Raven's Mill

by

Sharon Mikeworth



JEREMY OPENED THE refrigerator and grabbed a beer. “Hey, I was talking to Daniel at work today and he said he and his wife might like to get together sometime.” He twisted the top off, pulled out a chair, and sat down across of me at the kitchen table. He took a long pull of his beer and looked at me expectantly.

“Really.” Since moving to South Carolina six months previously we hadn’t had much luck in the social department. Twice we had extended an invitation for dinner only to be stood up at the last minute.

The first time, we’d invited a man Jeremy worked with and his wife over for a barbecue. They hadn't even bothered to call and cancel. That had been particularly disappointing. Since moving to town, my overtures of friendship, while not being met with outright refusal, had been received with vague indifference at best. I had been excited to finally get a chance to establish some sort of connection in this town and the possible friendships it might lead to.

I had cleaned, shopped, and prepared food for days in advance. On the evening of the cookout I was ready in a summer dress with a halter neckline and little strawberry flowers all along the front that I had bought special for the evening. Not too dressy, but feminine, and I felt beautiful in it as I twirled in front of the mirror.

“You look gorgeous, Sam,” Jeremy said as he entered the room. His arms slid around me from behind, and I looked at our reflections in the mirror.

“You don’t look too shabby yourself.” He was dressed the way I liked him best, casual in faded blue jeans and a blue button-up shirt that complemented his coloring. Jeremy was six foot two with black hair and brown eyes, and I had always thought he was a perfect example of what women meant when they described a man as “tall, dark, and handsome.”

I looked in the mirror and again wondered what he saw in me. My hair is a plain mousy brown that has a tendency to curl and frizz in humid weather and although I'm certainly not fat, I really couldn’t be described as thin. I usually carried around a few pounds too many for my five-foot-four-inch frame. Of course Jeremy always said I was too hard on myself and that I was beautiful. He loved my green eyes, which were my best feature. They did seem to pop out against the tan I had acquired that summer. And for once my hair was behaving itself, still holding the light wave I had coaxed it into earlier. I loved the dress, too, and was glad I had splurged on it.

At six forty-five, Jeremy was out on the patio cleaning the grate to the grill as I walked through the house one last time. I checked things off as I went: fresh flowers, in the house and out on the patio table; candles, on the table beside the flowers; music, playing softly in the background; wine, four bottles—two white, two red; food, four large steaks, French bread, salad in the fridge, strawberry shortcake for dessert. I couldn’t think of anything else that needed to be done so I walked outside to wait with Jeremy.

Thirty minutes past the appointed time, Jeremy decided to go ahead and open the first bottle of wine. I had pulled over a wrought-iron table and arranged a tray of pastry-wrapped Brie, grapes, and mixed nuts, and we snacked and sipped our wine as we waited.

Eight o’clock came and went. Jeremy tried to call but only got their voicemail. By eight thirty, we had finished the bottle of wine and decided to go ahead and cook the steaks. Something had obviously happened and they weren’t going to show. We both tried to remain upbeat, as if it didn’t matter, but the excitement had gone out of the evening. We sat and ate in morose silence in the deepening gloom as the sun set. We never even touched the strawberry shortcake I made.

When Jeremy finally got a hold of the guy the next day, he said he had completely forgotten and that they'd been really busy anyway.

The second time, I felt sure things would be different. Jeremy had run into an old friend of his one morning and after talking to him on the phone a couple of times, Jeremy had invited him and his wife over. Jeremy had lived briefly in South Carolina as a child before his parents moved back up North and Russell had been his best friend at school. After confirming the date a few days before, I felt certain they would show up, so again, I cleaned the house from top to bottom and bought all the food.

Russell called and cancelled the night before.

“It sounds like he and his wife, Tammy, like to do a lot of the same stuff that we do,” Jeremy said now, bringing my thoughts back to the present and the fact that I had made virtually no friends, and as a consequence, had no social life to speak of since moving to town. “I think you’d like him.”

“What do they enjoy doing?”

“I know they hike and camp like we do. Daniel told me that one of the things he liked about Tammy when he met her was that she had a canoe.”

After discussing it, we decided to invite them over for drinks and see how it went before planning anything else. Jeremy agreed to talk to Daniel again at work and set it up. I told myself not to get my hopes up.

* * *

Daniel and Tammy showed up the following Saturday right on time. After introductions were made, I led Tammy into the kitchen where I had set up everything for the drinks. We stood making small talk as I mixed up the first round. She was pretty, if not quite beautiful, with long blond hair and a trim figure. She was a little taller than me and looked to be in her early to middle thirties.

After motioning for the men to follow us out to the patio, we settled into chairs with our drinks, and I learned more about her. On the plus side, she seemed to have some of the same interests as me. She liked to read, although she told me she “barely had time, working full-time and all.” And she worked out, except she did it at a health club, and not in the living room as I did.

On the minus side, she smoked, which I found out right after we sat down when she pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Do you mind?" she asked as she lit up. "I’ve mostly quit. I’m down to only three or four a day now."

And, she didn’t have any children. Jeremy and I had two boys, ages seven and twelve, who were visiting with their grandmother for two weeks back in Illinois. Tammy didn’t elaborate on why she didn’t have any children of her own and I didn’t ask. She did mention that Daniel had two grown children by a previous marriage, and I could only conclude that Daniel had not wanted to start over with more kids.

As we were finishing our second round of cocktails, I remembered the snacks I had prepared in the kitchen. Tammy stood up as I did and followed me into the house. I set about freshening up our drinks and assembling the food while she roamed around the living room gazing at the pictures on the wall and occasionally pulling a book out from one of the shelves.

I was placing individual shrimp cocktails on a tray, when she bent down in front of the entertainment center to examine the movies stacked underneath.

“Oh my God, do you actually do this?” she exclaimed.

I set the tray down on the bar and went into the living room. Tammy had turned on the TV and was putting a DVD into the player. After a moment, one of my dance-aerobics videos came on. Tammy turned the volume up and that’s all it took.

Tammy started trying to imitate a particularly funky move and I joined her to help demonstrate, and the next thing you know we were jumping and dancing around, giggling like two schoolgirls.

The men had come in to investigate at this point, and I stopped dancing and fell into a chair.

Tammy stopped too, but only for a moment.

“What I do … is belly dance,” she said. “I took a class on it.” Despite, or maybe because of the men watching, she began to move her hips slowly back and forth while holding her arms above her head. She undulated slowly toward the men, arms twining like ribbons, hips gyrating.

