Chapter 39: Mighty Hiker Guy
So what are your plans for spring break? Joey asked.
I’m going hiking, Amarea replied.
Joey coughed milk out his nose and sputtered, “What?”
Amarea laughed and repeated, “I’m going hiking.”
Jimmy looked at Joey. They exchanged a weird look. Joey wiped his nose on his sleeve.
“Gross,” Amarea commented.
“You’re going hiking?” Jimmy asked.
“Yes, my parents and I are going to hike the Great Smokey Mountains,” she replied.
“You can’t even walk up the stairs without huffing and puffing,” Joey said. “How are you going to hike a mountain?”
“I’ve been training,” she replied.
“What would make you want to hike a mountain?” Jimmy asked.
“It’s for leukemia,” she answered.
“I’m not quite sure what you mean,” Joey said.
“The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society hosts hikes around the country to raise money for research,” she replied. “This year my parents wanted to do something to help raise money for research.”
“But a hike?” Joey asked, “How does that help raise money?”
“My parents have a website,” she replied, “People donate money for the hike. They’ve raised close to $6,000 so far.”
“Whoa! That’s a lot of money,” Jimmy replied.
“It’s not enough to find a cure,” she replied.
“No amount of money can cure diseases,” Joey said.
“Poverty,” she replied.
“Poverty isn’t a disease,” Joey said.
“Tell that to someone who’s poor,” she said. Jimmy smiled.
“Whatever,” Joey replied.
“So what are you doing for the next week?” she asked.
“Nothing much,” Joey replied.
“Do you want to go on the hike?” she asked.
“Um, not really,” Joey said.
“Come on, it would be fun,” she replied.
“Don’t I have to sign up and raise money?” Joey asked.
“Yes, but you could be a part of our team,” she replied.
“What team?” he asked.
“Team Amarea,” she said. Joey laughed. She elbowed him in the ribs. “My mom came up with the name.”
“It’s a good name,” Joey stifled a laugh. “I still don’t know if I’m qualified.”
“Qualified?” Amarea questioned. “To hike a mountain?”
“You said you’ve been training,” he replied.
Amarea laughed. “We’ve taken walks, talked about staying hydrated, and eating the right foods on the trail. I’m sure we could get you caught up!”
Early Monday morning Miriam dropped Joey off at Amarea’s house. He looked spiffy in his new hiking boots and ranger hat.
Mr. Outdoorsman, Amarea wooed.
Where are your boots? Joey looked down at her worn sneakers.
I don’t need boots, Amarea shrugged.
After several hours they arrived at the check in site. Joey was amazed to see all the people assembled. After check in, everyone received a number and some words of wisdom. There was a group stretch, and they were off. Amarea gave her folks a hug and wished them well.
You’re not hiking? Joey asked.
Of course not, silly, Amarea said, I’ll be here when you get back.
Joey looked back as the crowd pushed him forward. Amarea just smiled and waved. The hike was only ten miles today and another ten miles tomorrow. About halfway through the trek, Joey’s blisters had blisters. He stopped on the trail and was greeted by one of the side-line guides. To his relief, Joey was given some pain relieving cream and mole skin to wrap his blisters. The side-line guide kept encouraging everyone.
“We’re almost there!” he said, continually. “Just up over the hill is camp.”
Joey heard the words and believed them, the first few hills. By the seventh hill, he was doubtful he would ever make it to camp. He heard the music and cheering long before the camp site was in view.
Amarea was one of the first greeters along the route. She joined Joey on the final few yards of the trek.
How was it? Amarea asked cheerfully. She put her arm around his waist.
Painful, Joey limped.
Tomorrow should be better, she said.
Tomorrow? Joey raised an eyebrow. He winced. How could raising an eyebrow hurt?
Well, Amarea smiled, you have to hike out of the mountains.
Seriously? Joey rolled his eyes.
It isn’t called a two-day hike because you only hike for one day, she replied.
Joey slumped into one of the many camp chairs. He removed his boots and socks with tender loving care. The mole skin had, for the most part, protected his blisters from getting worse, not that his blisters could be any worse.
“Looks pretty bad,” Amarea said. “Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
I’m not going anywhere for the next few hours, Joey groaned.
