“Welcome to paradise, Sam! Want a beer?”
Samantha stood over Greg who sipped his beer by the campfire. “What are you doing?”
“Camping.” He grinned up at her. The afternoon sun gave her a halo.
“You didn’t say anything about camping.”
“I don’t like camping.”
“You used to camp with your family all the time.”
“’Used to…’ Do you understand past tense?”
Greg poked the fire.
Samantha caught his attention. “I didn’t pack for camping. I don’t like sleeping in the dirt. I don’t like bugs. I like my privacy. I like a hot shower...”
“I get it. I thought it would allow us to reconnect… to bond.”
“That’s the trouble with long-distance relationships. Even when we communicate, there’s no communication.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I drove all the way up here. I’m tired. I’ll get a room. I thought we were going to a restaurant. ‘Bonding’ at a restaurant sounds like fun.”
“You can visit me there.” She pointed to the nearby motel. “You can even cancel this.” Samantha indicated Greg’s camp site.
“But I want to camp.”
“So camp.” They looked at each other. “What’s for dinner?”
“I’m barbecuing hamburgers…”
Samantha took a beer from Greg’s cooler and walked over to the motel across the way. She entered the motel office and paid for a room.
Then she walked to her pick-up truck and pulled her drag-along luggage off of the hay bale and out of the truck bed. Samantha walked straight to her room and closed the door.
After throwing her drag-along onto the bed, Samantha pulled the curtain back and looked out the window. Greg sat by his tent, waving to her with a big smile on his face.
She straightened the curtain. “Alpine Village, my butt,” she said to herself. “Tents? Anyone heard of buildings? Are all the caves taken?”
She flopped onto the bed and waved the remote toward the TV set. It flickered on to reveal a game show in progress. She wished she could have that much fun. Samantha changed the channels a few times and then clicked it off.
In a little while, she returned to Greg’s campsite.
He smiled and then stood. They embraced.
“I miss you,” Samantha said into Greg’s shoulder.
“Sorry about the mix up. I mean it.”
Samantha looked into his face. “It’ll be like when we were dating. You can be my ‘gentleman caller’.”
“And we can cuddle the night away.”
“But not in the dirt.”
“It’ll work out. When do you want to eat?”
After the burgers, Samantha finished her beer and announced, “That is the best burger ever, Greg. How did you do it?”
“It’s the wonderful surroundings, and of course, the amazing company.”
Greg stirred the fire and sparks sailed through the deepening gloom. A night bird called. He moved closer to Samantha.
“All the way here I thought about how great it will be, together again.”
“Yeah. This is great. Since you did dinner, I’ll make breakfast. My room has a little kitchenette. How do you like your eggs?”
“Over easy. The motel store opens early.”
Samantha slapped her leg. “Man! Another thing I hate about camping…”
“I brought bug spray.”
Samantha looked at Greg with mixed emotions. “That stuff acts like a giant bug billboard saying ‘Chow’s on! Come and get it!’”
“Step into my tent, then...”
“…Said the spider…”
“Alright, but you know I’m not staying.”
Greg held the tent flap aside for Samantha. “Welcome…”
Samantha was surprised at how clean and spacious Greg had it. “…and it has a floor! We don’t have to worry about camels sticking their noses in…”
“I promise, I don’t smoke. So, no camels.”
Greg crawled to his pack. “But I did bring this for insurance.” He pulled a pistol out and held it up for Samantha to see.
She blinked. “What’s that? A twenty-two?”
“Smith and Wesson…”
“In case a squirrel attacks us?”
“Or a bear.”
“Put it away, Greg. You’re only going to piss a bear off with that.”
“A friend of mine got shot five times with one of those, by his woman.”
“And then he drove himself to the hospital.”
Greg looked at his weapon and sighted along the barrel with his arm extended. Samantha reached out and guided his aim toward the ground.
“And anyway, you don’t want to shoot that around here. Eighty percent of the other campers have you out gunned.”
