WHEN DAVID HAD TAKEN a hit from the pipe, he continued driving in squirrely silence. At least, Jake thought it was squirrely, because he didn’t say anything. Maybe just stoned.
Kristen returned to the dinette and refilled the pipe. She was smirking about the jibe, and she let her devilish, self-satisfied gaze flick across the table to Jake several times. Jake blushed, but he had to admit he was pleased at the jab she’d given David. Jake was tired of David calling him the Great Writer or Ernest Hemingway or Mr. Fitzgerald or Mr. Tolstoy, sometimes Stephen King—always with a smile to make it seem good-natured and all in fun.
But Jake understood. He was being put down, which David had always so easily, carelessly done. Jake attributed it to some deep, underlying insecurity of David’s. Jake and their entire Denver neighborhood had known about David’s father’s philandering and David’s sister’s early suicide. Susan had been a rebellious teenager, and she’d “struggled with drugs.”
David’s mother, Joan, had carried on through it all, scurrying between clubs and churches like the busy little worker and social bee she’d always been. June Cleaver in freshly pressed, pastel-colored pantsuits and with a tittering laugh and a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit though she didn’t think anyone outside the family knew. Their backyard hedge had always been littered with cigarette butts.
David’s father, Dwight, had taken a suspicious early retirement from the securities firm he’d worked for, and he and Joan now lived half the year in a Denver townhouse, in the posh Cherry Creek district, and the other half in a Phoenix suburb where they played golf and drank manhattans every afternoon with other retirees with bad knees, logy hearts, drinking problems, and skin cancer grafts.
On the surface, the Whitfields had been the Brady Bunch. And aside from a few drunken or stoned confessions to the contrary, David had been a loyal co-conspirator. But his frequent albeit short-lived temper tantrums and quick mood swings, as well as his bullish aggressiveness and competitiveness, had told a different story.
David had never once talked about Susan’s suicide to even his best friend, Jake. And he’d only a couple of times made oblique references to his father’s embarrassing dalliances.
“One more toke,” Kristen said, handing Jake the pipe. “Hey, we’re sixteen again, and we’re free as the bluebirds and the summer winds.”
“Damn, woman—you’re a poet.”
Jake took a hit and blew it out through the window.
Kristen placed a hand on his forearm. “Do you ever wonder?”
Jake looked at her hand. It had a diamond ring on it nearly as large around as a dime. She’d had her nails done but they weren’t polished. Her hands were slender and fine-boned and lightly tanned. “About what?”
Kristen glanced over her shoulder. David was driving in moody silence. He was brooding, but he’d get over it, Jake knew. He’d brood for a while and come up from it sunny as Christmas morning, smiling with all those teeth and wearing those stylish sunglasses and snapping his flip flops like he didn’t have a care in the vast world that loved him like no other.
Kristen gazed at him, drawing her bottom lip beneath her upper teeth and letting it back out again. It turned pink where the teeth pressed the blood out of it. When her teeth released it, the lip turned peach again. Peach and plump. “About what it would be like...with me? Again...after all these years?”
Jake’s heart thudded so hard it almost hurt.
“No,” he said, shaking his head, his mouth dry. He glanced around her at David hunched over the wheel, dutifully driving. “No, no.”
“Shhh. Come on!”
She pulled Jake up out of the seat. His heart continued to thud painfully. His knees tingled. Grabbing the stove and the sink and a cabinet to steady himself against the motorhome’s pitch and sway, he followed her into the rear bedroom. She pulled the accordion door closed and snapped the latch, bending forward, giggling, shushing herself with a finger to her lips. They were teenagers again. Rambunctious teenagers sneaking out of a party to be alone.
She stood before him. She stopped laughing. The skin above the bridge of her nose wrinkled. She could tell he was hesitating. He’d wondered what it would be like for so long, and here they were together, and it was scaring the crap out of him.
She placed her open hands on his chest, rose onto her tiptoes, opened her mouth slightly, and kissed him softly. She dropped back down to her heels, rose again, and kissed him more hungrily, wrapping her arms around his neck. He returned the kiss.
Her tongue was hot and wet as she wrapped it firmly around his own. She nibbled his lips, grunted, and pulled away.
She lifted the knit tube top up and over her head.
“Oh, Christ, no!” he said reaching for her, wanting to stop her, too late.
She smiled again as she tossed the top on the floor. Her honey-blond hair and pony tails fluttered down around her slender shoulders. Her face acquired a dead serious, almost grave expression. She looked down at herself.
“What do you think?” she asked, cupping her breasts in her hands and lifting her somber gaze to his, keeping her chin slightly down and staring up at him from beneath her brows. “After all these years?”
“Christ,” Jaked raked out from deep in his throat. “Oh, Christ, Kristen—we can’t, we can’t....”
She smiled with the phony shyness of a succubus.
He lifted his hands, moved them toward her chest. He’d just touched his thumbs and index fingers to her deep purple nipples when the door slid open suddenly.
David stood there, red-faced, eyes wide, teeth bared.
“What the fuck?” he screamed, spittle flecking from his lips. “What the fuck?”
He raised the menacing, black, snake-like shotgun in his hands, pumping a shell into the chamber and raging, “I knew this would happen sooner or later! Sooner or later, I knew it would happen! I’ve been waiting for it!”
