***Alert:  This is a revised edition.  It has been over a year since I first posted this.  In the mean time I came up with an idea for another story.  Unfortunately, I needed to go back and add a couple of things to this one to make it work. While I was at it, I cleaned up a few places I wasn’t too happy with and caught a bunch of space, missing letter and punctuation gremlins.  It makes me wonder if I had gotten stupid and posted a draft.  Yikes!  I’m embarrassed that it was posted in that condition. *** July/August 2006

 

 

Hello.     Goodbye.    Can We Still Be Friends?

 

Sleep?  No, I’m awake.  Now to roll over and get some more shut eye.  Wait.  Where am I?

 

Trixie struggled to sit up, only to immediately be pulled back down. Something was restraining her. It was her sleeping bag.  Lying back down, she was able to unzip it to her knees.  Finally, she could not only sit up, but was beginning to become more alert.

 

She looked around the room.  It was starting to come back to her.  She is in her own living room, along with her fellow Bob-Whites.  Stretching her slightly stiff neck, she scanned the scene before her.  The glow from the various appliances in the media center, as well as the small nightlight illuminating the staircase, allowed enough light to make out who was sleeping where.

 

The first person she noticed was her ‘almost twin,’ Mart. Although they do fight occasionally, she knew he was one of her biggest defenders.  She would miss him in the fall.   Thank goodness he’s all but given up his penchant for using big words, she thought.  His freshman English professor, Dr. Brewer, broke him of that habit.  He never elaborated what she did to him, but Mart had been a changed man ever since.

 

Her eyes traveled to the form nearest to Mart.  It was her oldest brother, Brian.  It was so good to see him.  Pre-med school was taking a toll on his relationships.  Moms and Dad had been really anxious that he hadn’t been able to come home as often.  The demands of school had been great. 

 

His girlfriend, Honey, had been really lost without him. Thank goodness for cell phones and unlimited calling.  And herself? Trixie snorted, I really could have used his help with Algebra II.

 

Rotating her body to survey the rest of the room, she bit her lower lip to stifle a laugh.  How did Dan end up on the couch?  Dan was her second best friend, next to Honey. There were many secrets, which he knew, that she could never share with Honey.

 

It was now all coming back to her.  Last night had been graduation.  As per tradition, Sleepyside had their graduation on Thursday night.  The only reason why, most assumed, was that by keeping it on a weeknight it might prevent whatever shenanigans from happening if the next day was the weekend.

 

She looked to her left at the sleeping form of her best friend.  Honey, just a few short hours ago, was walking across the stage, complete with an honor graduate stole.  Trixie had to admit she was a bit jealous.  She had missed wearing one of those stoles by just a few grade points.  The C she made in Algebra II had killed her chances of carrying on the Belden tradition of graduating with honors.  In spite of that, Trixie did receive a scholarship to the Junior College that both she and Honey applied.  It was one of the few, in state, that offered a degree in criminology.  The scholarship coupled with state and federal grants, not to mention the student loan, would set her up well beyond the next two and a half years.  Since the two of them had decided on double majors of criminology and small business management, she calculated that it would take that long to get their certificates.  That is, if they choose to go straight through, including summer sessions. Their college tenure would be extended when they graduated and transferred to a four year university to complete their degree.

 

Gleeps!   It suddenly hit.  She was now, not only a high school graduate, but was considered an adult as well.  It was just a couple of weeks ago that she turned eighteen.  A wave of anxiety suddenly hit.  Am I ready for this?

 

She closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath to quell her fears.  When she opened them, she noticed that Di had gotten herself in a rather strange position.  She was no longer in her sleeping bag and had, somehow, rolled under Moms’ fichus tree.  

 

Last night Di received the award for most talented.  She had the lead in most every play that the theater club had produced.  Another pang of jealousy tweaked at the back of Trixie’s mind.    She quickly dismissed this one.  GPA was one thing.  But art and acting?  That was one talent that Trixie didn’t miss having.

 

Oh, wow. Di and Mart would soon be together.  She had received an art/theater scholarship to the same university that Mart was attending.  Actually, it was her only scholarship.  Although her parents had the ability to send her to any college, she, no surprise, chose to apply at Mart’s.

 

The Lynches, like the Wheelers, could afford to send their daughters to the planet Mars, but both girls shunned the parental offers to instead go out on their own.

 

This brought Trixie to look at the last form on the Belden living room floor.  Jim.  Their relationship had become confusing.  While he was in high school, they were good friends.  They did go out with the other Bob-Whites.  However, far as official dating, there had been nothing more than a few movies, Wimpy’s dinners or rides/walks though the preserve.  Most of those had been group dates. For the life of her, Trixie could not figure out what he wanted.  With the exception of some handholding and a quick peck on the cheek, that was the limit of their physical relationship.

 

She rubbed the ID bracelet on her wrist.  She wore it now out of habit, more than any other reason.  My special girl.  He had never really explained what he meant by that.  She guessed that the intention behind it was a given.  

 

He was a few years ahead of her in school.  While he was in high school, she had not been able to attend either of his proms.  The established rule at Sleepyside was that only students attending Sleepyside High School could attend the prom.  She was in Junior High.  So that left her ineligible. She insisted that Jim not miss out. Although somewhat relived that he did go stag, she still had some reservations over the fact that he still went.  Nevertheless, she wanted him to be happy and enjoy himself.

 

On the other hand, she and Dan had actually attended both of her proms.  The fact that they were only a year apart in grade met the requirement for attending the first prom.  She was a junior. He was a senior.  At that point, Jim was in college and too old to serve as her escort.

 

That was two years ago.  She and Dan were very casual about the arrangement.  They didn’t bother with formal attire.  She wore her best Sunday dress, and he wore a suit coat and tie. It was a semi-double date with Mart and Di.

 

They went to dinner together at a steak house.  After leaving the prom early, Mart and Di dropped them off at Crabapple Farm.  They had other plans.  That was the end of ‘the big night,’ two friends, going to the prom, no big deal.  It wasn’t much different that any other night out with her fellow Bob-Whites.  

 

Moms had snacks ready when they had walked through the door.  Dan stayed long enough to watch a movie before he had to leave. Well, not without a goodbye hug and kiss on the cheek, Trixie smiled.

  

Her senior prom had been different.  The administration had relaxed the rules.  Jim would have been able to escort Trixie to her Senior Prom. However, a conflict came up and he had to bow out at the last minute. 

 

Partially out of desperation and partially out of the fond memories of the year before, Trixie asked Dan.  She was a bit taken back by his fast reply and eagerness to escort her.

 

She remembered how nice Dan had looked in his tux.  Nice?  Whew!  He looked fine! Why didn’t I notice how great he looked in the past?  He appeared to be very nervous.  He was blown away by her prom dress and had a dickens of a time attempting to pin on her corsage.  Under the watchful eye of her Dad and Mart, he finally succeeded. 

 

Since Dan thought his motorcycle would not be an appropriate accessory for her dress, he borrowed Regan’s truck.  The dinner, she had to admit, was romantic. He had made reservations at a small Italian restaurant in White Plains.  At the prom, he was so sweet.  He held her like a delicate flower.  It was as if he was afraid to hold her too closely.  If she didn’t know any better, she would have sworn her brothers had threatened him.

 

After the prom, they returned to Crabapple Farm. They sat on the porch swing, talked, and watched the sun rise.  Then, he kissed her.  It was her first real kiss.  It was soft and gentle.  Afterwards he thanked her for the date and slowly walked back to the truck, and gave her a small wave as it rolled down the Belden driveway.

 

She touched her lips in remembrance of the sensation.  It was light, not too sensual, but definitely not one that a friend would give.

 

During a sleepover at Honey’s the following weekend, Honey and Di quizzed her about the experience.  She shared everything that happened, but left out the part about the kiss. Honey was her best friend. She didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  After all, Jim was her brother.

 

Dan seemed to like their little secret as well.  During the last Bob-White meeting, the other males asked how the prom went.  He said he had a nice time and appreciated Jim for allowing him to fill in. He also skipped the part about the kiss but gave a quick wink to Trixie when he finished.

 

She closed her eyes relishing the memories.

 

When she opened them, she was, once again, focused on Jim.  They had managed to carry on whatever relationship they had while he was in college.  He arranged to come home every four or five weeks.  Things never seemed to change between them.  They had the same, innocuous, relationship.  She knew the age difference, and the fact that college separated them, made anything serious difficult. Honey and Brian were in an identical circumstance, yet, they were able to get their act together and have some semblance of a relationship.

 

Maybe this trip will bring me closer to Jim, she began to hope.

 

The trip!  She now was fully awake and remembered why they were all in the Belden living room.  The trip!  They were leaving that morning for a two-week trip.  They had been planning it for months.  During Christmas break they started outlining their plans.  Spring break rolled around and they had made their final decision.  Now it was here.  Their trip would take them to the Buffalo National River in Arkansas.  They would camp for a week and then go to Branson, Missouri. The Buffalo River had hiking, canoeing and fishing.   So much had been said about the shows, amusements, and shopping in Branson, they were all eager to visit. This trip would be perfectly perfect.  There would be enough activities to interest all the Bob-Whites. I wish Uncle Andrew hadn’t been called out of town.  It would have been nice to visit with him.  At least we’ll see Linnie.

 

Trixie slowly eased herself to an upright position.  Being careful not to step on anyone, she made her way to the kitchen.  The sun was just beginning to come up, and she was able to see much better.  Once she reached the kitchen, she heard a familiar noise.  It was Reddy.  In his later years he had begun to develop arthritis.  The vet assured them it was common in large breed dogs and, with some special accommodations, his condition could be dealt with.   He now had a nice, comfy lamb’s wool dog bed at the entrance of the living room.  He could no longer make it up the stairs.  Nevertheless, he seemed to be coping well with his limitations.

 

His tail began to thump.  “Don’t worry, I’ll feed you later.  I’ll also give you one of your glucosamines,” she whispered.   The vet had recommended the tablets to help with the joint stiffness.

 

She winced as Reddy struggled to get to a standing position.  It was always hardest on him in the morning.  He hobbled towards her, gingerly moving his back hips.  “Oh Reddy.” She bent down and hugged the aged dog. 

 

Trixie opened the door leading to the porch.  She noticed how quiet it was and remembered the can of W-D 40 that her brothers kept in the cabinet nearby.  They kept the hinges and spring on the screen door well oiled. She rolled her eyes.  Heaven forbid if it made a noise and woke her folks.  They weren’t aware of what time her brothers would often arrive home from their dates.

 

“Come on,” she quietly called to Reddy as she slipped out of the house and onto the porch.  She quietly shut the door behind her, mindful to prevent it from slamming shut.  She made her way to the porch swing.  As she sat, she pulled her legs up to her body, resting her chin on her knees.  She looked down and saw the look on Reddy’s face.  “Sorry boy.  I know you really want up here.”  This was yet another action that Reddy’s arthritis prevented him from doing.  He seemed content with laying his head on the seat of the swing, allowing Trixie to gently stroke behind his ears. 

 

She stared at the Eastern horizon, waiting for the sun to begin peaking over the distant hill.  It was light enough now that she could make out objects in the yard.  Parked near the barn was the Denali that Mr. Wheeler insisted that they use for their trip.  Behind it was the trailer that held their supplies.  The guys had loaded it yesterday, prior to leaving for graduation.  Not only had he given them use of the vehicle and trailer, he had also handed Jim a credit card.  “Use it for gas, snacks, and go to some of those shows in Branson,” he suggested.  They were a bit reluctant to accept the card, because of their longstanding rule about working for and earning their own money.  However, they also knew that Mr. Wheeler was earnest in wanting to treat the Bob-Whites.  

 

Di’s parents had handed her a similar card.  “You can charge hotel rooms and anything else you might need.”  He emphasized the rooms in hotel rooms.  He obviously wanted to make sure Di and Mart got the hidden meaning.  The guys and girls would have their own separate rooms.  Trixie was surprised that Mr. Lynch hadn’t put up a bigger fuss.  All three sets of parents had similar reservations about the couples and the temptations that would come up on the trip.  However, they also knew that anything that could happen hundreds of miles away could happen in ones’ own back yard.

 

Trixie was so deep in thought that she almost missed the sound behind her.  Reddy’s tail immediately began to wag.  A soft hand touched Trixie’s shoulder. 

 

“You’re awake early, considering what went on last night,” Moms commented with a hint of concern.

 

Trixie sighed, “I guess I’m too excited about the trip.”

 

“Are you sure it’s excitement, or are you scared?” Moms came around the swing to sit by her only daughter.

