Okay, she started going through her NaNo stuff. Pretty damn messy. Big holes. Final chapter not written.
However, she cleaned up Chapter 1, deeming it second draft, not final. I swiped it. Read it at your own risk, or perhaps that’s my risk.
Pedal to the metal, I aimed my car for Granton’s city limits, being extra careful not to spill from my Road Swill cup. The last precious drops of civilized coffee, I figured. No one ever said, “Hey, let’s head out into the country for a cup of coffee.” Rural coffee: There wasn’t such a thing, and I would protect what little I had of the good stuff until the last moment, which would probably be the very second Claudia yelled at me for having coffee so late.
As though she were there, already lording over me, I glanced to my watch: 6:04. Yes, it was far too late for coffee; I risked being up all night. Yet, here it was a Friday night and I was just leaving work, having been majorly waylaid by our stupid-ass governor, whom I respected only in my capacity as a reporter. Kate Q. Public loathed him, and I would not have voted for his sorry ass even if he were suddenly the poster child for gay rights and a dogged proponent of triple pay and automatic master’s degrees for all reporters. Nope. No way.
Today, I had been tasked with covering his comings and goings in our fair city. At four o’clock, he was to have hopped on his plane at the Ledder County Airport to head back to the capital. But since the moron was trying to sell some education-gutting policy to the masses, he apparently decided that endless schmoozing with people at the airport was to his benefit. Fish in a barrel. Smart fish, I hoped. Regardless, he took forever to get the hell out of Dodge, and the very second his hatch closed, I filed my story with my editor and took off just as fast but without the need for propellers.
Because of him, I was already two hours late for our Lesbian Adventure Club weekend. I was relatively certain that I knew where I was going, only because I had not heard otherwise from Claudia. Actually, I hadn’t heard a frickin’ thing from her, and I wasn’t quite certain if that was good or bad.
See, last week we received a very cryptic invitation from our hostesses, Kris and Ginny. It basically said they were done with scavenger hunts—for the moment anyway—and that we were to return to the end of one, “from whence we came.” Claudia immediately understood that to be Drixel’s Terrace, where we had once found the shitheads and encountered the legendary “sanguinary humdinger brine.” No, this time wasn’t supposed to be a scavenger hunt, but we were still aiming for that frickin’ pickle, or maybe we’d be in a pickle, if we were wrong. Claudia’s calls to the others, however, proved there was a consensus, and the eventual decision was that even if we were wrong, we were spending the weekend at Drixel’s—in the camping area, not the restaurant, and even if Vernon dared don his hockey mask and come at us with a chainsaw. I seriously figured he wouldn’t, choosing instead to believe that after being our gracious Humpty Dumpty Drill Sergeant, he’d have developed a fondness for us—or at least some sympathy—and not want to scare the shit out of us. At least I hoped to hell that would prove to be the case.
The country roads on this evening were far busier than I had anticipated, and the more miles I progressed, the more I realized that was because Granton had bled outside itself, erecting subdivision after subdivision. The city blurred with the country, but I finally felt more as though I was truly getting away when cows in their fields outnumbered the subdivisioners in their sensible but snazzy sedans. I opened my window and took a whiff, just to be sure. I wanted the city far behind me. I wanted to get to Claudia, to our friends, and simply wallow in our own little world. I was sick to death of school and work. My head hurt from my sometimes ungraceful maneuvering through the rat-race maze.
I took a swig of my coffee, lit a smoke, and did my best to relax.
Soon, I came upon Haley Springs’ sign, finding it soothingly familiar: Population Winter: 50, Summer: 5,000. I wondered what the headcount was on this mid-September day. Not summer. Not winter. I wished to hell it was a grand total of ten.
It wasn’t too long after that pleasant thought that a nasty reality seized me. As soon as I made it down Drixel’s long, tree-lined road, my jaw dropped. There were a bazillion cars in the parking lot. Seriously, it would have taken me two days to count them all, and this confused the shit out of me. I suddenly doubted this was where Kris and Ginny had summoned us. We usually stayed out of the fray, and this was smack dab in the middle of it.
A quick scan gave me not one recognizable car, and certainly not one belonging to either Janice or Alison, who had agreed to chauffeur Claudia. Why the hell hadn’t she called to tell me we were wrong? … She would have if we were wrong. So we mustn’t have been wrong.
I crawled to a standstill, and as I lit another smoke, I rolled down my window. That was when it hit me. Just as the smell of cow pies had done, another odor helped orient me. I inhaled deeply the smell of fishy grease. This was the Midwest, this was Friday, ergo, the customary Friday Night Fish Fry. Okay, but a fish fry? Seriously, a DWD fish fry? That was the plan? And what the hell was the vegan supposed to eat? And why the f-word had we gone to the trouble of packing all our camping gear?
