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. I had been excited to finally get a chance to establish some sort of connection and the possible friendships it might lead to, but since moving to town, my overtures, while not being met with outright refusal, had been received with vague indifference at best. 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.

As Jeremy got back up to rummage in the cabinet for a bag of chips, I sat back in my chair and remembered that night ...

I 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.  It was feminine but not too fancy, 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 gorgeous. He loved my green eyes, which were my best feature. They did seem to pop 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 tables with 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 cheeses, toasted baguette slices, 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 nearly 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 claimed he had completely forgotten and that they'd been really busy anyway.

I stood up, contemplating having a beer myself, then decided to refrain and walked over to turn on the burner under the kettle for a cup of tea.

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 like to do a lot of the same stuff that we do," Jeremy said now as I sat back down with my cup of peach tea, liberally sweetened with sugar, 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.”

We discussed it for a bit and finally 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 stunning, with long blond hair and a trim figure. She was a little taller than me and looked to be in her middle to late 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 I had. 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. “I hope you don't mind," she said 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 with me 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 in 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 wasn't bothered in the least by Tammy’s sexy little show. She was probably just a bit tipsy. I looked on for another minute and then got up to finish the food.

Along with the shrimp cocktails, I had prepared an array of 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 again, 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 I hadn't noticed when I cleaned.

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

“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. Was that why she hadn't eaten much?

By the time they went to leave, we had a tentative plan to do something again soon. We followed them out onto the porch, and Tammy turned around to hug me. “Everything was great,” she said. “I know we are going to have so much fun with you guys.”

* * *

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 another 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 present 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 had quit my job in human resources at the international company I worked for. But recently I had started taking on freelance writing projects from home now that both the kids were gone during the day. 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 boys 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 children 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 nearly over and it would be winter soon. As if I had conjured it, a light wind sprang up and blew across the patio. I pushed a strand of hair out of my face and leaned back, enjoying the breeze in the warm night air.

“I’m proud of you, honey,” Jeremy 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 them 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 told him I would 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 waterways online, and finally decided on a canoe put-in off the Raven’s Mill Trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area around an hour and a half away. The creek I picked was supposed to be at its highest with good flow at this time of the year and there was a parking lot at the top and a take-out spot about ten miles downriver. The website even included the longitude and latitude specifications for a GPS, which we intended to use.

The plan was to drive two vehicles, leave one downstream 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 eight 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. 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 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, four camping bowls, and cups. For food, I packed some instant coffee and sugar, two 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 fit 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 liters 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 spectacular 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 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.

Tammy shifted around where she stood watching. "You sure have a lot of stuff. Hope we can get 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 bag beside the juice I had included.

We had the directions, so Daniel and Tammy decided to follow us. We made pretty good time and came up on the take-out spot a little over an hour later. Since they had the canoe strapped on top of their Jeep Cherokee, we obviously needed to leave our car there and ride with them up the mountain. As we were climbing out, Jeremy grabbed the folded map with the route 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 there 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 directions.”

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 jeep for a moment while I dug out the small compact 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 rubbed sunscreen on my face, smoothing it across the faint laugh lines by my eyes.

“Oh wow,” 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. She didn’t have a single crease 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 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 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 on 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 arrived, if he made it there alive.

Our enthusiasm tempered somewhat by exhaustion but good mood still intact, we finally made it 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 put the comb away.

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 stepped in next, then Jeremy.

As I turned around to lower myself down, Tammy suddenly moved up 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 it there? So that her ending up beside Jeremy would look incidental? Trying to squash 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 he listened intently to what she was saying. He 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 gorgeous 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, hon,” 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 for Jeremy to get out and help him, but he was too involved with Tammy and hoisting his backpack. Daniel tugged hard, but the canoe barely budged. While 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. 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'd 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 elastic band I had brought, and then twisted my hair up into a bun.

“You know what you need … 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 attempted to continue, but I overrode her.

“I have something I’ve been trying, and it helps, it’s just that being around the water and all, you know, it makes it frizz no matter what I put on it …” My voice trailed away. 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 after that and then gathered up all of our things and moved 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.

“Good, you’re back. I thought we could first do one tent and then do the other, so we can help each other, okay?” Without waiting for my reply, Tammy switched her attention to Jeremy and indicated an area to the left. “You guys can have this spot, and we’ll be on the other side.” She grabbed the corner of the tent and started dragging it over. “Here, Samantha, you roll it out, 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 asked.

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 him through the trees. It all occurred naturally and appeared innocent enough, 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 expression 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,” Jeremy said as he walked by and dropped the armload of branches he was carrying.

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

“Sure,” Daniel replied and stood up.

While the men went back and forth with the wood, I remembered my earlier resolve to give Tammy a chance and decided it was a good time for a drink. I reached 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 lowered myself down beside her.

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

I couldn't help but laugh.

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

“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 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 pieces, 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 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 chose 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 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 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.

“What you girls got there?” called out Daniel. I really looked at him as he drew near. 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 looked over and returned my gaze for a moment. 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, hon” 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 handing everyone their cups. "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 was toting 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, straightening 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.

After a moment, I moved away to make us some more drinks. And then we waited. There were only faint noises 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, 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 began roaring steadily, branches crackling and popping as they burned.

I knew eventually Jeremy and Tammy would probably see the fire and come back, but in the meantime, I didn’t plan on 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.

“You got it started," cried Jeremy. "All right!” He threw down a 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 water. I had planned to use some of the bottled to cook with. What I needed was a minute to think. I stood by the bank and tried to reason with myself. Truly, Tammy hadn’t really done anything wrong exactly, except show 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 I 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. And 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 sat by the fire. Tammy was in the middle, with Daniel on the right and Jeremy on the left. 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 to get some for myself.

