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There was talk of us moving in together. Camille was one of the most earnest girls I’d ever met. I usually dated younger women for their lack of ambition. They weren’t looking for anything permanent, while I thoroughly enjoyed their fluctuating moods. Inspiration came from such chaos, although I never put any of it down on paper. I’d done the whole column thing for this shitty little press that went under after eighteen months. By that point, I’d removed it on my resume. Thirty-two felt young until I got a call from my mother or ran into some smug intern with a ring on his finger at work.
Assistant in front of copy editor still didn’t sit right; upward mobility being a distant glimmer at The Inquisitor. Jonathan would be at his post until death, an ornery bastard who only shined when inviting us to get plastered down the street. It was on one of these post-work excursions that I first met Camille. We always went to Fatalé because it was rundown, cheap and the mock European theme was comforting in ways most American working stiffs couldn’t quite put their finger on. I’d always order the shot and beer special, retreating to my corner and occasionally commenting on the crippled comings and goings of our time with other lush proprietors of my defunct generation.
We were an ugly rotten bunch, ostracizing the new hires to the point where they ended up wasting their lunch breaks on Monster and Craigslist, searching for friendlier environments to peruse. Camille was a rare breed: twenty-four, cute and completely in love with her job at a local animal shelter. Here was a girl with some remaining faith, legs and the kind of dimples that made cavemen contemplate what came after fire. Waiting for our drinks, she started talking. Intoxicated enough for a minor twinkle of charm to surface, I struck an interest in her that held past our first date and all the rambunctious love-making that followed.
Six months flew by. We kept busy on our opposite ends, reconvening three to four times a week to build a solid foundation. She’d stay over at my apartment more than I would hers. Camille’s roommate was a wild child. A recent beauty school graduate, Meribeth Parana, spent her tips on booze and club drugs, rolling at night regardless of her schedule the following morning. I didn’t mind the distraction; the hairdresser’s jilted opinions often presenting us with just enough entertainment before bed.
Then came Chase; Meribeth’s seemingly permanent boyfriend. He was a shorter fellow to the point where one could make the connection between his stunted growth and bewildered intellect. He often spoke without thinking, interrupting someone mid-sentence if only to state another benign fact about his personal life so obscene or unnecessary that there was little debate about Chase’s existence.
I was rational, giving him the benefit of the doubt for our first handful of encounters. Chase usually had good weed, even though I’d only smoke to level the playing field. Camille was a pothead in the womb. Her father taught art history, while mother managed this posh little suburban gallery, showcasing expressionist toilet-paper scribbles. My best efforts aside, sometimes refraining from ingrained snobbery grew difficult.
No matter the occasional pothole, I still couldn’t deny what was happening. With each suspended moment Camille and I shared, the closer we came to what I hoped would eventually be a long-lasting, all-encompassing, sweeping dabble in the kind of love reserved for movie posters and pop songs. For all these reasons, I agreed that my girlfriend moving in wouldn’t be the worst idea when her lease ended in June. My only reluctance came from the residual sting of sloppy college roommates championing their lack of concern in-between full ashtrays and dirty dishes. Camille would be different; the lead-in to our trial run beginning with a bang.
Meribeth smoked cigarettes out the window for the entire two-hour drive through the mountains, before our arrival at the Spruce Hill Campground. My girlfriend slept while I considered all the good that would come from our next transition. Less time spent with the erratic mindbenders up front, fewer headaches and perhaps more sex.
After paying the fee and locating our site, Chase went right to work. His tent was set before Camille and I even pulled the stakes from our bag. Every task was simple enough, although the great woodsmen showed us the right way, regardless of our resistance. Sipping an old American, he darted around, securing posts, swishing ice in coolers, and occasionally copping a feel when his lady bent over to tie her shoe. Our stomachs had barely settled when Chase suggested a hike.
Camille declined first, but before I could agree, Meribeth did the same. Staring me down from across the ash-ridden fire pit, Chase stood on the verge of questioning my manhood if I denied him the opportunity to trudge through dirt. I grabbed a bottled water, kissed my gal and made sure only the sun could see my eyes roll as we headed off towards the explored conquests of carpenter and computer engineer alike. Every nerve in my body felt unsettled, and then he started talking.
