"My boobs are too big for this thing," I say irritably. "It doesn't fit."
He steers the kayak to the side of the river and holds on to a branch to stop us from moving forward. "Lean toward me," Avi says.
I expect him to make some comment about my cleavage which now, thanks to the life jacket, resembles butt cheeks. But he doesn't. Instead, he leans forward and takes the straps, loosens them to make them longer, and fastens them.
When I realize we're not moving and are still against the bank of the river, I look up. Avi is still close to me, his face inches from mine.
Suddenly I start to feel something in the pit of my stomach. Like I'm going to be sick, but not.
He's watching me intensely and his nearness is making me dizzy. Then he leans closer and closer.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
He touches his fingers lightly to my cheek and all I can think about is the softness of his fingertips on my skin.
"I'm going to kiss you," he explains.
At first, I'm dumbfounded.
"I have a boyfriend," I blurt out softly.
"I know," he says as he rubs my lip gently with his thumb.
"And ...and you're a jerk most of the time."
His lips are so close I can feel the heat of them.
"Yeah," I say nervously.
"Stop talking so I can kiss you."
Before I can answer with some smart-ass remark, his lips are on mine. And when I say it's nothing like I've ever felt before, I mean it.
I have to be detailed here so you get the whole picture.
So one hand of his is on my face, cupping it gently as if it was porcelain and could break at the slightest touch. Then he slowly brushes his lips against mine, almost as if he's painting each part of my mouth with his.
It's wonderful. It's intoxicating. And it's totally intense to the point that my mind is reeling out of control. Mitch never kissed me like he would treasure and memorize my lips forever.
When he slowly pulls back and drops his fingers from my cheek, I say, "Why did you do that?"
His mouth twists into a wry smile. "Why did I kiss you or why did I stop kissing you?"
"The first one."
He settles on his seat in the kayak and leans back. I hear the birds chirping in the trees and the wind shaking the leaves. As if they're whispering about what just happened between me and Avi. I wonder what they're saying.
"You needed it," he finally says.
Somewhere in all of this my sunglasses have fallen off and are resting on the bottom of the kayak. I snatch them up and push them back on the bridge of my nose before he can tell what I'm truly feeling.
"Excuse me?" I say. I needed to be kissed? What the hell kind of comment is that?
He pushes the kayak away from the bank of the river, picks up an oar, and starts paddling. Then he hands me the other oar. What I really want to do is bang him over the head with the thing. Instead, I yank my oar from his grip and say dumbly, "You kissed me."
He shrugs and paddles some more, the muscles in his arms flexing each time he strokes against the small current. "Just forget about it."
As if I could. That wasn't just some little peck--that was like a slam dunk in the NBA playoffs. And it wasn't even a French kiss, but it was more intimate. I don't know exactly what I was feeling during it. My whole being, my whole spirit, was involved. Not just my lips. I know I'm sounding like a geek, even to myself. And before you think it, it wasn't the four-letter word called love.
"Amy?" he says.
"What?" I think he's going to apologize and tell me our kiss was a soul-searching experience and it's changed his life forever.
"As in 'wait, I have something to tell you'?" I ask.
"As in 'hold on to the kayak, we're reaching the rapids.'"
If you start a fight, I'll finish it.
If I tell you my life just flashed before my eyes, I'd be telling you the truth. Even Avi's kiss seems like a million years ago as I turn around and see the running waves, the bubbling water, and the white, foamy top to the rapids.
"I don't want to die!" I screech.
"You're not going to die," he says loudly above the sound of the massive rush of water. "Just stay on that side of the kayak so we don't tip over."
"I can't swim," I admit to him.
"You have a life jacket on. Just relax. If we tip you'll be safe."
"I'm scared." And all I want to do is have him hold me so I feel safe. I close my eyes tightly as I hold a deathgrip on the sides of the kayak.
"Don't worry, I'd never let anything happen to you. Just talk to me and it'll be over before you know it."
"What do you want me to talk about?" I say.
Does he want me to tell him where I want to be buried or who I'd like to say my eulogy after we DIE in this river? I think he might not be able to hear me because I know he's working hard by the way the kayak is maneuvering around the rapids.
"Tell me about your mom."
Not the best start to a conversation at this moment. I guess it's better than talking about my burial.
"She's going to marry her boyfriend."
"You don't like the guy?"
"Not really," I say emphatically.
"So move in with your aba. "
I open my eyes. "My aba?"
"You know ...Ron. Aba 'vs. father in Hebrew."
"I know that. But I'm for sure not moving in with him."
"Doesn't he live in Chicago?"
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem is that he's not my father. Biologically speaking, maybe. We have a lot to work out between us before he can be considered a real father."
"If you say so," he says matter-of-factly.
I'm suddenly aware we've passed the rapids and are now slowly gliding down the river.
