Okay, the author’s NaNo manuscript proved to be a bigger mess than she’s used to. In other words, things are progressing slowly. So, I thought I’d swipe another chapter for you because I’m sure you’re just dying to know what happens next.
Claudia hauled ass to our cabin, and I tried like hell to keep up with her. As soon as we got inside, she spun around, grabbed me, and held on tight. It was nice, but at the same time, I knew something was wrong. Before I could even ask, though, she posed her own question, “Honey, would it be okay if we didn’t sleep in the loft?”
“I’m willing to try it,” I assured. Although, truth be told, I’d rather have been stuck in a tent, but still, I knew she was simply trying to spare me. “You don’t have to—”
“I don’t want to sleep up there,” she qualified.
“You don’t?” I admit I wasn’t expecting that. I pulled back and tried to see her eyes in the near darkness. I reached and fumbled for the switch on the wall lamp. “Are you okay?”
“I’m just fine. I just think I’d rather be on the sturdy floor tonight.” She squinched up her eyes. “Is that okay with you?” Once I nodded, she said, “Maybe we can try sleeping up there tomorrow night.”
“Fine by me,” I told her.
With a whiplashing change of subject, she asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to make a run to the bathroom with us? Hot water is a very precious thing when you’re camping.”
“So is coffee,” I replied. “I’ll take care of that and then see about getting us some space down here for the sleeping bag. I’ll hit the cold-water bathroom before we crawl in.”
Her eyes narrowed even more. “You’re sure? Positive?”
“I am. Now grab your stuff and go so you don’t end up walking in the dark alone.”
She planted a sweet kiss on my lips, snatched the duffle bag and the flashlight, and disappeared into the night.
I hunted until I found the car keys I had absentmindedly tossed aside. Then I took the coffee pot, its filter basket, and the electric kettle. I zipped to Ginny and Kris’ cabin for water and coffee. Kris and I exchanged nothing more than pleasantries, and mere minutes later, I was rummaging in my trunk for the box that contained our air mattress. “Self-inflating,” the box said, but I somehow doubted it would simply do so on my command. I whipped the box as close to the cabin as my wussy arms could manage. Then, I retrieved the coffee and tea necessities from where I set them on the hood.
Surprisingly, getting the mattress all plumped up was far easier than I anticipated. I even zipped up those tiny frickin’ boards nailed to the tiny wall without incident to get our sleeping bag and pillows.
I had just unzipped the bag when a makeup-less beauty with very minty fresh breath interrupted me.
“Room for two, I hope,” she teased.
“Room for two only if we sleep really, really close.”
“Well, that’s my definition of ‘room for two.'”
Then she led us into a debate about whether we wanted the luxury of the tiny space heater. We liked cold; we hated stuffy. But being able to sleep shirtless without our shoulders turning blue was the thing that tipped the scales in favor of the artificial heat. She pulled the thing closer, turned it on, and we both made faces when we heard its obnoxious hum and a vibration that made it seem as though it would fall apart.
I told her I was going to make a quick run to the bathroom, and she offered to escort me. I assured her I’d be fine on my own, that I’d use the occasion to have my last smoke.
I slipped out into the darkness, only to slip right back into the cabin for the frickin’ flashlight.
As soon as I made it to the road, I lit a smoke and then turned on the flashlight, pointing it just in front of my feet and not otherwise putting myself on display. I needed to see where I was going, but somehow being under the cover of night seemed a desirable thing. I wasn’t quite sure why that seemed so crucial; I just knew it did.
Very slowly, I walked in the direction I thought would take me to the restroom. Craning my neck, I looked to the bazillion stars, ones we couldn’t see as sharply from our spot in the city. They were incredible, and the only thing missing was the moon. She either wasn’t up yet, or she was hiding in her newness. I remembered as a kid wishing I could be new once a month like her and just start the hell over. That childhood thought made me think of MacCool, and I smiled when I tried to imagine her as a child—with one of those mother creatures, one who could obviously stand to be in the same room with her. When I realized I had begun feeling sorry for myself, I took a long drag and quickened my pace.
Way the hell down from the cabins, I finally happened upon the restroom.
In the flickering light of the lonesome bulb dangling above the door, I made my way inside. A godawful odor seemed to slap me in the face. That and the frickin’ bone-chill told me without a doubt this was not simply a cold-water restroom. Hell, this was the dreaded pit toilet. Jesus, I hated those, and if I didn’t still have the remnants of civilized coffee hell bent on leaving my body one way or another, I would have run back to that tiny cabin and simply waited for morning. As it was, though, I had little choice.
With a gulp of air I hoped would last several minutes, I braved a push on the first stall door.