Aha, camping! Duh!
My head swiveled until I saw the sign: Campground. Its arrow, I hoped, would point me in the direction of my salvation and the damn good reason Claudia found to not call me. With rabid intent, I aimed my sensible and not-so-snazzy sedan.
As soon as I turned onto the dirt road, the forest canopy seemed to close, placing me in an entirely different world. Gone were the cars and the fishy grease smell. Gone was most of the light, and yet, I felt more hopeful that I was headed in the right direction.
I figured that if the speed limit is five miles per hour, you might as well get out and walk. Yet, I didn’t. I inched along, quite literally, on the one-lane road that zigzagged through acres and acres of land. It was spotted with campsites, most of them unoccupied, but a few showed signs of life, just not any that I recognized. Someone chopped wood. Someone stoked a fire. Someone slunk into a restroom. Someone filled a jug from a spigot on the side of the road. Not one of them looked like a Dyke Who Dared. Okay, maybe the woodchopper did, but I sure as hell didn’t want to spend the weekend with her … or him … to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure.
This was insane. Hadn’t they said that we were done with scavenger hunts? It sure as hell felt like one. I took a deep breath, the very last swallow of my civilized coffee, and then I reached into my jacket pocket for my cell. If she didn’t have the mind to call me, I would call her.
I was about to hit her speed dial number when I saw the little flashy thing at the top of my screen. A text message! Trying to be the dutiful reporter in the presence of the gubernatorial goober, I had silenced my phone. I yelled at myself as I navigated to my inbox to discover a message from her, sent over an hour prior. Drixel’s it is. See you soon. Drive carefully.
Okay, she was off the hook—as a direct result of my stupidity, but still, “See you soon” was hardly a map to get me there. Then again, maybe there weren’t a bazillion cars when she arrived and getting to where she needed to be—where I would eventually need to be—had been a piece of cake.
Jesus, I suddenly realized just how hungry I was, having missed my own lunch to watch the moron “sample the local fare.”
Onward, I charged. I’d find her without having to ask and look like a fool. How the hell many more acres could there possibly be out here … um, in the middle of the boondocks?
Okay, there were a few more. Okay, many, many more, but eventually, I spied Maggie and Susan dart across the road some distance from me. I sped up a little, and while I could not see them anymore, I did recognize four cars, one of which was Janice’s, which meant Claudia was close.
And then, I received irrefutable proof that I had indeed arrived. Yet another sign read: Camp Thunder Thigh. I skidded to a stop, shoved the car into park, and as I withdrew my keys from the ignition, I scanned the area to receive even more mind-blowing surprises. In the near distance was a line of small cabins … six to be exact. I wasn’t at all sure that was where we’d be staying, but I got my hopes up nonetheless. Curse tents, especially when the nights had already dipped into the thirties.
I squinted enough to see signs in front of several of the cabins, and not a second later, I was out of the car and barreling toward them. Camp Wan Na Ta Ta. Camp Crystal Lake. (Jesus, that was like begging Vernon to come get us!) Mischievous Camp Counselors. And last but way not least, Camp Kis Cak was there in all its glory, and that made me smile ear to big ear. I had arrived!
I clambered up the tiny cabin’s tiny step and onto its tiny porch. I knocked so as not to startle her, but she startled the crap out of me by whipping open the door.
“There you are!” she gasped as she grabbed me. “I was starting to get worried.”
I put a lovely swearword of an adjective in front of the governor’s name and gave her the shortened version of how it was all his fault. Then, I asked how her day had been.
“Very busy,” she answered, “but that made it go fast.” She pulled back, grabbed my hand, and instructed, “Come in, honey, and get a load of Camp Kis Cak. It’s rather cute and cozy.”
So was she, I could not help but note as she turned her beautiful backside to me. Life always felt a hell of a lot better when I was near her.
“Ta da!” she roared after tugging me inside. “Pretty cozy, huh?”
Hmm… “Cozy” was apparently a euphemism for “cramped.” The entire cabin could have fit inside any one of our rooms, and probably in Janice’s linen closet with which I was now on intimate terms. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a tad, but not a whole hell of a lot. It was majorly tiny.
There were tiny windows on the tiny side walls that gave us a glimpse of other tiny cabins. The tiny back window faced the big woods. The swing arm wall lamp had tiny moose and tiny pine trees on its shade. A dark wooden table took up the majority of the tiny room, and I spied the drip coffee pot atop it just as Claudia pointed to it. I sensed she was probably more fond of the electric kettle that claimed the space next to it.