She continued up and down the room, swinging her hips sensuously from side to side while her husband Daniel looked on indulgently and Jeremy stood staring with his mouth slightly open. He glanced over and met my eyes for a moment, and I smiled to show him I was not the least bit bothered by Tammy’s sexy little dance. She was probably just a little tipsy. I looked on for another minute and then got up to finish the food.

Along with the shrimp cocktails, I sat out an array of other finger foods: meatballs, pigs in a blanket, olives, chips and dip, and cut up raw vegetables with hummus.

Daniel loading up on the snacks right away, but Tammy only chose a few carrot and celery sticks.

All in all, the night went fine except for one small incident. Tammy and I were in the kitchen freshening up our drinks, and I saw her gazing at the shelf above the bar. I looked over and was horrified to see a thick layer of dust along the bottom that I had missed when I cleaned.

“Oh noo, I can’t believe I missed that. I tried so hard to get the house perfect for you guys,” I said with a laugh.

“I know, and I really hate that, too,” Tammy replied, not laughing at all, and ran her finger across the dirt. There was a faint look of distaste on her face.

I said nothing, not sure how to take that, as she moved over to the sink and turned on the water to wash her hands. Did she mean she hated it when she missed a spot, or she hated a dirty house? I tore off a paper towel, wet it, and wiped off the dust. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was why she hadn't eaten much.

By the time they went to leave, we had a tentative plan for another get-together. Tammy hugged me after we walked out on the porch. “I had such a good time, you guys,” she said. “I know we are going to have so much fun.”

* * *

The next time we got together turned out to be for a baby shower for one of Daniel’s grown daughters. I wasn’t sure if I liked their reciprocating our get-together with an invitation to a shower for someone we had never met, but I was so eager for us to have another couple to be friends with that I tried not to let it bother me and just appreciate being included. Back in Illinois, Jeremy and I had frequently spent time with my best friend Katherine and her husband Joel, and I missed the easy camaraderie born out of years of friendship.

We showed up with the expected gift for the daughter, and other than a man Jeremy worked with and his wife, the only people we knew were Daniel and Tammy. But everything went well, and the daughter seemed to like the gift we brought. We didn’t stay too long and left with a promise to call them soon.

Our boys, Jason and Jay, came home from Grandma’s, and life got a little hectic after that. There was a flurry of last-minute summer outings with the children, and then the beginning of a new school year was upon us. I shopped for clothes and supplies while Jeremy arranged for haircuts and cleaned up the yard.

Finally, the kids were back in school and I felt like I had a minute to breathe again. After Jay was born, I quit my job in human resources at the international company I worked for, but had recently started taking on freelance writing projects from home now that Jason had started school. What had started out as fifty-word product descriptions and three-hundred-word blog posts, in between working on a novel, had now grown to include stories and articles for various online publications. It was true that I didn’t go out every day to a regular job with a regular paycheck, but I was proud of what I did, and besides, with the kids to take care of, part-time was all I could manage.

I finally completed the piece on American Christmas traditions I had been working on, and even managed a few pages in my book before the kids were dropped off.

I was tired but elated from all that I had accomplished by the time Jeremy came home. It felt good to be back at work in some capacity.

After finishing dinner and getting the boys settled down, we sat down outside with a beer to relax. This was our time together to catch up and talk about the day.

The moon rose big and yellow above us, almost full. A harvest moon, I thought. Summer was over and it would be winter soon. As if Mother Nature had read my mind, a light wind sprang up and blew across the patio. I pushed a strand of hair out of my face and sat back, enjoying the breeze in the warm night air.

“I’m proud of you, honey,” he said after I told him how well the writing had gone. “I think we should celebrate.”

“Oh really, what did you have in mind?” I waggled my eyebrows suggestively.

He laughed. “Well … that too, but I was thinking maybe we could go and do something with Daniel and Tammy before it gets too cold.”

“Like what?”

“We could go hiking and maybe take their canoe out.”

I was intrigued. Since I am perpetually at least ten pounds overweight, I am always looking for a way to get more exercise. Getting out and enjoying nature with a canoe ride and maybe a hike sounded perfect. “What about the kids?”

“Couldn’t you ask one of the neighbors to keep the kids overnight for once? What about Sheila and Chad?”

“Maybe. I don’t really know them all that well.”

“Well, just ask and maybe they'll do it.”

I agreed to call and talk to them about it the next day.

***

As it turned out, Sheila and her husband, Chad, who lived across the street from us, would do it for not only one night, but for the whole weekend with a promise from me to return the favor. I think that cinched it more than anything. Finding someone you can swap kids back and forth with is a Godsend.

The big hike was planned for the second weekend of October. Even the boys were excited about our upcoming trip. This would be the first time they would get to spend the night with anyone besides Grandma since we'd moved. They were to sleep over at Chad and Sheila’s on Friday night so we could get an early start Saturday morning.

About three days before the trip, I realized that even though Tammy and Daniel were the ones with the canoe, they were basically leaving the rest up to us. And so I began researching possible trails and rivers on the Internet, and finally decided on a canoe trail called Raven’s Mill near Caesar’s Head Mountain about an hour and a half away. The stream I picked was supposed to be at its highest with good flow at that time of the year and there was a parking lot at the top and a take-out spot eighteen miles downriver. The website even included the longitude and latitude specifications for a GPS, which I had on my phone and intended to use.

The plan was to drive two vehicles, leave one downriver at the take-out, and drive the other one up to the beginning of the trail, where we would carry the canoe to the put-in. We would paddle downstream for several miles until we found a good spot to camp for the night. Then after spending the night, continue on down until we came to our exit point. We were to pick up the children Sunday evening when we got back.

It was going to be perfect.

* * *

In preparation for the much-anticipated weekend, I started a last-minute diet and strictly adhered to it in the weeks before the trip. I worked out almost every morning after the kids went to school before I sat down to work at my computer, and after sustaining myself on mostly cereal, soup, and salad, I managed to lose five pounds. I was proud of myself as I tried on a pair of jeans I hadn't been able to wear for some time and they slid on easily.

Tammy had not called me once about the trip. I had been the one to call her the one time we had talked when I phoned her personally to confirm the date of the trip. She had seemed all for the outing, but I had heard nothing from her since. The close friendship I had hoped for just hadn’t materialized. But she did work, I rationalized. Still I couldn’t help comparing it to my friendship with Katherine. Even though we didn’t get to see each other much now, we still talked on the phone a couple of times a week. She would have been just as excited about the trip as I was and would have already called several times.