And there it was. As though some meaningful statue in a satanic temple, this dirty blue plastic hump thing sat there gaping at me. The center of it tried its best to resemble a toilet seat, but I knew frickin’ better. It was simply a pretense to give the illusion that one was not about to attach one’s ass to the inlet of the very bowels of hell.
Still holding my breath, I quickly debated a simple squat in the woods. Who the hell would know … okay, other than a gang of raccoons with their LED eyeballs? I did not want them looking at my bare ass—or worse. I decided to go with the toilet seat illusion. I’d lie to myself; I had done that before. On a few occasions, I even proved rather adept at it.
Just a stinky restroom, I told myself. The sooner you pee, the sooner you can get back to Claudia. Upping the ante, I told myself that she was probably naked and probably extremely desperate to find out how much noise she could make in that tiny cabin with its tiny thin walls without involving the neighbors in our sex life. That, actually, worked rather well, and within seconds, I had a lungful of new air, moved inside the stall, and prepared to drop my drawers.
With chipmunk cheeks and a grimace, I carefully lowered myself to do what I frickin’ needed to do. I cursed the governor once more, for forcing me to drink coffee so late, for making everything after his late departure so goddamn rushed.
And I peed. At first, it was very relieving but quickly it became terrifying. I had always been one of those considerate pee-ers in public places. Hell, I was that way at home. I tried to do it quietly, respectfully to anyone within earshot, including myself, as opposed to those people who just let it rip as though from a distant waterfall. But here I was, sitting over the mouth of hell, with demons probably trying to reach up and grab my ass—or worse—and the pit itself echoed in a way I swear to God filled the night. Our distant neighbors would be roused, perhaps even come running. Maybe Laura would be dispatched, for certainly there was something goddamn horrible going on in the cold-water bathroom up quite a way from the tiny cabins. Maybe Laura would tell Holly to do a quick headcount. All accounted for, babe of a cop. Oh, except the green-eyed naked beauty says the reporter is missing. Maybe Holly would theorize that I was being held hostage by the governor who didn’t like the story that would appear in the morning paper. And the detective would spring into action. Perhaps rip the squeaky screen door off its spring-loaded hinges. Maybe she’d bring back-up. Maybe the tear gas would smell better than the natural odors of this rancid place, but it didn’t matter, for I was holding my breath. And I’d keep holding my breath, long after she had SWAT riddle it with so many bullets that the place fell down around me. And then, she’d see me, perched there over the mouth of hell, with demons reaching up to grab my ass—or worse. Sutter, you moron, she’d say. Then, to save face—both mine and hers—she’d file a report that would say far more than “It was Sutter peeing.” With her help, it’d become The Legend of the Demons in the Pit Toilet. Perhaps it would become a ghost story told around campfires for generations to come.
Or perhaps it was just me, my mind desperately passing the time while I peed into the mouth of hell.
I flew off the dirty blue plastic hump thing, grabbed the untrustworthy tissue from the cockeyed roller, and wiped in a semi-standing position. My lungs ready to burst, I tossed the frickin’ wad of toilet paper through the illusory seat, and God help me, I imagined what was down there—okay, what else was down there. And then, it dawned on me. This was this abyss! Oh yeah, this was the exact abyss on which Claudia and I had once teetered. For the bazillionth time, I vowed to myself to do anything and everything within my power to make sure we never, ever got that close again. Screw you, abyss!
Knowing full well I had riled the demons in that shitty hell hole of an abyss, I charged through the stall door as I tried to pull up my drawers without falling on my frickin’ face. I twisted the faucet to hear yet another sound that echoed in the pitch blackness, and then I realized what the damn big deal about hot water was. I washed, but I did not feel clean. I scrubbed, but I did not feel any cleaner. And my fingers were chilled to the goddamn bone.
Enough! Dirty or not, I was going back to the cabin. I seized the flashlight, only to realize that I had not brushed my teeth. I did a half-assed job and took off like a bat out of hell’s mouth.
I lit another smoke and tried to relax. I did not want to enter that cabin, come back to her, with any semblance of someone who had just lost her marbles down a pit toilet. I wanted to be calm. I wanted to savor the moment of sliding in next to her, just as I always did, just as I hoped I would always do.
I bowed my head and stretched my neck to relieve the tension there. When I looked up, however, I spied in the distance a flashlight, held down like mine, obviously used by someone walking … in my frickin’ direction. I tried to figure how long I had been gone, wondering whether Claudia had come looking for me. It didn’t seem as though too much time had elapsed. Strangely, I checked my pocket and realized I had not brought my cell phone.
The distance between me and the oncoming flashlight lessened very slowly. There seemed no fervor in the walker’s stride so there seemed less need to worry about whom I was about to encounter.
