I swiped the next one…
Our fate? What the hell would be our fate at the hands of these two? That’s what Claudia and I pondered while we changed, and once we headed outside, the looks of utter apprehension on the others made me figure everyone else had done the same. Most dawdled as though procrastinating her own execution. Well, except for Holly. She always seemed eager to be messed with in the DWD way, and I would have bet my life Laura and she never had the mess-with-and-be-messed-with talk.
Forebodingly, we followed Maggie and Susan, who informed us that there was a large fire pit in back. We skirted between two cabins and into a clearing.
The fire that was to have magically appeared came courtesy of Kris. It was hardly to the roaring stage, but it was enough to light up the area and offer a bit of warmth as we huddled close.
Ginny suddenly emerged from the darkness, trying to maneuver with a big-ass stack of blankets. Several rushed to help her, and we got orders to make ourselves a comfortable spot by the fire, with her motherly side stressing, “a safe distance from the fire.” Where the hell would we, adult women, be without Ginny’s guidance? A quick flashback told me not to answer that.
Claudia and I folded our green blanket into quarters, leaving as much padding between our behinds and the cold earth as possible. We sat pretzel-legged, and she tossed a pair of mittens into my lap, just as another blanket from Ginny came sailing at us.
With a preemptive snicker, Claudia challenged, “What did you do, Ginny? Rob the homeless shelter?”
“Babe, get your handcuffs” ran smack dab into “Susan, get your handcuffs.”
Ginny, now blanket-less, extended her arms to Laura, wrists up, and then she pivoted to Susan. Now, instead of remembering Susan’s fondness for sex toys as all crybabies probably did, my mind instead recited a fortune: In the bathroom, freedom often comes with towel chains. Jesus! I wriggled a little closer to Claudia, and the jarring motion of it seemed to make my mind shift gears, which I figured under the circumstances and in the presence of all of them was a damn good thing. I wondered if Kris and Ginny sending us back to the first scavenger hunt had caused my brain to go through all the weekends just to get to that one. Was my DWD life flashing before my very eyes?
I looked to Claudia, and I remembered how that scavenger hunt weekend had found us teetering on the edge of that goddamn abyss. I recalled how we had trudged up the steep hill that night to get to her gram’s house. That memory made throat demon rise, and just as swiftly, I seized her hand and squeezed it. I leaned in and whispered, “I love you.”
She turned and smiled, her green eyes seemingly colorless in the flickering firelight. “You’re nervous already, honey?”
“That’s okay,” she said. “I love you, too, and I promise that whatever happens, we’ll come out the other end together.”
Oh! I thought to tell her that was so not what I was going for, but at the same time, what she said was exactly what had happened that weekend, what was imperative to see when looking back at those difficult times. We were still together, and that meant everything to me.
“I promise, too,” I whisper replied. “But I mean life in general, not just the weekend.”
She smiled very sweetly, but the words that followed contrasted. “You better,” she said right before swatting me. “I promise, too.”
I squeezed her hand a little tighter just as Holly boomed, “Okay, lay it on us, chickies. What are you going to do to us?”
Ginny had just sat down on their blanket, and Kris did her best to cover their legs as she said, “First, we need to take care a few basics.”
Ginny said, “Although Vernon assured us that the weekend after Labor Day is very slow, there are other campers here, so be careful.”
I figured that was code for “blend into your heterosexual surroundings or risk their wrath and/or ridicule.”
She furthered, “He said he’d keep campers as far away from us as possible.”
Then Kris pointed and said, “He also said someone called tonight about cabin availability so we may end up with a neighbor.”
That thought elicited major groans.
“And if we do, they have every right to join us right here, since this is a community fire pit for the cabins.”
That thought brought total silence and gaping mouths.
“That would be horrible!”
“It would,” Ginny agreed and glanced to Kris who was nodding. “If it happens, we will deal with it.” Then, she looked to Holly and said, “Okay, we’re finished with the preliminary things. We’re ready to meet your demands.”
Holly got all bubbly and repeated her directive, “Okay, chickies, lay it on us.”
