just for pleasure's sake." He smiles gently and whispers, "Understand?"
She couldn't believe it. He's always playing around like he's got a different girl every week and that he's bedded every one of them. Was he for real?
"Richard, do you really mean everything you've just said?" she asks.
"Yes," he answers, "every word." Cheryl can't understand it, but she appreciates his honesty and his consideration for her.
"Well," she asks hesitantly, "can we still make out for a while? I promise not to tease."
He smiles and says, "Makin' out is fine. I enjoy the exercise." He places his moist lips onto hers, secretly wanting her to tongue him again.
"Richard," she begs, "kiss me like you did last night. Please." Her request rattled around in his ears and made his heart jump around in his chest. She kissed him as if she was starving her whole life for love and affection. He could feel her mouth open to him, and he willingly kissed her as deep as he could. Carefully, he rolled her over on her back, laying his thick body on hers.
"Every time you kiss me," he says sweetly, "my heart wants to burst from your touch."
"Burst? That can't be good."
"It's a good burst, darlin'. Very good." His mouth paints her neck with kisses as her fingers run up and down the full length of his strong back, feeling his torso rise and fall with each gentle breath he draws in. She opens her eyes and sees the blue sky, cloudless and beautiful.
"It can't get any better than this."
"I don't want this to ever end," he says. "I think we oughta quit society and stay out her forever."
"I wish we could, Richard."
He backs off of her for a few moments and says, "I feel guilty. Now you'll have to share me with a million people every week."
"But remember," she reminds him, "I'll be there when you get home. And give you a big kiss when you come through the front door." Cheryl smiles as his face lights up with joy.
"I forgot," he beams. "Now I can say that I got someone waiting for me at home." They share another laugh and return to kissing one another. Cheryl stops when she feels something hard pressing against her chest. She pulls her necklace out and sees that Richard's ring is still on it.
"I forgot to give this back to you," she says.
"Keep it. That way I know it's not lost. Now, where were we?" He kisses her again, picking up where they left off.
Monday morning. The worst time of day on the worst day of the week. Cheryl was back to work on the set of 'Wheel of Fortune' and Richard was back taping 'Family Feud.' But the memories of the weekend will stay with her forever.
As she was cutting new gels for the lights, a pair of hands came around her head and covered her eyes.
"Guess who," came a gravely voice. Cheryl is always in the mood for a good joke, so she figures she'll play along.
"Bob, I told you never when I'm-" The hands drop for her face.
"Bob??" It was Richard, with a fake shocked look on his face.
Slowly a smile creeps onto his face. "You dirty rat." He puts his arms around her and kisses her hello. "How ya doin', my darlin'?"
"Fine. How about you?"
"Alright." He bends down and whispers in her ear, "I'm still digging sand out from under my fingernails. I think I'm going to have to give up rock climbing." She laughs.
"So," says Richard, "are we going out to dinner tonight? Or am I going to make you dinner."
She sets down her gel frames and puts her arms around his waist. "How about if we stay home, and I'll cook you dinner." He smiles and squeezes her.
"Oooh, that sounds good." He looks at his watch. "Damn. I gotta get back to the set. The producers frown upon doing a show with no host."
"Alright," she says as she kisses him on the lips, "I'll be done around 5 o'clock or so, so I'll see you then."
His face wrinkles with disappointment. "I won't be home until 6:30."
"It's alright, Richard," she says as she takes his hand and smiles, "I'll still be there to kiss you when you walk through the door, and I'll have your dinner on the table."
He kisses her again. "Thanks, love. I'll make it up to you."
"I know you will," she says with a sly grin. "When the time is right and the lights are low, you'll make it up to me."