Packing up all our gear the night before, I had trouble fitting it into the two packs we were limited to. Daniel had told Jeremy that the canoe was one of the larger ones, but with four people we still wouldn’t have much room. And we had to carry all our stuff and the canoe down the trail to the water, too, and it wouldn’t do to have too much weight to lug around. Jeremy was going to wear one pack with a sleeping bag and the small tent, and I would have the other pack with my sleeping bag, and a small cooler bag. I tried to pack as light as possible, including only the basic necessities and a small pot, utensils, and four camping bowls and cups. For food, I packed some instant coffee and sugar, three pouches of freeze-dried chicken teriyaki that I had found in the camping section of Walmart, some instant oatmeal, and all the trail mix and energy bars I could stuff in the burgeoning packs. I figured we could get water and boil it from the stream if we were desperate, so we were each only carrying two bottles of water.

The next morning, we were up before dawn. I brewed a pot of coffee and fixed us a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. Afterwards I made several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat bread for lunch and stuffed them into the top of my bag, and then decided that four bottles of water weren't enough, filled a thermos with iced tea, and hung it off the side.

Daniel and Tammy pulled into the driveway as we were carrying everything out onto the porch. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. The sun was out and it had already warmed up enough to forgo any jackets, though I knew that might change come nightfall.

Tammy stepped out of their jeep wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. Her long blond hair had been pulled back into a ponytail.

I was also wearing jeans, and a light-green shirt that accented my eyes. I wondered if Tammy would notice my weight loss.

If she did, she didn’t mention it. What she did say was, “What kind of shoes are you wearing, there?” as she looked down at my feet. I had worn some old hiking shoes that really should have been tossed out a long time ago, but they were comfortable and I loved them so much I couldn’t bear to part with them.

She stuck her foot out. “You should have worn boots like mine, since we're going to be hiking some.”

I looked down at her boots and thought they looked too heavy to me. I knew from experience that my shoes were lightweight and wouldn’t cause blisters, whereas her boots looked hot and cumbersome.

“They’re fine. Nice and worn in.”

“Let’s just hope they’re not so worn they’re slippery,” she said, and walked around to the back of our car.

Trying not to let her remarks bother me, I followed her around and started helping Jeremy load the packs into the trunk.

The only other thing she said was, "You sure have a lot of stuff, hope we can fit it all in the canoe.” But from what I could see, we didn’t have any more than they did, except for the little cooler bag I was bringing, which made me remember something I had almost forgotten. I dashed back into the house and grabbed the bottle of rum out of the freezer that I had bought to take with us, then came out and buried it down in the ice in the thermal bag beside the juice and plastic cups I had included.

We had the directions and the GPS location, so Daniel and Tammy decided to follow us. We made pretty good time and came up on the take-out spot about forty minutes later. Since they had the canoe strapped on top of their Jeep Cherokee, we obviously had to leave our car there and ride with them up the mountain. As we were getting out, Jeremy grabbed the folded map with the GPS location I’d printed out and crammed it into his pocket. Tammy and Daniel had gotten out to stretch their legs for a minute and stood beside the jeep watching us.

Tammy headed around to the driver’s side as we walked up. “Come on, Jeremy,” she said, beckoning to him, “you can ride up here with me since you have the coordinates.”

I paused and looked at Jeremy and Daniel in confusion. Jeremy was supposed to ride up front with her while I rode in back with her husband? Daniel immediately opened the rear door and climbed in, obviously thinking nothing about it. Jeremy looked at me and shrugged, then got into the front with Tammy.

If I didn’t know better, I would think she had decided to drive just so she would have the opportunity to have Jeremy sit up front with her.

I told myself not to be ridiculous and tried to let it go.

* * *

At the top, we parked in the small parking lot nestled in the trees between the road and the side of the mountain. The men immediately got out and started pulling bags out of the back. I opened my door but stayed in the car for a moment while I dug out the small mirror I had brought. Tammy watched me in the rear-view mirror as she ran a brush through her long blond hair and tightened her ponytail.

I applied some lip balm and then smoothed a little bit of sunscreen lotion on my face, smoothing it across the faint laugh lines under my eyes.

“Oh wow, I know,” Tammy said, leaning over to peer at herself. “Every day it seems like I find more and more wrinkles.” Our eyes met in the mirror for a moment. She didn’t have a wrinkle on her face.

It was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny but not too hot, and there were a lot of people out taking advantage of it. We were parked close to the path leading up to the trails, and after getting out, Tammy and I had to stand to the side to let a group squeeze by. The last parking spot was taken by the time Daniel and Jeremy unhooked the straps and wrestled the canoe down. Tammy and I stood to the side again as the two guys who had just gotten there walked toward us. They looked us over and smiled appreciatively but made no comment as they passed by us on their way across the road.

Tammy turned to me. “I wish all those guys would stop looking at me,” she whispered loudly. “I feel like eye candy!”

I gave an incredulous laugh before I could stop myself. She had said “me” not “us.” What the hell was I, chopped liver? But I had to admit, she did look pretty. She looked even younger with her hair up, hanging down like a blond streak. I felt like a fat Brillo pad in comparison.

Weighted down with packs and the canoe, we crossed the road and found the correct trail.

“Okay, let’s do it!” boomed Daniel, and off we went.

My growing misgivings about Tammy were soon forgotten in the gloriousness of the day. The sun arrowed through the leaves and pierced the dimness of the path in bright shafts of gold. The turning leaves in the valley below us, glimpsed through gaps between the trees, were a golden tapestry of bright yellow, pink, and orange spread out before us.

A cool breeze blew gently through the trees, invigorating us as we clomped energetically down the trial. Once, Daniel’s toe caught a root and he almost tripped, going down on one knee, still holding the canoe with the top almost completely covering him, and we all burst out laughing. Another time, Jeremy thought he saw a snake beside the path, yelled, and jumped to the side dragging Daniel with him, and we all laughed uproariously again.

Daniel proclaimed he was going to need a drink as soon as we got there, if he made it alive.

Our enthusiasm tempered somewhat by exhaustion but good mood still intact, we finally made it down to the water’s edge. We paused for a moment to catch our breath, and I sat down on a rock and tried to comb some of the snarls out of my hair.

“I have a hair tie if you need one,” Tammy offered, sitting down beside me.

“No, that’s okay, I have one.”