 

“It’s like everything has attacked me at one time: graduation, this trip, I’m about to leave you and go to college.” Trixie clutched her curls. “Moms, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed.”

 

Helen Belden rubbed Trixie’s knee.  “I think this trip is going to be just what you need.”

 

“Good morning.”

 

“Dad, did we wake you?”

 

“No, your mother insisted that I get up to see you all off.  Besides, some of us do have to go to work today.”

 

Peter came around the side of the porch swing, easing himself on the last unoccupied space. Leaning over to kiss his wife he asked, “What time do you plan on pulling out?”

 

“Just as soon as we can gather what we haven’t packed in the trailer and eat breakfast, we can leave,” Brian responded with a yawn.

 

“Boys, I see you decided to join us,” Peter smirked.  They did not look very awake, and Mart had funny lines on his face, caused by sleeping on something with a wavy pattern.

 

Peter cleared his throat and stood and faced the Belden children.  “I’m glad we can be alone to talk.  Your mother and I have something to tell you.” Helen smiled and grabbed his hand.

 

“As you know, I’ve been at the bank a number of years.  I’ve worked my way through the ranks: from teller, to officer, to vice president to … well they don’t call it president anymore, since we’ve merged so many times.  I have the same title, but have the duties of a president.”

 

Trixie had to giggle as her father softly muttered, “I hate mergers.

 

“Anyway, in recognition of my years of faithful,” he rolled his eyes, “service, I was awarded an all expenses paid trip to Disney World for me and,” he paused taking a deep breath before continuing, “my family.”

 

Trixie, Brian, and Mart’s jaws dropped simultaneously at this announcement.

 

Peter held up his right hand.  “Hold on, before you get too excited.  Your trip had been planned weeks before they gave me the Disney one.  So,” he looked at Helen for support, “I turned it down.”

 

The Belden children’s’ expressions were traded for ones of confusion.

 

“You turned it down?” Brain asked, still shocked and puzzled.

 

“Yes, turned it down.  I explained that to my superiors the conflict with your trip.  So they offered me an alternative.”

 

He motioned to Helen, his eyes pleading for help.

 

Helen jumped in.  Standing beside her husband she announced, “Your father and I are going on an eight day, seven night cruise.”

 

Mart shook his head as if to chase the cobwebs away asked, “But what about us?”

 

Gaining new strength from his wife, Peter crossed his arms “You kids have your own adventure planned. Not to mention you have four friends who have also been looking forward to the trip.  You have an obligation to them to carry out your end of the bargain.”

 

Trixie broke her silence. As she spoke, at first her speech was slow and it sounded as if she were trying to convince herself what she was saying, but as she progressed she became stronger and finished with sincerity. “Dad, I’m so happy for you.  It was wonderful of the bank to give you the trip.  I’m sorry if it sounds like we trying to throw a wrench into your plans. You and Moms are going to have a wonderful time.  Don’t worry about us.  We’re going to have a great time too.”

 

Mart and Brain simply stared and blinked.  They had never known their sister to take such news with so much maturity.  They had half expected her to stomp her foot and say that it wasn’t fair.

 

Brian was the first to break from his trance.  “What about Bobby?  The way you talked, it doesn’t sound like Bobby’s going.  Is he tagging along on our trip?” he cringed anticipating the answer.

 

Helen smiled and shook her head “No, Regan has offered to Bobbysit.  Since Dan is going to be gone, he and Mr. Maypenny will need someone to help out around the stalls and the preserve.  This is going to be a surprise to him, too.  We knew we couldn’t tell him.  You know the problem he has with ‘see-cruds’.”

 

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Peter searched the pockets of his robe.  “The bank had given us a debit card with some spending money added. They told me to keep it.  We’re going to give it to you kids.  There’s $700 on it.”

 

The younger Beldens didn’t know how to react to the final bit of news.  They appeared to be a bit embarrassed over their parents’ gift.

 

Helen addressed their reluctance. “We know you have been saving for this trip for months.  Trixie, I realize you have your graduation money and planned on taking that.  Take the card and your money, all of you. Consider it our way of making up for not letting you kids in on the Disney offer.”

 

Peter added, “Also, the Lynches and Wheelers have been too generous with all of this.  I want to make sure that you do your part.  Pay for as many of the group meals that you can.  Just don’t go crazy with it.  Pay attention to what you spend, keep up with the receipts, so that you don’t run it dry.” 

 

“Use the money you have saved for souvenirs, museums, shows whatever.  It must be expensive to get into Silver Dollar City.  Oh, don’t forget Bobby.  He won’t want a souvenir, but he will want a gift,” Helen finished with a chuckle.

 

After a family hug, the Belden’s left the porch and went into the house.  Moms held Trixie back, grabbing her gently by the arm and asked, “Did you make sure that you packed everything?”  Trixie missed her raised eyebrows and head tilt.

 

“Yes, I’ve checked, twice,” she answered in confusion.

 

Moms once again tried to get the signal across. “Did you remember to fill your prescription?”

 

Before Trixie could acknowledge Moms and let her know she understood the meaning, Brian, who had stopped to hold the screen door for his mother and sister, came up to the two with concern. “Is Trixie sick?”

 

Grabbing his sister by the shoulders he bent down, with much concern in his voice he asked, “Sis, are you ok?”

 

Moms interrupted.  “Brian, why don’t you see if your dad needs help in the kitchen?” Although he was obviously confused by what he had heard, as well by Moms’ obvious diversion, he obediently walked away from the two, but not without a final glace before going through the doorway.

 

Trixie let out the breath she was holding.  “That was close. Are you sure that he can’t handle the truth?  After all, he is going to be a doctor.”

 

“Your brothers are too protective,” Moms responded, shaking her head.  “Your father was a lot easier to convince, once I explained the medical background.  Then, he started saying ‘TMI, TMI.’ He’s never been able to handle these delicate issues.”

 

The delicate issues Moms referred to was the roller coaster periods that Trixie experienced for the first two years of her cycle.  Moms had taken her to Dr. Ferris, who prescribed birth control pills to regulate the cycle and help with the other difficulties that she experienced.

 

Trixie giggled, “I’m glad you explained it to him rather than have me do it.  And yes, I had it filled.  I’m okay for the next month and a half.”

 

 “We talked about this before.  The pills, I trust you…”

 

“Moms, I don’t plan on doing anything that would require ‘the pill’.  My relationship with Jim is not anywhere close to that. Don’t worry.  I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

 

Moms patted Trixie on the cheek, “I know you’ll make good decisions.”  They resumed their route into the house to join the rest of the family in the kitchen. They found Honey staring at the coffee maker, watching it as the pot slowly filled.

 

 “Good morning, I was going to surprise you and make coffee, but it must have read my mind.” She pointed at the appliance.  “It started making it on its own.”

 

Helen began grabbing coffee mugs.  “It’s on a timer. I set it before I went to bed last night.  Who all wants coffee?”

 

“I’ll have one.” Jim raised his hand and took the steaming mug.  “It will be a better wake up call than the one I already had.”  He turned at scowled at Mart.  Apparently Mart had stumbled over his sleeping bag, landing on Jim, before joining the family on the porch.

 

The Belden men sat with Jim at the table. They were discussing the route that they would be taking to Arkansas.  Peter examined the trip router they had downloaded from the Internet and the various maps they had marked to plan their journey.  

 

Peter looked up from the itinerary. “I see that you have an eighteen hour trip, if you drive straight to Springfield, Missouri.  It looks like Harrison, Arkansas is only an hour from there.  That’s where you are staying tomorrow night?”

  

“That’s the plan,” Brian answered with a nod and a sip of coffee.  “Hopefully, we will be able to visit the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield.  We can pick up a few extra things we need for the trip, especially if we plan on fishing.”

 

A shuffling sound at the living room opening made the group turn their heads.  There appeared a very sleepy Di, complete with messy hair and fichus leaves stuck here and there on her head.

 

“I’m awake,” she yawned.  “Dan’s still asleep.  How did he end up on the couch?”

 

Soon the kitchen was buzzing with breakfast making and chatter.  Dan had finally awakened and was a bit sheepish when asked just how he ended up on the couch the night before.

 

Dan stared at Reddy, who was waiting patiently for any stray food that might drop from the table.  “I got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom.  When I came back, someone had taken residence on my sleeping bag.”

 

Reddy gave a soft “woof” in defense of Dan’s accusation.

 

Breakfast was ready and placed on the table. Mr. Belden said grace and added a special prayer of protection over all groups traveling. The topic of discussion was the cruise Helen and Peter would soon be taking.  The other Bob-Whites expressed their excitement for the Beldens’ and their trip. 

 

Honey assured them, “I’m certain Miss Trask won’t mind helping Regan with Bobby.”

 

As if on cue, Bobby could be heard coming down the stairs.  The chatter began to diminish, with the anticipation of his arrival in the dining area. However, as he hit the last stair he turned and headed to the front door.  He left out, shutting the door behind him.  There were numerous looks of confusion from all at the table.  It was a couple of minutes later before he returned with newspaper in hand.  He proceeded into the kitchen.  He appeared to be totally engrossed in the headlines that he was reading.  He then, as if he did it everyday, reached for a cup and filled it with coffee, barely taking his eyes off the paper.  Finally, he sat at one of the barstools at the counter, and began reading the paper while sipping his coffee.

 

The group, who now was his audience, watched this entire incident in total silence and amazement.

 

It was Mart who broke the silence. “Just what are you doing?”

 

Bobby looked up from the paper. “I’m reading the paper?” he answered with a just a hint of sarcasm and a smile.

 

It was Brian’s turn now. “Since when do you drink coffee?”

 

Moms interrupted the brothers’ line of questioning. “Bobby, come and sit with us.  Yes, bring your coffee. We have something to discuss.”

 

Explaining the trip to Bobby was actually easier than explaining it to his three older siblings.  Although he was a bit disappointed that he wasn’t going to Disney World, he knew that he was not interested in a cruise, especially if he was the only Belden child eligible to go.  Knowing his parents and their private times, he would be left to his own devices most of the trip.

 

The female Bob-Whites helped Moms clear the table and load the dishwasher.  The entire Belden family was overjoyed when Peter decided to join the Twenty-First century and install a dishwasher.

 

Outside, the men loaded the last of the belongings into the trailer.  Peter kicked one of the tires.  “This is a nice trailer.  I like how it is not too high.  The driver can see behind, over the top of it, as they are going down the road.  Backing will be much easier too.”

 

 “Dad wanted something to put extra gear in when he goes elk hunting.” Jim pointed at the back glass of the Denali.  “He didn’t want a rolling box. He hates not being able to see behind a taller trailer.”

 

Dan closed the trailer doors. After brushing his hands on his shorts, he took the keys from Jim and locked it.  Crossing his arms in satisfaction he announced, “We managed to get all the gear packed, with a little room to spare.”  Ticking off on his fingers; “We have the tubs, camping equipment, fishing gear, food boxes, ice chests and the rest of the stuff packed tight.”

 

Each person was allowed one plastic tub in which to put his or her clothes.  They would share a tub for linens and towels and one for shoes. They had sixteen of these tubs total, the remainder being for food, first aid and other supplies.  They would buy anything else that they needed and do laundry along the way.

 

“Did you get ice?” asked Peter.  “I noticed the ice chests.”

 

Shaking his head Jim answered, “No, we have a long drive ahead.  We’re driving straight through to Harrison, Arkansas.  We’ll get hotel rooms there and won’t set up camp until the day after tomorrow.”

 

The girls came outside and joined them.  “I think we’re ready,” they announced in unison.

 

After goodbye kisses and wishes of luck and safety the Bob-Whites began loading the Denali.  Trixie stopped to run back to the house and give Reddy an extra hug and kiss on the head.  Bobby got a big hug as well.  She gave a running kiss on the check to her parents and crawled into the back of the vehicle.

 

Jim slowly turned the rig and was soon down the driveway and onto Glen Road.

 

Dan spoke up from the second row, “This is a nice SUV:  three rows of seating, captain’s chairs, leather, satellite radio, and sunroof…Sweet!

 

Di responded from the back. “Yes, I suppose it is nice.  However, you don’t expect us to sit back here the entire trip, do you?”  Somehow the guys had claimed the first two rows of captain chair seating, relegating the girls to the third row bench seat.

 

“Don’t worry sweetie, I’m sure we’ll change seating arrangements, at some point in time,” Mart smirked.   Di promptly smacked him in the back of the head with a pillow.