“Like it?” she asked. “Seems a heck of a lot better than a tent this late in the season.”
That was certainly true.
She pointed to the other corner. “There’s even a little space heater. We’ll be all toasty warm in the morning while we have coffee and tea in our sleeping bag.”
Speaking of which… “Um, where exactly do we put the sleeping bag? Do we have to stack the table and chairs?”
“I’m getting to that,” she said rather coyly and then clutched my forearm.
Shit! “What, Claudia? Getting to what?”
She suppressed a giggle, cleared her throat, and then kissed my cheek. “Turn around and look up,” she directed.
I spun around like a wobbly top. My eyeballs pivoted up to see… Holy shit! “Oh shit, it’s a—”
“It’s a loft, and we’ll be just fine up there.”
Up there? Way higher than a bed. Way higher than a hanging bed. I hated heights, and I never really thought it made sense to lay on something off the ground and then surrender your consciousness to sleep. But a loft? That was like feeling faint and heading to the nearest skyscraper. Jesus, up there?
She must have heard my thoughts, for again she clutched my arm and kissed my cheek. “It’s really not that bad up there,” she assured. “I went up there to make sure. Climb the ladder and see for yourself.” She pointed.
“Ladder” was a euphemism for “tiny frickin’ boards nailed to tiny frickin’ wall.” This was not a ladder. There was no angle to it that you could lean on like there was when I braved ours to clean the gutters.
But she had such faith in me. It was in her smile. It was in her eyes. It was in that gentle yet forceful nudge that moved me to the tiny frickin’ boards nailed to the tiny frickin’ bare wood wall.
“Raise your arm, honey,” she suggested.
I thought she meant for me to seize one of the boards, which I reticently did, but she corrected, “No. I mean touch the edge of the loft so you can see that it’s not that high. It’s nowhere near as high as our roof.”
But it’s higher than our bed. It’s higher than our hanging bed. Hell, I’d have to get high in order to want to be that high. But she had a way about her, and so I reached, surprised that I could not only touch the edge of the loft, but hell, I could put my frickin’ hand inside it. Okay, so it wasn’t that tall. I attached both hands and tried to do a chin-up. My failure had nothing to do with the height of it. It had more to do with the fact that I wasn’t a Laura; I was a wuss.
I placed my foot on one of the frickin’ boards and launched myself. While it wasn’t a complete landing, most of my torso was in, and the dangling of my feet didn’t give me the sense that I would plummet a million miles. It really wasn’t that bad. I elbow-heaved to get myself completely inside, and then I looked around.
The tiny space’s peaked roof made me think of it as a pyramid-shaped tomb. After taking a few seconds to ponder that horror, I realized that if you’d sit up fast, you’d smash your brains, which, ironically, I found comfort in. That hazardous fact would stop me from sleepily wandering to the edge and falling to my death. Okay, falling to my broken arm. Okay, falling to my sprain. Okay, falling to my severely bruised ego.
Suddenly, there was a way sexy woman on my back and a kiss on my cheek.
“See. Not so bad, huh?” she challenged.
“Not so bad,” I admitted, feeling surprisingly certain. “It’d be much better, though, if I could roll over.”
“Go for it,” she said with a laugh as she boosted herself up with her elbows and soles.
I rolled, and when her full blessed weight returned to me, I wrapped my arms around her. We held each other for a long moment, and then I braved the obvious question, “Is this what we get to do all weekend, or do they have something difficult planned as they usually do?”
“I have no idea what they have planned, honey. They wouldn’t say anything without you here.” Then she shot upright and bashed her head into the pyramid-shaped tomb. “Shit! I was supposed to let Ginny know the moment you arrived.” She rubbed her knocked noggin and said, “I’ll call her. Do you want to start getting our stuff from your car?”
While I wanted simply to linger there a bit longer, I realized she had jumped into full project manager mode, and I’d be swept along regardless. I nodded and made her reassure me that her head was okay—physically, anyway. She requested a kiss for the throbbing egg, and I happily obliged.
Then she got herself down from the loft as though simply walking down the tiny cabin’s tiny front step. I, on the other hand, had no frickin’ clue how the hell to get down without it being head first. But the project manager was in top form, dragging a chair near my intended landing spot and telling me to turn around and come down the way I had gone up, foregoing the tiny frickin’ boards nailed to the tiny frickin’ wall. Oddly, it worked like a charm.