Except, they both shook their heads. Just before a riot erupted, Ginny said, “Holly dear, why don’t you have the love of your life there lay it on us?”
Without a second’s thought, she patted Laura’s leg. “Okay, lay it on us, babe,” she ordered. Apparently, she then had a thought, for she whipped her head back to Ginny. “Exactly, how is she supposed to lay it on us? It’s your weekend.”
“Well, she seems to think she knows what to expect from us.” She half-laughed and said, “So, lay it on us, Laura. What are we up to?”
Laura looked at them rather skeptically for a moment, and then she perked up and raised her index finger. “Well, you’re certainly doing the backwards shit again, what with sending us back to the end of a completely different weekend. That’s almost like double backwards shit.”
The professors snorted with immense self-satisfaction. Ginny cuffed Kris’ arm and said, “Oh, we’ll be going back much further than that weekend, won’t we, Kris?” They chuckled a bit more, and then Ginny narrowed her eyes at Laura. “And?” she further challenged.
“And?” Her eyes grew wide. “That’s all I’ve got figured out so far. Well, other than the camping aspect. You haven’t given us much to go on.”
“Yes, but what was it you said you expect from our weekends—or more so, from us?”
“That’s easy.” This time, she leaned forward, and with calm certainty, she answered, “Kris always hits us with some psychological mumbo jumbo thing, and you always get us with something from literature. In my line of work, we call that ‘modus operandi,’ and yours is very well established.”
“Well, Detective, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you’re wrong this time,” Kris took unusual delight in saying. “It’s not psychology this time. This time, it’s sociology.”
“And, it’s not literature this time,” Ginny added rather smugly. “This time, it’s pre-literature.”
Pre-literature? What the hell was pre-literature?
“Pre-literature? What the heck is that?”
Before literature? Before books!
“Before the written word.”
“We’re going to be illiterate all weekend?” the obviously shocked schoolteacher wanted to know.
Jesus, at least I didn’t have to be my reporter self until Monday morning. Otherwise, I’d be jobless-ly illiterate.
“Pre-literate!” Ginny shook her head. “You can’t be illiterate— You can’t be unable to read and write if writing and the written word don’t yet exist.”
Just as you can’t be afraid of heights if the world is flat. I could have had a perfect night’s sleep had it not been for Columbus! I gave him the ultimate swearword adjective I had been saving for the governor.
“We’re talking about oral tradition,” Ginny said. “There’s no reason the Lesbian Adventure Club shouldn’t have an oral tradition.”
Oral tradition? Lesbians had an oral tradition? Jesus, there had to be a better way to ask that.
“What the heck is an oral tradition?” Holly asked what most expressions told me was a damn popular question.
Kris replied, “Before the written word, stories were told and passed from generation to generation. These stories helped establish and maintain culture. They recorded history. With a little embellishment, they created legends and heroes, things to inspire, things to aspire to. They helped teach language, customs, traditions, rites, morals—you name it. They tried to explain the forces in the world that people had no control over. They gave people things or gods to believe in, faith in something with more power than mortal beings. Some of them became the basis for religions.”
Kris handed the imaginary microphone to Ginny who said, “As much as I love books and some of the technology we have now, I think there’s something amazing that comes from storytelling, the personal intimacy between teller and listener.” She smiled and then continued, “Imagine sitting at this very fire with your favorite author, while he or she tells you the story, instead of having to turn pages in a book. Or imagine long, long ago, when people gathered around the fire at night, seeking safety and warmth, and used stories to explain what was so new to them. What happened in their world that made someone concoct the god of lightning? Who died and moved someone to create Charon to ferry the souls across the River Styx? It’s amazing, and those stories are still with us, although they existed long before books.”
Kris nodded most emphatically. “It is amazing. Even the ones that were told for the sheer entertainment of it, or to teach a moral, or to sing a folksong. They still bonded people to each other.” She batted Ginny’s arm and said, “I wonder who the person was who started the tradition of telling ghost stories around the campfire.”
