Golden sunlight freckled the clay-reddened earth, filtering through a thick wilderness of pines so green that they were nearly black. Miri was scratching at the back of her knee, bending so that her short-cropped hair fell across her flushed nut-brown cheek. Her legs were long and thin. The chino shorts she wore were loose around her thighs. They looked like olive green bells with her legs protruding from the hollows like knockers. When she bent to scratch her knee, her black tank top dipped open, revealing small breasts held close by a lace bra of a dusty rose hue. It nearly matched the blush of her cheeks.
Adam was leaning against a lichen-speckled boulder a few feet away. He watched her scratch at her knee with painful intensity. The view from where he stood left little to the imagination. Her skin was shiny with sweat. Shona stood to Adam’s left and traced the line of his gaze. Seeing where he looked, she turned her face toward him, her green eyes lashing him with silent censure. He tilted his face towards hers, meeting the glare with a deadpan stare.
There was no admission of guilt nor any other feeling betrayed by his features. Bushy black brows remained at ease above dusky pools of unfathomable depth. His fleshy lips framed the perfectly straight line of his mouth. This was his poker face. Shona would have to wonder if she had been mistaken. She might eventually feel guilty for suspecting him. Adam reached up and twisted the tip of his mustache.
Shona hated the mustache. They both knew it. An absent gesture or a wordless taunt? His face remained passive, perhaps calculatingly oblivious. Shona’s was a book written in narrowed eyes and a set jaw.
Miri said, “I think a mosquito already bit me. I hate mosquitos.”
“Hm?” Adam shook his head, turning back towards Miri with slightly raised brows.
“Mosquitos,” Miri said with a sigh. “I hate them. I wish Everettete would come back and unlock the truck so I can put some repellant on.”
“It could have been a spider,” Adam suggested. His voice was deeper than most. With his long thin face, torso, and limbs, it was an unexpectedly weighty sound. His big ears stuck out from under a mop of disheveled black hair. When he spoke, he sounded infinitely bored and gloomy, but that was always the case. Miri’s brown eyes widened.
“I hate spiders more. You don’t really think so?” She grimaced and brushed at her back with her long slender fingers. Shona came closer and patted down Miri’s shoulders saying,
“I don’t see anything. You’re fine.” She squatted and inspected the back of her friend’s knee. Miri craned her long graceful neck to look over her shoulder at Shona. “It’s a little red, no bump. It might just be a scratch. We can put some calamine on it later.” Shona stood again. She was wearing a tight-fitting gray t-shirt from a brewery she and Adam frequented together, her long sunkissed hair was pulled up in a high tight ponytail. “I wonder what’s keeping Everette,” she said looking back down the trail they had emerged from.
“We should have come in two cars,” Adam said picking crumbled leaf bits off of his frayed khaki cargo pants. Neither of the women responded. Miri had taken a few steps back towards the trail and was still looking at the distant bend, chewing her bottom lip. Shona slid the trail pack off her back, squatted, and unzipped it. She opened a small blue first aid pouch and removed a tiny packet containing a single alcohol wipe. After putting the rest of the kit away and zipping the trail pack up again she said,
“Here Miri, let me see it.“ She tore the tiny packet open while Miri returned obediently to her.
“What is that?” Miri asked as she offered the back of her knee to Shona who dabbed at it.
Miri stiffened, inhaling sharply, “Ow.”
“Just an alcohol wipe,” Shona explained, “Alcohol is an analgesic. It should feel better in a minute.”
“It feels worse,” Miri complained, her nose wrinkling. A moment later she relaxed, “It does feel better now.”
“Yeah, I know.” Shona grinned up at her before packing the garbage into a ziplock baggie in her trail pack.
Miri smiled and shrugged. She looked like a young Indian Audrey Hepburn, but she didn’t know it, which only made her more charming. She admired Shona’s freckled skin and the way her friend filled her t-shirt and shorts exactly like a Barbie doll, except with shorter legs and flat feet. Once while they dangled their heads off the edge of the bed at Shona’s house, staring at the ceiling waiting for their nail polish to dry, Miri had murmured dreamily,
“I wish I had freckles.”
“No, you don’t.” Shona had laughed.
“I do. I wish I had freckles on my cheeks, and on my arms and my legs and my toes. And I wish I had a kitten.”
