“Well ain’t cha all a sight for tired, old eyes?” came the scratchy tone of the Ms. Dermont as everyone piled out of the vehicle, sober and exhausted from the long drive to New Hampshire and the base camp. “Got your site all set up.” She hugged each of them while they grabbed their duffels and backpacks. “Supplies stocked in the freezer. Bar’s open.”
Liam was the last to embrace the old woman, and she held him an extra heartbeat before she pushed off and straightened her faded baseball hat, that had gone askew on her salt and pepper locks. “Now I arranged for a shuttle in the early AM. He’ll take you to the drop in and your car will be at the take out when you’re ready.” The woman busied herself about, pulling invisible dried up blooms from a flowered bush beside the pull off.
“Thanks, Nita,” said Judah, giving her another hug. “Did the boats arrive?”
She waved her wrinkled fingers in the air over her head. “Blasted boats. Thought those delivery drivers were gonna take out my whole front porch,” she complained. Judah kissed her cheek, and she brushed him away with a stern “Pish-posh.”
“Love you, Nita,” called back Judah, and he jogged to catch up with the rest.
The fire crackled in the small pit, surrounded by boulders, smoothed and blackened from years of use. Mac propped his feet up on one and tipped a plastic cup filled with whiskey back into his mouth. Bethie sat with her arms resting on her knees staring into the flames. Her thumb absently brushed and tore at the label of a beer bottle. “Hey Mac, take it easy. You still need to get up and get a boat before we put in tomorrow.”
“Ah, always one step ahead, little grasshopper.”
Bethie gave him an inquisitive glare over the flames. “How so?”
Mac picked up his phone and shook it. “Magic of technology.” He glanced towards Judah as he continued with a smug tone. “Made a couple new contacts for the shop. Gonna be testing out the new merchandise. Hands on information for the customer base.”
Judah pretended not to take notice, but Bethie could see through the flickering shadows of the firelight that his eyebrows raised in contemplation.
Mac stretched out his body in a self-satisfied manner. “They are gonna deliver it, have it there waiting for me in the morning.” He tipped back the last bit of his drink.
“Are you writing off this trip?” Judah asked.
Mac sat up and leaned his body forward over his knees, grabbing the bottle by his feet and pouring another two fingers of the Irish whiskey into his empty cup. “Is that what you would do? Oh wait, don’t answer that. You aren’t a part of the business anymore so why the hell do you care, Judah?”
Judah opened his mouth and then snapped his lips together, cutting off his own comment. He stood up and bid goodnight to everyone, but Mac, and then walked away from the campfire and into the small cabin. Liam turned to watch the light turn on inside and then tipped back his own bottle of beer. He smirked and then sighed. “Do you all remember the first ski trip we took, the five of us?”
Mac laughed, remembering. “I never thought Jay would get down the mountain.”
Bethie’s laughter mixed with Mac’s. “We stayed at the chalet, that year. Mac you made that dinner. What was it?”
“Southwestern chicken stew.” He grimaced.
“Oh my God, yes. I never thought we’d get the bottom of that pan clean. You charred it,” she laughed.
“You didn’t,” said Liam, grinning from ear to ear.
“Yes, we did,” protested Mac.
Liam shook his head. “It was a lost cause. Remember when Jay and I went for empanadas? We bought a replacement and tossed the burned one out in the dumpster.”
Bethie’s jaw dropped. “No way, we scrubbed that sucker every hour all night until it was gleaming.”
Liam lifted his beer, shaking his head and giggling. “If that’s what you want to believe.”
Bethie threw her crinkled up beer label at her brother. “All these years.”
“I always wondered why I could never get a pan that clean again.” Mac chimed in.
Their laughter filled the evening air. Soon the night silence surrounded them once again. Liam got up from his chair. “I’m calling it. ”
Bethie looked up from the flames she had been lost in. “Good night, Liam.”
“You coming in soon?”
Bethie nodded. Her head tilted towards a snoring Mac. “What about him?”
Liam shrugged. “You want me to muscle him inside?”
She shook her head. “No thanks. I’ll pick up and then try to wake him in a while. No worries.”
“Okay, night, sis.”
Bethie watched the door close to the cabin before she took up a long stick and poked at the burning embers in the pit. She looked up to the stars and released a heavy sigh. “Good night,” she whispered.