I had one in my pocket just in case, but I knew from experience that I would end up with a large bump in my hair that night when I took it down if I used it. I also had a tendency to get a headache whenever my hair was up for too long, so I didn’t plan on doing it unless I just had to.

“That’s why I pulled mine back,” she said, watching me.

“I have one if I need it,” I repeated. I finished untangling my hair, stuck it behind my ears, and slid the comb back into my pack.

Daniel stowed all the stuff in the canoe and then positioned it so that he and Tammy could climb in first, to show us. With Jeremy stabilizing the canoe, Daniel climbed in first, then Tammy. Staying low and imitating how they did it, I went next, then Jeremy.

As I turned around and started to lower myself down, Tammy suddenly pivoted and plopped down where I had been about to sit and reached for her pack. I drew up sharply and barely managed to keep from capsizing the canoe. Why had she put her pack there? So her ending up beside Jeremy would look incidental? Trying to stifle my resentment, and once again telling myself to stop being ridiculous, I managed to awkwardly maneuver around her without falling in the water to take the seat in front of Daniel.

Tammy had stopped messing with her pack and now sat talking with Jeremy, punctuating the conversation with occasional bursts of laughter as Jeremy listened intently to what she was saying. Jeremy was smiling broadly, his face faintly flushed, and I could tell he was flattered by her attention. I glanced back at Daniel, wondering what he was thinking, but his face was impassive. I sighed and tried to bring back my earlier good mood. It was a beautiful day.

Daniel and Jeremy paddled for a long time—with Daniel steering from the back—only stopping to drift a little while we shared the sandwiches and drank some of the iced tea I had brought. The only time Jeremy spoke to me was to say, “Thanks, honey,” as I reached around Tammy to hand him a sandwich.

As the sun started its downward slide into late afternoon, we started looking for a place to pull up and camp. We soon found a good sandy spot and paddled over.

Daniel hopped out to drag the canoe onto the bank. I waited on Jeremy to get out and help him, but he was too involved with Tammy and hoisting his pack. Daniel tugged hard, but the canoe barely budged. As I watched, Tammy leaned over too far and Jeremy had to grab her to keep her from falling overboard. Tammy gave a little shriek and clutched at him, laughing.

Oh for Christ’s sake, I thought, we're in two foot of water. I jumped out, grabbed the end of the canoe, and with Daniel’s assistance, quickly landed it.

After retrieving my bag, I sat down on a rock and again tried to do something with my hair. I leaned over and looked at my reflection on the water. Yep, just as I suspected. My hair had expanded into a hopeless frizzy halo around my head, pieces sticking out everywhere. There was no way to avoid it; I was going to have to put it up. I dug around until I found the hair tie I had brought, and then pulled my hair up and twisted it into a bun.

“You know what you need … you need to try some of this stuff I use for split ends,” came Tammy’s voice behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw that Jeremy and Daniel had walked up and heard what she said. Now everyone was looking at me.

“It’s this great stuff called—” Tammy tried to continue, but I overrode her.

“I have something I’ve been using, and it helps, it’s just that being around the water and all, you know, it makes it frizz no matter what I use …” my voice trailed off. I knew I had interrupted her but I didn’t appreciate her calling attention to my hair, and I wasn’t going to sit there and act like I needed beauty tips from her.

Jeremy met my eyes and then looked away as if embarrassed. Daniel gazed at me for a moment then shifted his eyes to Tammy. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like he stared at her a beat too long.

We rested a bit and then gathered up all of our things and moved a little ways away from the bank. After finishing the last of the iced tea, I moved deeper into the woods to find a much-needed bush. When I got back, Tammy was busy organizing everything. She had divided the stuff up, and she and Jeremy were pulling out our tent.

“Okay, good, you’re back. I thought we could just do one tent and then the other, helping each other, okay?” Without waiting for my reply, she turned back to Jeremy and indicated an area over to the left. “You guys can have this spot and we’ll be over on the other side.” She grabbed the corner of mine and Jeremy’s tent and starting dragging it over. After a second, Jeremy began to help her. She turned back to me. “Here, Samantha, you roll out the tent, and we'll do the poles.”
I hesitated for a moment, wondering who the hell made her boss. And Jeremy was just letting her.

Reluctantly, I walked over and did what she said.

After delegating the construction of our tent, she had me and Daniel work on theirs while she and Jeremy designated where the fire would be. Daniel and I worked silently. We were just finishing up, when Jeremy started gathering up wood, first in the general vicinity, then farther out away from the camp. Tammy picked up a few small pieces, tossing them into a pile, and then followed Jeremy through the trees. It was all done naturally, but still, she was out there alone with my husband, and I didn’t like it one bit. She seemed to have attached herself to Jeremy and proclaimed herself the leader of our little expedition and I was starting to resent it.

While they were gone, I straightened up our things in the tent and put out the sleeping bags, trying not to think about how long they had been gone. Daniel gathered some rocks and placed them in a circle for the fire pit. I searched his face again for some sign of the discomfort I was feeling but his face remained bland and unworried. I tried to put a clamp on my jealousy. I was just being insecure. This whole thing with Tammy was probably only in my mind. Once again I resolved to try and give her the benefit of the doubt.

I pulled over a log and sat down to wait.

When they finally emerged from the forest, I arranged my face into a pleasant expression.

“We almost got lost, and we about missed this old dead tree,” said Jeremy as he walked by and dropped the armload of branches he was carrying.

He turned to Daniel. “Hey, man, there’s a lot of good pieces right over there where that fallen tree's at, if you want to come help me, ‘cause we’re really going to need a lot more than this.”

“Sure,” Daniel replied and got up to help.

While the men went back and forth with the wood, I tried to remember my earlier resolve to give Tammy a chance, and decided it was a good time for a drink. I leaned over and pulled open the top of the cooler bag. I filled two of the plastic cups I had thrown into the top with ice, poured on some of the pineapple juice, and added a generous amount of rum. I walked over to where Tammy was sitting, handed her one of the drinks, and sat down beside her.

“Oh goody, I am sooo thirsty." She took a large gulp of her drink, then gasped and started coughing. "Ohh, that’s strong,” she breathed. “I like it." She started giggling.

I couldn’t help but laugh with her.

“So how long have you and Jeremy been married?” she asked a moment later as we watched the men go back and forth.

“Thirteen years. We married not long after I finished college.”

“You have a degree?” Tammy’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. Tammy worked at a doctor’s office as a receptionist, and from her surprise, must have thought I had always been just a “stay-at-home mom.”

“Yeess,” I told her, drawing the word out slightly in mild irritation—and waited for it.

