We got to the trails: blue skies, oppressive heat, gnats swarming around our heads even before we hopped out of my car. “It’s such a beautiful day. Aren’t you glad you’re out here?” she said to me, and I can’t tell if she was rubbing it in or just oblivious to my pain. She skipped off ahead, waving at me over her shoulder, “Come on! Isn’t this so exciting! Our first hike!” She wore khaki shorts I had never seen before, revealing much more leg than I was used to. They were tight, and it dawned on me that she knew I would be lagging behind most of day.

“Are those new shorts?” Jessica stopped in her tracks, looked over her shoulder at me and smiled. Putting her hands on her hips she perked her ass out and wiggled. “What, these old things? No, I’ve had them forever.” Catching up to her, she reached back and I took her hand. She grabbed hold and tugged me along.

We arrived at the beginning of three trails, Desoto’s March 2.3 miles, Desoto’s journey 4.8 miles, and Desoto’s Great Expedition 10.6 miles. “No.” I said like a judge with a gavel.

Smiling and nodding Jessica said, “Yes.” Then she latched onto my wrist with both hands, pulling my arm towards the Great Expedition. My feet stayed planted in the ground.

“I wouldn’t drive 10.6 miles if I could take my car down that trail,” I said. Her hands slipped off my wrist as she stumbled. “You know this isn’t California. You can’t just stay out here in this humidity all day.” I stood there with my arms crossed, thinking any minute she would come back. I was wrong. She charged ahead, leaving me behind, so I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, “Nine out of ten doctors say you shouldn’t spend more than three consecutive hours in the Florida humidity”

Swaying her ass as she walked, without stopping or turning back she yelled. “Come on, you big baby.”

An hour into it and I was praying for an alligator to attack Jessica so I could return to my air-conditioned car, my air-conditioned home, and never come outside again for the rest of my life. Every new bird, lizard or insect we happened upon prompted a new conversation about the species it was and what it liked to eat, or interesting ways it had of defending itself or killing its prey. God forbid if she didn’t recognize something. She pulled out her ID book from her backpack and thumbed through it until she knew exactly what we were looking at. “You know, another place you can learn about nature? The nature channel?” I said triumphantly.

Off in the distance a faint rumbling rolled in over the canopy and we continued on our way. When Jessica first moved here she didn’t yet understand the weather in the sunshine state. She thought the clouds marching in meant the beautiful day was about to be ruined. I didn’t tell her the storms lasted less than an hour. She was a few steps ahead of me when I opened my mouth to speak. Before I got the words out, she said, “If you think I am going to turn around and head back because it’s about to rain you’re crazy.”

We came to a boardwalk, zigzagging through the mangroves with a big sign that said, “$500 fine for feeding the alligators.”

“Oh my god, I hope we see one!” Jessica exclaimed.

Me, too. I thought

Below the boardwalk the ground was mostly dry with pockets of water here and there. The exposed roots of the red mangroves jutted from the ash-colored sand like up-side-down menorahs, and the earth seemed to move at times with clusters of mangrove crabs clamoring before the rainfall. Two snowy egrets had been poking through the mud looking for scallops but took flight after being spooked by thunder. Rain tapping on the canopy above made me realize the gnats and dragon flies had all gone into hiding. Now, the slugs raced for higher ground as the hermit crabs lugged their top-heavy shells around, fighting for the same space as the mangrove crabs. Jessica put her hand in mine. “Tell me this isn’t amazing? Look!” she said, pointing at a clearing above, and a red-tailed hawk circling around looking for any prey that might be caught out in the storm.

Rain pooling on the leaves and branches above us overflowed to find lower hanging leaves and branches to flood. Wrapping my arms around Jessica I pulled her into me, squeezing her tight. As she nestled her face into my chest, I said, “Yeah this is pretty great. You were right.”

A crack from above came crashing down, so loud I felt it in my teeth before I actually heard it. Jessica screamed and clenched onto me tighter and immediately began giggling. “Ok, Ms. Nature,” I zinged at her. “That was called thunnnnnn-derrrrrr.”

“Shut up, jerk.” Jessica punched my arm. “Come on let’s go.”

