Moira sighed. Her best friend Lena had suddenly decided that a picnic would be a wonderful idea. Moira was dubious, having learned by experience to be wary of Lena’s inspirations.
Lena had pleaded.
“It’ll be so romantic down by the lake. We need to destress after these exams. Dave’s got a boat.”
“He’s wonderful. We’ve been together for a month now. This could be the start of something beautiful,” said Lena.
Moira rolled her eyes. Lena tended to have phases in men and in life. There had been a holistic, vegan period, a time as an environmental crusader and a spell as a born-again Christian. Her most recent passion was art. Moira preferred this to Lena’s preceding months of dressing in black, reading depressing poetry and ruminating on the meaning of life, but suspected Lena had been influenced by the Impressionist paintings of picnics they had seen at a recent exhibit. Airy ladies in long dresses demurely lounged on the grass under parasols, surrounded by adoring swains in blazers and straw boaters. There was not an ant or mosquito in sight.
Moira was a city girl. Anything besides a well-manicured park seemed suspiciously like wilderness to her. Why anyone would want to sit on the ground to eat when there were plenty of restaurants nearby eluded her. However, she was indeed tired and stressed after finals and agreed to go. She had never been able to decide if Lena was extremely persuasive or if she, Moira, was weak-willed. Lena proudly brought out her latest thrift shop find, a genuine wicker picnic basket.
“I hope you’ve got the silver and china to go with that,” said Moira. “And where’s your parasol?”
“I’ve got a golf umbrella,” Lena said. “Paper plates and plastic cups will have to do.”
“We are at least bringing real wine glasses,” said Moira. “Anything to make this cheap wine taste better.”
That morning Dave and his friend Ben rolled up in a dilapidated Jeep that sat high on fat tires. Dave picked up Lena effortlessly in muscular arms and twirled her up into the back seat. Not for the first time, Moira thought how nice it must be to be petite and dainty like Lena. She could best be described as sturdy herself. She noticed Ben, a scrawny little fellow with a straggly moustache, looking at her in alarm as if she was expecting the same treatment. He seemed relieved when she scrambled up without assistance. The scenery was idyllic at the spot Lena had found, with the woods behind them and a long grassy slope down to the lake. Moira looked around for the picnic tables.
“Tables?” said Lena, laughing. “No, we have blankets and a tablecloth. We want the real al fresco experience.”
“We do?” said Ben. Moira grinned. She sensed a kindred spirit.
Moira had to admit that it was quite pleasant sitting on the grass. Spring blossoms danced in the mild breeze, birds were calling, and the lake sparkled in the sunshine. A glass or two of wine and she began to forget her fear of critters and relax. Dave went off with Lena, ostensibly to show her his boat. Moira cast a wary eye at Ben, relaxing when she saw that he had fallen asleep face down on the blanket. Next thing she knew, she must have dozed off herself. She woke to a whining sound droning in her ear. She sat up, swatting and blinking blearily as she tried to get her bearings. She wondered what the Impressionists would have made of the plastic containers, wine bottles and glasses scattered on the blanket. Ben stirred beside her.
“Jeez, I have got to take a leak. I’m not used to drinking at lunchtime. Where’s the bathroom?”
“Back at the parking lot, but there are plenty of bushes over there.”
Ben groaned as he got to his feet and hurried off towards the trees, glancing around surreptitiously.
“Wait, you’d better put your shoes on…” Moira called after him.
A moment later there was a yell of pain as he dashed back, hopping around like a demented flea.
“Damn, I stepped on a fire ant nest!” he yelled, frantically slapping at his feet and legs.
Moira couldn’t help laughing as he plunged into the lake. She winced sympathetically at the angry red bites on his feet and legs as he emerged, dripping.
“I don’t blame you for laughing,” he said, with a sheepish grin. “So much for trying to impress you.”
“What? You were trying to impress me?” said Moira. She was resigned to being part of the scenery, especially when Lena was around. She looked at Ben afresh, noticing that he had kind brown eyes and an infectious smile.
“Lena’s a fun girl, but she’s a bit too ditzy for me,” Ben said, drying off as best he could with the tablecloth.
Moira rummaged in her bag and found a tube of hydrocortisone.
“Thanks,” Ben said, applying it vigorously. “Lena wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“Miss Practicality, that’s me,” said Moira dryly. “Lena could quote a poem celebrating the scenery, give you a lecture on co-existing with nature or launch into a discourse on women’s rights on the spot. The little details like first aid tend to escape her notice. Guess which one of us is popular and which one is the sidekick.”
“Right now, I wouldn’t swap you and your hydrocortisone for all the poems in the world,” said Ben.
“That’s romantic. It could be a poem in itself,” said Moira.
At that moment, Dave and Lena reappeared, tousled and smirking.
“What’s going on?” said Lena. “What are you doing with my tablecloth?”
“Fire ants got me,” Ben said. “Luckily Moira was able to provide first aid.”
“This is the result of our disastrous ecological policies,” Lena said passionately. “Fire ants are an invasive species…what did I say? Why are you laughing?”
Moira and Ben, having glanced at each other, had given up the struggle to keep a straight face.
“Nothing,” said Ben, wiping his eyes. “Moira was just proved right on a very important point. I will never, ever go into the woods barefoot again.”
“Let’s get the boat out, guys,” said Dave impatiently. “Don’t get Lena started on a cause or we’ll be here all day.”
He hurried off with the others following, Lena huffing indignantly. Ben shyly reached out for Moira’s hand. She happily took it, beaming at him. Picnics suddenly didn’t seem so bad after all.