Well, she got out of Camp NanoWriMo with an extra 5,000 words beyond her goal. She focused mostly on Laura’s book, but the DWD did manage to wrangle some attention out of her. She’s now in Chapter 10, with quite a way to go yet, and I must tell you that it has been hard keeping in at the keyboard when it’s beautiful outside. I think I’d rather deal with her wanting to plant things than being crabby as hell with spring fever in the absence of spring. So, we’ll let her live a little but keep nagging as well—gently nagging.
In the meantime, here’s Chapter 2 of LAC 17. If you haven’t read Chapter 1 or need a refresher, read it first via the post below this one.
Shortly after ten—hell, longly after ten, I finally heard the sound of a motor up the driveway. Let it be Claudia, I chanted as though a three-year-old moron. I did not want to frickin’ host this frickin’ thing by my frickin’ lonesome!
Ginny and Kris’ van finally came into view, and my heart sank, only to be quickly buoyed by the fact that Laura had said maybe they could swing by and get her. Please, let them have Claudia!
I rushed the van while trying hard not to look as though I was actually rushing the van. I wasn’t at all sure how I did. Probably not very well, for the side door flung open, and Holly stared at me.
“Did you get Claudia?” I asked as I tried to spy through windows made opaque by intense sunshine.
“No!” she shrieked, and I could not have imagined her being quite that upset over her best friend’s absence.
“Sorry, Dilly,” Maggie yelled. “She’s still at work.”
“And we’re late because Ginny got lost,” the redhead informed, just as the passenger door opened fully.
The psychologist jumped out. Shaking her head, she looked exasperated, but I knew she suppressed laughter.
I called to Ginny, “Claudia and I got lost the first time, too. You should have called me.”
“I got us here!” she replied. “We just took the scenic route. It’s beautiful out here.”
“It sure is,” Kris said.
Those in the back came barreling out, and Holly raced to me and threw her arms around me. She released a godawful sigh just as her head came to rest on my shoulder. Melodrama or what?
“She’ll be here soon enough,” I lie-reassured.
“She better be. I hate being apart.”
My face must have broadcast my confusion, because Janice said, “She means Laura, not Claudia.”
“Laura?” My eyes scanned all faces. “Where the hell is Laura?”
“At Claudia’s work,” Holly answered with another sigh.
“She said you were worried about her driving here alone so she decided to wait for her.”
“Only in the dark,” I qualified and then tried like hell to remember my exact words. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded, but admittedly, a selfish part of me felt better.
Holly said, “We can commiserate, Kate.” In the next second, though, she let on that her melodrama was contrived, at least a bit. She jerked away from me, and a smile lit her face. “What have you got planned? What are you guys going to do to us?”
“We are going to mess with you,” I cockily replied, but I knew that not one of them believed me. “After Claudia gets here, though.”
“Yes, and Laura.” God forbid, I had failed to include Laura. “In the meantime, check out the place, get settled in, and I’ll unload what Ginny and Kris were kind enough to haul for us.” Okay, being the lone hostess wasn’t too bad, at least not yet.
Kris’ arm came around me, and I got a peck on the cheek and an offer of help. See, it was that simple sweet shit that made truly messing with them so difficult.
I suddenly noticed Susan standing on the van’s running board and at least four hands reaching to her to offer assistance.
She laughed and informed, “I’m pregnant, not incapacitated.”
Yes, folks, it was now official: There was a bun in the schoolteacher’s oven.
“Suck it up,” the redhead said.
“Get used to it,” the blackhead said.
“Yeah, enjoy it,” the artist said.
“Quit complaining and grab a hand,” the vegan said. “It’s our way of being part of it. You can’t deny us that.”
She did as instructed, and I again found myself wishing for Claudia’s presence. How the hell was I to mess with a kissing psychologist, a pregnant woman, and those refusing to let that pregnant woman make even a two-foot step unassisted? Claudia’s and my backbone together was historically rubbery. Alone, mine was liquid.
Much too quickly, Kris and I unloaded the back of the van, which contained mostly things we needed for the kitchen. I say “much too quickly” because suddenly there we all stood, and any hostess worth her salt would have offered coffee and those bagels that were tucked away in a grocery bag. But, see, there were some things that needed to be said before I could do that, and I really, really, really did not want to begin this thing without Claudia there. To whom the hell was I to hand the imaginary microphone? Then Susan caught my eye, and I realized that no matter how tough Claudia and I swore to become, neither of us were capable of starving a pregnant woman.
Seeing little choice, I retrieved a certain grocery bag from our assortment of things. Inside it were nine drawstring cloth sacks, and without a word, I distributed the named bag to the correct person. I saved Laura’s for later and kept the big-ass one for Claudia and me.
“Ooh, party favors,” Susan said. “I love party favors.”
“Can we open them?” Holly asked.
I shook my head. Then I nodded. Then I shook my head again. Obviously, I was confused. “I really don’t want to start our spiel without Claudia here, but I think I have to at least do this part.” I took a deep breath. “Each bag contains eighty-eight DWD bucks and eighty-eight beads.”
Now they looked confused, and very skeptical.
“All beverages and snacks cost eight bucks and eight beads. Meals cost eight bucks per couple.”
The sound of dropping jaws could be heard on the other side of the forty-five acres.
“Seriously?” Holly gasped. “You’re charging us for food and beverages?”
I had no choice but to defend, “Uh, Holly, you and Laura charged for food and beverages once.” I gave her a dirty look and then turned my eyes to the vegan and the schoolteacher. “You guys set up a whole economy based on beads. So, yes, you have to pay, and for now, that’s all I can say until Claudia gets here.” I knew that wasn’t enough of an explanation, but it was the best I could pull out of my lonesome ass.