“But you don’t work now?”

I sighed. “No, I don't have a regular job but I do work. I do some freelance jobs, and you know with the kids and all, I stay busy, believe me.”

Tammy looked skeptical and a little too superior, and I wasn’t surprised. I had gotten this same reaction on numerous occasions. Some people just couldn’t understand why a woman would sit at home year after year with the children when she could be out making money. They seemed to have some idea that women who choose to stay at home with their kids, in lieu of having them raised in daycare, sat around the house all day using the children as an excuse to loaf around. I didn’t bother trying to explain it to Tammy. It just wasn't all about the money. But I didn’t expect her to understand. She didn’t have children, after all. And she would never understand that there were days when I was so busy without a minute to spare that I couldn’t imagine ever having to add a full-time job to all the responsibilities I already had. And the money I would make would probably be negligible compared to Jeremy's and it just wasn't worth putting the kids through all that for not very much more money.

“So how long have you and Daniel been married,” I asked her.

“We’ve been married for ten years.” She took another sip of her drink. “We met right after Daniel’s divorce. He’s older than me, you know. He’s eight years older. Daniel’s forty-five. How old is Jeremy?”

I did some quick calculation in my head before answering her. That would make her thirty-seven. Two years younger than me.

“He’s thirty-five,” I finally answered. Surely she wasn’t going to make age an issue.

But apparently she was.

“So how old are you?” she asked.

Oh, for God’s sake. “Thirty-nine,” I replied evenly.

Tammy said nothing, seemingly distracted by the arrival of the men back with their last load of wood, but I wasn’t fooled. I knew she had registered and filed away the knowledge that I was slightly older than her and several years older than Jeremy.

“Hey! What you girls got there?” called out Daniel, smiling. I really looked at him as he passed by. He wasn’t bad-looking. The only thing that gave away his age was the slight bit of gray in his sideburns. His face was unlined, his hair only slightly receding. He was close to the same height as Jeremy and seemed in good physical shape. Maybe he sensed me staring at him because he glanced over and met my eyes for a second. He really was a decent-looking man. I didn’t understand Tammy.

I got up and made drinks for Jeremy and Daniel, and freshened up Tammy’s and mine. I got another “Thanks, honey” from Jeremy and that was about it. He didn’t even sit near me. I was starting to feel seriously neglected. I watched Jeremy from where I sat across from him while he talked and laughed with Daniel and Tammy. He seemed to be in rare form, telling stories from work that had Daniel roaring, giving them his undivided attention, and showing off, I was sure. He frequently cut his eyes over to Tammy to gauge her reaction.

The only time he seemed to remember I was there was when the drinks got low. He rattled his glass at me. “Honey, I think we all need a refill.”

Gritting my teeth, I got up and grimly made the drinks. I was trying hard not to blow this up into something it wasn’t, but this was not exactly what I'd had in mind when I had agreed to this trip. I had looked forward to time with Daniel and Tammy, sure, but I had thought that it would be time with Jeremy, too.

"Okay," I said, sitting down after giving everyone their drinks. "Bartender's off duty."

The sun slowly moved down through the trees as afternoon passed into evening. Jeremy and Daniel decided they had better get the fire going and started piling up sticks and branches inside the circle of rocks. I was content to let the men handle it, but after a minute Tammy jumped up and started trying to assist them. I watched in annoyance as she grabbed the end of one of the larger branches that Jeremy had and “helped” him carry it over. While they piled the wood up, I got up to go and get myself another little drinky poo. Weaving slightly, I realized I had a serious buzz going. Well good.

When I walked back over with my drink, they were attempting to light the fire and not having much luck. Jeremy was bent over holding a lighter to a twig at the bottom of the pile. “It’s no good," he said, standing back up and peering out toward the almost dark woods beyond. "We need some moss or something to use as tinder.”

I had an idea and started wobbling my way over to where I had the rum stashed. Dimly my alcohol-fogged brain registered Jeremy say something about getting the flashlight. I turned around and walked back just as Jeremy and then Tammy disappeared into the trees. Daniel made as if to follow them and then stopped at the edge of the clearing. He stared off in the direction they had gone as if undecided and then slowly turned back around.

He was silent as he walked up beside me. We stood quietly, listening to the receding sounds of Jeremy and Tammy laughing and crashing about.

I made us some more drinks, and then we waited. There were only faint sounds coming through the trees now as Jeremy and Tammy drifted farther away.

It was almost completely dark before I remembered my idea. I dug out the roll of tissue paper I had brought and retrieved the bottle of rum. I stuffed wads of tissue between the limbs and branches and splashed a little of the liquor on it. Then I found the matches, struck one, and dropped it on top. The rum ignited with a whoosh and the fire instantly caught and then roared steadily, branches crackling and popping as it burned.

I knew eventually Jeremy and Tammy would probably see the fire and come back, but in the meantime, I didn’t plan on just sitting there waiting for them. I had drunk quite a bit and needed to eat something, and Daniel probably did too. As far as I knew, he had only eaten the one time that day, when we had all shared the sandwiches.

I got out the pot and the pouches of chicken teriyaki.

“We need water,” I told Daniel.

“I’ll get it,” he said, and jumped up.

Right then we heard a shout, and Jeremy and Tammy burst out of the trees, the beam of the flashlight leading the way.

“Hey! You got it started! All right!” Jeremy cried, throwing down the bundle of pine needles and moss. Tammy followed suit, and they both stepped close to the fire, absorbing the warmth.

Daniel seemed to have temporarily forgotten the water, so I grabbed the empty pot and the flashlight where Jeremy had set it and headed to the river.

I really didn't need any river water. I had decided to use the bottled water to cook with. I just needed a minute to think. I stood by the water’s edge and tried to reason with myself. Truly, Tammy hadn’t really done anything wrong exactly. It was just that she seemed to be showing more attention to Jeremy than to her own husband. Or maybe it was only in my mind. This just wasn’t what I had envisioned when we had planned everything. I had thought it would be Jeremy and me together, walking, talking, sitting, and laughing together, with maybe a few drunken embraces up against a tree thrown in. I had seen it all as fun and exciting, flirty and sexy. Not like this. Not me sitting alone basically being ignored as some other woman blatantly flirted with my husband. What upset me the most was that Jeremy seemed clueless to all of this. Or was he?

I walked back and tried to concentrate on making some semblance of dinner. I'd had too much alcohol on too little food and I needed something of substance. The last thing I wanted was to get sick.