I returned with mine and sat down beside him.

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


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,” he 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 before I could answer. 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 hadn't offered him any. He walked past me without a word. Fine. Why start now? 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 as Tammy came back into view with her bunch of grapes, and that 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. Then I walked farther out from the camp, hung the pot up in a tree, hoping that would suffice, and staggered back to our tent. Blearily, I dragged out some shorts and a T-shirt, grabbed the small LED lantern from Jeremy's pack, 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 who 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, he peered out at me but must not have been able to see me, because he didn’t say anything and after a moment moved out of the light, down into the shadows.

I stayed submerged 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, forgetting about my hair and ripping it half down. At least some of the frizz would be gone now. I dragged the elastic band the rest of the way out and combed my fingers through the damp curls.

I reached for my shorts, my back to where Daniel had walked off, and picked up footsteps.

“Oh, sorry,” I heard Daniel say behind me. He’s been right 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 wet shirt was clinging to me. 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 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. Then he released my hair and 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. Until 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 approached. I sat up, wondering if it was Jeremy. When I heard them go on by, I quietly slipped out of my sleeping bag. Clutching the flashlight, I crawled out of 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 up ahead. I stepped off to the side and watched her from behind a tree. She had followed Jeremy and was now obviously waiting for 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 toward them.

They came into sight, and I dropped down and scooted behind a thicket of bushes and undergrowth, half expecting to be caught at any second. 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 and pulled back again.

“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. 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 purred, 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 had 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 couldn’t stand the taste when he kissed her.

Tammy jerked away from him angrily, her face a mask of sullen humiliation. Knowing I didn't have long, 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 walking by.

Moving as stealthily as I could, I slid back into my sleeping bag and tried to control my breathing.

Jeremy entered the tent a minute later and stopped just inside. I made my breath slow and even, and after a moment, 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 he'd coaxed out of the embers from the previous night.

“Here, sit down,” he said, indicating the log he had pulled up close.

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 then plopped down on the log. Jeremy handed me a cup of coffee, and my hands closed around it gratefully. I sat immobile, feeling like a cold snake, blowing on the hot liquid 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 me another cup of coffee, 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 might see in them. I wondered if he knew Tammy had left their tent last night and attempted to seduce 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 to do to hide my anxiousness. Jeremy bent down and while his head was averted, 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 moved his eyes from Daniel back to me. He 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 away, 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 wanted 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 risen.

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 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 last part and I understood he was doing it to punish me.

Possibly encouraged by Jeremy wanting to extend the trip, Tammy threw in, “Yeah, Daniel, let’s do it!” She had probably nearly 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 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 was thinking so hard I almost ran into Daniel’s back as he stopped in front of me. Jeremy was saying something ahead of us. I stepped up and wedged myself in 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 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 dead and shriveled from the encroaching winter.

Jeremy and Tammy were already descending into the ravine, and they reached the bottom before we did. By the time we made it down, they had disappeared from sight. Determinedly, I stayed away from Daniel and went in search of them. I walked down the side of the building and over to the edge of the drop-off beside the wooden wheel. There was no sign of Tammy and Jeremy. I peered behind me. The colorless planks of what was left of the decaying mill jutted up against the slate background of the sky.

Daniel beckoned to me from the second floor. “Come up here. There's a nice view.”

Stifling my growing uneasiness, I took one last look around and then climbed the hill to the staircase barely clinging to the side of the structure. I grasped the splintered railing and stared uncertainly up the rickety stairs.

Daniel’s head appeared above me. “Watch where you put your feet.”

Carefully, I made my way up 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 a smaller building a little farther down the riverbed I had been unable to see from my place on the ground. Jeremy went in first, followed by Tammy, and the 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 they weren’t still exploring the place.

I felt Daniel’s arm go around me. I sagged against him and let him turn me around and lead 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 in another time and place, but I would never have acted 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 suddenly his lips were on mine. 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.

Without warning, an ear-splitting shriek cut through the air. I barely had time to turn and try to sidestep Tammy, who was suddenly, inexplicably, there, as she launched herself at me, her face distorted with jealousy and rage. She hit me so hard I flew backward 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 slammed into the ground.

* * *

I never remembered the impact but I found out later that I had fallen some twelve feet. Not that far, but far enough to break three of my ribs and give me a serious concussion from smacking my head on the ground.

Jeremy helped fill in the blanks for me. After he had went into the other 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. “You're going to be all right, baby, you're going to be all right,” he said, repeating it over and over as he checked me out.

“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 begin to cry.

Jeremy gazed down at me with pain-filled eyes. I reached out and found his hand. “Nothing happened,” I told him. “It was nothing.”

Tentatively, I shifted slightly and didn't feel anything terribly wrong, except for some discomfort in my ribs and back, so I attempted to sit up and pain instantly flared across my side and shot like a lightning bolt through my head. Crying out, I dropped back down, straining to not lose consciousness, and held still until the blackness receded and the throbbing lessened.

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

“It's okay,” I said. "I might have a concussion and a cracked rib, but I think I'm all right."

“Oh, thank GOD,” said Tammy.

“No thanks to you!” Jeremy retorted.

I turned my head a fraction and saw Daniel for the first time. He stood with his arm around Tammy, looking pale 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.

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

“How can you SAY that?” cried Jeremy.

“It was an accident,” I said again, more firmly this time, trying to bring Tammy and Daniel 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 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 right up, and you'll be back to camping with your friends in no time.”

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

January 2009