We came to the end of the board walk and the trail was already flooded. Putting her hand on my shoulder for balance Jessica took off her sneakers. “Come on!”

Knowing I had no chance of persuading her otherwise, I took off my shoes and glared at the soaking wet girl whose cute dark-haired bangs were matted to her forehead. “Don’t look so pleased with yourself!” I yelled over the deafening rain crashing around us, yanking off my socks and stuffing them in my shoe. We stepped out onto the trail together, the cool water barely covering our feet. My shirt was drenched so I pulled it off and draped it over my shoulder as we trekked on. Not even twenty steps later our feet were covered. A few minutes after that the water was up to our ankles. Neither one of us had checked the weather before heading out, and I began to wonder if today was one of those rare occasions where it wasn’t going to be a quickie. Maybe we missed the reports of some hurricane that had been downgraded to a tropical storm. But that’s what Florida weather does to you. It tricks you into thinking it’s time to build an ark only to yell, “Psyche” after you bought the lumber and nails.

Ahead the trail sloped upwards to relatively dryer ground.  Once we reached safety we realized it sloped back down to even deeper water where we saw a school of fish and a stingray hanging out. I turned to Jessica and smiled sarcastically. She shrugged her shoulders. Not seeing the point in straining my voice to communicate, I shake my head and toss my shoes. She flung her backpack and I Removed the shirt from my shoulder. I held it up for Jessica to examine. I wrung out a quart of rain before throwing it into a puddle. Even though I couldn’t hear her I knew she was laughing.

Droplets of water rolled off Jessica’s face like her skin was made of glass. She looked up at me wedging her lips in on themselves as I kissed her forehead, her hands sliding up my back. Resting my chin on top of her head, I watched streams of water fall from the trees as if all their pipes were broken. In that moment it was impossible not to feel like we weren’t just another mangrove tree. Our legs were roots; our arms were interwoven branches. It was only a matter of time before the crabs and snails acclimated to our presence and used our bodies in their search for food and safety.

We mutually dove into one another, our mouths opening as water dripped from Jessica’s bangs onto our lips. My tongue swirled into hers and she fumbled with my belt buckle, her wet hands slipping on the leather. Once undone, she yanked it free and tossed it to the ground. I gripped the bottom of Jessica’s shirt and she raise her arms over her head. In almost the same motion that I pulled her shirt off Jessica unhooked her bra. Both articles of clothing landed in the mud together. Not wanting to waste another second, we both unbutton our shorts and pull them down with our underwear.

Completely naked, just us and the thousands of other plant and animal species, we finally belonged in nature. Jessica laid on her back and dragged me down on top of her. My hands sunk into the mud and she wrapped her grit covered legs around my hips. The world was drowning and we were the last two people on land. The two of us could have lived on our little island for the rest of our lives. I was already inside of her, but the truth was, she had been inside of me since we first met.

We rolled over and now Jessica was on top. She held my face as she worked her pussy up and down my cock, kissing me, dirt streaming from her hands along my cheeks. I dug my nails into the muck around us, liberating two handfuls of soil before grabbing Jessica’s hips. She sat up and her head snapped back, eyes looking to the trees. My hands dragged grime across her stomach to her breasts. Through the cacophony of rushing water surrounding us, I could make out the faint cries of a woman in heat. Life, death, love, all existed in that moment for both of us. Once it passed there would be no time to equivocate and reminisce. We would be onto a new moment. The same would be true for the moment after that. So, here and now, all that mattered was Jessica’s dirt covered body. She fell back to me and I held her close. If she could have heard me, I would have said, “I love you.” If I could have heard her I am sure she would have said it back. And that would have been the first time we said those words one another.

As the clouds rolled on and the sun peeked out, a new world was born. The hermit and the mangrove crabs began renegotiations of the new territories. The egrets returned to the scallop hunting ground and the dragon flies came out of hiding. Above us, a red-tailed hawk watched closely, trying to figure out what to make of us before spotting a chipmunk and swooping down to nab it. I couldn’t let go of her. She couldn’t let go of me. The words “I love you” were never said and from that moment on they never needed to be said. Eventually the two of us would get up and find our clothes, get dressed and make our way back to my car, but not yet.