“The bear would be using you for cover.”
“Right…” Greg put his pistol back into the pack and zipped it shut. “You want another beer?”
Greg opened the tent flap and crouched to exit. He froze, ducked back into the tent and zipped the flap. He whispered, “Bear!”
“Cut it out, Greg…”
“Sam! No, really!”
“Bears are another thing I hate about camping…”
“Shhhhh!” Greg made a chopping gesture.
Samantha got serious. She crawled to his pack and grabbed his .22.
Greg looked at her with panic in his eyes. “What are you doing, Sam? I thought…”
“But I know how to use it. Shhh!”
They sat in the center of the tent. Greg pulled the sleeping bag over their shoulders and held her close. Samantha checked to make sure the pistol was loaded and primed.
Samantha whispered, “They just want food. We’ll be okay.” She put her finger to her pursed lips.
A hulking shadow fell on the tent. They could hear the bear move through the camp, knocking things over and smashing the cooler.
Then they heard other campers banging on pots. The bear moved off. After a minute, Samantha and Greg looked at each other.
“That was close.”
Greg moved to embrace Samantha. She said, “Wait…”
Samantha held up the pistol for Greg to see, and then placed it on the tent floor and pushed it away with her foot. Then she kissed him. It had been a long time coming.
Samantha looked at Greg in the dim light. “You want to go to my room?”
“You think it’s safe?”
“Guess we’ll find out.”
They giggled and crawled to the tent flap. Greg looked out and then nodded back toward Samantha.
Later, snuggling in bed, they talked about the past, people they knew and how things had changed. Greg wondered if they would ever be together again.
“It’s priorities, Greg. I need my degree. One year more.”
Greg stretched and pulled the covers away.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to the tent.”
“You need a good night’s sleep and I need to clean up the mess. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I’d sleep better with you here.” Samantha patted the bed. Greg kissed her and made to tuck her in. Disappointed, Samantha turned onto her side and returned to sleep.
Greg knocked on her door early.
“I brought fixin’s!”
“I don’t care. I need to get ready.”
“I’ll fix breakfast while you do your thing.”
Samantha opened the door a crack and slammed the bathroom door behind her.
Greg made do and watched cartoons until Samantha came out.
“Breakfast is served.”
“I was supposed to cook.”
“Don’t sweat it. Ready for our hike?”
“You look great. We’ll have fun.”
They set out walking briskly, breath visible in the chill. Dew hung from the pine needles. The sun warmed their faces. Birds fluttered about.
They sang together and talked about everything. Laughter came easily. They took lots of pictures. They felt no urgency but to be together.
Samantha didn’t notice the climb until she saw the valley below. Someone on the trail offered to shoot a picture of them. No bears intruded.
Samantha sat on a log and faced the sun with her eyes shut.
Greg stood by. “We’re almost there.”
“You have to come and see. No rush.”
Samantha sunned herself a little longer and then sprang up. She ran up the trail into the trees, leaving Greg to catch up.
“Come on, slow poke!”
Samantha came around a stone outcropping and stopped short. She turned to Greg with tears in her eyes. “It’s so beautiful!”
The sound of the waterfall echoed down the canyon. Mist drifted through sun beams.
Greg took Samantha by the hand. “Come on!”
He led the way down the rocky embankment to the pool under the falls. People came, took pictures and went their way. Greg and Samantha stood together in awe.
Samantha slipped off her shoes and waded into the pool. She shivered with delight. “It’s cold! But delicious!”
Greg sat on a stump to unlace his boots. A splash of water landed on his head. He looked to the source of giggling.
“I can’t believe you would do that.”
“It was an accident.”
“You really want to start this? You?”
“I couldn’t help it.”
Greg stepped into the water. Laughing, Samantha tried to put distance between them. She slipped on a rock and went down with a scream.
Greg got to her as fast as possible. “These rocks are murder! Are you alright?”