 

Jim held up a hand, “Don’t make me pull over!  You kids play nice.” He paused. “Dang, I sound like a father on a family vacation.”

 

Dan turned, pulled down his sunglasses and gave the girls a bawdy look.  “I’ll be glad to trade with one of you after our first stop.”

 

“Thank you, Dan.  You are a true gentleman,” Honey said as she patted him on the cheek. 

 

Mart responded with a grunt, “I vote Dan rides on top.  Then, we will have lots of room.”

 

Jim interrupted the laughter and friendly banter. “How about some music?”

 

From the front passenger seat, Brian reached and began scrolling through the SUV’s satellite radio. He attempted to find a station that they could all tolerate.  Agreeing, he knew, would be impossible.

 

As the country turned into city and the city the interstate, Trixie took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.  She began thinking that it was so nice.  They had been together for a couple of hours and not once did she hear…

 

Her mood was interrupted by Mart.   “Squaw, hand me my book.  It’s near the top of my pack, behind you.”

 

Trixie eyes popped open.  That nickname was what she was not missing.  Without a word of retort, she turned to the storage area.  She found the book and handed it to him.  She noticed that it was a travel information book on Arkansas.

 

Dan did not miss the exchange. As he watched Trixie hand Mart the book, he began thinking about prom night.  Actually, he was thinking about two prom nights.  I really had a good time. He began to reminisce to himself.  Goodness only knows what could have happened if I hadn’t been scared that Mr. Belden was waiting somewhere in the house with a shotgun, had I made an inappropriate move. He turned to look at the back of Jim’s head. He said he was ok with us going out the first time.  The second time, I think he was a bit leery.  I know he was mad at himself, because he couldn’t be her escort.  However, he did say that he didn’t mind and that he trusted me.  I’m not sure that I would have trusted myself.  I knew I was risking it with that kiss.  I don’t want to ruin any friendships over it.  He began a slow smile, reliving the night: the moonlight, the porch swing, the kiss, and the feel of her skin, her hair…

 

His train of thought was interrupted by Honey’s chiming in from the back seat “Pit stop.  Those sodas we drank after you guys topped off the tank are really calling to me right now.”  Di and Trixie nodded in agreement.  Brian was now taking his turn at driver duty.  He quickly found an appropriate ‘stop and rob’.

 

********************************

 

As the group began boarding Honey reminded Dan of his promise. He was supposed to switch with one of them and sit in the third row. 

 

“Sure,” Dan responded without hesitation. “Come on Mart.  Let the girls have our seats”

 

Mart grumbled an, “Ok, whatever,” eyeing the third row with some reservation.

 

“Who’s going to stay behind?” Di wondered aloud.

 

“I will,” Trixie halfheartedly answered.  “I’ll sit in the middle.”  That arrangement had Mart sitting to Trixie’s left and Dan on her right. Dan had turned himself so that he was sitting at a slight angle, towards Trixie.

 

Jim was once again behind the wheel.

 

Mart spoke up, “Jim, I hate to see that you’re driving again.   I’ll try to nap. Then, I’ll take over after we stop and eat.”

 

Di looked up from her book and rolled her eyes. “I was wondering when you were going to bring up food.”

 

“I guess we ate so much at breakfast, we really haven’t felt that hungry,” Honey commented.

 

Brian took out the trip planner.  “There’s a town about an hour or so from here in West Virginia.  It looks like its decent sized.  There should be a nice enough restaurant.  It’s on us.” He then turned to his brother and sister who nodded in agreement. 

 

Dan then stretched his left arm and placed it behind Trixie, “If that’s the case, then make it a steak house.” He nudged Trixie and whispered, “Trix, are you ok?”

 

Trixie had, again, begun thinking about the next few weeks.  Worry had started creeping into her subconscious. 

 

“I guess I’m starting to get a little anxious.” She bit her lower lip.  “In just a few weeks, I’ll be starting college.” 

 

Honey turned to correct her.  We will be starting college.  Don’t worry. We’ll be there together.”

 

Dan nodded in agreement.  “Hey, did you forget?  I’ll be there too.”  He patted her knee with his free hand.  “You two are taking almost identical courses to the ones I’ve already taken.”

 

Dan had already spent the last year at the same Jr. College, working on his degree in criminology and law enforcement.  In a few semesters, he would be attending the state police academy.

 

“If you two need me for anything, I’ll be there.” He gave Trixie a reassuring hug with his left arm. “I kept all my notes and the tests. I’ll be your personal tutor.”

 

Honey smiled. “Thanks, it’s nice to know that we’re not going to be lonely.” She hesitated before turning around.  She paused a few extra moments, surveying the scene behind her. 

 

Trixie leaned into his shoulder and relaxed, “I feel a lot better now.”

 

Jim had been listening to the entire exchange.  He could also see what was happening in the rear view mirror. He didn’t miss the hug, and he certainly didn’t miss Trixie leaning into Dan’s body. 

 

He pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head.  He had clearer view of the image playing out in the mirror.

 

Jealousy started creeping inward.   His mind suddenly flashed back to the clubhouse.  He remembered the wink that Dan gave Trixie when relating the events of prom night just a few weeks ago.  He had just barely caught the exchange.  That wink had been playing on his mind since.  

 

He continued to watch the back seat, all the while attempting to keep an eye on his driving.  The more he watched, the more he thought about the wink, the stronger the jealously. He began to grip the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.  What he didn’t notice was what his right foot was doing.  The tighter he gripped the wheel, the further his right foot was pressing on the gas pedal.

 

Brian woke from dozing in the passenger seat.  He stretched and glanced at the passing countryside.  He then glanced at Jim and finally the speedometer. “Um… Jim.”

 

Jim was so lost in thought at the happenings in the back of the SUV, that he didn’t hear him.

 

Clearing his throat and raising his voice a bit, “Jim,” He finally poked his friend in the shoulder, “Frayne!”

 

Jim turned to see what Brian wanted.  Brian silently pointed at the instrument cluster.

 

It was then that Jim finally noticed his speed. They were traveling at almost one-hundred mph.  “Thanks,” was all he said. He took a deep breath and began to slow down.   Glancing in the mirror, he shook his head.  I can’t believe I’m letting that bother me, he chastised himself. 

 

At this same time, all Trixie could think about was how comfortable she felt.  She was also at ease.  She knew if she and Honey needed anything, Dan would be there.

 

Dan was enjoying the moment as well.  What was occurring at the front of the vehicle did not escape his attention.  It’s a good thing I have on dark glasses, or he could see my eyes and know that I saw his reaction. He smiled to himself, I don’t want to come between these two, but maybe now Jim will pay attention.  If not…

 

He was soon drifting in and out of consciousness thoroughly enjoying the thoughts he was having

 

 

“Jim, there’s a sign for a restaurant,” Brian announced.  “Want to check it out?”

 

Mart opened his eyes and sat up.  “Did someone say restaurant?” 

 

Di exhaled loudly and rolled her eyes, “Just the mention of food, and he wakes up.”

 

Jim pulled into the parking lot of a family friendly looking diner.  The lot was fairly empty.  Brian noted, “It’s after noon.  Lucky for us we missed the lunch rush.”

 

As they entered the cheery diner, the girls pointed towards the ladies room door.  Honey stepped away from the other girls long enough to remind Brian to find a spot in the non-smoking section.

 

Once they entered the restroom, Trixie allowed her friends to the only two stalls.  As she waited, she passed the time by checking out the vending machine conspicuously attached to the wall.  It took her a few moments before she realized just what was being sold in the metallic dispenser.  She turned away, and was very red-faced when Honey came out of her stall first.  Without a word, Trixie went into it and closed the door behind her.  She needed a few moments to get over the embarrassment of the various condoms and the sexual enhancement oils being sold in the restroom’s vending machine.

 

As she exited the stall, she noticed that the other two were already finished with their freshening up and were, obviously, waiting on her.  As Trixie washed her hands, Di ripped off a few paper-towels and handed them to her.

 

Finally, Honey broke the silence. “So, what’s this between you and Dan?”  It sounded like an accusation, rather than a question.

 

The question threw Trixie off guard.  After tossing the used towel into the trash, she answered rather hesitantly, “What are you talking about?”

 

Honey was watching her reaction in the mirror’s reflection. “I saw the two of you in the back seat.  I turned to ask you something.  There you were, snuggled against Dan.  You looked like you were really enjoying yourself.”

 

Di raised an eyebrow and gave Trixie a slow smile.

 

Trixie turned to face her friends.  “There is nothing between us.  He is my friend.  He is going to the same college that we are.  We had been talking about this coming school year.” She motioned to Honey. “You were in on that conversation.”  Her voice now sounded agitated. “And yes, I was leaning against him, but there was nothing to it.”

 

Di’s smile became bigger now and the other eyebrow was raised.

 

“What about you and Jim?” Honey asked as she gently grabbed Trixie by the arm, preventing her from leaving the restroom. The small bathroom had seemed to grow smaller to Trixie as the girls talked.

 

Trixie was now getting more than just a little perturbed. “There is no ‘me and Jim.’  He hasn’t even made a move. I’m not too sure that he is even interested in me in that way.  If he does like me, he has a strange way of showing it.”

 

At that last remark Honey backed off and patted Trixie on the shoulder.  “I’m sorry.  I guess I was hoping--”

 

Trixie held up a hand, stopping Honey from completing her sentence.  Grabbing both her friends’ hands, Trixie smiled, “Look, I understand your concern.  Dan and I are friends. Jim and I?  I don’t know what we are.  Maybe this trip will spark something.”  She glanced at her watch. “Gosh, we’d better go. The guys will think one of us fell in.”

 

As it turned out, the guys had busied themselves by looking at the pictures and memorabilia placed on the café’s walls.  They directed the girls to the table that the waitress had made ready for them.

 

They were seated at a large, round table in the corner of the restaurant.  Jim had made sure that he sat next to Trixie.  He was also relieved that Honey had sat to Trixie’s right.  He gave a small smile of satisfaction when Dan ended up on the opposite side of the table.

 

After the waitress took their orders, they began discussing the remainder of the trip.  With stops, they were still well over fourteen hours from their destination.  Since the girls had little or no experience in pulling a trailer, the guys had volunteered to do all the driving.  Honey and Di didn’t seem to have a problem with that arrangement.  They both had a stack of paperbacks that they planned on reading during the long drive.  Trixie, although a little jealous, was also apprehensive about driving the Wheelers’ expensive Denali.

 

When the food arrived, talk soon turned to Hallie, the Beldens’ cousin.  They had hoped that she would be able to meet them, but she had elected to attend an accelerated summer session that her Idaho high school was offering.  She could take courses that would help her graduate early.  She would be eligible to graduate next winter, thus skipping the last semester of her senior year.

 

Jim turned to Dan.  “Dan, I know you must be disappointed that Hallie couldn’t join us.” Jim was definitely fishing for a response.

 

Dan shrugged his shoulders, “It would have been nice for her to meet up.  She’s a great friend, but I’m really not good with long distance relationships.  I would rather concentrate on something that’s closer.”  Dan hoped that he wasn’t giving off any intentional or unintentional hidden meaning to his answer.  He deliberately avoided looking at Trixie.  He added, “Maybe when she attends a college in New York, something will develop.”

 

The discussion was halted when the waitress appeared and began distributing the orders in front of the gang.

 

After ordering dessert, Brian took out the itinerary and maps to show Mart.  Mart had volunteered to take over the driving duties for the next few hours.

 

As the waitress sat down the pieces of pie and cake the conversation turned to seating arrangements.  Trixie was hoping to escape from the back row.  Much to her relief, Brian and Honey volunteered to sit in the back, with Dan.  Di would ride “shot-gun” in the front seat.  That left her and Jim in the second row.

 

After a final stop to the restrooms, they began loading the large SUV.  Trixie overheard Mart whispering to Dan, “Can you believe what they sell in those restrooms?”  Dan just shook his head and chuckled.  

 

Trixie stifled a laugh.  They must have the same machines in both restrooms.

 

Soon the vehicle was fueled, and they claimed their seats.  Brian had elected to sit in the middle, so he could stretch his long legs.  Dan took the same seat he had previously.  Honey was seated to Brian’s left, behind Trixie, enjoying the fact that she was finally close to her boyfriend.

 

Trixie pulled out her paperback and began reading when a freckled hand touched her right arm distracting her.  “I didn’t mean to bother you,” Jim smiled   “I just wanted…” he froze as if trying to find an excuse, “I was wondering if you were comfortable, now that you graduated to the second row.” Jim was starting mentally kicking himself.  That is not what he wanted to ask.  He had other things he wanted to discuss.  Why do I turn to Jell-o around her?