“Don’t worry. I know where I’m going.”
“I’m not worried. There’s a trail.”
“Yeah, I was hoping to veer off that at some point; get into the real shit, ya know?”
“Whatever man.” I disengaged, loosely following his sporadic movements as we passed old men with dogs and families of five. Shades of the future glimmered in footprints and wrappers floating just out of orbit from their designated trash receptacles.
Carrying on, his regimented opinions descended with the changing elevation. Maybe the lack of oxygen made my head spin, or the drive paired with too many factors in-between. If we had worked some shitty job together, I would have humored his inability to reciprocate or listen, although it was beyond unsettling spending time with Chase on the weekend. I wanted to lie around with Camille until noon, making very few constructive decisions.
Biting my tongue, the same words repeated in the back of my head as we reached a view. In due time, Elton; in due time. “So not bad, huh?” He burped, sitting on the edge of the rocks.
“No, not at all.”
Chase began packing weed into his bowl as I checked the angles. “You can chill. I think we’ll be alright,” he reassured me.
“Yeah no, I’m cool. You know how it is, though. I always feel kind of weird being out in public.”
“Yeah, I really don’t know what you mean,” he took a fat rip and passed.
“Thank you,” I sat, but didn’t let my feet dangle.
“Don’t mention it.” He blew smoke towards the sky and immediately found peace. “So Camille’s moving in with you soon, huh?”
“Uh yeah, she is.”
“That should be cool. Meribeth’s thinking about staying at my place for a while then, but I don’t see it being permanent.”
“I like my space, not that she really gets in the way. Hell, if anything I get in the way.”
“Relationships can be difficult.”
“Not really for me. I’ve never fought with any of my girlfriends.”
“No. Usually when I break up with them, or when they break up with me, it always feels right. Mutual, ya know?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure I know what that’s like.”
“Well maybe you will sometime. I don’t know. I don’t wanna jinx ya or anything. It’ll be nice when you and Camille have your own place. We’ll come over and visit, get wasted. It’ll kind of be like now, but different.”
“There’s certainly still a lot to look forward to.”
We heard strangers hiking up the trail, soon making our way back down, past their smiles and narrowed stares. I didn’t feel any closer to Chase after our exchange. It wasn’t intimate so much as necessary; a method of keeping busy so our hands didn’t have to do all the work. I hoped the same wasn’t true of my relationship with Camille, but had problems making sense of both upon our return to the campsite.
The girls were talking about us, what we did in bed, or the little things that really annoyed them. I wanted to know everything, while Chase was happier on the edge, letting them chat while he contemplated the next task. Cracking a beer, he made a semi-circle around the perimeter, suggesting the two of us gather wood for the first of many fires that evening. My head spun from the grass up to the sky. I was two steps behind him, unzipping the tent flap and rummaging for nothing in particular.
It didn’t take long for Camille to catch the hint, shimmying in behind and zipping us up. “So how are you?” She asked.
“Alright,” I exhaled. “A little bushwhacked is all.”
“And we’ve only just arrived,” she collapsed onto her sleeping bag and smiled. “So how are you really?”
“If I left right now, would you come with me?”
“What?” The questioned startled her.
“Never mind. I’m alright. Kind of stoned, but it’s nice being here. We should take a trip like this again.”
“Ya know, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the outdoors.”
“Really? I would have never guessed.”
“Yeah, there’s just something about having to walk so far to the toilets that really hits harder than expected.”
“You could always find the right bush to squat behind.”
“It’s not dark enough for that yet.”
I set my head down on the pillow and stared past her eyes. “Personally, I can’t wait for the sunset.”
“That would almost sound romantic if I didn’t know you were thinking about everything else.”
“Don’t be the kind of girlfriend that tells me what I’m thinking.”
“Don’t be the kind of boyfriend that tells me to do anything.”
“Deal,” I relented, before kissing her softly. My left hand drifted to her hips and then her breast before Chase shouted in from outside.
“Yo Elton, we doing this or not?”
“The general public awaits,” I sighed.
“I promise I’ll make this up to you,” Camille’s hand grazed my cheek.
