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College

The germ of the idea for this began when I read a story by another author on Lit that was set at Burning Man. Having been to over five Burns, to me that story felt more like someone writing about rumors and hearsay. Admittedly, everyone experiences Burning Man in a different way, so maybe that was somebody’s. If so, I’m glad it wasn’t mine or I wouldn’t have returned.

It did, however, inspire me to write one that feel authentic for my own experience, but as I thought about it I started to realize it was the perfect place to for my first follow-on to Out of Bounds. Burning Man is often a place for transformation and discovery, which is why it fit that was a place for Isabel to deal with the aftermath of her time with Rachel. This is Isabel’s story, not Rachel’s, so don’t be disappointed that she isn’t in this story. Rachel has her own path and I’ll tell it too, just not yet. You don’t have to read Out of Bounds first as I think this is still a story that stands by itself, but it probably will make a bit more sense to you if you do.

Forgive me if I go into detail about Burning Man and life in Black Rock City. I start from the assumption that most readers know little to nothing about it. Between that and Isabel’s conflicts, this is a long story that is quite personal for me. I hope that if you have the patience for it, you’ll enjoy it.

I want to thank those who helped me get her: Snow and Terry, who both argued me into agreeing that Isabel and Rachel’s stories shouldn’t end and then helped as my editors and sounding boards, and Carey Thomas who helped me fine tune it. I appreciate all the help because I know I can’t write as well without them!

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It Isn’t Just an Orgy

By Ripley

When the cell phone on her desk went off, Isabel frowned. Deep in working on a spreadsheet, she didn’t need interruptions. For a moment she thought about ignoring it and letting it go to voicemail, but curiosity got the better of it and she glanced over at the phone and saw who was calling. A smile lit up her face and she eagerly grabbed it.

“Hey there! I’m glad you called me back,” she said as she swiveled around so that she no longer saw the spreadsheet.

“Of course, Moonshine. I’d never ignore a message from you. What’s up?” said a woman.

Isabel smiled at the nickname. There was only one group of friends that used that nickname. It was an exclusive bunch which rarely crossed over into the mainstream of her life. “I got a ticket! I’ll be coming this year for sure. Hopefully you still have a spot for me at Camp,” she said, as she leaned back in her chair and stretched her long legs out. She stared at the picture on the wall of Mount Rainier. It was from a cold and clear day, quite the opposite of the season she was talking about now.

“Are you kidding me? You know Camp Rain City will always have space for you,” the woman said. Isabel could picture the smile on her face. Although plain, she could light up a room with the enthusiasm in her smile.

“Ah, Gumdrops, that’s so sweet. I’m glad to be part of it,” Isabel said. “This will be my fourth Burning Man and I’m glad it’s with the same group. It makes it truly like coming Home.” Using the other woman’s playa name was natural. She actually had to pause and think. “Deborah, that’s it,” she thought to herself with a chuckle. Not everyone had a playa name, but she typically thought of her Burner friends by those names if they had them. Some of them were fairly obscure and she didn’t know the origin, but she did with Gumdrops. She chuckled again. “I’m glad she had that well before I started going,” she thought to herself. She too had very prominent nipples. “Although I don’t go topless like she does.”

“As usual, it isn’t all the same group, but a fair number are back. Do you remember Joyce from Australia? She’s finally managed to line things up to go again,” Gumdrops said.

“Really? That’s great. It’ll be nice to see her again,” Isabel said. It would indeed. Joyce was a very attractive young woman. She remembered watching her while hiding behind her sunglasses during her first Burn. Then again, she did that a lot on every Burn. “The percentage of attractive people there always seems to be far higher than in the default world,” she thought, slipping easily back into using terms from Burning Man. The default world was everywhere except for Black Rock City during the Burn.

“What part of BRC are we in this year?” she asked, using the normal shorthand for the city.

“We have a good spot. We are at 8:30 and C this year. Consumer is C this year,” Gumdrops replied.