That made looks of immense suspicion run the circle. Had we just been forewarned of Vernon’s arrival? Or—
“So we’re going to be telling ghost stories?” Alison shrieked, and when I remembered feeling like shit for making fun of her for Camp Crystal Lake on a different weekend, I realized why. If she didn’t like the horror genre, she probably didn’t like ghost stories either. Out in the woods by a fire, I figured I wouldn’t either.
“We’re not going to be telling ghost stories,” Kris assured, but then she looked at Ginny and asked, “Are we?”
“Well, it could be, but I highly doubt it.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’ll be telling stories, but what kind of stories is completely up to you.”
“A storytelling contest?”
“I still don’t get it.”
“That’s my fault,” Kris said, “for bringing up the whole ghost story thing. Sorry. Just trust us a moment longer. Go ahead, Gin.”
“No, you go ahead.”
“All right,” she agreed and then seemed to try to collect her thoughts or maybe to remember her place in whatever pre-literate script they had agreed upon. Finally, she continued, “The point of this is that oral tradition, storytelling, is the foundation of things that still exist today. It’s what links the present to the past. So, in our apparent modus operandi,” she said and paused to roll her eyes at Laura, “we want to take you backwards, but just in our own history, those things that give meaning and faith and morals and culture to this little group of ours.”
Ginny took her apparent turn, saying, “All we want you to do, as couples, is to tell us the story of how you got together, how you became a couple. But do it in the oral tradition and turn it into a legend, a myth, a fairytale, a fable, a folksong.”
Once more, the glances ran the circuit. We were assessing the fate just handed to us.
“Maybe this will help,” Kris said. “Imagine a different group of us sitting right here hundreds of years from now. Your stories are what they’d be telling, the essence, the love between the original members of the Lesbian Adventure Club. Create the lore of our group.”
Smiles began to form. Timid ones at first, but the more we comprehended what they were saying, the stronger they became.
“That’s it?” Laura interrogated like a suspicious cop. “All we have to do it tell our story in a different way? You’re not going to mess with us any further?”
“Not at all.”
“Are you going to judge them?” the one with her hand on my thigh asked.
“Goodness no,” Kris immediately answered. “Ginny and I had more than our fill of competition last time. So this is noncompetitive. All winners. No losers.”
“But be prepared for next time,” Ginny roared with a laugh, and no one doubted her.
“Well, what about the camp sign then?” the schoolteacher queried. “I thought Camp Thunder Thigh meant we were going to do your fantasy get-fat camp.”
“Those camp names are a part of our lore, as well,” Kris said. “Remember when you and Maggie asked us to name our camps as a representation of us as couples? They belong here.”
“And,” Ginny emphasized, “we’re here until Sunday. You don’t have to tell your stories until tomorrow night around the fire. The rest is free time for you to work on your stories and to do something about those puny thighs of ours. Kris and I have goodies out the wazoo.”
“But we were also hoping to do some hiking tomorrow, and Ginny was hoping we could hit the apple orchard up the road. We’ll do brunch Sunday morning, but we’ll cook everything else. Lots of opportunities to work on those thighs.”
The crowd seemed genuinely pleased.
“And speaking of goodies, we’ve got hot water ready for hot chocolate and marshmallows ready for roasting.”
“But we need to take care of a couple of quick things.”
Ginny said, “First, despite the fact that you have all been rendered pre-literate, we’ve got a pad and paper for each of you. I just put them on your cabin’s front step. Hopefully, that will make it easier for whomever each of you decides should tell your tale.”
Kris rose to her feet and began digging in the pouch pocket of her sweatshirt. “We’ll draw straws to decide the order in which the stories will be told.” Having won the pocket war, she upheld four straws of different sizes. As she stuck them into Ginny’s awaiting fist, she said, “Short straw goes first. Longest goes last.”
Holding a tidy row of straws that now looked the same length, Ginny leaned down and held out her hand to Holly, who hemmed and hawed with her index finger as though her choice was monumental. Maybe it was, as I found myself hoping like hell we’d end up with the longest damn one of the bunch. I was not at all sure how Claudia and I would fare with such a task, but admittedly, there were a hell of a lot worse things the professors could have demanded of us. It’ll be fun, I told myself. Okay, it would be if my gregarious partner volunteered to be the actual teller of our tale. Our tale! What exactly was our tale when all wrapped up in a different package for the rest of them to examine?