Amarea returned with a large basin of warm sudsy water.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Joey moaned as he gingerly put his feet into the water. That’s nice. Thanks.
“How was it?” Amarea asked.
“Beautiful,” Mrs. Dustin replied. “He looks exhausted.”
Amarea jumped. She hadn’t seen her parents walk up. “He was one of the first to get here,” Amarea said.
“Didn’t you tell him it wasn’t a race?” Mr. Dustin asked. “Well, let’s hit the showers.”
“Showers?” Joey said groggily. “There are showers up here?”
“In the semi,” Mrs. Dustin said, pointing to the large white semi-truck parked by a rather large tent.
“When did that get here?” Joey asked.
“We’ve been setting it up all day,” Amarea said. “I got to help with the food. We’ve prepared a fantastical fair of carbs and protein for our wary travelers.”
“Huh?” Joey asked.
“That’s what they told us to say whenever anyone asks us what’s for dinner,” Amarea said. Her parents laughed.
The showers were wonderfully hot and refreshing. Amarea was waiting with a pair of flip flops and more bandages.
You’re amazing, Joey said. He was walking rather stiffly.
I know, Amarea beamed. Do you want to explore? There are several tents that have been set up, including a memory tent.
Does it require walking? Joey grimaced.
Yes, Amarea said, but not hiking.
Amarea hooked her arm in Joey’s, and she led him to the tents. The first was a tent full of candy. Bins and bins of the stuff.
I don’t have any money, Joey admitted.
It’s free, Amarea said.
Really? Joey looked around at the bins of candy and smiled.
Yup, Amarea said, the candy company sponsors the hike, so everything is free.
Cool beans. Joey filled his pockets with his favorite candy bars.
The next tent was sports drinks.
Free? Joey asked.
Yup. Amarea nodded.
Cool beans, Joey smiled.
The next tent was a massage parlor. Joey enjoyed his fifteen minute back massage.
“Make sure you have your feet looked at in the next tent,” the massage woman said.
“Thanks,” Joey replied, feeling even more relaxed.
In the next tent, volunteers looked at his blistered feet and applied medication and new bandages. They also gave him some pain reliever. Joey was feeling pretty good by the time they reached the last tent. Although it was the same size as the other tents, this one looked different. It felt different. The other tents were filled with hikers and supporters, all talking and laughing. This tent was different. The entrance wasn’t open like the other tents. It had a flap door to walk through.
The memory tent, Amarea almost whispered.
Memory tent? Joey knew immediately what it was when he walked through the door. The plastic canvas walls held hundreds of pictures and thousands of words. People were walking around, touching pictures, reading the stories, smiling, remembering, or crying. Joey didn’t know any of the faces. He didn’t know any of their stories. He followed Amarea around the tent. She had stopped in front of a picture Joey recognized. It was the girl from the newspaper. Melissa somebody.
Dayton, Amarea finished.
Huh? Joey questioned.
Melissa Dayton, Amarea repeated.
Sorry, I couldn’t remember, Joey blushed.
That’s why she’s here, Amarea said. She smiled at Joey.
Huh? Joey asked.
Her picture, her story, Amarea said, it’s here so we remember. Remember her life. Remember the cure must be found so that nobody else has to be on a wall.
Joey stood back and let Amarea work her way around the tent. Joey didn’t read any stories. He glanced at a couple of pictures, but that was it. Halfway through, he reached out and took Amarea’s hand.
“I’m tired,” she admitted. “Let’s go to the music tent.”
Music? Joey’s eyebrow shot up.
Yup, Amarea smiled, there are several bands that are going to play.
Anybody I know? Joey asked.
No, just some local bands, Amarea smiled.
The bands, Joey discovered, weren’t that bad. He found himself tapping his toe and even singing along. Amarea’s parents arrived with plates of carbs and protein for Amarea and Joey.
“Thanks so much,” Joey said, taking his plate.
“You are so welcome,” Mrs. Dustin said. “Thanks so much for being a part of this.”
“We got the tents all set up,” Mr. Dustin said.
Tents? Joey asked.
Where did you think you’d be sleeping? Amarea smiled.
I didn’t really think about it, Joey replied.
“I didn’t bring a pillow or blanket,” Joey realized.
