“Class dismissed.” Professor Hammond ended the lesson, standing up to grab his jacket from the back of the chair. “Don't forget, you all need to produce a piece that captures the beauty of nature in its rarest form. It's going to count towards your final mark. Extra credits for thinking outside the box, so no slacking off. Enjoy spring break, guys.” Mr. Hammond winced as the sound of scraping chairs filled the room.
My best friend Emma twisted her long, blonde curls into a bun, securing it in place with her HB pencil. “Hey, Hell's, please say you're coming with me to my parent's condo this weekend,” she put on her pretty please voice and fluttered her eyelashes at me. “The party is gonna be lit, and Chris and Sean will be there.” She clenched her fists together in excitement.
I rolled my eyes. “I can't. My mom wants me to go visit her and her 'new family, ′ up at Bear Creek this holiday.” I drawled my words in a bored tone.
Who knew, my mom would turn out to be the impulsive type that would marry a guy that she only just met, three months ago?
Ever since I was eight, it had just been the two of us. The thought of having to share her with another family tasted like poison on my tongue. My mother was too trusting, and too naïve when it came to men. I was pissed that she went ahead with the whole 'spontaneous wedding' thing behind my back, but she was a fully grown woman, as was I, and that meant that I had absolutely no right to lecture her about it.
“What?” Emma whined. “But I need you there. You're my wing woman,” she said, pouting and giving me the puppy dog eyes.
I groaned, wishing that I could cancel my plans because they sucked ass and Emma's offer sounded so much better.
“I'm sorry, Em. If I could get out of it, I would,” I replied, honestly.
And I really would too. I had no desire, whatsoever, to go traipsing through the forest in some stuffy mountain man cabin, when I could be living it up with Emma in her parent's luxury condo. Especially knowing that I could be cozying up to Chris, who I'd had my eye on for months.
“Well, at least you can work on the nature project for Professor Hottie,” Emma said, fake swooning.
Fair enough, so our art teacher was a hot guy in his early thirties. That wasn't the only reason why I was taking his class. I actually enjoyed painting. It was the one thing that I was good at. I even had a hefty student loan to prove it.
“What's in Bear Creek?” Emma asked, inquisitively.
Emma was a typical city slicker like I was, so I was surprised by her level of enthusiasm towards the country hick town.
“Mountain men, forest dwellers, bears,” I snorted with amusement.
“Aw, don't be like that.” She gave me a look of reproach. “Your mom has been through a lot, don't forget.”
I bounced my shoulders, “Yeah, I know,” I replied, shifting my weight.
“You never know, maybe Bear Creek isn't all that bad,” Emma spoke with an air of optimism. “You may even find a great big mountain man that will sweep you off your feet.”
Her comment made me snort, “Yeah, right? He would have to be big, in order to lift me off my feet,” I scoffed, referring to my curvy self. Mother nature blessed me with a trunk full of junk and a set of airbags for good measure. Most of the guys I knew thought of a curvy girl as one candy bar away from obesity. I was forever being judged. Guys only ever wanted to date me for my boobs. Half of the time, I had to remind them where my eyes were whenever they were speaking to me.
Emma and I walked over to the parking lot, chatting about random things. Mostly about how hot Mr. Hammond looked today and wondering why he wasn't married yet.
“Well, try to at least have some fun while you're there,” Emma advised like the great friend she was.
I made a face that suggested that I would try. “Yeah, I'll text you as soon as I get there.”
“You better,” Emma threatened. “At least you know that my party will suck without you.”
I cried on the inside. “Have fun for me,” I replied, sounding as miserable as I felt.
“Well, I hope they at least have Wi-Fi,” Emma teased.
I shot back a sassy smirk as I waved and got into my car. My body molded to the groove of the leather-padded seat as I relaxed. Bear Creek. I exhaled a forceful breath.