By the time I even touched the doorknob, she had already called Ginny. By the time, I had my foot on the front step, I had been informed that we’d be heading to dinner in twenty minutes. I assumed that meant the busy fish fry, and if that further meant “all-you-can-eat” fish fry, Drixel’s was about to take a financial hit. I was frickin’ starving, and I would be accompanied by the ever-hungry them.
Speaking of them…
I had just walked off the tiny cabin’s tiny step when Maggie boomed from the tiny cabin next to ours, “Dilly!”
“Hey, humdinger! How the hell are you?”
“Good! Really good,” she replied and then scolded, “You’re very late, Kate. We’ve been starving waiting for you.”
As I headed to my car, I added a different swearword adjective to the governor’s name and then informed her that Ginny said twenty minutes.
Susan conveniently appeared. “Twenty minutes? Thank God! I could eat a horse!” Immediately, she grabbed Maggie’s sleeve. “Sorry, honey,” she said, and I hurried to my car lest I got caught laughing my non-vegan ass off.
I opened the trunk and looked at the mountain of crap inside it. Since we were tiny cabining it, I shoved anything related to tenting off to the side.
My favorite project manager appeared with orders. “Kate, just grab the duffle bag and go get changed out of your work clothes,” she said, gently rubbing my back. “I’ll grab the rest of the stuff.”
That sounded like a brilliant idea to me.
“Except for the new air mattress,” she qualified, her hands on her hips, assessing the trunk’s content. “I think it’s too high for the loft. We’ll end up sleeping on the roof.”
Just then, I heard, “Sutter! Cigarette?” wailed from two doors down, and I’d be damned to hell for the vision of them making love on a roof when they had gone there to watch the stars.
“I have to get changed,” I loudly blurted to dispel the scary vision from my mind.
“We’re starving, chickie,” the artist said. “Get a move on.”
“Yeah, Kate,” one redhead concurred from three doors down. “We’re wasting away waiting on you.”
I grabbed the duffle bag and yet another swearword adjective got attached to the governor. Then, knowing full well that their starving risked a riot, I hauled ass to the tiny cabin to shed my clothes. Despite not knowing what was about to befall us, I was excited and pretty damn happy to be where I stood.
Soon, Claudia and I finished a bit of organizing and headed outside to find the lot of them congregating on the road, obviously ready to go. I exchanged greetings with Kris and Ginny and rounded it off with the only other one I had missed: Alison.
“We’re going to walk to the restaurant,” Kris informed.
Walk? Hadn’t I just driven acres and acres to get here? I hoped to hell I had simply taken the dumb-ass way.
We had only managed a few steps when Holly pleaded, “Now will you tell us what you’ve got planned?”
They chuckled, and Ginny answered, “What we have planned is dinner. Let’s pick up the speed. We have a table reserved.”
“So it is Camp Thunder Thigh,” Susan roared. “We’re going to do nothing but eat.”
“Or do nothing but want the ta-tas.”
“How about eat while we’re wanting the ta-tas?”
“How about eating while having the—”
“March!” Ginny ordered with a violently thrusting finger. “And everyone had better be on her best behavior. Kris’ mom and sister will be eating with us.”
“Your mom?” Holly seemed completely taken aback. “Why is your mom here? Have I ever met your mom? Why haven’t I ever met your mom? I want to meet your mom!”
As we walked, Kris explained that her mother was spending the night at Kris’ sister’s house, which was situated somewhere on Drixel’s bazillion acres, and that the two of them were going shopping in Granton the next day. Holly asked so many questions about the poor woman that I think we all knew her quite well before we even reached the restaurant door. To be honest, though, I had meet her numerous times when I lived with Kris and Ginny, and even worse to admit was the fact that I stayed away as much as possible when she was there. I always figured that one day I’d get to a place where I wouldn’t have to feel jealous of anyone whose mother could stand to be in the same room with her. Maybe today was that day. And maybe not. I figured as long as jealousy didn’t become begrudging, it was a forgivable offense. At least I hoped it was.
With the turn of the restaurant’s doorknob, we morphed into our respectable selves. The hostess, who obviously knew Kris, immediately escorted us to a large table where Kris’ mother and sister, Ruth, sat. They seemed genuinely happy to see and/or meet us, and I knew for certain that most of them, Claudia included, were about to pick their brains—in the nosy, socially acceptable way. Laura, unsurprisingly not being one of those, pointed to the bar where Vernon was stationed and suggested we buy a couple pitchers of Bloody Marys for old time’s sake. Maggie volunteered to go with to ensure that we got the correct number of sanguinary humdinger brines. Janice, who had no clue what the hell we were even talking about, nonetheless offered to be the carrier of glasses.
