Elise dropped down in the leaves heavily, a tired sigh escaping her lips. A hot shower, clean clothes, a large, three-course meal, and a nice, soft bed were all she sought right now.
This Gabriella woman had been generous enough to take them in for the night and certainly Elise was grateful for that. But actually gutting and filleting fresh game? Aside from such a chore existing far beyond her realm of experience, she seriously doubted it was legal to hunt whatever that deer-like animal had been while it was still in possession of its head and fur. She supposed the legality of anything mattered very little anymore, wherever the five of them were, but still her stomach churned sickly when she recalled the sight of Andrew, Rick, and Derrick returning to the cabin, all bloody and grinning like idiots, gleefully dragging that… thing, behind them….
Then of course, there was Derrick. Ah yes, Derrick Morgan. Elise couldn’t stay her upper lip from curling up with distaste. Derrick Morgan, here. Of all the people in the world, or even Rockville alone, to be stranded, or banished with… Derrick Morgan?
Wouldn’t her best friend love to be in Elise’s shoes right now! Here she was, trapped in “Never-Never Land”, urinating in the bushes and chopping up dead animals with the junior-class president, varsity co-captain love of Carol’s life. Was it Elise or was this just the tiniest bit ironic? She wasn’t sure which was worse, wishing it were her best friend out here without running water and electricity or being here herself with Derrick Morgan.
That he had torn Carol up and spit her out was at the least reprehensible; he had completely and indifferently humiliated Carol merely for his friends’ entertainment. Elise would never forgive him for all the tears Carol had been reduced to. Yet regardless of his crime against her best friend, Elise had to confess to harboring her own personal antipathy.
Upon reflection, Elise supposed that her enmity stemmed from the fact that people like him never suffered from any adversity, everything was handed to them on a silver platter without their needing to expend the slightest effort or endure even a negligible amount of hardship. Soberly inspecting her filthy fingernails, crusted now with grime and gore, she recognized the fallacy in this notion.
She nevertheless was quite sure she’d be able to muster some diminutive morsel of compassion if the vast majority of such people weren’t so arrogant and condescending. From the little contact she’d had with Derrick Morgan, significant issues were of no relevance.
At the same time, Elise wasn’t proud of the adversarial relationship she’d generated between them, and in retrospect she’d retract her little outburst by the stream yesterday morning, which felt like last week the way time dribbled by so slowly out here. Out here, a serious expense of effort and toil was requisite in order for him receive the respect he commanded at home unfailingly. She longed to drum up the courage to tell him that he wouldn’t simply merit similar regard without working for it.
Elise took a deep breath and ruefully relaxed a little.
“Here you go,” Rick broke into her reverie.
Rick shoved a ka-bob of sizzling meat at her. The bloody hunk of animal she’d watched open-mouthed that morning being dragged up to her, falling at her feet with a wet, meaty whumpf! in the leaves, sprang unbidden to mind.
She accepted the stick of meat gingerly, glancing around at the circle of her comrades reposing against trees, cross-legged and chewing. Next to Elise, Fiona bit into hers slowly and soon her cautious expression faded.
“It’s good,” Fiona announced with surprise as the others nodded agreeably under Gabriella’s bemused smirk.
Well, it did smell tempting. Elise had smelled this… galdor… cooking all afternoon but had been too appalled with the pre-cooking preparations to confess to an enticing aroma.
She took a small nibble.
“Tastes like chicken,” Rick grinned winningly, his sense of humor inevitably prevailing.
Elise smiled around her mouthful as the others chuckled. It really was good, she had to admit. Gamey, slightly, like venison. Whatever herbs and spices their hostess had added to it certainly enhanced its appeal.
While Elise consumed her portion of vegetables and galdor (she wasn’t sure if “galdor” meant the actual animal or if it meant something like meat), she considered their hostess. Gabriella. Not a name Elise had ever heard, not even in another language. The guys, she noted with amusement, seemed completely taken with Gabriella. And why not? Gabriella exhibited everything the women at home did not. She was graceful, moving through the woods without noise, which Elise had covertly tried to emulate and found no easy task.
And Gabriella was… a commanding presence. Something about her caused people to sit up and take notice of her when she stepped into the room. She’d promptly assessed the little group’s situation and immediately lead them to her home. She had provided them with food and a place to sleep, and accomplished all of this while unable to communicate in the same language. Throughout the day, she had supplied them with the word for different objects, birds, trees, the cabin and the like, in her own language. And once Gabriella determined that neither she nor Fiona had any idea how to wield knives or that huge, bloody carcass proffered at their feet like some kind of male-bonding ceremonial sacrifice, Gabriella, albeit after a sigh, had dropped to her knees and shown them first how to manage the knives. Granted, it had taken a while for Elise and Fiona to touch the thing, much less actually gut and fillet it.
Of course, Gabriella’s appearance probably impressed the guys more than her ability to gut a galdor. A thick, fiery braid of hair ran down her back in waves, wisps of which curled about sharp green eyes, and her entire body was well-toned. Elise worked out at home with Carol and Diane and played in various sports and so was in fairly good shape muscularly speaking, but she would be much surprised if Gabriella sported so much as five percent of overall body fat. And naturally, the tight leather outfit adorned with knife scabbards only accented the curves that produced the dog-panting adoration from the guys.
Elise caught her breath. Gabriella was staring at her with that impenetrable green gaze. That was so disconcerting! Every time she gave the woman so much as a passing thought, she’d look at Elise in that knowing way, as if she knew what Elise was thinking. And then she’d smile. Just as she was doing right now.
And that was another thing. Back by the stream, when she’d felt another presence. Elise hadn’t thought of another presence, it had just suddenly been there, in her mind, out of nowhere. All kinds of memories, old and new, important and insignificant both, flashed across her mental vision as if someone had rewound her life and fast-forwarded it again, as fast as flipping through a book. But at the same time, she’d been aware of the others, Andrew, Derrick, Fiona, and Rick. They weren’t separate presences in her mind, she knew, but she’d had a… a heightened awareness of them all the same.
And it had all been over in what she thought were seconds. Elise hadn’t ventured to explore that incident too carefully, not only because she’d been too busy but primarily because what she suspected (telepathy) quite possibly had some verisimilitude here, and that was just too difficult to accept.
Looking steadily at Elise again, Gabriella rose to her feet and raised her eyebrows knowingly at her before she disappeared into her cabin.