Their mouths hung open a bit longer, but then they snapped shut to form smiles of agreeableness. Ginny whispered something, and they all began to shuffle to and out the frickin’ door.
“What?” I shouted for the third time as I now stood outside and watched them head to the van. “You’re leaving just because we’re doing something others have done? Things you already went along with?”
“Don’t be silly,” Holly said, and they all started laughing. “There’s a big thermos of coffee in the van.”
“We’re not paying until we absolutely have to,” Ginny explained.
“Maybe then we’ll follow your copycat ways,” Janice said.
Jesus! “We’re not being copycats,” I defended and then felt irked enough to add, “and you guys are being awfully sassy.” I’d have wagered they would not have been that way if my favorite project manager stood at my side. Jesus, Claudia, hurry the hell up!
“We’re just giving you a hard time,” Ginny said. “We’ll behave now. Would you like to have some coffee with us?”
And then, I leaked out—already. “There’s a thermos in my car, too.” Shit!
We split the coffee eight ways and then leaned against the van to sip. We talked about how good the sun felt and how pretty the autumn colors were. The mood was subdued, and I figured my control as hostess was no longer threatened.
At one point, however, Janice elbowed me and then pointed. “Only two lawn chairs? Do I even need to ask who gets to use those?”
Shit! They were beginning to figure it out. There were only two chairs, fancy lounge chairs, for Claudia and me to relax in like thrones as we willfully messed with them. But, yet again, it was driven home that this was not a “we.” It was a frickin’ “me,” and things started to feel as though they were unraveling. “You’ll find out soon enough,” was all I could think to say.
That, however, led to a discussion about the missing Claudia, which in turn led to Holly calling Laura to see whether there was any news. Laura had none, other than to inform us that Claudia’s place of employment served damn good coffee and Danish, free of charge. This was not exactly what I needed to know.
Holly traipsed off to converse with Laura in private, and it seemed as though Ginny and Kris finally figured out that I was not doing so well with my precarious situation.
“We’ll just wait for Claudia, dear,” Kris said to me. “Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m surprised it hasn’t already.”
Ginny concurred, “That we’re able to get together so consistently is amazing.” She threaded her arm through mine. “Should we find something else to do—a walk, maybe—until we can officially begin when Claudia arrives?”
They were supposed to go on a walk, but just not as innocently as they could imagine. I had to do something. I had to congeal my liquid spine and get on with it. This wasn’t fair to anyone, especially Claudia, who probably felt even more pressured at work knowing I was stuck with this on my own. Time to buck up, Kate!
“I’ll get us going after Holly’s off the phone,” I vowed.
“It’s okay if you’d rather wait,” Alison said. “I don’t think I’d want to start without Janice.”
Janice agreed, and then Susan and Maggie threw in their agreement.
That made me waffle again. Jesus! All of us or none of us: Was that really how it was? Readily, I knew the answer to that, and I felt like less of a whiny wuss. But, I needed to come up with something to do that did not include a walk. Think, Kate! Think!
I did not get very far when my cell phone wailed with Claudia’s ringtone.
As I answered it, I flew out of earshot.
I had barely finished my greeting when she apologized for not being there. I assured her that I knew it was not her fault. Then she said that her boss had come in and lowered the boom, saying that heads would roll if the project wasn’t signed, sealed, and delivered by two o’clock. I knew it was not her head he meant, and I suspected it was the head of one she had wanted to roll a long time ago. I figured she’d tell me later, but at the moment, she had something else to say.
“I would not want to be in charge of our weekend without you and especially this one,” she said, and that made me feel a ton better. “So, I have an idea.” She paused before continuing, “Would it help if we did our little initial spiel while I was on speakerphone? Just as we planned it, but me stuck in the phone and not by your side. Then maybe you can do some of the easier things—like the leaf thing—until I can get there and pull my weight.”
That sounded damn good to me, and I told her as much.
She said, “But you have to promise to enjoy every second of their looking like fools and give me all the details.”
I was laughing and agreeing, and a second later, I was herding them into the cabin. As I did, she added, “I assume Holly’s still on the phone with Laura. Tell her to stay on it, but to put Laura on speakerphone, too.”
No wonder she was a damn good project manager.
Several minutes later, the ten of us congregated in that cabin, now all toasty warm. While I had to imagine the green-eyed beauty, it did feel as though she was there. I could even feel Laura’s presence.
“We’re all here, Claudia,” I said, and knowing her part—the hardest part—was to be said first, I handed the imaginary mic to her. “Go for it.”
“Hi, everybody,” she began, and that caused nearly a full minute of greetings and expressions of missing her. When the room went quiet again, she continued, “Kate and I came up with our idea one night when we had far too much wine to drink.” After giving them sufficient time to laugh and groan, she said, “But we swore to each other that we were going to do it even if it seemed like total nonsense the next morning.”
Truth be told, it did indeed seem like total nonsense, and neither of us was sure we could even pull it off. But, obviously, here we were.
Far more authoritatively, she pressed on, “We’re sick to death of being the only nice ones in the club.” She paused here for the predictable shrieks and groans. “You all seem to plan your weekends so they’re difficult for everyone. Whereas, we always think of something that makes us stronger as couples. Frankly, we’re sick of it. No more being considerate wusses. This time we’re going to do nothing more than be the kind of hostesses you’ve repeatedly proven yourselves to be. If you don’t like it, you have no one to blame but yourselves.”
She could not see the gaping mouths, but I could. I tried like hell not to laugh.
“There are eight of you,” she said. “As far as Kate and I are concerned, you’re all a bunch of cards, and you’re all crazy.” Above the newly released shrieks, she yelled so loud that my speaker almost vibrated to smithereens. “We thought it was only fitting to have our weekend be Crazy Eights.”