Decamped

The author survived Camp NaNoWiMo. Amen.

She got stuck midway through LAC 23, and since the goal was forward momentum no matter what, she started LAC 24. Oh yippee, we now have two half-finished books. She swears, however, that she will head back to LAC 23 and finish the sucker.

To hold her accountable, here’s a solitary swipe from 23…

Chapter 1

“All right, Kate, you need to trust me, a lot,” Claudia said in the midst of a most unexpected breakneck turn.

Once established many years ago, trust in her generally came easily to me. But, not this morning. Not yesterday either. Hell, not for the past weeks.

She nearly came to a full stop in the furniture store parking lot’s flow, and her French braid whipped back and forth as she madly scanned. I was frickin’ confused, to say the least. Why the hell were we stopping to look at furniture? Now? Why now?

This was Saturday morning on our weekend to host the Lesbian Adventure Club. A month ago, she had gotten everyone to agree to give us the weekend although it wasn’t even our turn. Then, she got me to agree to a camping trip, with the destination being her choice, and she would not tell me where. Now, we were supposed to be on our way to pick up Holly and Laura, despite the fact that the car overflowed with gear and food. The artist and the detective would have to be fastened to the nonexistent luggage rack. That’s assuming, of course, that whatever furniture Claudia bought did not end up sitting there. Visions of the Empresses of Ta-Da strapped to a love seat on the car roof messed with my head.

There she is,” Claudia nearly shouted, and I mimicked her braid-whipping survey. Except, I had no clue who the hell I was even looking for in the throng of shoppers and drivers.

She pulled beside a blue coupe and waved to whomever sat in the shadowed driver’s seat. “Please, Kate,” she damn near begged as she killed the engine, “just trust me. Just go along with what’s about to happen.” She reached and clutched my thigh. “I swear it’s a good thing.” She smiled and repeated the directive to trust her.

Yet, every frickin’ thing she did made me distrustful as hell.

After opening the door, she told me to come with her. I followed, not so much because she told me to but because I wanted to know what the hell was going on—there, and with her mental health.

A woman rounded the front of the blue car. I didn’t recognize her, and I knew I would have if had we ever met. She wore the brightest red lipstick I had ever seen, and her perfume was overpowering, even in a breezy parking lot.

“Eve,” Claudia called, “thanks so much for doing this like this.”

When they came face to face, they shook hands.

“This is Kate,” Claudia said, gesturing my way.

“Nice to meet you, Kate,” she said, brushing her brunette bangs off her middle-aged forehead.

“Likewise,” I politely lied, becoming even more distrustful.

“All right, let’s get this done,” Claudia charged.

“I just need four signatures,” the woman said as she came at me with a clipboard. She thrust it and a cheap-ass pen at me.

The clipboard contained a hefty stack of papers, the top one blank. Four little flags stuck out on either side: a pink, two neon orange, and bronchitis green. “Um, what exactly am I signing?”

She didn’t answer. Rather, Claudia did.

“Just trust me.”

“Claudia—”

Please,” she said, “just trust me and sign. It’s nothing bad. I swear.”

Either trust or utter stupidity allowed me to accept the pen and the clipboard from the woman. Maybe it was simply an ugly sofa Claudia knew I wouldn’t have agreed to if I had seen it first. Who the hell knew?

The woman lifted the green flag and pointed. In the glaring sun, I couldn’t read a damn thing except the bold words “signature” and “date.” I figured she wasn’t signing me up for a dating site so I enumerated the crazy July day. Before adding my Jane Hancock, though, I narrowed my eyes at Claudia.

Yeah, you guessed it. “Trust me,” she said for the thirty bazillionth time.  

Well, I did trust her, at least in terms of her not leading me into anything illegal or demoniacally contractual. My freedom and my soul would remain mine, but the rest of my existence remained uncertain.

I had barely completed my last name when the woman was already grabbing the next flag.

Glance.

“Trust me.”

Scrawl.

Glance.

“Trust me.”

Scrawl.

Scrawl.

“I promise not to submit the papers until eleven,” the woman said to me. “That gives you two hours to decide. But, trust me: It’ll be easy.”

Trust? What was the frickin’ deal with trust today? I had a hard enough time trusting the green-eyed arm-twister presently, let alone a red-lipped stranger.