 

“This is much better.  Thanks for asking.” She returned to her book.

 

Jim leaned back into his seat, frustrated.  Why can’t I do anything right when it comes to her?”

 

He sounded a bit flustered, Trixie thought as she stared blankly at the pages before her.  I wonder what he really wanted.

 

The hours ticked by and day became night.  They slowly made their way to their destination.  It had been predetermined that they would try stopping every four hours to top off the tank and allow for restroom breaks and caffeine, for the driver.  After a series of musical seats, Trixie ended up in the front seat at one point, while Jim drove through the eastern outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri.

 

They decided to make a final stop before arriving in Springfield.  It would be light in a couple of hours.   They could eat breakfast before going to Bass Pro Shop.  The late dinner they had in Indiana was wearing off. 

 

After fueling and using the facilities, Jim grabbed Trixie’s hand and led her to the back seat, taking the place of Mart and Di.  Dan hesitated for a moment, as if contemplating the situation, and took the front seat beside Brian.  Honey, at first, appeared to be put out, but realized that particular arrangement would put Dan with Jim and Trixie.  She readily climbed into the back seat to join her best friend and brother.  Anything to get these two together.  Giving Dan a wink, she mouthed her thanks as she took her place.

 

Brian checked the itinerary. “I think we have less than four hours to Springfield.  Do you think we can go without eating until then?”  They had bought snacks before leaving the small store. Jim was very careful to not get his father’s vehicle too messy, this early into the trip.

 

Mart started to speak, but Di promptly placed a pork-rind in his mouth to stifle him.  The others said they were fine with the suggestion.

  

In the back seat, Jim finally got up enough nerve. Placing his left arm around Trixie’s shoulders, he leaned and whispered in Trixie’s ear, “I’m glad we were able to go on this trip.  I think this is going to be fun.  We should, at least, be able to relax.”

 

The stubble on Jim’s face, which had developed over the last several hours, tickled Trixie on the cheek.  She answered back, in a hushed voice, “We all needed this.  Those senior requirements were a nightmare.  Some teachers had us holding our breath, worrying about what our grades were, until the last minute.  I didn’t know until Monday if I was going to maintain my GPA to keep my scholarship.”

 

She turned to Jim.  She could barely make out his face in the dark.  The reflection of the passing cars and highway lights made his form fairly visible. Grabbing his free hand she assured him, “You and Brian needed this more than us.  You two are graduating college early and have already started applying to your post-graduate schools.  You’ve given up too many summers away to not be here.”  She said the next line in barely a whisper, “Besides, I’ve really missed you.”

 

Jim leaned down. “What did you say?  I didn’t hear what you said last.”

 

Panic gripped Trixie. She didn’t mean for that to come out.  “N…nothing. It was nothing.  It’s not important, forget it.”

 

Honey, who had been feigning sleep smiled.  She had caught most of what the couple had said.   This trip is just what the doctor ordered.  Speaking of doctors, wonder what this trip has in store for us?

 

True to his calculations, Brian entered the Springfield city limits in less than four hours.  Those that were awake noticed the many signs along the interstate directing them to Bass Pro Shops. 

 

Mart suddenly sat up and pointed, “Cracker Barrel!” This outburst woke the last of the slumbering           Bob-Whites.  The signs for the restaurant guided them to Glenstone, just off I-44.  Mart began bouncing in his seat like a little kid.  Di had to grab his arm to calm him down. 

 

Brian glanced into the rear view mirror to ask, “I take it we all want to eat at the Cracker Barrel?”

 

A chorus of yeses answered his question.

 

In mere minutes, the gang piled out of the Denali and was walking through the country store section of the restaurant.  The hostess greeted the travelers.  Jim gave her the number in their party and requested non-smoking.  They were seated almost immediately.

 

After giving their drink orders, the girls excused themselves to the restroom.  Trixie had to stop herself from laughing.  She remembered what was being sold in the restroom in West Virginia.  Honey begged to be let in on the joke.

 

“It’s nothing, really,” Trixie answered with a giggle.  “It’s just that, it seems that there is something missing in here.” Honey looked at her friend in confusion. Trixie attempted to clarify.  “There was something in the restroom in West Virginia, on the wall.” She was regaining her composure.  “I just got kind of embarrassed.  I never expected to see something like that being sold in a ladies’ room.”

 

Trixie quickly entered the stall that Di just vacated.  Honey was still shaking her head at her friend when she glanced at Di. 

 

Di’s face was pink, and she had a slightly troubled look. Honey’s eyes got big.  She mouthed to Di.  “Do you know what she is talking about?”  Di answered with a weak smile and slight nod.  Honey rolled her eyes and shook her head.  Then, her intuition kicked in. She whispered, “Why would you need?  Wait, I don’t want to know.” Lowering her voice even more, “You?”

 

Trixie excited the stall and began washing her hands.  She looked her friends over.  “Did I miss something?”

 

“NO!” Di snapped.  Di’s reaction to the question gave Trixie a start.

 

Honey put her arms on her friends’ shoulders and led them out of the restroom.  “Di’s a little tired.  Let’s get something to eat.” As the girls walked back to the table.  Honey hung back, “You two aren’t…You haven’t… No way!”

 

Di didn’t answer immediately, but her expression spoke volumes.  Finally, just as they arrived at the table, Di turned to Honey and whispered, “I’ll tell you later.”

 

Once at the table, Honey had to sort through her newly found information about her friend.  Jim tapped her hand, breaking her out of her trance.  “Earth to Honey.  What will you have?” Honey looked up and noticed that the waitress was standing at the end of the table, pen in hand ready to take her order.

 

She made her selection, and they went around the table placing their orders for breakfast.  Dan was the last of the group to give his.  He had, once again, been relegated to the opposite end of the table, away from Trixie and Jim.  The guys had picked their seats while the girls were busy in the restroom.  Mart suggested that they sit boy-girl, boy-girl.

 

Wonder if something is up with the girls?  Dan noticed that Trixie had arrived at the table a few seconds a head of the others. Di and Honey look a little flustered.  Must be one of those ‘women-issues’.

 

After a hearty Cracker Barrel breakfast and a trip through the gift area, the friends were soon on their way to Bass Pro Shop.  As they neared the massive sporting goods store, they noticed the volume of traffic had increased.  When they turned into the parking lot, they soon learned why.  There were hundreds of cars, vans, SUVs, camper trailers, RV’s and a great number of tour busses parked or that were jockeying for a parking place.

 

Their eyes grew big at the sight of the massive log-cabin design structure.  Mart broke the silence “I picked up a brochure at that last rest stop. I think that is some type of wildlife museum on the right.”

 

After some difficulty, Jim was able to find a parking place suitable for the Denali’s size, not to mention the trailer.  “Awesome!” Dan exclaimed. “What a bait shop!”

 

 

 

They entered through the main entrance.  It was decided that they would meet in one hour to regroup.  As they followed the flow of shoppers to the left, Honey’s demeanor quickly picked up.  “OOO house-wares.” The girls began browsing the home décor and other gift items the massive store had to offer.  They found their way to the far left, past the checkout counters, across from which there was a tank that held several large fish.

 

“I hear the sound of rushing water,” observed Di.  As the girls proceeded, they soon discovered where the noise was coming from.  A waterfall, complete with a rock face, greeted them.  Included were several stuffed animals posed around the ledges. As they came closer, they noted a pool full of fish and a walkway bridge that lead to more cashiers. 

 

Trixie giggled and pointed at a mannequin that was posed as a ‘hiker’ on a swinging bridge* over part of a man-made stream. “Wow!” exclaimed the girls in chorus.

 

“Wow is right,” came a voice behind them.  Jim put his hands on Trixie’s shoulders.  “Isn’t this neat?”

 

“This is the coolest store.” Trixie declared. “What did you guys find?”

 

“We found the fishing gear we needed.  One of the employees gave us some pointers on what we would need for stream fishing,” Brian answered.  He continued to stare at the waterfall, as if in a trance. 

 

“Hey, a McDonalds!” Mart pointed at the top of the stairs.  There was a McDonalds located at the next level.

 

“You can’t possibly be hungry?  We just ate,” Di replied exasperated.

 

“No, I’m not hungry.  I just thought it was interesting. It looks like you can sit and watch the crowd below as you eat.”

 

 

“I hate to do this.  I know it’s silly,” giggled Honey.  “But how about riding in that glass elevator?  Let’s see how much of the store we can see.”

 

Feeling like kids again, they crammed into the small, glass elevator and took the quick ride to the top floor and back down to the lowest level.

“Where are we now?” Trixie nudged her older brother.

 

“This is camping,” Dan answered for him.  “The auditorium is to the right.  There is a large tank full of native fish.”

 

After several minutes of admiring the very large, trophy size fish, Brian reminded them.  “I hate to bring this up, but shouldn’t we be on our way?  We need to find a hotel.  We don’t have reservations.”

 

The group paid for their purchases and was back on the road.  Harrison, Arkansas is about an hour from here,” commented Brian as Jim resumed his driving duties.  “Di, your name is also on the credit card, right?”

 

Di nodded, “Daddy made sure that I wouldn’t have any trouble using the card.  It has his name on it too, since I’m still a minor.”

 

“At least in some states you are,” mumbled Mart as he put an arm around his girlfriend.

 

As Jim wound this way through the late morning traffic, in search of Hwy 65, the rest of the Bob-Whites began to get chatty and speculated what they would do once they arrived in Harrison.

 

“I know I want to take a nice, long shower and wash my hair,” Honey spoke, as she ran her fingers through her shoulder length hair.

 

Trixie seconded the motion. “A shower sounds good now, so does a bed.  I didn’t sleep much last night.  It’s hard to get comfortable sitting up.”

 

At the word bed Jim glanced at Trixie and began to suppress some, slightly provocative thoughts.  I have got to get my mind out of the gutter, he berated himself.

 

To pass the time Mart began reading the many billboards that lined Hwy 65 advertising Branson and the various attractions.  His voice was building with excitement “Another billboard, Branson must really be something.”

 

“I think it’s grown a lot over the last several years.  A boom is more like it,” Brian corrected himself.   “We shouldn’t have any trouble finding a hotel, a place to eat, or especially a show. From the looks of all the billboards, there will be plenty to keep us busy.”

 

“Don’t forget about Silver Dollar City,” Di chimed in.  “I hope they have lots of music shows.”

 

Jim looked at Di through the rear view mirror, “I think that is one of the main focuses of the park.  In fact, I believe they have some sort of music festival this time of year.”

 

“From what I hear Branson itself is one giant music show,” Honey piped in from the back.  “I wonder if a week is enough to see everything.”

 

As they passed the exit for Branson, Mart held up a guide he had picked up at the Bass Pro Shop.  “This has a map of the city with the traffic relief routes marked.  I’ve heard the traffic on the main strip, Hwy 76, is really bad.  The relief routes are the way to go.”

 

Jim smiled at his companions and surmised, “Looks like we are in for a lot of fun.”  He grabbed Trixie’s hand and asked, “What do you think, Shamus?”

 

There it was, the other nickname. Or was it supposed to be a term of endearment?  If it was a term of endearment, there didn’t seem to be any feeling or thought behind it.  She had grown to view it as she did when Mart called her ‘Squaw.’

 

She smiled politely and responded, “I think this is going to be our best adventure ever.  We may need a vacation when we get back home to recuperate from all the fun.”

 

Sensing the small bit of tension, Brian changed the subject.  “It’s too bad that Uncle Andrew isn’t going to be around.  I was hoping that we could visit him at his fishing lodge while we were in the area.”

 

Trixie perked up.  “It would have been nice to see what all has changed since the last time we were there.”

 

“The last time we were there you almost killed yourself when you went into that sinkhole.  I’m glad we won’t have to relive that scenario,” Mart teased.

 

Trixie began to turn red at the remark.  Honey, sensing her anger changed the subject.  “At least we will be able to meet up with Linnie.  She’s preparing to start college this fall as well.  I’ve heard about the college she’s going to attend, College of the Ozarks.”

 

“I’ve heard about that too.  It’s just outside of Branson.  Its nickname is ‘Hard Work U’.  Almost all operations are maintained by the students.  They can defer the cost of tuition if they work a certain amount of hours during the week at various jobs around the campus.  A student can put in enough hours that their tuition is paid for and they attend, virtually, for free.”  Jim informed them. 