“Yes, I see that. And no one more deserving…” Greg offered Samantha his hand. She stood and lunged at him with a roar, embracing him with fierce laughter.
“Now I’m all wet!” Greg gave Samantha a bear hug and lifted her out of the water.
They couldn’t speak for their laughter. They made their way back to the little beach. Greg put on his boots.
Samantha started to shiver. “I’m freezing!”
They climbed the trail hand in hand. Samantha turned for one last look at the falls.
She said, “This is our waterfall, Greg. I’ll remember it every time I take a good hot shower.”
Around the bend they were back into sunshine.
“Keep moving. You’ll warm up.”
They came to a fork in the trail. Greg indicated the upward path.
Samantha protested. “I’m cold Greg. Shouldn’t we head down?”
“You don’t want to miss this. I promise.”
“Is it warm?”
“You’ll love it.”
After a short climb, the trail entered a tunnel of flowered branches arching overhead. Sunlight filtered through and birds tweeted.
Greg smiled at Samantha as they walked. She took his hand.
“When you’re right, you’re right. Thanks.”
They came out of the tunnel and could see the campground below. Samantha pulled Greg’s hand and they stopped.
“This turned out to be a wonderful surprise, Greg. Thank you for everything.” They kissed.
“Let’s get you into that hot shower. Dress for a nice dinner.”
“Really? Hot damn!”
They ran together back to the camp.
Samantha came out of her room when Greg honked his horn. She walked around his new EV and got in.
“We can take my truck. Will this thing make it?”
“It’s all charged up. Very reliable.”
“I just hope we don’t get caught in a snow storm. I’d hate to freeze to death while fighting global warming.”
“It’s August, Sam. Not gonna happen.”
“That a promise?”
They got to the restaurant without incident. It was no five star, but it looked clean and had a wine list.
A real candle burned in the center of the table. Samantha thought of making another ‘global warming’ joke, but skipped it. And she liked a candle light dinner.
Greg felt good. The hike invigorated him. But he detected a shift in mood from Samantha.
“This is great.”
“The shower meet specifications?”
“The shower was heavenly. The perfect punctuation for our amazing hike. Where did you find this place?”
“Some friends at work told me about it. A ‘must do adventure’.”
They ordered salads and wine. The conversation lagged though.
“When do classes start?”
“End of the month. Before Labor Day.”
Their food arrived. They ate in silence for too long.
Then they both spoke at once. Greg let Samantha go first.
“Sorry I’m in a bit of a mood.”
“I’m just sad that we… the weekend is ending so soon…”
“But it’s been so great…”
Samantha raised her napkin to her eyes and held it there. She reached for Greg’s hand and almost tipped a water glass.
“Sorry. I didn’t realize how much I missed you… til we got together.”
“I’ve been going crazy without you, Sam. This was heaven. I’m so glad you made the effort to meet.”
“Me too.” Samantha dabbed her eyes again. A sip of wine turned into a gulp. Then two. She raised her empty glass. “Salute!”
Greg raised his hand to his forehead to make a mock military gesture. They both laughed.
After the food was gone, they held hands. They still didn’t talk but the mood had warmed.
After dinner, Greg pulled up next to Samantha’s truck. They walked to her room in silence.
“Do you want me to stay?”
“If you want. I need to get up early.”
“I want to be with you always.”
They went in and held each other in deep slumber.
Samantha awoke before her alarm. She sat up, sensing something outside. Samantha moved to the window and peered out.
An elk stood in the bed of her truck, eating from the hay bale. It was gigantic.
Samantha rushed to Greg, signaled to him for silence and led him to the window.
“Look at that! That’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen!…”
“If I can just sneak it into my dorm room…”
Greg tried to control himself. He asked, “What’s his name?”
Samantha stifled a groan. “Elke, of course. What would you expect?”
Weak from laughter, they fell back onto the bed. And there they lay, kissing until the sun rose.
Saying good-bye was the toughest.