Now bending her knees as if trying them out she said. “Nice.” She looked adoringly at Shona, “What would I do without you?” but she didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, she stretched her hands towards the treetops and sighed, “I wish I’d brought my sketch pad and pencils. Then I could draw while we wait.”
“I hope we aren’t waiting that much longer.” Shona frowned. She stood again, leaving her pack on the dusty ground. Her hands found their way into the back pockets of her cut-offs. The campsite was twenty yards away, just around the next bend. Everette's red pickup with a camper shell was parked next to the stone picnic table and a fire pit full of cold gray ashes. Shona could make out little glints of red through the trees. “You don’t have a key to his truck do you?”
“No,” Miri said frowning slightly. Shona bent and took her water bottle from a side pocket of her day pack. She took a drink herself and then offered it to Miri who accepted. Miri had no pack. Adam had a water bottle with a worn Sponge Bob Square Pants sticker on it bulging from a pocket in his cargo pants. He drummed his palms on his thighs. He was wearing a t-shirt from the brewery too. It had been his idea to wear matching shirts today. A long silence fell over them punctuated by occasional birdsong.
“Do you want to go to the book museum with me next month?” Miri addressed Shona, “They’re hosting this event with a guy who makes books in origami. Like, that’s the shape of the book, and he is going to talk or something.”
“I don’t get it,” Shona furrowed her brow, “Books about origami?”
“No, the book is origami,” Miri explained.
“What’s the book about?”
“Anything. I don’t know. It’s more than one book I think. It’s just something he does.”
Shona shrugged, “Not really, I guess. Do you want to go?”
“No, I guess I don’t either. I just want a reason to go there. That’s all that’s on their calendar. I’ve wanted to go there for the last three years. But I never go.” Miri pushed at a pebble with the toe of her canvas shoe.
“Why do you want to go? I’ve never heard of this museum.” Shona tilted her head slightly and fixed her eyes on Miri awaiting an answer.
“They have old printing presses or bookbinding machines or something. I think I read about it somewhere and that’s why I want to go. Sometimes I just think of it and I look it up and then I don’t go and I forget. The other thing that I never did was go to that play. Do you remember? The play was like two days long and someone was just reading the Great Gatsby and the set was supposed to be an office and the idea was just people in an office listening to this guy read it out loud. They only performed it twice. And I never went.”
“I do remember that,” Shona conceded, “but I’m glad we didn’t go.”
Miri’s voice had become melancholic as she recited things she had not done, but now she giggled, “Yeah, I guess I am too.”
“I wish we’d never gone on that camping trip with that guy who told us he wanted to walk down to the lake to take a picture and he’d catch up with us but then he never did,” Adam said. “It’s getting dark. We need to set up camp,” he added.
“It has been a looooong time,” Miri said gripping the fingers of one hand with those of the other. Her large brown eyes managed to look even bigger when her brows pressed down on them. “You don’t think anything happened to him?”
“What could have happened?” Shona asked matter of factly.
“I don’t know,” Miri said. The two women stared at each other for a minute.
“I don’t know either.” Adam interrupted their contemplation pushing away from the boulder, “But something is going to happen to all of us if he doesn’t get here with those truck keys. It really will be dark soon.”
“And I’m very hungry.” Miri offered a sort of hysterical agreement, looking anxiously around.
“Let's all stay calm,” Shona assumed command. “Nothing is happening to anybody.”
“Yet.” Adam disagreed tersely.
“There’s no reason to blow things out of proportion,” Shona said.
“Well, I’m not just sitting around anymore.” Adam flicked the last bit of dried leaf that he’d been rubbing between his fingers.
“Ok,” Shona said. Adam remained where he was, looking at her. After a beat, she added, “I like how you’re still just standing here.”
“You’re so full of yourself, Shona.” Adam raised his eyebrows.
“Maybe. But I notice you still aren’t doing anything,” Shona replied.
“Bitch.” Adam said. Miri’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. Shona smiled saturninely back at Adam, saying nothing. He turned and stalked down the trail, tracing back over their steps, eventually vanishing around the bend into the trees.
“Oh my god,” Miri said grabbing Shona’s arm. “I can’t believe he said that.”