 

Di addressed Dan. “You and I will finally be able to meet Linnie.  Too bad we missed out the last time the Bob-Whites were here.”  Di intentionally avoided mentioning visiting the club’s namesake, Bob-White Cave.  She didn’t want to give Mart a lead-in to further tease Trixie.

 

“Dan, we will have to invite Linnie to join us on some of our activities while we are in the area. That might make up for Hallie not being able to be here,” Honey suggested hopefully.

 

“It will be nice to have someone that is familiar with the area to show us around,” Jim remarked.

 

As they neared the state line Jim noticed a large sign advertising Trader Bob’s convenience store.  He steered the SUV off the highway and followed the road up the hill to the store, finally stopping at the gas pumps. 

 

“I think I’ll fill up here.  Does anyone need to use the restroom?”  Jim asked, as the others began bailing out.  “I guess that answered my question.  Do you need to go in for anything, Trixie?”  Trixie had been the only remaining Bob-White to not leave.

 

“I guess I could go to the restroom.  Do you want anything to drink?”

 

Jim couldn’t resist.  He reached out and moved one of her curls out of the way, tugging it as he did so.  “You can get me a Dr. Pepper.  Let me guess.  You’re going to get yourself a strawberry pop?”

 

Trixie giggled, “What else?”

 

Once inside, she quickly found the restroom and noticed the aisles of liquor as she passed.  What she didn’t notice was that Dan was surveying the wine selection. 

 

Dan had begun to pick out a few selected bottles.  Got to sample the local vineyards, he told himself.  Just as he put the last bottle in his basket a store employee approached.

 

“Sir, you do realize that the legal age to purchase alcohol in Missouri is twenty-one?”

 

Brian was standing nearby.  He rolled his eyes, took a deep breath and stepped forward. Addressing Dan he said, “Good, you found it.”  Turning to the employee he explained, “I’m the one buying this. I’m twenty-one.” He took out his driver’s license as proof.  Satisfied, the clerk walked away from the two.

 

“Thanks,” Dan smiled.  But he noticed that Brian was not smiling.  “Here’s some cash.” He handed Brian a one-hundred dollar bill. “It should be plenty.”

 

Brian took the bill and bent down, grabbing two more bottles and placed it in the basket.

 

“Pink Champagne!  I don’t want that,” Dan complained. 

 

Brian simply stared at him in response, unblinking.

 

“But I suppose you do, right?” guessed Dan.  “Ok, Ok, just try to leave me some change,” Dan muttered as he walked to the snack aisle.

 

They met at the SUV.  Dan noticed that Brian had added two bags of ice to the purchase.  He gave a quick nod and asked Jim for the keys to the trailer.  As Dan began opening the bags, Brian read the label on one of the bottles.  “What are all of these?”

 

Dan pointed at each bottle. “This is a sweet red and a sweet white, bottled in Missouri.  That is something called muscadine, it’s bottled in Arkansas.  It’s some kind of grape.  This is a blush. I think it is made from the muscadine too, and this is a Catawba.” He grimaced, “and here are your bottles of pink champagne.”  He said with an exaggerated lisp. 

 

In order to keep the labels from coming off, they left the bottles in the plastic grocery bags and placed the wine in an ice chest, carefully adding the ice.   

 

Dan closed the lid to the cooler and wondered aloud, “I don’t know why you wanted that stuff, it’s so girly.”  As he said this, he glanced at the girls.  They were looking at the antiques displayed on store’s porch. “Oh, that’s who it’s for.”

 

He locked the trailer and handed Jim the keys.  They noticed that both Jim and Mart had been silently watching the exchange.  “Are you buying liquor for minors?” a concerned Jim asked.

 

Brian pointed at Dan, “It was his money.  I just had the ID.  You’ll have to ask him what he’s going to do with his.”

 

“HIS?” Jim shot back.  “Does this mean you bought some too?”

 

Brian narrowed his eyes and replied, “Don’t worry about it.” He climbed into the SUV taking a seat in the second row.

 

The girls came up at the end of the exchange. “Dan bought wine?” Di asked. 

 

Mart, who had smartly stayed out of the conversation, kissed his girlfriend and explained, “I’ll tell you later.”

 

Honey and Trixie glanced at each other, relaying a silent message. We’ll ask Di, later.

 

As Trixie settled into the passenger seat, she glanced back Brian. I didn’t think he drank.  I guess college can change people.

 

Jim pulled back onto the highway, continuing their trek south.  He began to adjust the air-condition controls, when Trixie reached across the consol and touched his hand.  When he glanced at her, she mouthed “Are you ok?”

 

“I’ll be fine,” he answered through clenched teeth.

 

Trixie could tell he was upset.  She knew they wouldn’t be able to talk about the incident.  The others were just feet away. She leaned back into her seat.  I’ll ask again when he has time to cool off, she decided.

 

They had crossed the state line and entered Arkansas.  No one else spoke during this time.  Trixie couldn’t tell if it was from tiredness or what had just occurred at the store. The beauty of the area surrounded either side of the highway. Rolling hills with distant, odd-shaped peaks stretched for miles.  In less than thirty minutes they were entering the city limits of Harrison.

 

The calm was broken suddenly with all three girls shrieking “Wal-Mart!”  Jim had to regain control of the vehicle as he momentarily swerved when the girls made their outburst.

 

Jim smirked, “I take it you want to stop?”

 

“We do need to get a few supplies,” Honey reminded her brother.

 

Jim pulled into the Super-Center.  He had to park on the outskirts of the lot.  The rig presented the same parking problem that had plagued them thus far on the trip.

 

As they were getting out Trixie began hitting Mart.  “Ouch! What was that for?”  He asked his sister, dodging her hand.  The other Bob-Whites laughed at the show.

 

“You stepped on my flip flop, you big ox.  It’s ruined.” She came back with more swings.

 

Dan stepped between the two.  “Here Trixie,” he turned his back to her and motioned to his back, “hop up. I’ll give you a ride to the doors.”

 

“Giddy up,” Trixie laughed as she climbed on.  Soon they were trotting ahead of the others, both of singing a very off key version of ‘Margaritaville.’ 

 

Honey shook her head and laughed at the two.  “I guess that is an appropriate song.  Doesn’t it have a line about ‘blew out a flip-flop’?”  She turned to Jim and noticed that his smile was quickly fading.

 

Jim wasn’t laughing now. In fact, he had a stone, cold stare.  The rest of the gang walked ahead.  They missed Jim’s reaction.  Honey attempted to calm his temper, grabbing his hand to gain his attention.  He shook off her helping hand and went past her.  She quickly caught up with him.  “They are just being silly,” she tried to consol him.  But the look he gave revealed that he was not convinced. 

 

By the time they had arrived at the front of the store, Trixie had the sandal off and was attempting to repair it.  “I think it’s a lost cause,” she shook her head. “Good thing we’re at Wal-Mart.  I should have no problem replacing it.”

 

Jim reached out his hand.  “Do you need any help?” he asked.  He deliberately avoided looking at Dan, her partner on the bench.

 

“Thanks.  I just need to get a new pair. It’s no big deal.  I think I have it fixed to where it will hold together long enough for me to walk to the shoe department.” She placed the sandal on her foot and accepted Jim’s hand to help stand.

 

Once inside they split up.  The guys headed to sporting goods. The girls helped Trixie find a new pair of sandals in the shoe department.  “Don’t we need some of these aqua-shoes?” Di asked as she held up a pair.

 

Honey started going through the display “You’re right.  I’ve heard the rocks can be slippery and some are kind of sharp if you wade in the river.  Do you know the guys’ sizes?  They’ll need some too.” 

 

The girls soon found the guys at sporting goods counter.  As they approached, Mart reminded everyone, “I just remembered.  We’ll need fishing licenses.”  They each purchased a seven-day, out-of-state fishing permit.

 

When guys placed their items in the girls’ basket, Jim pointed out the multiple pairs of shoes. At first the girls were teased for attempting to buy the entire shoe department.  After explaining the need for the aqua shoes, the men soon saw the wisdom in the girls’ decision. 

 

“Did we get the correct sizes?” Di asked.  “Trixie knew Brian and Mart’s sizes.  Honey knew Jim’s.  Dan is yours the right one?”

 

Dan held up his pair.  “Yep, that’s me, size fourteen.  Just call me ‘big foot.’”

 

As they made their way to the check out stands the girls began giggling.  “What’s so funny?” Brian quizzed.

 

Between giggles Trixie managed to get out, “You know what they say about the size of a man’s foot, in proportion to…” She didn’t finish as all they were now in full laughter.  The only ones who weren’t laughing were the male Bob-Whites. 

 

Jim broke the merriment.  “I think we need to check out and find a hotel.”  He grabbed the cart and pushed it to the front of the store.   The remaining friends looked at each other, then to Honey as if for an answer.

 

“I think he’s just stressed out from the long drive.  We all need some sleep,” she explained apologetically. She turned and followed toward the checkout area.  What is his problem?

 

As they left the Wal-Mart parking lot Jim announced, “There’s a Super-8 just ahead.  Is that ok with everyone? Di?”  Since Di’s credit card would pay for the rooms, Jim sought her approval.

 

“Oh, I’m sure that will be fine.  We’re only staying tonight.  We don’t need much, right?” 

 

Brian asked, “How many rooms do we need?  We don’t want to take advantage of the Lynches’ hospitality”.

 

Jim looked back, “Would two be ok?  I don’t mind sharing a room with the other guys.”

 

“That would put us two to a bed,” Mart noted.  “However, we share tents and just slept on the floor beside each other just two nights ago. Two should be ok.” He looked at the other men for their opinion.

 

Dan and Brian indicated they were both ok with the idea. “I don’t have a problem with it,” Dan added.

 

After checking in, the Bob-Whites carried their overnight bags to their respective hotel rooms.  They had wisely packed their toiletries and a change of clothes in the bag, much like travelers do when they fly. Digging through the camping gear was out of the question.

 

Honey and Di collapsed on one of the beds.  They noticed that Trixie was frantically searching through her things.  “Is anything wrong? Did you forget something?” Honey asked.

 

“I forgot to take something last night.  It was packed, and I couldn’t get to it.” Trixie breathed a sigh of relief as she took out the small packet.  She glanced at her watch and got out two pills.  Filling one of the hotel’s cups with water, she proceeded to swallow them.

 

The two watched the scene with interest.  Finally Di broke the silence. “Is that what I think it is?”

 

Trixie had managed to take the pills for months without her friends’ knowledge. She set down the plastic cup of water and asked, “Can you two keep a secret from the others, especially those unreasonably overprotective brothers of mine?”

 

The other two nodded and assured her that it would not leave the room.

 

“I’ve been taking these for a couple of years.  Not that I needed them for their intended purpose,” she huffed. “Dr. Ferris prescribed them to regulate some problems I was having.  They are a godsend.”

 

“I hear they can be handy for other things too,” Di said with a devilish smile.

 

“I have to be in that position for that reason to be valid,” Trixie answered.  She then realized how the explanation sounded.   Noticing her friends’ smiles, she attempted to clarify herself.   “I meant I’m not dating anyone.  That’s why I’m not in any position to need these for birth control.” By now her face was red, and Honey and Di were laughing over the embarrassment of her misspeak.

 

A knock at the door interrupted any further discussion.  Trixie was grateful for the diversion and turned away to answer it. As the door swung open, Brian and Jim stepped inside.  Brian spoke up, “We were wondering if you were hungry.  Mart seems to think we should eat lunch.”

 

Honey checked the time on the bedside clock and looked at her roommates.  “Can we clean up first? You all probably need to take a shower and shave as well.”

 

“I guess we do need to shave,” Jim rubbed his chin.  “How about we meet in an hour?  Is that ok with everyone?”

 

“Do you think Mart will last that long?” chuckled Di.

 

Brian motioned towards the end of the building. “There’s a vending machine, if he gets that hungry.”

 

In just over an hour the girls had showered, changed and were ready to go.  They were about to leave when Honey remembered.  “Di, what was the business with the wine?”

 

Di looked confused at first, before answering. “Dan wanted to buy some wine.  I don’t think he drinks that often.  He thought he might try some as long as we were here.  Don’t let Brian know, but Mart knew about it before hand.”

 

“Forget Brian, I think Jim was the one that was mad,” corrected Honey.

 

“Our brothers,” said Trixie shaking her head.  “Who knows, that booze could travel with us all the way back to Sleepyside.” They grabbed their purses and left to meet the guys.

 

Jim and Dan were in the middle of unhitching the trailer.  “It’s going to be a lot easier to find a parking place now,” Jim remarked as he locked the trailer’s hitch.