Once a year, Black Rock City rises to become home to around 80,000 people for a week. Organizers create the city from nothing in a few short weeks, laying out the community like a clock with the giant Man at the center of it. Streets run out like spokes from there, every 15 or 30 minutes on the face of the clock, starting at the first circular street, the Esplanade which is 2500 feet casino şirketleri from the center point. After that, the cross streets are named according to the year’s theme beginning with the A street and going back to L. The numbered streets went from 2:00 to 10:00. It made it intuitive to navigate to any spot in the city.

Isabel pictured the map in her mind and smiled. The middle of the left side of the city and only in a few blocks from the Esplanade was a great place to be. It made coming home at late at night a little easier. Plus it put them close to one of the only places to spend money was. Buying ice at Arctica was a daily task for everyone in order to keep food from spoiling. It was far nicer to only have to pull the wagon back a short distance.

“So what prompted the push to come this year?” Gumdrops asked.

“I always try to come but my dad passed away a month ago and it made it more important. I feel like I need the Temple this year,” she replied. The loss of her father to a stroke had come as a shock. He was very healthy until the stroke hit, but then unfortunately lingered for almost two weeks before finally dying from pneumonia. It was still hard not to have it in the forefront of her mind.

The Temple was straight up the 12 o’clock line from the Man, where the Esplanade would be if it was a full circle rather than only three quarters of one. It was a place to remember people that died, but it was so much more too. People spent time there searching for closure, whether it was mourning lost loved ones or to ask for or give forgiveness. It was a spiritual place, even for those who didn’t generally believe in God or a religion. You could get a sense of letting go and moving on there.

There was another reason that she wanted to spend time at the Temple, but she wasn’t going to share that now with Gumdrops. Maybe once she got to Camp, she would be ready to talk about it with some of people she knew there. Despite only seeing them once a year, if that, the connection she had with them was stronger than with some people she saw almost daily. If there was any place that she could share these feelings it was on the playa.

“Oh, Moonshine,” Gumdrops said. The compassion in her voice was clear. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks,” Isabel said. It surprised her how much even those few words could help. They always seemed so insufficient when she said them to people in the past. She’d never think that again.

“When we get Home, there will be a playa hug waiting for your!” Gumdrops told her.

“I can’t wait, but if you’ll excuse me, I need to get some work done so I can justify spending time working on getting ready,” she replied.

“Sure, just one thing. We have a virgin who hasn’t found a ride yet. You wouldn’t be interested in giving him a ride, would you? He’s a nice kid,” Gumdrops asked.

Isabel paused before answering. She did have a free space, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to drive down with someone she didn’t know. It was about thirteen hours, not including stops; a long time to be with someone if he turned out to be a jerk. Beyond that, this trip could be an emotional one and sharing it with a man she didn’t know was a daunting thought. After a moment, however, she realized something. “I’m not thinking like a Burner,” she told herself. As much as she tried to keep the spirit alive in her away from BRC, it was hard. Focusing on yourself and your own needs was ingrained in most people.

“Sure, I’d be happy to do that,” she told the other women. As Isabel did, she felt a reconnection to the Burner community. Despite the worries, she knew it was the right thing to do. “I have something others need and I’m happy to share it,” she thought. She let out a little sigh as some tightness in her back relaxed and her muscles popped as she stretched. She hadn’t even been aware of it before. “Email me his info and I’ll contact him, Gumdrops. I can’t wait. This is going to be good,” she said.

“Well, it’s not going to be as good as last time,” Gumdrops said with a laugh.

“No, of course not,” Isabel replied with a laugh of her own. It was a running gag that all previous Burns were better than any future ones. Burning Man had changed over the years, and the long-time Burners often felt that the changes were for worse, but most people just laughed at the joke and came back as often as they could.

“I’ll send you David’s information. Love you, Moonshine!” the other woman said.

“Love you too, Gumdrops. See you on the playa!” Isabel said as they ended the call. She sat there for a few moments staring at the picture, lost in thought. Even when she turned around to face her computer, she remained distracted. Finally, she pulled out one of her desk drawers and looked inside. There was a little piece of paper there. It was wrinkled as if someone had crumpled it up, and then tried to flatten it. Despite the wrinkles, the handwriting was very legible. As usual, Isabel focused on the paper, not the writing. She didn’t casino firmaları want to read what was written. She stared at it for a good thirty seconds before shutting the drawer, leaving it undisturbed. With a deep breath, she dismissed the troubled thoughts brought on by the paper and went back to work. She didn’t get a ticket until quite late, and there were only two weeks before she had to leave. There was a lot to do and she didn’t have time for this particular dilemma.