After I watched Holly bring her chosen straw close to her chest, I glanced to Claudia to see whether I could gauge her reaction to the proposed activity. To me, she seemed neither pleased nor disgruntled. Even when Ginny’s fist arrived between the two of us, she offered no reaction, except to say, “You pick, Kate.”
Shit! The precise moment our fate would befall us would now be my fault. I sucked a deep breath, eenie-meenied really quick, and plucked. Then, just as Holly had done, I pulled it to my chest fast enough that no one could see. Admittedly, though, I tried like hell to feel its length inside my closed hand. It seemed long to me, but it wasn’t as though I had anything to compare it to, and then suddenly it didn’t really matter. Claudia’s hand pressed over mine, and I felt emboldened. We’d do this. We’d do a damn good job. It’ll be fun.
Ginny moved on to Alison and Janice. After Alison completed the same maneuvers, Ginny advanced to Maggie and Susan to make a full circle. Then, the eight of us just kind of glared at each other, making the whole thing suddenly seem very competitive although it wasn’t supposed to be.
“All right, let’s see your straws,” Ginny commanded as she took her place next to Kris on their blanket.
No one seemed gung-ho to reveal, except for Holly, who squealed, “Yes! Look at it, babe. This has to be the shortest.” She thrust the little nub at Laura, and I figured it was way shorter than the one I held.
Apparently, the others assessed that they did not have to worry about going first, either, for everyone shoved her straw out there for the Fates to see. And I’ll be damn if Claudia and I didn’t end up with the longest of the lot. Yes! Neither Alison nor Susan was quite convinced, though. They both did maneuvers dangerously close to the fire just so they could measure against the long blue and red striped beauty that I held. Yes! After the impromptu wrestling match between Alison and Susan, the order was set: Holly and Laura would go first; Alison and Janice would go second; Maggie and Susan would go third; the green-eyed beauty and I would go last. Besides me, only Holly seemed pleased … oh, and Claudia, who gave me an exuberant high-five.
The redhead raised and waggled her hand. “Can I ask a question?” When she got the official go-ahead, she asked, “How is storytelling fair when Kate’s a writer? That’s the same as Maggie’s point about giving us clues when Laura’s a detective or making us draw things when Holly’s an artist.”
“I’m not a writer!” I loudly defended. “I’m a reporter.”
“Oh? How is that any different?”
“Because I don’t get to make shit up! I just report.”
The redhead apparently felt the need to continue the stupid argument, “Well, I think they’re the same, and I don’t want to look like a schmuck.”
Without even an iota of thought, I blurted, “You look like a schmuck now for thinking I can do any better than you.” After I realized I had just called her a schmuck and knew damn well the sense of never wanting to look like one, I felt quite guilty and feared her reaction.
She stared almost blankly at me, and then for some idiotic reason, the detective thought to insert herself into the already horrid fray.
“Thiel, seems to me, you have the upper hand.”
She whipped her head to Laura. “How the hell do you figure that?”
“Because you’re the biggest bullshitter here. You should be able to tell a story better than anyone.”
Janice glared at her, and I again feared her reaction. Finally, after an eternity of silence, she very seriously said, “You’re right. Good point.” A grin spread across her face. “Al’s and mine will be the best damn one.” Now-cocky redhead high-fived seemingly skeptical-but-willing blackhead.
Is that what would make this doable, being a good bullshitter? If it was, I was screwed. I knew I could be full of shit, but that was a whole hell of a lot different from bullshitting. My eyes raced to Claudia. Was she a good bullshitter? Oh yeah, she could bullshit. Jesus, couldn’t she?
Alison and Susan then blasted the sociologist and the pre-English professor with a bazillion questions. Answers were fired back just as swiftly, and I caught quite a few of them: no length or time requirement; we did not have to write it out if we didn’t want to; either one or both could tell the story; if we had access to the Internet, we could research or simply search for inspiration. In other words, they gave us a lot of leeway.