“Funny, I was gonna say the same thing.” I lingered in what little space we had between us and headed back out. I didn’t know how long she lied there, staring up at the cracks in our bug net, but felt like we could pinpoint infinity if only either one of us had enough time to help the other look.
Chase critiqued my wood-gathering skills, rummaging for the largest fallen logs and branches. I knew how to start a fire; begin small and slowly build to something worthy of the passengers in second-class window seats. Such subtly was lost on the perpetually impatient, eager to merely watch whatever burn.
My buzz gradually descended as we sat in our folding chairs, watching Chase struggle. He gulped swig after swig, cursing each failed spark. Any other person in the world I would have volunteered to help, but clearly this wasn’t a survival situation. Camille’s stomach grumbled as we organized the perishables from our cooler on the picnic table. It was clear that she and I had prepared much better than our companions. Their supply consisted mostly of booze with the occasional salty snack. We hadn’t communicated much with Meribeth or Chase as far as splitting the difference. They’d asked us for gas money, and we’d obliged along with half the rental fee. Food seemed essential; the scales clearly tipped in our favor. Chase talked about catching his breakfast in the stream, but we assumed he’d sleep in like the rest of us.
Lighter fluid helped. We started on the hot dogs and burgers. I paid extra special care to our end, swatting flies away when necessary. Chase pulled his iPod speakers from the car and played a mesh of electronic nonsense. Camille and I stayed quiet, chewing through the fat, ignoring the beats. I hoped my lack of compassion wasn’t rubbing off on her. The differences were what really worked between us. She had a sweet, calming approach to most situations, while I often let minor irritations fester in my colon.
The sun faded, Chase gallivanting around, downing beers and the occasional shot of bourbon. We partook as if it were our duty; better to stay on their level. I had a little grass to share which worked counter-productively on our companions. Meribeth shot random spurts of trendy criticism up into the air with the smoke. She was disenfranchised with her clientele, concocting fresh looks from expired magazine subscriptions with hopes of impressing mothers and their cheating husbands.
Chase added to every one of his girlfriend’s comments, cutting down the average folk who either left crummy tips or shot him the wrong look somewhere between the appetizers and main course. Dessert was a sore subject; Camille standing with a purpose in the midst of so much unnatural noise. “Well, I’ve gotta run to the facilities,” she said.
“Oh C’mon girl,” Meribeth replied. “You can’t just find the right tree at this hour?”
“I’d prefer not to, if that’s okay,” Camille said.
“Well, I don’t need to go right this second,” her roommate clarified.
Before I could jump in, Chase slurred his offer. “I’ll walk ya down there. I need to get my legs going.”
“No, I can do it,” I said.
“You don’t know what to do if a bear jumps outs,” Chase quibbled.
“It’s fine,” Camille pressed her hand to my chest before I could argue. “Let’s go, Chase.”
“Yeah, yeah…” he gargled as they walked off together.
I rummaged through our cooler; most of our imports emptied and scattered around the edges of the fire pit. Snagging the last one, I dislodged the cap with my belt buckle just as Meribeth crossed past the flames and sat next to me. “So how’re you feeling?” She asked.
“Not bad,” I said. “Still kind of getting my bearings.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. This is the third time Chase and I have been up here, and I know I’d still probably get lost without him.”
“Anyway, I wanted to yell at you for a bit.”
“Yeah,” she sipped her beer. “What’s the big idea taking my best friend away from me?”
“You mean Camille moving in?”
“Well yeah, obviously. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I haven’t really found a place yet. Plus rent always sucks when you’re on your own.”
“You’re not, though.”
“Yeah, that’s far more complicated than you think.”
“No, I can imagine.”
“Anyway, it’s not worth letting it ruin our good time. Do you want any Adderall? I brought some from home.”
“Uh no, that’s alright,” I replied. “Although I’m guessing you and Chase have already partook?”
“Just me,” she said. “He doesn’t need any kind of unnecessary boost.”
“Yeah, I suppose not.”
“So you and he are definitely from different stock.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You don’t think it’s obvious? He’s an A. and you’re a B. or whatever you wanna call it.”
“No, you’re probably right. I guess I just don’t think about these things all that much.” I was a liar, but she couldn’t tell the difference.
