Copyright is held by the author.
“I WANT to go h…” A low growl of thunder cut off her words.
“You want to what?” Ryan didn’t catch the last word. It was as if someone sliced the grey clouds open with a surgical knife, releasing the water that was pent up in them and now the rain was violently pounding down on their tent.
“I said I want to go home,” Trudy repeated. She had to face facts, as much as she would like to deny it. She was having a miserable time camping. Why, of all the things to lie about to impress Ryan and get him to make some sort of commitment to her, did she say she was a camper? She loved nature for short periods like walks in the woods and swims in the lake, but after the sun earned its oohs and aahs for shimmering crimson on the water, she wanted to head back to a hotel, preferably a five-star one with a spa.
“Aren’t you having a good time?”
“Of course I am,” she said, lying. “It’s just that I’m a little concerned about the episodes today.”
“Oh, I think you’ll be fine and this rain should let up soon. The sky in the west was pretty blue earlier.”
“By earlier, do you mean 7 a.m.?”
“Well, ya, but still…”
“Ryan, that was 12 hours ago.” He was sweet, funny and better looking than he knew, but this eternal optimism of his was really grating on her nerves.
She thought back to their first full day at Buck Lake. They got up early despite going to sleep late after Ryan made a campfire. She’d had trouble sleeping on the ground, and there’d also been a fly in their tent buzzing so loudly she swore it had a volume button stuck on high. And first thing in the morning, he was eager to go hiking. Her first instinct was to jump in the shower, but the only water available was the dirty lake. So she put on her bathing suit, grabbed her soap and salon shampoo, and headed for the water.
“I wouldn’t use that soap, Trudy,” Ryan called from the campsite. “Any fragrance will attract bugs, and there’s a lot of them here.”
Oh, great — cleaning up with fishy buck poop water. She started splashing herself and, figured what the heck. Ryan was a captive audience, and she could impress him with her whimsy to prove that she was simply irresistible. With reckless abandon, she started to do what she would call “frolic” in the water. That would get his attention.
“Are you okay out there?” He was looking up, genuinely concerned. “Is there something in the water biting you?”
“No, no, I’m just, just…about done.” Damn it. Why does her water frolic look like a distressed bird’s cry for help instead of the goddess Aphrodite returning to the foaming sea?
Ryan was eager to start walking before it got too hot, so Trudy followed suit and didn’t say what she was thinking. My God, does this man not need a coffee to start his day? He was pointing out to her this and that tree and stopped to take a picture of some wildflowers sprouting out from under a fallen log, but she wasn’t really listening to him. He looked gorgeous in a frumpy way in his cargo shorts and John Deere T-shirt, but all she could think about was having that first cup of morning coffee from a fresh pot of steaming black gold, swirling in some cream, taking that first glorious sip, sighing in satisfaction as it….
“Trudy, did you hear me, watch that nest!”
“What nest? Ahhh!”
It was too late. In her coffee reverie, Trudy hadn’t seen the wasp nest attached to the underside of the log, and accidentally bumped it with her running shoe.
“Don’t swat at them. It only makes them angrier,” he said as she tried to extricate herself from two determined wasps surrounding her in angry circles. Ryan had moved some distance on the path, and wasn’t being bothered by the nasty insects. Trudy sprinted to join him. By the time they escaped the scene, Trudy had a swelling sting on, of all places, her lip. What was wrong with her legs? Okay, they were a little short, but if she was going to get bitten, why couldn’t it be on her ankle or calf like everybody else?
“You’re not allergic, are you?” he asked as they continued their hike.
“No, not that I know of,” she said touching her bottom lip, puffing up like a marshmallow.
“We better get some ice on that. It doesn’t look too good.”
She translated. You look like you let a drunk plastic surgeon work on you. She knew pouty lips were sexy, but hers weren’t beckoning “come hither.” They screamed “back away.”
When they returned to the campsite, she nursed her lip with some ice while Ryan made bacon and eggs, and yes, finally, coffee on his Coleman stove. They relaxed, talked and Trudy even felt oddly connected with Ryan after he’d asked her about her job.