“I’ll figure that out once I’m there,” she told herself.

It was hard to believe how quickly the time had flown over the last two weeks. Isabel managed to get everything together including making the arrangements to pick up David, and now she was almost there. All the way down the long drive from Seattle, she felt her excitement building. The last couple of hours was mostly driving through desert scrub lands with next to no signs of habitation. The temporary return of cell service was a sign that the journey was almost over. She knew the landscape well. Where the ridge on her left met the road in just another half mile or so was the spot where they would turn off the highway to take the road to the entrance onto the Black Rock Desert.

As the turnoff came into view, they could see the steady stream of cars coming from the south just beyond it. Isabel smiled at David. “Now you see why I said avoid Gerlach. Ninety percent of everyone are coming from Reno.” In her years of going to Burning Man, she’d never been in the small town of 200 people that was its gateway. She hoped she’d never need to.

David smiled shyly back at her. He was a handsome young man of 24, extremely fit if a little slighter than she expected after hearing that he was a former Ranger. He broke the stereotype, although she could tell he was still very strong. He just didn’t seem the “hooah” type. Perhaps that was because he was also gay. While in the Army, he stayed in the closet. Despite the changes, the culture of the Army and the Rangers still wasn’t welcoming. As far as the buddies upon whom he depended to keep him alive, he was a somewhat shy guy who mostly struck out with women but occasionally scored.

Since separating from the Army, he was adjusting to being out. He still didn’t push it. That alone was enough to help the two of them connect. It wasn’t Isabel’s style either. She’d been quietly out for longer than he’d been alive. Part of the reason for her success in business was knowing when taking a stand was worth it and when it wasn’t. Being a lesbian was an aspect of who she was, but it didn’t define her. Isabel sensed it was similar with David.

Although he left the Army months ago, he retained a deep tan from spending months overseas. That, plus sun bleached hair and green eyes, made him attractive enough to catch even Isabel’s eye. “Although that’s all he’ll catch,” she thought to herself, as she made the left turn onto the cutoff road. She barely paused before a car slowed to let her onto the final stretch of road. They were still moving for first few miles, but then they slowed to a crawl for the last bit.

David looked off to his right. The closest part of the Black Rock Desert was mostly dust free since there were almost no cars out there. The only truck that he saw was clearly part of the infamous swarm of law enforcement personnel that descended upon the festival in what seemed like ever increasing numbers. All of the participants needed to keep going until they could leave the pavement and begin the slow drive along dusty Gate Road.

He looked further up the desert and could see a cloud of dust from all the cars making their way in. Beyond that he could catch a glimpse of something else. It was hard to tell if it was tents, building, art pieces, or maybe even the huge Man towering over everything. It was obvious though; it was not much further.

“That’s it?” he asked. Despite being certain, he checked with Isabel. He did that a lot. As a veteran Burner, her word was gospel to David. It wasn’t just that, however. Just as Isabel felt a connection, so did he. While he knew many gays and lesbians, she was by far the most successful. After building up a software business, she sold it for enough that she never needed to work again. Given when she came of age, it was even more impressive to him. Men and women like her blazed the trail for him. It was similar to the way he felt about the warriors who came before him in the Army.

Isabel felt her heart beat faster as she looked over and had her first view of the city. It looked dusty and hot, and it was beautiful. “That’s it. So close and still hours away,” she said. They still had to make their way down Gate Road. It wasn’t so much the 10 mile an hour speed limit as hitting the back up as cars were slowly let into the City. Only after showing a ticket and letting them search the car could you get in. Even with the somewhat cursory searches, it took time.

“Now you see why I wanted to get here Sunday morning. I have friends güvenilir casino who have waited five or six hours to get in,” she said as they slowly inched closer to the turnoff. Right now was the hardest part for Isabel. Still on the paved highway, the true sense of being there wouldn’t happen until they were stopped in line on Gate Road.