I glanced over to where the others were at a little ways over from the fire. Tammy sat in the middle, with Daniel on one side and Jeremy on the other. One on each side of her, probably just how she likes it, I thought nastily and then told myself to quit it. I poured the chicken teriyaki mixes into the pot and added the approximate amount of water. Jeremy was talking about something in a serious tone now. Tammy was turned toward him, apparently in thrall, while Daniel sat with his legs out in front of him, propped against his backpack, possibly in danger of passing out. Tammy had made no effort to see what I was cooking or to offer any help. The only evidence I had seen so far of any food she had brought had been some grapes she had gotten out and put in the cooler bag before we had started down the trail.

I balanced the pot of teriyaki carefully on top of the burning wood and stood watching it, stirring it every so often as it simmered.

When the food was done, I ladled some into a bowl and walked over to Daniel. I nudged him with my foot. “Here."

He started a little and then pushed his hat back on his head and sat up. I handed him the bowl and then went back and got some for myself. I returned to the side he was on and sat down beside him.

“This is pretty good,” Daniel said after a few bites.

“Thanks."

Jeremy and Tammy finally seemed to wake up and realize that something was going on around them. Tammy leaned over to see what Daniel was eating and frowned.

“It’s not bad,” Daniel told her, taking another bite.

She stood up, looked over at me, and smiled. “I think I’ll just have some grapes. You want some?” she asked, eyeing me shoveling rice into my mouth.

She had already walked past me before I could reply. Jeremy stared over at me for a second and then also got up. I could imagine what he was thinking. He had to have noticed that I had not offered him any. He walked past me without a word. Fine. Why start now? I thought. You haven’t spoken more than ten words to me all day. Let her feed you. You can have a grape.

I started to giggle and almost choked and sprayed a little rice out. Which started me laughing harder and I fell against Daniel. Not even knowing what was so funny, he started to laugh too just as Tammy came back into view with her bunch of grapes, and that just got me going again, and Daniel and I laughed harder still. I realized that we were quite drunk. Jeremy shot me a look as he walked by, and I tried to control myself.

Later on after we had finished eating, I got up to go change. My eyelids were drooping from the effects of all the alcohol and the food, and my pants felt like they were cutting into me. My earlier hilarity had passed and I just wanted to get cleaned up and go to sleep and get this weekend over with. I rinsed the bowls and put the lid on the pot, knowing that if I didn’t do it then, I never would. I walked farther out from the camp and hung the pot up in a tree, hoping that would suffice. I staggered back to our tent and blearily dragged out some shorts and a T-shirt, grabbed one of the small LED lanterns we had brought with us, and stumbled my way down to the water. I felt grimy and all I wanted to do was sink down into the cool liquid and wash away the strain and grit of the day.

Not willing to get completely nude, I stripped down to my panties and bra and determinedly waded into the shockingly cold water. I splashed some up onto my face and neck, washing myself the best I could since I had forgotten to bring the soap. It had been warm that day but now the temperature was starting to drop. I was moving around, trying to get used to it before I submerged myself, when I heard a noise in the trees across from me. Not knowing whom it was, I threw myself in up to my neck, gasping as the cold water closed over my shoulders. A figure stepped out of the darkness, and by the light of the lantern I had left by the water’s edge, I could see it was Daniel. Cupping his hand against the glare of the light, he peered out at me but must not have been able to see me, because he didn’t say anything, and after a moment, he moved out of the light of the lantern, down into the shadows.

I stayed down a little longer, giving him time to get farther away, and then moved closer to the bank, stood up, and quickly got out. I grabbed my shirt and pulled it over my head. I forgot about my hair and it got caught on my shirt and ripped half down. I pulled the hair tie the rest of the way out and combed my fingers down through the long curls, knowing from experience that at least some of the frizz would be gone now.

I had my back to where Daniel had walked off and was just reaching for my shorts, when I heard footsteps.

“Oh, sorry,” I heard Daniel say behind me. He’s been standing there the whole time, I thought, and continued putting on my shorts. After buttoning and zipping them, I turned around and stifled a small start of surprise. Daniel was standing only inches away.

The woods seemed to narrow down and become silent around us. The only sound was our breathing, and I could feel myself trembling.

He was so close I could feel the heat coming off of him. I saw his throat move as he swallowed hard looking down at my chest where my thin shirt was clinging to my wet bra. Daniel stepped even closer, and I held very still. He was almost touching me now as he reached out and wound his hand into the back of my hair. I let out a little gasp, my eyes going wide, as he grasped a handful and pulled me against him. With the slightest touch of his warm lips to my neck, he leaned down and breathed in deeply, as if inhaling me. He released my hair and then slowly slid his hand around the back of my neck and pressed his thumb into my throat. Oh my, I thought faintly. His eyes bore into mine as he brought his mouth closer. Our breath mingled, and he started to kiss me, but at the last second, I pulled back almost imperceptibly—just enough—and he let go.

I stumbled as he released me. Shaken, and a little frightened, I grabbed the lantern and fled. As I scurried back the way I had come, I wasn’t sure whom I was more frightened of—him, or myself.

I cleared the sand at the water’s edge and almost ran right into Tammy. She was standing just inside the line of trees, and I barely managed to keep from colliding with her. She had seen. I knew it. I could see it in her face and the way she was standing there looking at me, taking in everything: my heaving breasts, tousled hair, and the fiery blush I could feel staining my cheeks. She had a direct line of sight to the beach area where Daniel and I had stood. She must have seen everything. She stared at me impassively, blocking my way, not saying a word. Finally, she stepped around me and walked off silently toward Daniel.

Now I was a little frightened of Tammy.

* * *

I awoke with a start. I had been so shaken up from my encounter with Daniel that I had thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I must have dozed off at some point, and now something had awakened me. I was still upset with Jeremy. He had come to bed sometime after me and I had pretended to be asleep as he crawled into his sleeping bag.

I reached across and felt the empty bag beside me. I fumbled for the flashlight, switched it on, and looked at the time on the wristwatch I’d worn. It was two thirty in the morning. I switched off the flashlight. Where was he?

I heard a sound outside and stiffened. There was a light crunch of rocks and the crackle of leaves as someone passed by. I quietly slipped out of my sleeping bag and, clutching the flashlight, left the tent and followed as silently as I could, pausing every so often to listen for the sound of footsteps and to mask my own.

