You drive down the steep asphalt, our bicycles entwined in the back of your silver-grey Volkswagen Rabbit. You drum the steering wheel with your palms as Bono belts out, “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.” I am from the suburbs and have never been to Hidden Falls Park before. You grew up a block away, know the trails along the river like I know the malls.
While pretending to help you unload our bikes, I watch your sinewy arms and competent hands. You are slender and tall, a mass of elbows and sharp knees. I am padded, perhaps with leftover baby fat. I brush a dry leaf from your hair, and you tug on my limp, black ponytail. At eighteen, we are both bold and timid.
Hidden Falls winds its way along the Mississippi until it enters another park, Crosby Farm. I follow you down trails bumpy with the intruding root systems of poplar and maple. It has been a snowy winter and the river has overtaken its banks, flooding much of the park’s trails. The trunks of trees stand firm in standing water like bathers afraid to take the plunge. We bike through brush and puddles, splattering our shirts with mud. I look for farms, but see nothing but more trees and water.
Then the topography sharpens, undulating into ups and downs until I find myself following you boldly down a steep turn, rocks and tree roots rattling my tires. I peddle behind you, and the wind whips at your t-shirt, exposing your pale back. My own brown skin seems even darker next to your springtime whiteness.
You have stopped to watch my progress when I go down, lose control on the incline. As I fall, I watch you watching me. You stand at the bottom, straddling your bike, coated in muck and dirt, a scrape on your hand brilliant red with fresh drawn blood. I don’t quite go head over handlebars, but I tumble down faster than my bike. Yours topples as you lurch towards me. Are you okay? you ask.
Your hands are warm on my thigh as you inspect my skinned knee. We touch under the pretense of emergency; I take your hand and place my arm around your neck as I hobble down the trail. We sit in the dirt and drink from the same water bottle, the spout touching both our lips.
We reach the Rabbit before dusk. It is early spring and the sun is setting later and later, that sure sign of coming summer and freedom. The park is littered with boaters launching into the river and families picnicking in the shelters. A car speeds through the quiet parking lot. Teenagers, you say, although we are teenagers ourselves.