 

Following a short discussion, they decided to eat at Colton’s Steak House.   The restaurant was just blocks from their hotel.  Dan had no trouble finding a parking place with the trailer-less Denali.

 

After placing their orders, Honey and Jim were left at the table alone.  The others had headed to the restrooms.  Honey now had her opportunity. “What was that with Trixie and Dan?”

 

Jim’s head snapped around.  “What are you talking about?”

 

“The deal at Wal-Mart. If looks could kill…”

 

Jim looked away, “I guess I forgot.”

 

Honey let out a breath, “When Trixie was riding Dan.” Just as she said it, she knew she made a slip. “I mean when she was riding piggy-back.”

 

It was too late. Jim was already starting to turn red at the first comment.  He began twisting his napkin.

 

“Did that really bother you?” Honey leaned forward. “Do you care about her that much?” She grabbed his hand. “Have you told her?”

 

Jim looked away and watched the others make their way back to the booth. “How am I supposed to know how she feels about me?”

 

Honey sat back and thought.  She and Jim had decided long ago to not discuss each other’s relationships. Since they were friendly with siblings, they didn’t want to harm their own relationship, in the event something didn’t work out.  Up until now, they had succeeded. 

 

The others returned and soon the mood was once again light.  The food arrived and each person ate until they declared themselves full.

 

As the check arrived, Brian reached for it, but was stopped by Jim.  “Brian, why don’t we split this one?” Brian looked at the ticket, thanking Jim for the offer.

 

They filed out of the restaurant and gathered around the SUV.  Dan jangled the keys.  “Where to?” he asked. “It’s too early to go back to the hotel.”

 

Honey smiled, “I saw a Dollar Shop.  Why don’t we check it out?  There’s lots of good stuff to find at a Dollar Shop.”

 

In no time the gang was scavenging the large $1 for every item store.  At one point Trixie ran to Dan. “I need the keys,” she said holding out her hand. 

 

Dan started to hand them to her, but stopped. “What kind of scheme are you cooking up?”

 

Honey and Di walked up with a large package. “We just want to put something in the Denali.  It’s a surprise,” Honey promised.

 

Dan reluctantly handed over the keys. Minutes later the girls came back with keys and even bigger smiles.  “I do not want to know what you girls have planned,” Dan commented as he left to find the others.

 

The gang explored several more shops and stores, including a trip to a grocery to pick up a few snacks for later that evening.

 

It was late afternoon when they returned to the hotel.  There were still a few hours to kill before turning in.  They ended up in the guys’ room.  Finding a movie channel, they settled down to watch.  They alternated between watching the television and playing the card games that they had brought with them. With the snacks consumed, and several hands of Uno played, they decided to call it a night.

 

The girls said their good nights and retreated to their own room.  They changed into their pajamas to prepare for bed. “I can’t believe how tired I am,” yawned Trixie.  She climbed into the bed closest to the bathroom.  “I hope you two don’t mind if I take this spot,” she said, as she closed her eyes.

 

Honey and Di had stayed awake to watch the local weather.  When Honey was sure that Trixie was asleep, she whispered to Di, “Now, what was all that about this morning?” Di feigned ignorance.  Honey clarified, “You and Mart?”

 

Di took a few moments before giving a reluctant answer. “No, we aren’t.  Well, not that.” She was turning pink, “It’s not what you’re thinking.” She reached down and adjusted her socks. “We have talked about it, a lot.”

 

Honey reassured her violet-eyed friend.  “I think we all have talked about it.” She looked at Trixie’s sleeping form. “Well, most of us.”

 

Di managed a weak smile. “You don’t think I’m terrible?”

 

“Gosh no, It’s normal to feel that way.” Honey hugged her. “Let’s try to get some sleep.  I think I heard the guys say they wanted to meet at 7:00 for breakfast.”

 

As they settled down to sleep a whirl of events ran through Honey’s mind. Is there any one in this group not having issues right now?

 

**********************************************

 

Daylight filtered through the curtains, as Trixie slipped out of bed.  After quickly dressing and taking the key, she stepped outside to see what morning in Harrison, Arkansas looked like.

 

She began to investigate the area around their hotel.  I feel so much better today.

 

She came around the corner of the building and noticed someone sitting in a chair at the pool.  Too early for a swim, she thought.  Then she noticed the bright red hair.  Wonder what he’s up to? She opened the gate and entered the area.

 

“Do you mind if you have company?” she asked as she sat in the adjacent chair.

 

“Good morning,” Jim smiled. “Sleep well?”

 

“Like a log.  And you?”

 

“Your brothers snored!” he chuckled. 

 

“How about Dan?” 

 

Jim’s smile started to fade, but he composed himself.  “No snoring.  I don’t think I did either.”

 

They watched as a delivery truck loaded newspapers in the machine outside the hotel’s office.  Jim broke the silence.

 

He cleared his throat. “Trixie, I was hoping that we could have some time to talk.”  He shifted in his chair to face her.  “I’m glad that we are on this trip together.  I’m hoping that we will have some time alone.” He leaned forward and took her hand, adjusting the ID bracelet she wore on her wrist.  “I was wondering if you--”

 

“There you are.” Mart shielded his eyes from the rapidly rising sun. “We’ve been looking all over for you two.”  Noticing the annoyed look from both his friends, he stepped back.  “Are we still on for breakfast?”

 

Jim closed his eyes, the timing could not have been worse.  “Are the others ready?”

 

Brian joined the three “We thought we could eat breakfast first and then check out.  We have the rooms until 11:00.”

 

Jim helped Trixie out of her chair.  As they passed through the gate and secured the pool area, she wondered. What was he trying to say back there?  I swear, I think my brothers are trying to sabotage me.

 

***********************************

 

“The desk clerk recommended this place for breakfast.” Dan reported, as he turned into the parking lot.

 

“Ranch House Diner,” Honey read the sign with its larger than life rearing horse. “Look at the horse. Regan would like that.”

 

There were no other customers in the diner when they entered.  They were able to place their orders immediately. As the waitress distributed their drink orders she asked, “Are you folks from out of town?”

 

“I guess our accents gave us away,” Brian grinned.

 

“You must be on your way to Branson.”

 

Jim shook his head, “No, we go there next week.  We headed for…” he looked to Mart for the name.

 

“Buffalo Point,” answered Mart.

 

“Are you going to be camping?” she asked.

 

“Yes, and maybe canoe some and fish.  It’s just nice to get away.  This is a beautiful area,” Brian complimented.

 

“Thanks.  I’m proud of my home state,” beamed the waitress.  “I’m Val.” She motioned to the man clearing the adjacent tables. “That’s my husband, Dave.” The man smiled and nodded. His hands were full of dirty dishes. “We manage this place.”

 

She addressed her husband. “Maybe these folks can figure out what’s going at Buffalo Point.  It was in the paper again this morning.”

 

Jim turned his head sideways, “Is something wrong?”

 

Val shook her head.  “It’s been happening for months now.  It stopped during the winter, but so does the business.”

 

Brian was confused, “You’ve lost us.  What’s happening?”

 

“Oh, silly me,” Val giggled.  “The disappearing canoes.  The rental companies are losing hundreds of dollars of canoes a week.  It’s been in the paper, off and on.”

 

At that moment Dave appeared with their food.  Val returned to re-fill their coffee.

 

Dave added, “It’s the darndest thing.  Companies have been renting canoes there for years.  Nothing like this has ever happened.” 

 

His wife gave a snort. “Humph, I guess people aren’t as honest as they use to be.  It’s a shame.”

 

By now, Trixie was about to bust.  “Do they have any suspects?” she blurted.

 

“Calm down, Shamus,” Jim teased. “We’re on vacation.  No mystery solving.”

 

Jim’s comments were like a slap in the face. Trixie sat back and looked at the others.  Her brothers were laughing.  Jim mouth sported slight grin.  Dan, however, had bowed his head and was busy examining his omelet.

 

Honey and Di both reached over to comfort Trixie as she began to blink back tears.

 

“What did I say?” Jim asked. 

 

Honey’s glare stopped him from inquiring again.

 

Dave had noticed the remark about solving mysteries.  “Are you young people some type of investigators?”

 

Dan answered for the group, “Trixie and her friends like to help folks with their problems.  And they have solved a mystery or two along the way.”

 

Trixie gave a smile of thanks to Dan.  “Honey and I are about to start college in the fall and major in criminology. We’re hoping that we will eventually become private detectives.”

 

Val and Dave seemed impressed by what they had just been told. Dave spoke. “It sure would be nice if someone could figure out what’s going on.  A lot of businesses depend on the park for their livelihood.  If they have to change the way they allow the concessionaires rent, it could affect us all.   There are a slew of folks that visit that park and rent the canoes. Any changes at all will hurt.”

 

Trixie sat in silence as she ate her meal.  Why did he have to do that? She wondered. He of all people. Was he intentionally making fun of me?

 

As they got up from the table Val asked, “Do you know anything about the campground?  We can give you some advice on where to stay, if you’d like.”  

 

Dave rang up their ticket. “There are definitely places that I would avoid camping.  Do you all have map of the campsites, or do you want me to write this down?”

 

“We would appreciate any help you can give us,” Jim answered.

 

Taking a blank ticket Dave began to draw a crude map. “This is the best camping area.  Just avoid the camp sites directly in front of and next to the bathhouse.” He handed Jim the paper. “I think I got the letter and numbers right.”

 

Val had been watching over her husband’s shoulder and nodded her head in agreement.  “It can get a bit rowdy near the bathhouse. Stick to those other sites, and you should be ok.” She added, “If that loop is full, there is another that is nice, but the tent pads aren’t as good.  It can get a little noisy; being it’s right off the road and near the beach parking lot. The campers themselves tend to be quiet. I think it is because the campground host stays at that one.  There are other camping loops.  Those two have the fewest sites that have to share the showers. Plus, these are both close to the beach.”

 

“Thanks. We do want to be able to enjoy ourselves.  I would hate to camp near a bunch of noisy drunks,” grimaced Jim.

 

Dan glared at Jim as his made that last remark. “Jim, I don’t plan on being noisy!” he snapped. He made a hasty exit from the diner, the girls following behind.

 

 “Are you planning on loading up on supplies?  Food? Val inquired.

 

At that question Mart spoke up, “We’re planning on doing some cooking, maybe roasting hotdogs.”

 

“There’s a nice Harp’s, that’s a grocery store, in Yellville.  You’ll pass through Yellville, before turning on Hwy 14, towards the park,” Val informed him. “The closest stores to the campground are where you will rent your canoes.  They don’t have that much of a selection.  And the prices,” she cringed.  “Shop at Harps!”

 

Dave added, “Oh, and the park has a nice restaurant.  It’s clean, non-smoking, the food is good and prices are reasonable.” He looked at Val. “I think it closes early on Wednesday.” Val nodded her head in agreement.

 

Jim thanked the couple.  He, Brian, and Mart left to find the others.

 

The girls were at the front of the strip mall’s parking lot.  They were becoming acquainted with the large, rearing horse statue that served as part of the strip mall’s sign.  They were taking turns snapping pictures of each other standing beside the sign.

 

Dan was leaning against the rear of the Denali, observing the girls’ antics.  Seeing Jim, he held out his hand.  “I’m sorry if I was a bit short back there.  I guess I took your meaning the wrong way.”

 

The two men shook hands. “No problem, I guess I wasn’t thinking.” Jim wasn’t exactly telling the truth.  He had become curious, as well as concerned, as to why Dan had bought so much liquor.  “It’s just that,” he motioned at Brian, “he is only ones here of legal age.  Plus, I don’t think it’s such a great idea to have it around the girls.  What would their parents think?”

 

Dan nodded in agreement. “I know,” he sighed.  “I rarely drink myself.  I guess I thought it would be something to do, part of the adventure of this trip.  I suppose I bought it to celebrate the girls’ graduation and our time together.” 

 

Brian added, “I don’t know what I was thinking about either.  We may end up carrying that stuff all the way back to New York”.

 

Dan smiled, “Who knows, I may end up giving it to the Wheelers.  I bet they’ve never had wine from Missouri.”

 

“Or Arkansas,” Brian snorted.  Brian knew that the Wheelers’ wine cellar was stocked with wines from many parts of the world.  He was also aware of Mr. Wheeler’s expensive taste.

 

Jim joined in, “Oh yes, I could see Dad now. ‘This is from where?’”

 

******Meanwhile at the horse******

 

“Do you think they’ve settled anything?” Trixie wondered aloud.