I didn’t want to turn on the flashlight unless I had to, and it was slow going with only the radiance of the moon to see by. I hadn't made it far before I heard the unmistakable sound of someone urinating. Hesitantly I moved forward and then stopped as I caught a glimpse of white. It was Tammy, standing just ahead. I stepped off to the side and watched her from behind a tree. She had followed Jeremy and was now obviously waiting on him to finish. I crouched down and listened. Presently I heard Tammy say something in a low voice and Jeremy murmur something in response, but I couldn’t make it out. I needed to get closer. I slid around the tree and crept closer.

They came into sight, and I dropped down and scooted behind a thicket of bushes and undergrowth, half expecting to be caught at any minute. I could hear them better now. I risked a glance. Jeremy stood with his hands in his pockets with Tammy close in front of him, slightly to the side. She shifted back and forth playfully, bumping into him as she made him laugh, obviously feeling him out. What was he doing? He made no move to touch her, but he made no move to leave, either. My heart was hammering in my chest as I dropped down again and pulled back behind a bush.

“Where’s Daniel?” I heard Jeremy ask.

“Oh, he’s asleep,” she replied with a low laugh. “I’m sure those two are out for the night.”

What the hell did she mean by that? That the two old fogies were obviously all tuckered out?

I peered out again, and maybe taking his question as her cue, I saw Tammy make her move. Still standing way too close, she took out a pack of cigarettes and shook one out. Placing it between her fingers, she held it to her lips. “Got a light?” she asked, looking up at him through her lashes. She was actually leaning into Jeremy now as he searched for his lighter. He finally found it and lit her cigarette. And that’s when Tammy made her mistake.

She took a drag and blew the smoke out the side of her mouth in a long stream, then leaned in to kiss him. Jeremy immediately blanched and jerked back. Opening her eyes, Tammy saw the look of revulsion and distaste on his face and mistook it. She must have thought she repulsed him, but I knew he had more than likely been repulsed by her cigarette. Jeremy had smoked for years when he was younger but had finally quit, and like many previous smokers, abhorred the smell and taste of cigarettes now. Once not long before he met me, he had actually broken up with a girl because she wouldn’t stop smoking. He said he just couldn’t stand the taste when he tried to kiss her.

Tammy jerked away from him angrily, her face a mask of sullen humiliation. Knowing I only had a moment, I turned around and sprinted back to the tent, dove into it, and threw myself down just seconds before I heard the sound of her passing by.

Moving as stealthily as I could, I slid back into my sleeping bag and tried to control my breathing. A minute later Jeremy entered the tent, stopping just inside. I made my breath slow and even, and after a moment, I heard the sounds of him undressing and then the rustle of his sleeping bag as he lay down.

* * *

The next morning I was the first one up with a pounding head and a mouth so dry my tongue felt swollen. I groaned involuntarily as I crawled out of the tent and the bright sun stabbed into my eyes. The morning was still cool, and I shivered as I grabbed a stick and began to knock down the spider webs and look for a likely tree.

When I got back, Jeremy was sitting by the fire pit.

“Here, sit down. I’ve already got the water hot for the coffee,” he said, indicating the log he had pulled closer to the embers from last night's fire.

I veered past the indicated log and grabbed the last bottle of water and took a healthy swig, swishing it around in my mouth before swallowing. I placed the cap back on it and plopped down on the log. Jeremy handed me a cup of instant coffee, and my hands closed around it gratefully, absorbing the warmth. I sat immobile, feeling like a cold snake, blowing on my coffee and taking tiny sips.

Jeremy knew better than to try and engage me in conversation early in the morning but was attentive nonetheless. He made us both a bowl of instant oatmeal and refilled my coffee cup, grabbing the sugar for me before I could even get up. I could tell he felt bad about the night before. For whatever reason, he had chosen to reject Tammy and stay faithful to me. I thought about what had happened with Daniel and gave a little shudder.

“Are you cold, hon?” he asked, and I felt a stab of guilt.

Jeremy was draping a jacket around my shoulders when Daniel emerged sleepily from the far tent. “Morning,” he mumbled, and strode off through the trees.

He was back a few minutes later, and Jeremy handed him a cup of coffee. “Here you go, man.”

“Thanks,” he said, and sipped it appreciatively.

Jeremy seemed to brighten up at his appearance and began going over the day's plans with him. I was grateful, because I was having trouble even meeting Daniel’s eyes, afraid of what I would see in them. I wondered if he knew Tammy had left their tent last night and attempted to sleep with my husband. Was Daniel’s attraction to me the reason she had made a pass at Jeremy? I rather doubted it, what with her seeming preoccupation with the age difference between her and Daniel, and the way she had acted around Jeremy. Not to mention the fact that not once in all the times we had been around Daniel and Tammy, had I ever seen her be affectionate in any sort of way toward her husband. There was something wrong in their marriage and I regretted this trip with them, which suddenly seemed dangerous and full of seductions and temptations, ready to ensnarl and entrap us.

My face hot, I stood up, looking for something, anything, to do to hide my discomfort. Jeremy bent down and while his head was turned, Daniel turned the full force of his gaze on me. I felt a shiver go through me at the directness of his eyes and what I saw smoldering there. I seemed helpless to look away, remembering the faint lick of desire I had felt the night before.

Belatedly, I realized that Jeremy had straightened up and was standing absolutely quiet and still beside me. He had caught the look, and icy comprehension dawned on his face as he shifted his eyes from Daniel back to me. His face flushed and then went white with a look of fury I had rarely seen before. I held my breath until Daniel abruptly walked off to go wake Tammy and the moment passed. I turned around, feeling faintly sick, and began gathering up our things.

The original plan had been to get up that morning, take a leisurely ride down the river, and then head home. Suddenly Jeremy seemed to want to change everything. He walked agitatedly around the campsite picking up stuff and stowing it away as he talked mainly to Tammy, who had finally gotten up.

Daniel stood off to the side, his arms folded, as Jeremy drew a map in the dirt with a stick. “You see, if we continue on just a little farther this way, we can make it all the way down to Raven’s Mill. It’s supposed to be some sort of historical site. It would be a shame to come this far and not go all the way.” Jeremy looked straight at me as he said this and I understood that he was doing this to punish me.

Possibly encouraged by Jeremy wanting to extend the trip, Tammy threw in, “Yeah, Daniel, let’s do it!” I figured she had already convinced herself that the only reason Jeremy rejected her advances the night before was because of my close proximity and Jeremy’s fear of getting caught.

Daniel was noncommittal, just shouldering his pack and dragging the canoe over in the brush to hide it. We were going to come back and pick it up later. Figuring it was a fate accompli, I trailed behind the others, bringing up the rear, as we headed away from camp in search of the trail.