Her feet scuffed through the grass and the dirt as she gathered empty bottles and discarded cups. She walked to the SUV and checked the supplies and rearranged items for easier packing in the morning, and then she walked back to a slumbering Mac. She stood there still with her arms crossed and tried to match the rhythm of his breathing without success. “Mac,” she whispered.
He groaned and swatted his hand out with little effort behind it.
“Mac, come in to bed.”
He turned his head and waved her off once more. Bethie walked inside the dark cabin and stole up a blanket. She laid it over Mac’s outstretched body, doused the remaining, fading embers and walked back to the cabin. With the door left open, in case Mac woke and stumbled in, Bethie stripped off her boots and her shorts and climbed into the sleeping bag spread out over one of the single cots. She turned her head towards her brother, his body curled to one side of a double bed. His breathing was even. Bethie rolled on to her other side to face Judah’s bed. He had changed into a T-shirt. She watched his chest rise and fall in the moon’s light through the open window as he slept. Her lungs took in air and released it in time with his breathing. The rhythm felt as natural to her as her own heartbeat. Her eyelids grew heavy and soon she was asleep.
Mac awoke with a start. He sat up in his chair, his muscles ached in complaint of the poor posture he had slept in. He scrubbed at his sleep filled and whiskey soaked eyes. With the blanket in one hand and a fresh bottle of water in the other, he made his way into the cabin, shutting and latching the open door behind him. He looked over to Bethie and smiled, she would always be the constant “mother hen”. It was her nature. He owed her a lot, apologies, thanks, and kindness. Hopefully, one day she’d understand all that.
His sneakers popped off one at a time and stayed where they landed. He was fairly certain Judah would curse in the morning when he tripped on at least one of them. Then he climbed into bed, the warmth of a body next to him. The moon light glinted off a piece of metal, located from up on a shelf on the far wall. Mac turned his body and stared. “You awake, Jay?”
The sound of an arm or a leg moving against the nylon fabric of a sleeping bag stilled Mac’s breath.
“I got plans for us, bro. Not to worry though, it’s all good. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I gotta do one thing before, though. I gotta make it right with Bethie and Judah. You gotta help me with that, okay?”
An incoherent mumble was heard and then someone coughed and shuffled into a new position.
“All right, I’ll see ya soon. Good night, Jay.”
The scent of bacon and eggs drifted through the open door of the cabin. Judah rolled off the cot and stumbled towards the door. Bethie’s bed was empty. Mac was still stretched out under a blanket. A stream of foul language came out through Judah’s clenched teeth as sudden, mind-altering pain brought Judah to his full senses. The mind numbing pain shot up from his toe and through his entire body. He reached down and hurled the discarded sneaker out the open door and glared at Mac, daring him to wake up and say something snarky. Mac had to be the most disorganized, untidy person he knew. In college it was fine, they were young men, out on their own, learning to take care of their needs, out from under their mother’s wings, but they were independent men now, responsible and depended upon. Judah had grown up and he had expected Mac to follow suit. Wasn’t that part of their agreement?
He was still grumbling by the time he limped out to the picnic table and poured himself a cup of coffee from the aluminum camp side percolating pot. He raised his cup to Bethie in thanks. She knew she wasn’t expected to get up early and attend to their needs, but she enjoyed it.
She scooped out scrambled eggs, hash and strips of bacon into the shallow well of a tin plate and handed it to him. “I see you found Mac’s sneakers,” she said as he took the plate and she stooped to snag up the offending running shoe and place it next to the cabin doorway.
Mac emerged. His feet bare. His hair disheveled and the shadow of stubble shading his jaw line. “Good morning campers. Who is ready to hit the water?”
Bethie fixed him a plate, the same as Judah’s. “Where’s Liam?”
Judah spoke over a mouthful of hash and eggs. “He was headed to the showers when I last saw him.”
Bethie fixed her own plate. “I’ll eat and shower, then while you two get ready I can clean up here.” She was ready to get started, while the atmosphere seemed calm and normal.
Liam reappeared, fresh and lively. He wolfed down his breakfast and went immediately to focusing on packing up and preparing. They packed frozen bottles of water into various insulated bags, along with prepackaged foods. Sleeping bags were condensed into dry bags and they situated the SUV with items to take on the water and items that would wait at the takeout. The boats were strapped on top of the rack and everyone loaded up to head out for the thirty-minute drive to the put in and to meet with the shuttle driver.