 

Honey glanced towards the group.  “Well, they aren’t coming to blows.  Di, that was a good idea for us to get out of there.”  Watching the men she informed the other two, “It looks like its safe.”

 

As they approached the guys, they were relieved to see that they had obviously settled their differences and were ready to leave.

 

Once at the hotel, Di settled the bill, while the others loaded the trailer and secured it to the back of the SUV.

 

“Well, Buffalo Point, here we come,” Dan sang.  He was taking his turn as driver.  “I suppose we know where I’m going?”

 

Brian passed the map from the rear of the vehicle.  Riding shotgun, Jim took the map.  “I think we get on Hwy 412 East to Yellville.  From there, we take 14 South to Buffalo Point.”

 

“Don’t forget about Harp’s,” reminded Mart.

 

“What’s a Harp’s?” Di asked

 

Mart responded. “It’s a grocery store in Yellville.”

 

“Leave it to Mart to lead us to food,” Trixie teased her brother

 

Dan came to his best friend’s defense.  “The couple at the diner told us about it.  The prices are supposed to be a lot cheaper than near the park.”

 

Dan had no trouble finding the highway to Yellville.  The short drive to the small city took less than thirty minutes. Noting the large “Harps” sign, he pulled into the parking lot of the grocery.

 

“I guess we need to at least get ice,” Brian remarked as he shut the door.

 

“We can get some ideas of what we can cook at camp.  Will hotdogs be ok?” Honey’s question was answered with several nods.

 

They finished their shopping and loaded the groceries into the trailer. They stored the perishables in the remaining ice chests, packing them down with ice.  Dan discretely drained the water from his ice-chest and added another bag.

 

“This place does have water, doesn’t it?” Brain asked Jim

 

Mart responded, “From what I’ve read, the camp sites are self-contained.” He started ticking off on his fingers. “They have water, electricity, a lantern post, fire pit, a picnic table and access to showers.”

 

“They sound perfectly perfect.” Di hugged her boyfriend.

 

Jim locked the trailer and the troop continued their journey. 

 

After turning on HWY 14, Dan announced to the others, “It shouldn’t be long now.”

 

He was correct in his assumption.  In just minutes Dan was turning off the highway and towards Buffalo Point.  On the corner was an attractive looking business.

 

At the sight of Wild Bill’s, Trixie commented, “What a neat store. Did you see the horses?”

 

“I think that is where we can rent canoes,” Jim replied from the front seat. 

 

“Here’s another store,” Di pointed from her position.  “It looks like they rent too.  And I noticed another place before we turned off.  I don’t think we will have any problem renting.”

 

They drove past the Park’s entrance.

 

 

Dan slowed the rig, pulling over on the side of the road.  “I think we’ve arrived.  Here’s the Park’s office.”

 

A cheer went up from all the Bob-Whites.

 

As they entered the small ranger station, they noticed the many pictures and brochures detailing the history of the park. A friendly young ranger came to introduce himself to the group.

 

“Howdy, I’m Ranger Bates.” He shook hands with each person, as introductions were made. “Welcome to Buffalo Point.”  His prominent southern drawl was much heavier than those of most of the people they had met thus far. “Do you plan on camping?”  His question was met with nods.  “You’re here at a good time. Most campers are leaving.  If you want to look around here for a while, that may give more folks time to clear out.  We’re not too busy this time of year. You should be able to get a good camp site.”  He reached for a park map, and handed it to Brian.

 

“Someone has already warned us about which ones to avoid,” Brian commented as he looked at the map.

 

Pointing at the map the ranger explained, “If you stay in this loop, you should have a nice stay.” He shook his head. “Just stay away from the ones closest to the bathhouse.  Sometimes those folks get a bit rambunctious.”

 

“Do we pay here?” Jim asked, reaching for his wallet

 

“No, what you do is, you pick a camp site, and park at it.  You’ll register and pay at the bathhouse.  There’s a self pay station at the information billboard.” He handed each male a park information packet. “Here’s some more information.  I have a program tonight at the amphitheatre.” He smiled broadly, “It’s on bats!  We also have a guided tour of a small cave not too far from this station.”

 

“That sounds like fun,” Honey smiled at the young man’s enthusiasm.

 

“Were you all thinking about doing some fishing?”

 

Mart answered, “We bought our out-of-state licenses at Wal-Mart.  Is that all we need?”

 

The ranger assured him, “That’s all you’ll need.  We don’t have trout here, so you won’t need a trout stamp.  Fishing is pretty good along the river.  I assume you’re planning on floating too?”

 

“That’s the plan,” Jim responded.

 

“Well, the floating is good right now.  The river level is perfect.  We have three places around here that rent canoes.  They’ll fill you in on the regulations for safe floating.”

 

He motioned to the information on his counter. “There are lots of trials and other things to do that are not on the river.  You really need to go to Rush.  That’s an old ghost town, not too far from here.  Back in the Zinc mining days, it was a happening place.” He handed out several brochures describing the deserted town. He glanced at his watch.  “I got to go,” he apologized.  “I need to remind folks its checkout time.” He excused himself and left to carry out his duties.

 

They wandered through the displays and watched the short video on the history of the river.

 

“Guess we need to pick our camp sites?” asked Jim, as he took the keys from Dan.  Information packets in their possession, the Bob-Whites left the office, excited at the idea of finally setting up camp.

 

*************** 

 

Jim down shifted to low as he guided the rig down the road, towards the river.  At the bottom of the road, he pointed to the fork.  “I think we turn right.” Shortly after turning, he drove past a small camping area.

 

“That must be the second one they talked about.” Brian referred to their conversation at the diner that morning. “Here’s the next turn.”

 

Jim made a very sharp right turn and drove around a pleasant camping loop. 

 

They waved at Ranger Bates. He was talking to a couple that was setting up their pop-up camper.  Their children waved back as they rode past.

 

Driving past the bathhouse, Jim spied a row of unoccupied sites. “How do these look?” he asked the group.

 

A census confirmed that he had chosen wisely.

 

Jim backed the trailer in front of the nearest campsite. “The trailer should provide a good screen, and give us some privacy at this one.”

 

Dan got out and unhitched the trailer, allowing Jim to park the Denali in the parking space at the adjacent site. The camp pad for it was down hill, below the parking deck.

 

“I like how they fit the campsites and tent pads to accommodate the terrain,” Mart pointed out.

 

The Bob-Whites began unloading the trailer and stacked the tubs and camping gear outside of it.

 

Mart walked away from the group, motioning Brian to follow.  They were two spaces away from the group, when Trixie noticed them in conversation.  Mart was looking at the ground, moving loose rocks with the toe of his shoe.  She also noticed that Di had taken a keen interest in the tub she was inspecting.

 

She was nudged on the shoulder.  “What do you think they’re up to?” Honey wondered.

 

“Beats me,” Trixie answered. “Look at Di.”

 

The girls watched Di’s obviously, nervous behavior.  They both gave a start when Brian threw his hands up and shouted, “NO WAY!”  Mart grabbed his brother’s arm to keep him from leaving.  The conversation continued.  From the looks of it, what ever it was about, Mart was winning.

 

Honey recalled the earlier conversation with Di. So, that’s what is going on, she deduced.

 

Just as Brian was about to leave, Mart said something that made him turn back.

 

Jim appeared behind his sister and Trixie.  “This must be something big.  Are they mad at each other, Trixie?”

 

“Not that I know of,” she answered as she continued to watch the two.

 

Brian’s head was down.  He glanced in their direction.  His eyes locked on Honey. “Now what?” Honey whispered nervously.

 

Mart walked towards the group.  Smiling nervously, he helped Di with her tub.  As they walked to the third campsite, they passed a very reserved Brian.

 

“I thought we were only getting two campsites?” Jim asked.  “The sign says we can have two tents to a site.”

 

“Slight change of plans,” Brian answered, never taking his eyes off Honey.  “Mart can explain.”

 

Trixie observed the others.  Between Mart and Di departing for their campsite and the three-way conversation of Jim, Brian and Honey, she was becoming confused.  Ok, I feel so out of the loop right now.  She glanced at Dan.  He simply shrugged his shoulders.  He was just as clueless as she.

 

Seeking clarification, Jim asked Brian, “Mart and Di, they’re going to share a tent?”   He noticed that Mart had returned for his belongings as well.

 

Brian took a deep breath, avoiding looking Jim in the eye.  He responded with a brief, “Yes.”

 

Brian motioned to Honey to follow him. The two sat at the picnic table and were soon in conversation themselves.

 

“I don’t think I’m going to like this,” Jim said under his breath.

 

Honey sat and listened to Brian as he leaned across the table, holding her hand.  At first she looked alarmed.  Her expression then changed to worry.  At one point she looked over at the remaining three.  Finally, she laid her hand on the side of Brian’s face and nodded. 

 

As the couple left the table, they looked as if they were sentenced men on the way to the gallows.

 

Brian spoke first, “Honey and I need to ask you something.” He placed a supportive arm around her.  “We were wondering if you would feel too uncomfortable if we…” he looked at Honey and received a nod of assurance, “if we share a tent?”  Brian flinched as if waiting for a tirade from Jim.

 

Jim was very silent.  He blinked a few times.  Finally, he spoke, “Honey, are you ok with this?” he asked, his voice deadpan.

 

Honey took a deep breath. “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” She addressed Trixie, “I know this isn’t what we had planned.” She reached out and grabbed her brother’s arm.  “Jim, you’re going to have to let me grow up sometime…and trust us.”

 

Jim stepped back.  He was well aware that he had been overprotective over the years, too cautious and too uptight.  It’s just too hard to let go, sometimes.

 

He looked at his sister.  “What about our folks?” He motioned to where Mart and Di were setting up their camp.  “How are they going to feel about all of this?”

 

“They know we are old enough to make our own decisions, otherwise they wouldn’t let us take this trip.  They trust our judgment.” Brian sounded like he was not too sure of what he just said. Honey nodded in support of her boyfriend.

 

Jim took a deep breath, “So, which site do you two want?”

 

Honey hugged her brother.  She turned to Trixie.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “You do understand?”

 

Trixie smiled and hugged her friend. “It’s ok,” she lied. She was concerned with the sudden turn of events. 

 

When did their relationships get to this point?  And how did I miss it?

 

“I’ll be fine,” she assured Honey.  “We definitely need to talk,” she whispered. Pointing in Di’s direction, she added, “all three of us.”

 

“Later,” Honey whispered back.

 

As Brian and Honey departed with their share of the gear, that left Jim, Dan and Trixie with the final site.

 

“This site is large enough for two tents. We can make this the base camp.” Jim surmised.

 

Trixie sighed as she began taking her tent out of the bag. “I guess I get this to myself.”

 

“Not necessarily,” corrected Dan.

 

Dan’s comment got Jim’s attention.  In just a few short strides he was standing with the two.  “Just what are you implying?” he demanded

 

Dan put his hands up in a defensive posture.  “Hold on.”  He seemed to be enjoying the reaction.  “I just meant that she didn’t have to be by herself.” He reached in his pocket. “In fact, having a tent to oneself should be a privilege.” He was biting the inside of his lip, trying hard not to laugh. 

 

He took the coin and placed it on his thumb. “Now, let’s flip a coin.”

 

Jim snatched the coin off of Dan’s hand.  “Just what are we flipping a coin for?” His voice was raised and his face was becoming as red as his hair.

 

Giving a look of mock confusion, Dan replied.  “Who has to share a tent, of course.”

 

Jim’s mouth flew open. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “You’re not serious?” He looked at Trixie for an answer.

 

She just shrugged and smiled innocently.  She knew Dan’s sense of humor and was curious to where he was going with all this.

 

Dan reached for another coin. “Losers have to share a tent.  The winner gets a tent to himself.”  Positing the new coin on his thumb he instructed them, “You two call it, I’m picking heads.”

 

“No, we are not flipping a coin for a tent or anything like that!” Jim cried in exasperation.

 

Trixie decided to intervene. “Really, I don’t mind.” Before she could say anything else, Jim interrupted her.

 

“If anyone shares a tent it’s going to be …” He looked down at her blue eyes, now wide with anticipation.  He took a deep breath. “Trixie, I know this is awkward.”  He scowled at Dan.  Then, he closed his eyes, set his jaw, and asked, “Do you mind if we share a tent?”

 

When he opened his eyes, she was smiling.  His heart gave a leap.  “I guess it would be ok,” she said slowly.  “As long as you don’t snore,” she began giggling, “or hog the covers”.

 

There’s going to be a lot of cold showers for the next week, Jim told himself. 