"Don't tell me Moses survived going down this river in a basket as a newborn," I say.
He throws his head back and gives a hardy laugh, the first I've seen or heard from him.
"That would be the Nile River, Amy."
"Yeah, well I'll stick to bathtubs. They're much less dangerous."
We ride the rest of the way in silence and I rest my head on the rim of the kayak. I hope some sun rays will give me a golden tan and not burn my skin to a crisp. Believe it or not, I'm trying not to think about that comment Avi said to me after our kiss. But, in fact, I'm obsessing about it.
You needed it. Yeah, that's what he said. Can you believe it?
Maybe he needed it. Either way, it's not going to happen again. What would I say to Mitch? Maybe I shouldn't even tell him I kissed another guy. It's not like he's going to find out on his own or anything. And it didn't mean anything; it was just an innocent one-timer.
If food falling on the floor gets a five-second rule, shouldn't an innocent kiss get a one-timer rule? Of course it should, although I guess there is this itsy-bitsy-teensy-weensy part of my brain that's nagging me it wasn't an innocent kiss.
And I'm definitely ignoring the fact that there's this itsy-bitsy-teensy-weensy little part of me that wants to try it again. But not because I need it, that's for damn sure.
I sit up. Just as I'm about to ask Avi what he meant by his comment about the kiss, we catch up to the other two kayaks.
"What took you guys so long?" Snotty asks.
I instantaneously blush when everyone focuses on us. My eyes dart from Avi to the rest of the gang guiltily.
A sly smile crosses O'dead's face and he raises his eyebrows a few times.
Instead of admitting we kissed and thinking of ways to divert the attention of the others, I take my paddle (which up until now I haven't used) and whack it on the water to splash Snotty and O'dead.
My cousin and O'dead are shocked, their clothes are soaked, and I feel triumphant. Ha! That'll teach them to butt into my business.
Snotty and O'dead try paddling closer to us and I frantically paddle away from them. Looking over at my kayak partner, I notice his paddle is not even in the water.
"Help me!" I scream while laughing.
"This is your fight, not mine," he says.
To answer him, I stick my paddle in the water and whack it in his direction. Avi is now dripping with Jordan River water.
I stick my tongue out at him, then say, "Now it is your fight."
Oh, I know what's coming next. I'm not stupid enough to think I'm going to stay dry for long. When Avi's paddle goes into the water and out of the corner of my eye I see
O'dead and Snotty's kayak come closer, I just keep whacking my paddle on the river like a madwoman.
Water from all sides is coming at me. Ofra and Doo-Doo must be joining the chaos. Not that I could actually see anything, because my eyes are shut tight. For all I know I could be whacking water all over myself along with everyone else.
Suddenly, it's quiet except for my paddle hitting the water. So I stop and open my eyes.
Of course when I do, I realize it's the oldest trick in the book. Because as soon as I open my eyes, water splashes on me with a vengeance by everyone else.
"Truce!" I scream, especially when I realize how much water has entered the bottom of our kayak. "We're going to sink!"
The splashing stops and I realize we're all laughing together. And it makes me feel like I'm really part of their little club of friends.
By the time Avi and I reach the landing spot, our kayak is miraculously still floating. And waiting for us is a soldier with a machine gun slung over his shoulder.
At first, I'm startled. Then I realize who the soldier is ...it's Moron, Avis friend from the moshav. And the bandana I gave him with the peace sign is wrapped around the butt of his gun.
Wow. My gift did mean something to him.
"Hi, Moron," I say when I get out of the kayak.
He smiles at me. "Hey, Amy."
I wish I could take a picture of him smiling like that in his uniform and gun with a peace sign on it. He looks so ...nice and harmless, not like someone who would actually shoot that gun at people. I could see the caption now in some national magazine: Moron, Israeli soldier.
The way the media likes to twist things around, the caption would probably get read like this: Moron Israeli soldier. Like he's a complete idiot instead of realizing it's the guy's name.
Moron walks up to me and says, "I'll be your military escort for the rest of your trip."
Military escort? Why do we need a military escort?
"You're kidding, right?"
I don't want anyone to laugh at me so I don't ask the other questions running through my head. Listen, I'm just starting to feel comfortable with these people and I don't want to make myself an outcast again.
We take a minibus and drive for hours and hours. The landscape of this beautiful land is breathtaking ...one minute we're driving through grassy mountains resembling the rolling hills in The Sound of Music and the next we're in the middle of a large, populated city. If that weren't enough contrast, in another hour we're smack dab in the middle of a desert without a tree or house in sight.
Out the window I see Bedouin Arabs herding their goats in the desert. It's as if I'm looking at hundreds of years in the past through a piece of glass.
A half hour later I see military tanks trekking on the desert floor, shooting.
"What are they doing with those tanks?" I ask nervously.