“I’m almost Home,” she thought excitedly, using the term that veteran Burners often called Burning Man. It was something that she didn’t understand until her second Burn. The sense of belonging, especially by seeing people whom she came to love in a short week a year before, was powerful. She’d never experienced anything quite like it.

Once they were off the highway, she picked a lane to follow. As usual it was on the right side. The lanes branched out until it was like a superhighway across the desert. Already there were ruts to avoid as the hard packed desert, the playa, was softer in some spots than others. And behind every vehicle, there was a plume of dust.

Isabel grinned at David. “Get used to that. There will be dust everywhere for the next week!”

“Believe me, I’m used to dust,” David told her.

“I know the Sandbox was very dusty, but I doubt quite like this. It’s alkaline and it doesn’t just wash off, even with wipes, but I’ve got a vinegar solution that works great,” she replied. She thought back to when she was pulling out her gear. Even after two years, there was still playa dust on some of it. She grinned at the memory of sticking out her tongue and licking a little off the corner of the lid of box. “God I love this place,” she said.

Eventually they came up to where the vehicles were stopping and she halted behind a large RV with the symbol of the Man on the back in blue tape. There was a hodgepodge of different vehicles; there were big box trucks, cars pulling trailers, other RVs, and even buses. Many of them had Burning Man decorations or writing that was generally a variation of “Burning Man or Bust!”

Shutting off the engine, she got out of her SUV and stretched before reaching her arms out and twirling around as she looked up into the sky. It was blue with only a few high clouds, although there was also a light haze from the dust. “Ahhhhhh,” she yelled excitedly as she spun around before finally coming to a stop. A permanent grin adorned her face. Other people were getting out as well. A young blonde woman got out of her car and came over. She had the same type of smile. With her arms open, the offer of a hug was unmistakable. Isabel accepted it immediately.

Both of them gave themselves completely to the hug. She was much thinner than Isabel, but she put everything she had into it and Isabel did the same. For a moment, nothing else mattered. As they let go, Isabel sighed. “Playa hugs are the best hugs in the world,” she said. The other woman nodded but seeing the line in front of her car starting to move, she ran back to it.

“Have a great burn!” she called as she got into her car and it started to move before Isabel could reply.

“I will,” she whispered to herself. A moment later, her line started to move too and she got back in.

Staying in the SUV, David had watched the exchange. As they began to roll, he looked at her. “Is everyone like that?” he asked.

“Like what?” Isabel asked back.

“Hugging strangers. Not even asking,” he replied. Touching was one of those things he found hard since reentering civilian life. With people he knew, it was not a problem but when they were strangers, he didn’t like going beyond shaking hands.

Isabel slowed to a stop again as the line of cars halted. She looked over at him. “Yeah, there is a fair amount of that. It was weird for me at first, but now I don’t even notice,” she said. “If it bothers you, though, just tell them no thanks. Most people will respect that.”

He looked out the window at the mountain rising up from the desert floor. It was beautiful in a stark way. While it wasn’t the only mountain on the sides of the valley, they all had a bit of a solitary feeling. “Like me,” he thought to himself. “That’s part of why I came. I need to get past that.” When he looked back at her, all he did was nod.

“Such a young guy, but he’s seen a lot,” Isabel thought. He looked particularly lost at that moment. She wanted to reach over and squeeze his hand, but she thought that was a particularly bad idea right now. Instead she nodded back and then started to drive again.

It was like that for a while, driving, waiting, and then driving some more. Occasionally one or both of them got out. At one point, they switched so that Isabel could use one of the sanicans that bordered the road. By the time she was done, the line had moved along and she had to walk along until she finally caught up. When she opened the door, David’s face was flooded with relief. She wasn’t just someone he had a ride from anymore. At least for now, she was his guide.

She smiled and patted his hand without thinking, remembering how he felt about touching too late. When he didn’t pull away or flinch, she decided to give it a little squeeze and then moved her hand. “Apparently I’m already someone he is comfortable with,” she thought.

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