Finally, it became apparent when I heard, “Is that you, Sutter?”
“Laura, what the hell are you doing out here?”
“Probably the same thing you are. Gotta pee.”
Finally, we stood inches apart, and like two morons, we shined our flashlights in each other’s face. My pupils dilated so fast and so far that it frickin’ hurt.
After lowering it and her following suit, I warned, “The restroom is smelly and creepy. Want me to go with you?”
“Thanks,” she replied, “but I’ll be okay. The peace and quiet feels good at the moment. Besides, I’m sure there’s someone waiting for you to come back.”
I reiterated my willingness, and after she again declined, I checked to make sure she had her cell phone, just in case, as though I was suddenly an expert on precautions. She assured me she did, and I continued on my way without her.
By the time I made it back to the cabins, I could no longer see her light in the distance. I figured the demons knew enough not to mess with her, as she had to contend with more than her fair share of them in the past months.
Instead of hightailing it to Claudia as I wanted to, I aimed for my car’s glovebox. The anal-retentive one kept a slew of hand wipe packets in there, and I wanted them. I scrubbed until I finally felt clean, and then I put some toothpaste on my conveniently wet brush and did a better job. Foaming at the mouth, I headed across the road to the water spigot. I cupped my hands in the stream and then rinsed liked nobody’s business. After a spit and a swipe, I gazed again into the sky, and I sensed the peace and quiet Laura mentioned.
When I finally saw Laura’s light again, I made for the venerable Camp Kis Cak.
Unsurprisingly, I found Claudia already nestled inside the sleeping bag.
“Feel better?” she asked. I assured her I did, and she ordered, “Good. Now get in here and warm me up.”
As I shed my clothes, I warned her that I had absolutely no heat to spare. She said she had a bit and would not be stingy with it.
“Do you still want that back rub I promised you?” I asked. She had been a real drama queen that morning about having to miss her ritual Friday night bubble bath that symbolically washed away the week’s stress. I had offered to compensate.
“It seems your day was a heck of a lot worse than my entire week,” she said. “How about I give you one?”
Naked and ready to jump in, I replied, “At the moment, all I care about is getting warm.”
I was in midair when she ordered, “Honey, make sure the door is locked, and drag the heater closer. Then we’ll get warm.”
I about-faced and discovered that the apparatus to keep us safe from the outside was nothing but a hook and eye. Regardless, I shoved that sucker into operational order and then leaned under the table where she had stationed the rattly heater.
“On second thought, maybe you better leave it there. Too close to the air mattress and we’ll end up naked over Granton in a hot air balloon.”
That made me laugh, which was not generally my reaction to fastening my naked body to hers, but that was what she got. Then, I sighed, loud enough that it could be heard over the obnoxious heater. She rolled to her side, her back to me, and I pressed myself as close to her as I could possibly go. It had seemed such an obstacle course to get to that moment. Well earned, then, and most prized.
We simply grooved for a spell, and I concentrated on the feel of her hand affectionately rubbing my forearm. When I felt myself starting to drift, I took a deep breath and asked what I was dying to know, “Have you done any thinking about the story we need to tell?”
“I think we should do Zeus and Io like from the scavenger hunt that got us here the first time.”
Zeus and Io? How the hell was that us? She liked purple irises, not violets, and I was hardly a god, let alone the god of the sky. I asked her rationale.
“Well, you can be the big stud in the sky, and I can be Io.”
“I was hardly a stud when we met. Shit, I’m not a stud now. Can women even be studs?”
“No, they can’t,” she replied. “It’s still a sexist world. You’d have to be a slut.”
We both started laughing, and although it didn’t matter, I wasn’t sure if she laughed at the absurdity of sexist rules or whether my potential as a slut was funny.
“And what makes you Io, dare I ask?”
“Because I was in college running up bills to pay my tuition. So, I owe.”
I laughed but made a point of telling her that she was not in the least bit funny.
“I don’t want to do a myth anyway,” she said very seriously. “Laura and Holly are doing a myth.”
“Are they? Is that what Holly said? How the hell do they already know what they’re doing?”
“I’m just guessing,” she admitted. “They both seem to think the other is a goddess, and we all know the world revolves around them. So it makes sense.”
I pondered that, but before I could get very far, she said, “Susan and Maggie will probably do a fable, because, as a schoolteacher, that’s what Susan would know best.” She yawned, snuggled closer, and continued, “Alison and Janice will probably do something Eastern because Alison knows all that stuff.”
“Okay, that makes sense. … What do we know?”
“Not a whole hell of a lot,” she said, and again we fell into a fit of laughter. After a moment of silence, she said, “You’re very good at your job and could no doubt make our getting together headline news, but we’re not allowed to do that, and I obviously know nothing that helps us.”