I was tired and frustrated and I did not want to do this. I just wanted to get down the river and go home. I didn’t know or really care why their marriage was failing, and I didn’t appreciate her trying to tear mine down with it. We have children, I fumed to myself as I stomped down the path. Daniel and I were in the back, and of course, Jeremy and Tammy were paired up at the front, sticking close together, talking and occasionally pointing things out to each other as we climbed the increasingly steep trail. The whole thing had started with Jeremy ignoring me, and if you got right down to it, flirting with her all the previous day. I had not asked for any of this, I reasoned to myself.

I was thinking so hard I almost ran into Daniel’s back as he stopped in front of me. Jeremy was saying something from up ahead. I wedged my way up beside Daniel, grateful for the arm he offered to steady me. Jeremy and Tammy were pointing at something down a ravine to the left. I looked over and saw the remnants of what looked like an old water wheel beside a mostly dried-up stream bed. Ah, the infamous Raven’s Mill. The river must have originally flowed through this way and then gotten diverted later. There was a dilapidated two-story building hanging over the wheel, partially obscuring it, heavily overgrown with vines and weeds now shriveled up and dead from the encroaching winter.

Jeremy and Tammy were already climbing down the ravine and reached the bottom way before we did. By the time we made it down, they had disappeared around the front. Determinedly, I stayed away from Daniel and went in search of Tammy and Jeremy. Carefully I stepped around the side of the old building and walked to the edge of the drop-off beside the old wheel. There was no sign of Tammy and Jeremy. I looked up. The colorless planks of what was left of the old mill jutted up against the slate background of the suddenly overcast sky.

Daniel beckoned to me from above. “Come on up here. There's a nice view.”

Stifling my growing sense of unease, I took one last look around and then climbed up the hill to the steep stairs set into the side of the building leading to the second floor. I grasped the wooden railing and stared uncertainly up the rickety stairs.

Daniel’s head appeared above me. “Watch where you step.”

Carefully, I climbed my way up the stairs and stepped out onto a sort of balcony. Daniel was right; you could see a lot better up here. I watched Tammy and Jeremy below entering another old structure a little farther down the riverbed that I had been unable to see from my place on the ground. Jeremy went in first and Tammy followed, and the old door closed with a muffled bang.

I stood silently beside Daniel, watching for them to come back out. Finally, I turned away, fighting back tears. The minutes ticked intermittently by and still we stood and waited. I paced around the little platform, trying and failing to find a rational explanation for why they had not come out. It was clear that they weren’t still exploring the little shack.

I felt Daniel’s arm go around me. I sagged against him and he turned me around and led me over to the wall he had been leaning against. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I knew Jeremy was doing this to punish me for the shared look between Daniel and I. But when Daniel had come on to me, I had pulled away; I had! I might have felt what could have been with Daniel at another time and place, but I would never have acted it on it as long as I was with Jeremy. He and the boys were my whole world and I would never risk losing them. Jeremy was the one I loved and wanted above all others. And I had been sure he felt the same way about me. I had been sure he would never cheat on me, especially not right in front of me! I could feel myself starting to get angry. He was probably only using whatever he thought was between Daniel and me as an excuse!

I turned and faced Daniel, and all of a sudden he was kissing me. For a second I was too stunned to react, and then a splinter stabbed into my back and I cried out and pushed him away.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I said, and stepped away from him.

Suddenly an ear-splitting shriek cut through the air. I barely had time to turn and try to sidestep Tammy as she launched herself at me, her face distorted with jealousy and rage. She hit me so hard I flew back and slammed into the rotten railing. There was a sickening, splintering sound, and then I was falling. I screamed as I flew through the air, and then I slammed into the ground below.

* * *

I never remembered the impact but I found out later that I had fallen some sixteen feet. Not that far, but enough to break one of my ankles and badly sprain the other one. In addition, I had a severe concussion from hitting my head.

Jeremy helped to fill in the blanks for me later. After he had went into the old building with Tammy, he had mumbled something to her about needing to take a leak and left out the back door. Apparently when Tammy realized Jeremy wasn’t coming back and had rejected her yet again, she had returned to the old mill and come upon Daniel and me. Jeremy had gotten back just in time to hear Tammy’s enraged yell and see her slam into me, sending me inadvertently crashing over the railing.

I woke up flat on my back on the ground with Jeremy leaning over me frantically telling me not to move. “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay,” he kept saying as he looked me over.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” I heard Tammy say in an anguished voice somewhere to my left, and Jeremy rounded on her.

“What do you mean ‘you didn’t mean to do it’? I saw the whole thing!”

“I found them together. They were kissing and … I didn’t mean for her to fall … I … I never meant for that to happen.” Her voice seemed to get smaller as she spoke, and I heard her began to cry.

Jeremy looked down at me, and I saw the pain on his face. I reached out and found his hand. “Nothing happened,” I told him. “It was nothing,” I said more emphatically.

Tentatively, I shifted slightly and didn't feel anything terribly wrong, except for some pain in my ankle, so I slowly struggled into a sitting position. Agony lanced through my head and I struggled not to lose consciousness, holding still until the blackness receded.

“I think I’m all right.” I said, waving Jeremy away as he tried to coax me back down.

“Honey, you need to be still until we can get you some help.”

“I think I’m all right,” I said again.

“Oh thank GOD,” said Tammy.

“No thanks to you!” Jeremy retorted.

I looked up and saw Daniel for the first time. He stood with his arm around Tammy, his face white and stricken. His eyes seemed to plead with me, and I didn’t have the heart to do it. I wouldn’t have Tammy blamed entirely for what had happened. We all deserved our share of the blame.

“Stop it, Jeremy, it was an accident,” I said.

“How can you SAY that?” cried Jeremy.

“I was an accident,” I said again, more firmly this time, trying to bring Tammy and Daniel’s face back into focus. Daniel’s eyes closed tight, and he seemed to sag in relief. The last thing I saw before I passed out was Jeremy's face leaning in close to mine. He whispered, “I’m sorry, Sam, I’m so sorry.” Then the world seemed to spin, and I collapsed back onto the grass.

The next time I woke up I was being loaded into a rescue helicopter. I tried to tell them it was all so unnecessary, but I couldn’t seem to get them to hear me. The lady rescue worker patted my arm. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you fixed up and back to camping with your friends in no time.”

Not bloody likely, I thought, and then we were rising into the air.






January 2009