I could only hope and pray that they did have Wi-Fi because after spending twenty-four hours without it, I would be climbing the cabin walls. That was another thing on my list of country cringe-fests: log cabins. I envisioned a run-down shack and a rickety old door that wouldn't shut and banged in the wind.
I had visions of Mom wearing a checkered lumberjack shirt and rigger boots, chopping logs out back with an ax and roasting woodchucks over an open campfire. I shook the disturbing image from my mind before I suffered permanent mental trauma.
I was a regular girl who liked my home comforts. I enjoyed taking selfies and posting pictures of my lunch on Instagram. If I wasn't spending my evenings propping up the student bar, then I was at home, slobbing out in my pajamas and binge-watching box sets on Netflix. I wasn't looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks out in the sticks. It was a good job that I planned ahead. The trunk of my car was filled with booze and snacks. So at least I wouldn't have to live on forest creatures and roadkill. The thought of that utterly repulsed me.
I had been driving for what felt like hours and it had started to get dark. Thank God for GPS. I didn't know what people used to do before the invention of the satellite navigation system. Fine, they used maps, but that wasn't a skill that I had picked up. I thought orienteering meant traveling around Asia. Besides, I couldn't multitask if my life depended upon it. I wouldn't risk reading a map and driving a car simultaneously. I would probably end up crashing into a tree.
As I made my descent into the mountains, I became more and more apprehensive. By that point, I was certain that the satellite navigation system had sent me on a wild goose chase and that I was lost. But when I saw the sign for Bear Creek, I breathed out a huge sigh of relief.
I had my reservations as soon as I drove through the country hick town. After witnessing some locals walking by, I figured checkered shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots was the signature look around here. The sat nav took me further and further up the mountain terrain, which was all dirt track and dense forest. The sky disappeared behind a canopy of leafy green branches and that was when I lost the signal of my favorite radio station. Feeling as if I had suffered a severed limb, I turned it off, ridding the car of the annoying sound of static.
The dirt track veered to the right, so I followed it, my tires crunching over a gravel stone drive that led down onto private grounds. I reached the gargantuan wooden dwelling, thinking that I had taken the wrong turning somewhere. There must've been some mistake. As I attempted to turn the car around, the honeyed tone of the sat nav announced that I had reached my destination.
I parked the car and cut off the engine, looking up through the windshield to drink in the view of the two-story wooden dwelling that looked way too elaborate to be a mere hut in the woods. It was more like a hotel retreat that was used for corporate events. I found myself eating my words, hating that I would have to force-feed myself an extra-large slice of humble pie. Mom did good. This was a log cabin on steroids.
In fact, it looked like a work of art. I wondered whether Mom's new husband, Jack, had actually built this cabin with his bare hands, or whether he was loaded enough to buy it.
I twitched my lips in appreciation. If I had to admit, Bear Creek didn't look too shabby from up here. Mom came rushing out through the front door, outstretching her arms for a hug.
“Helen, honey, come here. I've missed you so much,” she expressed, all teary-eyed and happy to see me.
I dropped my bag as I wrapped my arms around her, sucking in a lungful of her spicy perfume. We stayed like that for a few moments while we both contemplated what we would say to each other. So, she married a guy she barely knew. She must know that this would be cropping up in conversation at some point.
“Do you want some tea, coffee, a beer? You're old enough to drink now. You're growing up so fast,” she word spewed. She always did that whenever she was nervous.
So, me being the cheeky girl I was, I decided to test my luck. “I've got something stronger than beer?” I said, wiggling my brows.
She looked at me, cocking her head to the side with that amused, yet, stern look. I opened the trunk of my car, searched inside one of the bags and pulled out a bottle of Vodka.
I brought three bottles with me and a crate of Coca-Cola to use as a mixer. I know, I was a Vodka and Coke sort of girl. I never said I was classy.
“You didn't think that I would show up empty-handed now, did you?” I flashed Mom a mischievous grin.
Mom rolled her eyes. She was acting like a responsible parent right now. But I could guarantee that she would be helping me to knock back that stuff, later.