When the question pool ran dry, several of them left with Kris and Ginny to get the hot chocolate fixings and the marshmallows. Claudia was among the convoy so I didn’t get the opportunity to hear her reaction to all of this. I assumed, though, that she was okay with it; otherwise, I would have been pulled aside because she needed to talk.
Laura took advantage of the lull and dragged me off for a much-needed smoke. She said nothing about oral tradition, and instead, we kind of perused the roadway, trying to determine the exact proximity of our neighbors.
Soon, we were summoned back to the fire, and just as it had with Laura, the conversation stayed far removed from the mission before us. It was relaxed and jovial, and I ate far too many marshmallows.
At one point, Alison commandeered everyone’s attention to tell us that Janice had a neat story that showed how legends could inspire.
Janice’s face turned red, and she wriggled with what I figured was nervousness. She cleared her throat and said, “There’s a legend that was important to me as a kid.” It didn’t take much prodding to get her to elaborate, “When I was little I was a thumbsucker.” She stopped and glanced to everyone, expecting laughter, I suspected, and finding none, she continued, “My jerk of a brother used to tease the hell out of me. One night my mother and I were sitting outside on the porch. I knew damn well she knew my brother was in the backyard digging worms, but anyway, she made it seem as though she was about to share something private with me. She told me an Irish legend about a guy named Finn MacCool.”
“Wow, cool name,” Holly interrupted.
“You don’t know how cool,” Janice said with a big grin. “Anyway, there was supposed this salmon somewhere in the world that possessed all worldly knowledge, anything you could possibly want to know. Well, Finn MacCool decided he wanted to know every flippin’ thing that salmon knew. So he went out in search of the fish. Eventually, he caught him and decided to cook him and eat him in order to gain his knowledge.” She paused for vegan and non-vegan dismay. “When he was cooking him on the fire, some of the juice squirted and burned his thumb. To make it stop hurting, he put his thumb in his mouth and sucked, and in doing so, he ended up with all the salmon’s knowledge. From then on, anytime he wanted to know anything, all he had to do was suck this thumb.” She paused to laugh. “And from then on, every time my brother would tease me about sucking my thumb, she’d say, ‘You better knock it off, Daniel. MacCool here is going to end up smarter than the both of us put together.'” She began to laugh. “I remember right after my high school graduation, she rushed up to me, gave me a hug, and said, ‘Good job, MacCool.'”
We laughed, but it was most definitely not at her.
“And, how did it inspire you?” Ginny asked her.
“Well, thankfully, the thumbsucking was short lived, but I found that I liked her calling me that name and trying to be smart just so she’d call me it.” Then she seemed desperate to get the intense spotlight off her, for she inquired, “And what about you, Kris and Ginny? Do we get to hear a story about how you to became a couple?”
“Nope,” Ginny said as Kris shook her head. “This is about you, not us.”
We grumbled only to have Kris point out, “There has to be some perk for being hostesses.” We sure as hell didn’t argue with that truth, and then Kris said, “Although, if there was a myth written about Ginny, she’d definitely be The Sphinx.”
“Why The Sphinx?”
With a half-smile, Ginny glared at her, and Kris took her damn sweet time explaining, “Half woman and half lion.”
We roared with laughter. That was a very accurate description of her.
“And,” Kris loudly said, “she’s kills anyone who can’t solve her ghastly riddles.”
Ginny cuffed her repeatedly, but she laughed almost uncontrollably. When she was back in control, she said, “Just let ideas for your stories brew in your minds. For now, let’s just enjoy the rest of the our evening together.”
And so, we did.
Shortly after ten, Ginny announced that the “warm bathroom with the hot water” would be locked tight at ten-thirty. This caused several of them to panic and me to realize just how frickin bad I had to pee. However, Kris then said she’d dole out water and coffee grounds to anyone wanting to set up coffee for the morning in their cabins. I crossed my legs tightly and decided the need for morning coffee superseded all things in life … okay, except for making sure Earl graced Claudia with his presence.
As though running for their lives, couples dispersed.