Jake shot up out of the dinette seat. The motorhome pitched him into a cabinet, and he grabbed it to keep from falling.
“Jake!” Kristen cried, jerking her head around from where she sat in the passenger seat, up in the driver’s boot beside David.
“Whoa there, cowboy!” David said into the visor mirror, laughing nervously. “What happened, man? Bad trip?”
Jake grabbed the edge of the counter. His heart was drumming. The anxiety was lessening, however. Just a dream. He’d nodded off and slipped into a pot dream. Holy Christ.
“Jake!” Kristen said, rising from the passenger seat and moving toward him. “You all right?”
Jake glanced down at her halter top. Her nipples pushed against it. Holy Christ. The dream had been so real. He wondered if her breasts looked like they’d appeared in the dream. Embarrassment bit into him and he laughed, flushing, lifting his gaze from Kristen’s chest to her eyes. The way she glanced away suddenly, blushing a little herself, told him she had some idea about what he’d been dreaming.
At the very least, she’d known where he’d been looking, what he might have been thinking...
“Gas and candy stop!” David said.
He pulled the motorhome to the right so quickly that Jake and Kristen felt into the dinette together.
“David!” Kristen yelled. “What the fuck? You trying to kill us? Let us know when you’re going to make a turn like that!”
David laughed and honked the horn.
Feeling a little self-conscious about the dream, Jake helped Kristin back to her feet. She didn’t look at him but only glowered at David, as he pulled the motorhome up to a gas pump.
Jake looked out the window. They were in Ute Creek, on the south side of the Pinnacle Range, which towered dark and gloomy to the north, its highest ridges still touched with ermine. Since it was mid-week, there weren’t a lot of people at the gas station—Alvin’s Pit Stop, Steak House & Lounge. The beauty of this part of the Front Range was that few people but locals ever ventured out here, tourists preferring the glitzier Rocky Mountain National Park to the southeast, Winter Park to the west, or Poudre Canyon to the northeast, a haven for white-water rafters and kayakers. The Pinnacle Range was still fairly remote and unpopulated—not to mention accessible only by gravel and dirt roads and trails--and Paradox Falls saw only a tenth of the traffic as did the more popular peaks in the Park.
Jake was happy about that. He’d watched the Rockies carved up enough over the years. He’d felt proprietary about the Pinnacle ever since his old man had taken him and Dave elk hunting in the mountains back when the boys were fourteen.
That’s what had started the yearly...and then bi-yearly...trips out here and the two-day, rugged climb to Paradox Falls, apparently named after an old prospector who’d died up near the falls, and whose cache of hidden gold was a legend told and retold while hotdogs sizzled on campfires in Forest Service campgrounds hunched in the forest at the base of the mountains.
Jake and Kristen had been together for a year when they made another excursion to Paradox Falls, in Dave’s old Jeep. That was Kristin’s first year. Dave had brought his then girlfriend, Jennifer MacElroy, a sullen but pretty girl from a wealthy family—one of the many girls Dave had dated in those days, before he’d started seeing Kristen in college. It had been an awkward trip, for Kristen and Jennifer had had nothing in common. Making it worse, Kristen had been an intellectual snob while Jennifer had been a money snob. Her father had been a mucky-muck in the Broncos front office.
The girls didn’t say more than five words to each other the entire trip. The testiness had infected Jake and Dave, as well, both boys sort of silently siding with their girlfriends.
Now Jake dug into his wallet and thrust a twenty-dollar bill over David’s shoulder. “Hey—here.”
“What’s it look like?”
“Sorry, F. Scott—you’re money’s no good here. Save it for bourbon.”
“Hey, come on.” Jake pleaded as Dave got out the driver’s side door. Jake leaned over the seat, the bill fluttering in the wind. “I wanna pay my way. Hell, you guys brought all the food, we’re using you’re camper.”
“It’s a motorhome, not a camper.”
“Right—and I should chip in to help pay for the gas your motorhome burns.”
David leaned into the cab and lowered his sunglasses to his nose, giving Jake a pointed look. “Hey, look, man—I know these are not good times for you. They are for me, and I wanna help. So will you let your best pal help you, man? When I crash and burn, maybe you’ll let Kris an’ me and the girls pitch a tent in your yard.”
He smiled, winked, thumbed his glasses back up on his nose, and shut the door.
Jake cursed beneath his breath and stuffed the twenty back into his wallet. Kristen was standing just outside the motorhome door, staring it at him. She had the pump going behind her—Jake could hear it chugging, the pump meter clicking. She smiled, hiked a shoulder.
“Let him help.”
“I really don’t need the help, Kris.”
Kristen poked her head farther into the motorhome and kept her voice down. “I know that and you know that. Even he knows that. But he likes to feel like Rambo with a bank account. So let him.” She winked.
“I know you’re talkin’ about me!” David said like a kid on a playground as he walked past her, flip flops slapping his heels as he headed for the store.
“I’m gonna go inside,” Kristen said. “Want anything?”
With a weak grin, Jake said, “A winning lotto ticket?”
“I’ll give it my best shot.”
Kristen winked again and closed the door.
(Chapter Five will be up tomorrow…)