We made a big deal about how nice it was to see Vernon, and that seemed to make him smile in a very contagious way. He promised not to do anything to scare us this time, and Laura stupidly tried to assure him that she hadn’t really been afraid the first time. Yeah, right, Laura.
We returned to the table where the conversation proved quite spirited. If forced to make an assessment, I’d have pegged Mrs. Maltry as a littermate, for she seemed very adept at catching every word produced by them all talking at the same time. I found that nearly laughable, as I had also met Ginny’s mom, and she seemed more like a crybaby, more like Kris, who sat there simply nodding as though she understood when it was obvious that she had no clue what the hell was being said. I saw her seize a glass from Janice and thrust it in pitcher-holder Laura’s direction as though a Bloody Mary was exactly what the doctor ordered. Perhaps it was.
Contrarily, what I needed was food, and I swiftly slipped into the chair beside Claudia and snatched a menu from the table’s center. The top of it explained that Drixel’s Terrace only served food on Friday nights and Sunday mornings, which I think was supposed to be a forewarning that what I was about to read was not a full menu. See what you think: two piece haddock dinner.; three piece haddock dinner; all-you-can-eat haddock dinner; children’s haddock dinner. Jesus, the vegan was screwed. Reflexively, I glanced to her, finding her sucking on a pickle, completely oblivious to her vegan predicament. Perhaps she was simply relieved that Susan would not be eating a horse.
Scaring the ever-living shit right out of me, a waitress, appearing barely an inch behind me and seemingly out of nowhere, roared about the cacophony, “Are you ladies ready to order?”
I had half a mind to say, “No, we need more time to read the menu,” but before I could even reason with the other half of my brain, every one of them in perfect succession said, “all-you-can-eat.” I muttered the same right after Claudia, and then I fixed my eyes on the vegan, wondering what the hell she was going to say or do. Would she picket the place? Turn into the capeless crusader and try to save all the fish that were about to die?
“I’ll have the salad bar.”
Salad bar? I glanced around the room. Sure enough. I glanced to the menu. Sure enough. Tiny italicized print read: All meals served with French Fries and all-you-can-eat salad bar. I thought to tell the waitress to double my order; I was apparently in great need of brain food.
Within seconds of the waitress’ departure, all able-bodied women flew from the table and charged to that salad bar. Even the sight of the forks in the bin made me drool, and one more frickin’ time, I cursed the governor for messing with my day.
Very quickly, salad plates turned to dinner plates, and the conversation went from words to primal grunts and mmm’s. When the waitress reappeared to see if we were ready for more fish, not one of us wanted any.
Eventually, we slouched in our chairs, quite sated, quite relaxed. It felt good, but it proved short lived as an argument broke out about who was picking up the tab. Kris and Ginny versus Ruth: Two against one seemed unfair, especially with those two being professors. The only things they were truly skilled at in the match, however, was completely shutting out the eight of us as though we didn’t even exist. Ultimately, Ruth won the argument, and that seemed optimal as amongst our invisible selves, we had already decided to leave a twenty-five dollar tip per couple. Apparently, the brain food had done its thing.
At one point, Kris’ mom rose, whispering to us that she was headed to the powder room. That caused several other bodies to rise, and with mine not being one of them, I slouched a little further and simply enjoyed the first inkling of contentment I had experienced that day.
That peace was shattered when a hand suddenly squeezed my shoulder. “Kate dear,” Kris’ mom said, sliding her hand across my shoulder. “It’s good to see you again. How are you doing?”
“I’m good, Mrs. Maltry,” I politely answered, knowing goddamn well my face went sanguinary. Minding my manners, I inquired, “How are you?”
She leaned to whisper, “Will you please call me Monica?” Thankfully, I did not have to do that, as she stood tall (okay, tall for a short woman in her seventies) and said, “I think you girls are crazy for camping when it’s this cold. If it gets too bad, you come knocking on Ruth and Vernon’s door, and I will let you in.”
With that, she led the procession to the bathroom, and I dealt with a redhead who deemed throwing balls made from straw wrappers after-dinner entertainment. I had no choice but to defend myself.
Soon, we were back on the never-ending road, which was now pitch black. Kris and Ginny had accurately predicted the sun would set, and their flashlights came in rather handy.
We meandered our way back to the tiny cabins, and before each couple went their separate ways, Ginny ominously said, “Go get changed into warm clothes and meet at the fire that will magically appear. There, you will learn your fate.”