“How did you end up selling designer clothes to grandmothers?”
“I was going through an organic phase.” She’d have to go back to the beginning. “And one day at the health food store, I bought one of those natural deodorants called Walden.”
“A hunk of crystal?”
“Yes, but I didn’t know it then. I liked the picture of the log cabin on the package. Anyway, I made the mistake of trying it for the first time before my interview with Marcie’s. I thought I looked good in my black dress skirt and silk lavender blouse, but it was hot that day.”
“Oh, no, I know where this is going.”
“By the time I got off the subway downtown and walked to the store, I could feel sweat trickling down my sides. I had some time before the interview, so I went to the ladies’ room to see how bad it was.”
“And was it?”
“Let’s just say, when I lifted my arms in the mirror, I saw two pools of sweat that looked like enormous purple eggs spreading from my armpits.”
Ryan burst out laughing. “So what did you do? Buy a shirt and change?”
“Actually that’s a good idea.” Damn. He was smart too. “No, I didn’t think of that. I was desperate. I tried shooting them.”
“What?” He sounded alarmed.
“With hot air. I waited until the washroom was empty, crouched down in front of the hand dryer in my heels, turned that silver nozzle so that it was pointing to my pit, and switched on the blower.”
“That must have been quite the sight.”
“I think so because when a store employee opened the door, she gave me the strangest look.” Trudy remembered her looking over tortoiseshell half-glasses, mouth agape.
He was laughing harder now. “So you got busted!”
“That’s not the worst of it. After I got those dinosaur eggs down to a couple of croissants, I go to the interview and guess who one of the interviewers is? That’s right, the woman from the bathroom.”
He almost spilled his coffee. “No! You’re kidding! It’s amazing she hired you after that. You must have given a good interview.”
“Oh, I don’t think it was that. After the interview, she told me she also suffers from hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating. She said she knew firsthand the embarrassment I have suffered and slipped me the name of a clinic that apparently cured her without surgery.”
“So she saw your sweaty armpits and saw herself?”
He got up out of his lawn chair and moved close to hers. She readied herself for an intimate moment, signalling that her goofy charm had overpowered him, and he had to covet her shenanigans as his own, even if it was for entertainment purposes. He bent down. She made a quick mental note to take in the details of the scene so she could remember it later, remember it always: the sun slanting through the leaves of the birch tree, a lock of Ryan’s hair on his neck, forming an adorable curl, the yellow green grass behind him. Here it came. She hoped her lip still had feeling in it. She let her eyelids drift down….and then he gave her a noogie. “Let’s go fishing!” he said.
Besides their hoodies and cold beers in a cooler, Trudy brought along a book in case she grew bored while waiting for the fish to bite. Trudy’s mind hardly drifted as Ryan explained how to cast while they were sitting in the fishing boat. She’d told him she’d been fishing before. She didn’t tell him that it was when she was 10. Her family had gone deep sea fishing, and one of the workers on the ship had done all the work for the two fish she’d proudly grinned beside in the photograph her mother had included in a vacation scrapbook.
“So you think you have it?” He’d kept the lesson brief given her fishing experience.
“Definitely.” How difficult could it be? She saw that in his patient demonstration, he cast his line easily enough.
Ryan baited their hooks and then rowed until he found some lily pads where, he said, fish liked to congregate. Her first cast landed successfully alongside his, with a satisfying plop in the water. She was pleased with herself. And then they waited.
“So, how did you learn how to fish? Did you go out with your dad a lot when you were growing up?” Trudy thought a conversation would help her overcome the boredom of waiting for a bite.
“Actually, Trudy. I read once in a sporting magazine that you have to be quiet while fishing. If you make a lot of noise, it scares the fish away.”
Oh well. At least she could read. She finished the first chapter and then Ryan wanted to try another spot on the lake. His brows knit together in a line of concentration as he zigzagged over the water, looking for a spot he was happy with. Who knew there was good lake feng shui? He finally stopped rowing, the boat drifted a short distance, and he cast his line again. It was her turn. She fancied herself a bona fide sportswoman now, so she tossed the pole over her shoulder with confidence and flung the line in one swift movement. But it didn’t feel right. The pole was suddenly bending with the weight of something on it. Were there flying fish in this lake? In a flash, she saw what it was. She had hooked Ryan’s sweatshirt from the back of the boat, and now it was in the water.