“We’re definitely breaking up,” Shona replied almost placidly.
“Oh my God,” Miri repeated. Shona waved it off.
“Here,” she said. I have some protein bars. Now we don’t have to share with him.”
“Mmm yummy.” Miri wriggled like an excited puppy.
Shona retrieved the protein bars from her bag and the two women sat down together on a mossy boulder a little farther up the path. They started eating and Shona suggested, “Why don’t you try to text Everette and see what’s up?”
“Yeah.” Miri said. “I’ll try. I wasn’t getting a signal earlier, but maybe it’s better here.” She reached into her back pocket and retrieved her phone. After several failed attempts to call and text, she said, “We’re pretty far away from everything aren’t we?” Her eyes glittered darkly like those of a small animal.
“That was the idea,” Shona told her with a crooked smile. “Listen, does he do this kind of thing all the time? Sort of go off on his own? Vanish? Make you wait?”
Miri was chewing slowly, “A bit I guess. He sort of just does his own thing and then comes back. Like if we are downtown or something and I start looking in a shop that doesn’t interest him he goes on and after a while, he comes back and he’s found some art gallery we didn’t know about or an incredible little restaurant we’ve never tried.” Recollections of past adventures had brought a smile back to her lips.
Shona nodded. “I think we shouldn’t worry. He’ll catch up.”
“How are you going to sleep in a tent with Adam tonight?” Miri asked. “I couldn’t do it. I can’t believe what he called you.”
Shona sighed. “I don’t know. I’ll just sleep and get through tomorrow and when we get home, maybe when we drop him off- ask Everette to drop him off before me,” Shona cast an imploring look to Miri who nodded vigorously, “And maybe when he’s getting out, I’ll tell him we’re through, and don’t call me because there’s nothing to discuss. Then I’ll shut the door and tell Everette to drive.” They both giggled.
“Really?” Miri asked.
“Maybe.” Shona smiled. The woods were getting cool and dark. Somewhere hidden by the trees the sun was setting, the colors of sunset appearing between branches. Miri put her head on Shona’s shoulder, craning her long graceful neck to do it. Shona rested her head on Miri’s and they waited, the bare skin on their arms and legs growing uncomfortably cool. Crickets started chirping. The first stars were appearing among the tree tops in the darkening sky. Something rustled in the brush.
“Oh my God!” Miri squeezed Shona’s arm.
“It’s ok.” Shona answered slowly, focused on identifying the source of the sound, “It’s probably an animal. We came to talk to the trees and watch the animals, right?”
“And make friends with nature and God,” Miri murmured, quoting Bob Ross.
“Let’s try our phones again,” Shona suggested, “and then, either way, we’ll walk over to the campsite before it’s totally dark.”
Something thundered through the nearby underbrush. Hearts racing they watched as a deer ran out onto the trail, then passing close to them it vanished back into the trees. A moment later they recognized the distant sound of boots crunching on the path. Everette’s muscular form appeared from around the bend. He closed the distance quickly, waving to them. The white of his teeth flashed as he smiled at them through the gloom. Even his reddish hair seemed to glow faintly, catching the limited light of the moon and stars. Miri jumped into his arms with a squeal, wrapping her legs fully around his waist.
“Did you guys see that deer?” he asked them.
“Yes!” Miri told him, “It scared me half to death.” she was all smiles now as she put her feet back on the earth. He held onto her waist.
“I’m sorry I took so long,” He directed the apology to Shona. “While I was down by the water, some people got a hole in their raft. I helped pull them onto the bank and we used my trail map to figure out which route they needed to take to get back to their campsite on foot.”
“Mm! My hero!” Miri kissed him. Everette beamed at her for a minute then turned back to Shona with a furrowed brow.
“Adam’s hurt,” he told her. “He twisted his ankle. I’ve been helping him along, but he needed a rest and I wanted to let you guys know what’s going on. I’ll grab my headlamp and the big first aid kit so I can wrap the ankle for him then I’ll head back out. The gate is closed by now. I think we should call the Ranger’s station, but he says it’s just sprained and he wants to spend the night then head back in the morning.”
“I thought you were the one that got hurt!” Miri said scratching behind her knee as they walked.
“Me?” Everette was already leading the way to the truck, “I’m invincible,” he grinned.
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