We heard him coming up the trail a good five hundred yards away. My girlfriend walked cautiously in front; Meribeth returning to her seat as if ashamed. Camille sat and gave me a hard look, before a waning smile surfaced. Something was wrong, although I couldn’t determine what, either a direct result of the booze or the darkness. Chase crushed the can in his hand and pulled another from the cooler. “Things keep going the way they’re going, we may have to go on a beer run here in a little bit.”
“I think we’ll be alright,” I said.
“Yeah, you would,” he scoffed, sitting.
“Well, not all of us are so determined to get shitfaced.” I knew it was a bad idea, but couldn’t resist poking the road kill.
“Yeah, well that’s obvious,” Chase said. “Hell, I feel like I’m the only one here trying to have a good time.”
“Will you chill a bit?” Meribeth insisted. “They’ll send the rangers out if we’re too rowdy.”
“I ain’t scared of those pigs,” her man replied.
“No, we all know that,” his girlfriend sighed.
“I just don’t understand any of you,” Chase began. “I try to get you all out here for some fun, and it ends up being a judgmental roundabout with a bunch of prudes.”
“Nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about, man,” I said.
“You and Camille are the worst of ‘em all. I swear it’s like I’ve been hanging out with my parents for the last twelve hours.” He stood with conviction, doing a little dance around the fire, tiny beads of foam spilling onto his shirt. “You don’t know how to act right, how to bring anything to the table. It was stupid of me inviting you out here with us.”
“Are you done?” I asked, calmly.
“Really, none of us are entertained,” Camille added.
“You wouldn’t be, ya little tease. I understand what it’s like getting it soft from this loser’s crooked cock, but there’s no need to take this out on us.”
“C’mon Chase, knock it off.” Meribeth’s attempt was met with a look of disdain so well-defined that it took my brain a few seconds to process. There was no romanticizing the unfortunate nature of somebody like Chase, and so I decided to simply defect. He yelled a little louder as I stood and retreated to our tent, quickly gathering some of the essentials into my backpack, rolling up my sleeping bag before fastening it to the top. The tent was theirs. Camille had brought our cooler, but it was almost empty.
I returned to the scene, somewhat nervous; Chase babbling a few more insults before noticing. “Now what the hell’s all this shit?” He stared me down.
“So long. It’s been a real gas, you two,” I smiled and started walking, uncertain of what Camille would do. It was her decision. They were her friends. We hadn’t exchanged so much as a word since her return from the bathroom. The thought that the rest of our relationship would be equally silent on account of similar people circled around us like vultures above. Chase and Meribeth’s arguing was quickly out of range as I hiked towards any semblance of salvation, past far better clusters huddled around diminishing flames. I didn’t know what came next, where or how I’d eventually get back to my apartment and whether there’d still be the right pieces of my life left waiting for me there.
Ten minutes passed as I stopped at the restroom, emptying my bladder before buying a bottled water from the vending machine. We didn’t have cellphone reception to help things along. I twisted the cap off before her footsteps startled me. Camille was all packed, out of breath and quite beautiful under the flickering phosphorescent lights and unrelenting moths casting shadows. “You asshole,” she said, playfully shoving me. “You didn’t think to wait for me?”
“I didn’t wanna get into it. I wasn’t sure you’d come at all.”
“Me neither, until I thought about being alone with them for the next thirty-six hours.”
“How come we’re never this honest with each other?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’m ready, though.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We took our time to the main entrance only to discover they’d locked us in for the night. The right people could have been contacted, but like our previous exit, there was something exciting about unexpectedly taking the wrong turn. She trailed me along the fence a few yards, before I boosted her up and over. Her bag then mine followed before I got the proper footing and landed in the dirt. “This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” she said as we both took a breath.
I kissed her, quick with a salty passion. “I promise you it won’t be the last,” I said, fully aware that like all other factors leading us to the edge, there were no guarantees.
Camille smirked and tightened the straps on her bag. “So where to then?”
I had a million answers, but only one seemed like the best and worst, right then and in the long run. “Home.” It would start to lose meaning somewhere between the highway and gas station.
#Unreal #ShortStory #Relationships #Love #Friendship #Camping
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