“Oh my God! I’m sorry, Ryan. I don’t know what happened.” She felt her cheeks burning and knew it wasn’t from the sun.
He was momentarily dumbstruck. She was worried that he was angry, but then he said, “I’ve never actually seen someone land an article of clothing. It’s okay. It will dry.” He started rowing again and fished out his dripping hoodie by scooping it up with a fishnet that was hooked on the side of the boat. “Let’s go closer to shore.” He probably thought the spot was jinxed.
Their third and final stop was a beautiful one in front of a jagged, grassy coastline dotted with large flat rocks whitening in the sun and a dense patch of trees, including a majestic weeping willow leaning gracefully into the water. The lake was narrower here, and when the boat reached the shallow water, Trudy looked down to see a muddy, weedy bottom.
“The smallmouth bass likes warmer water, so we might get a hit here,” Ryan said, still hopeful of catching a fish.
“Sounds good to me.” He was a veritable fountain of fish facts.
“Keep your casts short.”
She watched him more carefully now as he snapped the rod with expertise and landed his line just where he wanted it.
“Do you want me to do yours, too?”
He was still clearly worried after the hoodie incident. “Oh, no I’ve got it.” She wouldn’t let him think she was too girlie to fish. She had three brothers, and a male dog after all.
His eyes were on her when she wound up for the toss, and thwap! She overshot and her line hit the willow, wrapping itself around one of its thin branches. She studied Ryan’s face for a reaction, but couldn’t read him. Humoured? Exasperated? Disgusted? After a moment, he said, “Well now you’ve caught a tree.”
“Guess you can’t fit that in the net.” She tried to make the laugh that followed seem genuine, as if fishermen every day hook articles of clothing and branches.
He smiled faintly and started rowing again to get as close as he could to the tree. He reached up to begin untangling, but with his shift in weight, the boat moved, and Ryan lost his grasp of the line. She felt guilty she was causing him so much trouble.
“Trudy, do a little half row so I can get this thing.”
He’d given her a golden opportunity to redeem herself. “Okay,” she responded nonchalantly. She had this. She wasn’t about to brag about her rowing prowess. He’d see for himself that she’d gone to canoe camp, and he’d be amazed at the ease with which she handled the oars. She was assertive, then, when she grasped them and made a deft motion in the water. She looked up to see Ryan’s look of admiration at her accomplishment only to see him wobble, lose his footing in the boat and splash overboard into the water. She’d rowed expertly all right. In the opposite direction!
“It looks like the tent is leaking,” Ryan said. The rain pounded the tent with such force that he noticed one of the seams trickling with rain water. He knew the day had gone poorly, but he was confident that he and Trudy would have a better day tomorrow, if they stayed, that is. They’d gotten off to a rocky start because of bad luck and well, Trudy’s ineptitude. Still, he couldn’t help remembering with fondness how she’d handled each glitch in their day. She’d tried to cover up getting bitten by a fish while bathing with exaggerated glee, and then lied so he wouldn’t worry. She’d made fun of her inflated lip, saying it was a good thing she packed her “Michelin Man” lipstick, and had been so contrite after the mishaps while fishing, he knew her feelings for him were genuine. When he thought about looking up at her in the boat after he’d fallen into the water, he smiled. She’d been so horrified, she’d looked as if she’d been caught red-handed nibbling the bait the fish refused to take.
She was so damn cute in a pixie kind of way. He loved her unpredictability and zany sense of humour, and he’d wanted to use this camping trip to let her know that. But now she wanted to bail, to go home after only one bad day. He knew he was stubbornly persistent, “like a dog with a bone,” his mother would always say, and he wanted a woman who was the same way.
“The hell with it.” Trudy interrupted.
She was good at that.
“It’s raining too hard for us to go home. Wanna play some poker?”
“You bet. Pun intended.”
Maybe he could be the Ricky to her Lucy.