“We brought extra,” Mr. Dustin said.
“Cool beans,” Joey replied.
Stop saying that, Amarea said.
What? Joey frowned.
Cool beans, Amarea replied coldly.
Why? Joey asked.
Maddie says it, Amarea said.
So? Joey said. I’m not dating her anymore. She doesn’t even go to the same school anymore. Maddie transferred schools when her mom had been arrested and sent to rehab. Joey hadn’t seen or talked to her in months.
Just stop saying it, Amarea said.
Ok, Joey shrugged.
“I’m ready for bed,” Amarea said. “It has been a long day.”
“So are we sharing a tent?” Joey asked.
Mr. Dustin laughed.
Did I say that out loud? Joey blushed.
Amarea laughed. You did.
Crap, he said.
“You have your own tent,” Mrs. Dustin said. “Your stuff is already inside, along with a couple pillows and blankets.”
“Thanks,” Joey said, still blushing. He walked Amarea to her tent, which was right next to his. He went into his own tent and stared at the walls of the tent until the noise of the camp died down. He unzipped the tent flap and walked quietly to the memory tent. The tent was well lit for night time visitors. Joey walked around, reading the stories. Tears ran down his cheeks. He didn’t hear the tent door open. He jumped as a hand touched his shoulder. He was surprised to see Mr. Dustin.
“There are a lot of stories,” Joey said, wiping away his tears.
“There are a lot of memories,” Mr. Dustin said.
“Amarea won’t be here,” Joey said.
“God willing, no,” Mr. Dustin said. “Joey, thanks so much for being here. Thanks so much for being Amarea’s friend. I know you mean a lot to her.”
Joey blushed. “She’s an amazing person.”
“I think so,” Mr. Dustin said.
They wandered around the tent for quite a while. “We’ve got a long hike tomorrow. We’ve better get to bed,” Mr. Dustin said. They walked back to the tents. “Night, son.”
“Good night,” Joey said.
As soon as his head hit the pillow, he fell asleep. Five a.m. came quickly. Amarea was still asleep when the return hike began. Joey didn’t rush the hike back. He spent time looking at the beauty all around him. He felt a peacefulness over take him. When he turned the last corner and saw the crowd ahead, he began to cry. He saw Amarea in the sea of faces and ran to her. He hugged her. He loved her with a love he had never known before.
I want you to live, he said.
Me too, Amarea smiled.
Thank you for letting me do this, Joey said.
Thank you for doing this, she replied.
Amarea’s parents joined the embrace. The blisters were forgotten. The moment was real. The memories eternal.
Joey fell asleep on the car ride home. When they pulled into his sister’s driveway, he spotted Maddie sitting on the front porch.
Perfect timing, Amarea frowned.
Amarea, don’t. I haven’t seen her in months, Joey said.
Exactly, she said, perfect timing.
Maddie waited until Amarea’s car turned the corner before she said anything. “Ello luv,” she smiled.
“Hi,” Joey replied.
She stood and embraced him. He didn’t hug her back. “Why are you here?” he asked.
“I called your sister and she said you would be home today,” she said. “I thought I’d come by and say hi.”
“But why are you here?” Joey asked.
“I missed you,” she pouted, taking his hand. He pulled it away and picked up his bag.
“What do you want?” Joey asked.
Maddie shrugged. “I brought you something,” she said. She pulled Joey over to the chair on the porch. “Sit,” she commanded. Joey was honestly too tired to argue. He sat reluctantly. Maddie sat on the floor at his feet. She pulled a basket out from under the chair. Joey leaned forward and looked in the basket. It was full of foot care stuff. Maddie took off his flip flop and gently massaged his foot. If Joey were a cat, he’d be purring.
Maddie massaged both feet and moved up to his calves. His eyes flew open when her hands moved to his thighs. He jerked back in the chair. She leaned forward and kissed him. Reflexively, he kissed her back.
“Joey, I’ve missed you,” she said between kisses. She sat in his lap and nestled into his neck. Joey breathed her in. He really liked Maddie. He really did. Liking her was ok, wasn’t it? And she really liked him. Didn’t she?
“Are we good?” Maddie asked.
“Yes,” Joey replied.