“You know lots of things,” I assured.
“Well, I’m not saying I’m stupid in general, just in this instance.”
“You’re not stupid, Claudia. Jesus, you are so not stupid. Not in this instance. Not in any instance.” I pondered a moment before saying, “I always thought you were way smarter than I. I mean really, look at who we were when we met. You were—” I shot straight up, propelled by a brilliant idea. “That’s it!” I frickin’ screamed. “‘The Bachelor and the Master’! How about that? That’s what we were. Plus, this many years later, I still don’t have my master’s.”
“You’ll have it soon enough,” she said as she rolled over. “But, our getting together had nothing to do with intelligence.” She laughed. “I probably could have said that better, but you know what I mean.”
It really didn’t, did it? In my mind I recalled another Lesbian Adventure Club weekend, but this one did not elicit an abundance of fondness. I heard Alison posing a question I had asked myself a hundred thousand times, but with slightly different words: How did the nerd get the cheerleader? They readily understood that I had somehow ended up with someone far out of my league. That baffled me then; it baffled me now. Within the confines of my own head, that was manageable, but to hear them acknowledge it… Well, self-definition of a bad thing wasn’t nearly as horrible as having the world validate it. Their doing so negated the possibility that maybe it was simply my perspective or at least a dark secret I was damn good at keeping.
I deflected the truth and stupidly suggested, “How about ‘The Reporter and the Graduate Student’?” Before she could react, though, I changed it to something that sounded a bit more intriguing, “‘The Reporter and the Very Sexy Waitress’?” I kind of liked that one, furthering the picture with, “You used to pour one mean cup of coffee. I remember watching you—”
“‘Used to?'” Lickety-split, she rolled atop me, and in that space heater’s strange glow, I saw playful exasperation in her muted green eyes. She said, “Next time I’m thinking about pouring you a cup of coffee, I’ll make sure I remember that I’m now incapable of making it a mean one.”
Jesus! Backfire! Backfire! “Okay, ‘The Reporter and the Very Sexy Still Really Mean Coffee Pourer.'”
This time, she lickety-split rolled her eyes at me.
“Fine, then, let’s just call it what it is, what everyone knows it was: ‘The Nerd and the Cheerleader.'”
“You didn’t know I was a cheerleader,” she said very matter-of-factly.
“No. You saved that little gem,” I said with a bitter-tasting tongue, and then I bit it almost bloody before I could add that she saved it to humiliate me in front of our friends. I knew that wasn’t the truth; she had hidden it to save me—from myself. Still, it was what it was. Nearly gagging on what I felt, I corrected, “Okay, how about ‘The Nerd and the Almost Prom Queen’? No, no, ‘The Nose-Picker and the Almost Prom Queen.'”
She started laughing again. “Honey, does it strike you as odd that every title you’ve mentioned sounds like a porn flick?”
No. Okay, maybe. Okay, yeah, they did. But that sure seemed a whole lot better to me than the frickin’ underdog gets the top-dog. If this made us sound … um … porn-ish, why was that such a bad thing?
“Do you write for the Granton Urinal or the Granton Journal?” she teased.
“Very funny,” I replied and tried like hell not to laugh. “If we’re going with the porn story, I think we should start it out with you shoving that whole hotdog in your mouth.”
“Wrong kind of porn, honey.” Jesus, she was in a goofy mood.
“But that’s how we started,” I said. “That was exactly what you did the first time we ate together.”
In a split second, her goofiness evaporated. “I didn’t do very well with my first impression, did I?” she asked very seriously. “What the heck made you keep coming back?”
“You really don’t know?” I waited for an answer, but none came.
She rolled to her side, her back to me again, and snuggled in, but I knew it was a defensive maneuver. I pulled her close and despite the impending appearance of throat demon, I said, “I kept coming back because you kept pulling me back. I thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. And you know, I still think that. And I still think I’m the luckiest person in the world every time you come anywhere near me.”
She flipped so fast she blurred. “I’m the luckiest, Kate. I honestly believe I’m the luckiest.” She latched onto me with such force that I had no choice but to land on my back. She put her ear over my heart, as I knew she did anytime she needed to feel extra close.
I wasn’t sure what this had all riled up in her, but there was something churning beneath her soft surface. I waited a few moments to see whether she’d enlighten me, and when I eventually determined that was not going to happen, I decided just to let it be. It had been a long week, and now something had hurled us into the past. Despite the good things that existed back there—especially in terms of our finding each other—there also lurked some demons that neither of us had managed to banish to some remote pit toilet to the mouth of hell. What was that saying? Ah! “Walk lightly and carry a big stick.”
I drew her closer and waited for sleep to claim us.