“Call by eleven, and it’s courier by noon if that’s still okay.”

“That’s perfect!” Claudia said, and immediately, she nudged me. “Get back in the car, Kate. Thanks again, Eve.”

Two seconds later, she was behind the wheel, and I had a choice to do as I was told or to interrogate this lipsticked stranger smiling at me. Unsurprisingly, I hightailed it to the passenger door. 

“Are you going to tell me what the hell that was about?” I asked the obvious as soon as I slammed shut my door.

“It was about trust,” she answered, but that told me nothing. “We’re going to be late to Holly and Laura’s if I don’t step on it.”

And, she did. Seriously, the woman drove the speed limit every other day, but today, she frickin’ tore out of that parking lot and zipped along without ever once glancing to the speedometer. Had she gone insane?

“Claudia—”

“Trust.”

“Just—”

“Trust—”

Grrrrr.

As she sped to Holly and Laura’s, a hundred scenarios ran through my mind. Had I unwittingly signed my own mental health commitment papers? If not, perhaps I should have. My will? A confession? My resignation? Do-not-resuscitate orders? The more nonsensical the ideas, the more I became convinced that it was an ugly sofa. Maybe with an even uglier recliner. And two even-uglier-than-that end tables. That would account for the four signatures.

Soon, she hit the blinker for Holly and Laura’s lane, and I couldn’t resist trying once more.

“Trust me.”

Grrrrrrrrrr.

We nearly skidded to a stop in front of their house. Immediately, their front door burst open in sync with the driver’s door. I hurried to get out, lest I miss something vital to my understanding of what the hell was going on.

“Finally!” Holly shouted as she zoomed in our direction. “Will you please tell us where we’re going camping? Vernon and Ruth’s campground? Somewhere we’ve never been? And why was the wood delivered here? Are we camping here?”

“Trust me,” Claudia said, for the forty bazillionth time. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

Not unlike me, Holly growled with frustration as she and Claudia hugged. Then, Holly hugged me, and glancing over her shoulder, I saw Laura exit the house. I imagined myself in one of her interrogation rooms with her shaking a stack of papers at me. “Let me get this straight, Sutter. You signed these without reading them first?”

Um, yeah. She made me do it. What the hell had I done?

We had just greeted Laura when the professors’ van turned onto the lane, did some weird-ass maneuver, and backed up to the pile of wood that Claudia had apparently had delivered. Obviously, she had informed the professors, or maybe Ginny just had a thing for parking bumper-to-woodpile. 

“Let’s get the wood loaded,” Claudia said as soon as Ginny and Kris—oh, and Janice and Alison—disembarked. “Laura and Holly, get your stuff loaded into our car or the van—wherever there’s room.”

No one argued. No one dared. She was in full-blown project manager mode.

We exchanged greetings with the newcomers as we grabbed logs and prepared to put them behind the van doors Kris had opened.

“Where are we going camping?” Alison innocently asked.

By now, I could’ve readily answered for Claudia, but she did so for herself. Forty bazillionth plus one.

Tires on gravel caused us all to look up and watch the approach of the vegan and the schoolteacher’s car. I assumed it also carried a baby boy, now two months old and about to embark on his first camping trip with the lot of us. Had anyone warned him?

We were two steps into a rush to the car to get a look at him when Susan scarily warned that he was sleeping. After she promised severe consequences for waking him, we continued loading wood.

I won’t bore you with the vegan’s subsequent request to know where we were camping. Trust me: It was simply forty bazillionth plus two. It served, however, to cause everyone to catch on: The quicker we moved the wood, the sooner we’d become privy to the apparently top-secret location. And, let’s not even consider the fact that they probably figured I was helping to weave this frickin’ clueless mystery.

Soon, the van’s back end held more than enough wood for a summer’s evening by the fire and breakfast.

We were dusting the bark and dirt from ourselves when Claudia shouted with the exuberance of a cheerleader, “Are we ready?” Vigorous nods made her charge, “Then, let’s hit the road before Walt wakes up.”

“How long a drive?” Susan asked. “I may need to stop and feed Walt.”

“No, you won’t,” Claudia informed. “Trust me.”

Grrrrrrrrrr.

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