 

“Well then, let’s start by setting up this tent,” Jim smiled.

 

Dan grabbed his tent and headed to a cleared area of the site.  He looked back at the couple.  A twinge of jealously hit him.  At least they are finally going to get together. Maybe now she’ll be happy. He turned his attention to his tent.  If it can’t be me, at least it’s a friend.  Besides, I still have her friendship.

 

**********A little later at Di and Mart’s campsite. ************

 

“I swear, I’ve never had this much trouble putting up a tent,” Mart grunted as he and Brian struggled to raise the poles on his and Di’s tent. He and Di had struggled for several minutes to raise their tent before Mart asked Brian for his help.

 

Both men strained to raise the pole in an arched position.  Finally, they succeeded in getting the first pole in the grommets “Whew, ours was not this hard. We got ours up in like five minutes, with no effort.  I can’t believe yours is this difficult.  Are you sure we have the same model of tent?”  Brain wiped the sweat from his forehead.

 

After a little more muscle, they got the second pole bent and in its proper grommets.  They turned and noticed Di and Honey sitting at the picnic table with amused looks on their faces.  Honey cleared her throat, “We were just wondering, shouldn’t you have waited until after you got the tent up, before staking it to the ground?”

 

Brian looked down at the tent.  He then turned to Mart.  “You idiot, no wonder we had so much trouble.”

 

“Sorry,” Mart apologized with a sheepish grin. “Thanks for helping.” 

 

Brian shook his head and walked back to his on campsite, tugging Honey away from her perch as he did.

 

“Thanks for the show,” she giggled to Di as they left.

 

************Back at base camp************

 

“Which side do you want?” Jim asked as he and Trixie began setting out their possessions in the tent.

 

“I guess I’ll take this side.”  She unrolled her self-inflating sleep pad and placed her sleeping bag on top. She pointed at the plastic tub that held her clothing. “We can use this as a nightstand.”

 

Jim smiled thoughtfully. “That sounds good to me.” He held up the end of the heavy-duty electrical cord.  “I’ll plug the lamp and fan in now. We need to keep the lamp charged.” He realized that taking a lamp, fan and radios was not roughing it.  However, the girls had insisted on being comfortable.

 

When the others approached the base camp, they quickly realized the tent arrangements.  Brian started to speak, but Mart held him back. “You’re sharing a tent with his sister,” he reminded his older brother.

Brian looked down at his younger sibling. “The girls are the same age,” Mart added. “Don’t be a hypocrite.”

 

With little difficulty, the guys set up the screen house around the picnic table.

 

“Well, it’s not that big, but it does protect the table,” noted Dan.  “Some of us will have to stoop to enter, but at least it will keep us dry.”

 

“Hopefully it will keep the bugs away,” added Honey.

 

Brian rubbed his hands together.  “Well, what do we do now?”

 

Mart raised his hand. “I vote we check out the river.”

 

They changed into their aqua shoes and swim wear, and set out to explore the river.

 

As they approached the beach, Jim turned to the girls. “I, for one, am glad you bought these shoes. Look at that gravel.” 

 

They made their way down the steep bank to the shore of the river.  Once they reached the river, they waded in and enjoyed the coolness of the water.

 

“Check out that bluff.” Dan pointed at the large bluff on the opposite shore.

 

The Bob-Whites were virtually the only ones on the beach.  “This is so peaceful,” sighed Di.

 

They began to explore the beach.  As they walked, they found several abandoned canoes.* Trixie noticed that they were arranged in groups.  Turning her head sideways she could read the names and noted that they were the names of the rental companies that they had passed earlier in the day.

 

As she stood near the largest grouping, Dan stopped beside her and pointed to the sign attached to a sawhorse.

 

“That looks new,” commented Dan. Trixie nodded in agreement. Dan read the sign aloud, “‘Wild Bill Outfitters customers only.’  I wonder if that has anything to do with the thefts.”

 

Trixie shrugged. “I suppose.  Come on.  Let’s catch up with the others.”

 

Dan watched Trixie as she hurried to join the rest of the gang. That’s not like her to walk away from a possible mystery. He slowly followed. She’s definitely not herself.

 

As they wandered along the shore, they soon discovered an opening in the side of a rock face.  It was on the same side of the river as they. “I think they call this ‘Skull Rock,’” Mart mentioned.  Voices could be heard from above.

 

“You must be able to get on top, somehow,” Trixie said as she shielded her eyes to see the top of the formation.

 

“Look at the fish,” Mart pointed at the water.  “See, beside that large rock.”

 

He and Dan looked at each other. In unison they exclaimed,   “Let’s go get our gear!” With the enthusiasm of little boys, they took off for camp to retrieve their fishing equipment.

 

Trixie laughed as she watched them run up the hill.  She took off her top covering and began to wade into a deeper area of the river.

 

Jim took a quick intake of air and gulped when he noticed her bikini top.  “Easy boy, that’s my sister,” Brian warned with a wink.  “Both of us need to loosen up some.”  He added, nodding towards Honey.  She had also shed her t-shirt.

 

Jim shook his head. “When did they grow up?” he asked, as if in a trance.

 

Brian patted Jim on the back. “I think while we were away in college.” He smiled and added, “Let’s go join them.”

 

Di, meanwhile, had decided to lie out.  She had her blanket spread and was applying lotion when Mart and Dan returned.  “Need any help?” Dan leered, a teasing twinkle in his eyes.

 

Mart grabbed the bottle in mock disgust.  “I think that is my job.”

 

Dan pooched his lower lip in mock disappointment.  He walked away and began to cast his fishing lure.

 

After a couple of hours of sunbathing, fishing, and water fights, the group met to discuss what they would do next.  Dan and Mart were very disgusted with their luck at fishing. 

 

“How about trying out the restaurant?” Honey suggested.  She got no argument from the others.

 

As they began gathering their belongings, Di motioned at a couple not far from them.  “I’ve been watching them for a while.  They seem to be catching quite a few fish.” Giggling she added, “I think she’s having better luck than he is.”

 

As they walked past the couple, Dan and Mart watched.  Sure enough, she caught a fish.  “Well, there are fish out there after all. At least we know that now.  Wonder what they are using for bait?” Mart remarked to his friend.

 

“I couldn’t tell. Maybe if we see them again, we can ask.” Dan suggested.

 

After putting away their belongings and changing, they loaded into the SUV and exited the camping area.  Brian looked the map of the park the ranger had given them.  “I believe the restaurant is on the same road, past the ranger station.”

 

They passed what appeared to be a parking area.  “I think that’s a parking area for some of the trails.” Brian pointed at the map, “Here’s one trail that goes to some sort of cave.”

 

Jim stopped near the Park’s restaurant.  As they filed out of the vehicle, they noticed the river below.  A range of gently rolling hills was off in the distance.  Comments of “Wow,” “Beautiful,” and “This is some view,” came from the group. 

 

Mart had stopped to read the information sign.  “The sign says that the view could be even better, but air pollution really cuts down on it a lot.”

 

Jim stood behind Trixie and placed his arms around her. Building up the courage, he leaned over.  “This view is the second most beautiful thing here,” he whispered in her ear.

 

She froze, for a moment, slightly embarrassed at his compliment.  She bit her lower lip.  As they walked away she looked up and gave a very quiet, “Thanks.”

 

Once inside, a very friendly waitress greeted them.  She pushed tables together to accommodate their number.  As she began taking their drink orders, Dan noticed her nametag.  “So tell me, Amber, what do you like?” 

 

She paused, and placed a hand on his shoulder. Looking back at the kitchen area, she asked, “You’re referring to the food, right?”  The others stifled laughs and busied themselves by looking at the menu.

 

Dan’s attempt to flirt had backfired.

 

Dan ignored Amber’s attempt to embarrass him.  “I didn’t mean anything by that. This is our first time here.  I wondered if there was anything on the menu that you would recommend.”

 

The waitress gestured at the menu. “All the food here is very good.  I love the fried chicken.  The burgers are great.  The desserts are excellent.”  She winked at Dan as she left to fill their drink orders.

 

Trixie nudged Dan with her shoulder. “Looks like Danny has made a friend,” she teased.

 

Amber returned with their drinks and began taking their food orders.  She lingered a bit longer over Dan.  “It will be right out,” she assured the group.

 

The meals arrived in no time.  The chicken, as promised, was very good. 

 

As she cleared the dishes she asked, “Who’s up for dessert?  The coconut pie is to die for.”

 

“You’ve sold me,” Jim smiled. “I’ll have a slice.” The others placed orders for dessert as well.

 

She returned with slices of coconut and pecan pie.  She hesitated as she placed Dan’s in front of him.  “This one’s on me,” she said with a grin.

 

Dan removed a small slip of paper that was next to the slice.  He unfolded it, and a smile spread across his face as he read.  He then quietly refolded the note and placed it in his shirt pocket.

 

When he looked up, he noticed the others were staring at him. He grabbed his fork, gave the group a nod and started eating his slice of coconut pie.

 

Brian reached for the ticket offering to cover the tab.

 

Dan took out his wallet.  “I’ve got the tip.”  He laid a twenty-dollar bill on the table.

 

“I was sure you would,” Mart elbowed him.

 

As they exited the restaurant, they passed the couple Di had pointed to while at the river.  They had apparently walked to the small restaurant.  The Denali was the lone vehicle in the small parking lot.

 

“Let’s see what’s down this road,” Trixie suggested as they were buckling up.

 

The short drive revealed a lone, duplex cabin.  “I bet it would be quiet here.  Look at the view,” Di remarked.

 

As they drove past the restaurant, Jim took the left fork.  “I think this leads to the rest of the cabins.”  His assumption was correct. They drove past the remaining cabins.  They were a mixture of modern and very rustic rock and log.

 

They left the cabin area, and Jim doubled back and entered the parking lot they had passed earlier.  “Let’s check this out.”

 

After reading the sign detailing the history of the cabins, they decided to hike the shorter trail indicating a river overlook.  It wasn’t very long, just over a half-mile. They walked in silence, enjoying the peacefulness of the path.

 

The trail ended at a rock wall, revealing a view of the river below. Locking arms with Trixie and Di, Honey whispered, “This is all so wonderful.  I’m so glad we’re here.”

 

After enjoying the peaceful setting, the Bob-Whites were once again at the Denali. 

 

“It looks like the trail to Indian Rock House Cave is just across the road.  We do want to hike that at some point,” informed Mart.

 

“Don’t forget about the ghost town the ranger mentioned. We wanted to check that out too,” Trixie added.

 

“I don’t think we’re going to be bored,” Jim surmised.  “Let’s head back to camp.”

 

On the way back to camp, they passed the group camping area and its large pavilion.  Honey began pointing excitedly and half shouting, “Deer!” In the field were three deer.  Jim slowed so the others could get a better view.

 

“I can’t believe I left my camera locked in the trailer,” Honey berated herself.

 

As they approached their campsite Mart remembered the large rock face they had been under earlier. “Why don’t we try to find where we heard those voices earlier?”

 

Dan agreed, “I think I saw the trail.  It’s before you get to the road leading to the beach.”

 

Jim parked at their base camp.  They walked a short distance and found the trail Dan mentioned.  Walking on the uneven, bumpy rock surface proved difficult.  As they passed a “NO DIVING” sign Brian commented, “You don’t have to dive.  If you’re not careful you’ll trip and fall.”

They stopped at the edge of the bluff and sat down in a row, allowing their legs to dangle over the side.

 

Brian shook his head and pointed at the water below. “A person could easily break a neck, or worse, if they jumped from here.  Look at the boulders under the water.”

 

A flotilla of canoes was heading towards them, from upstream.  “It looks like an armada,” Mart noted.

 

They watched as several more canoeists floated by.

 

 Jim reminded the group, “We need to get camp ready for tonight.  We can come back later.  We have all week.” 

 

Once back at camp, the guys scavenged the other campsites for firewood, assuming if the site was empty, no one would mind.  As they approached their base camp, Ranger Bates drove up.

 

“Looks like you got settled in.” He noticed the firewood.  “If you need more, you can look in the woods. You can only pick up what’s already down.  Don’t be chopping down my trees,” he warned facetiously.

 

Dan folded his arms on his chest.   “I’m not chopping any wood on this trip.” The others laughed at Dan’s comment. The young ranger seemed confused as to why the statement would be so funny.

 

Before driving off the ranger reminded, “If you want to float tomorrow, you might want to go set that up now.  Wild Bill’s should still be open.”  Jim thanked the ranger as he drove away.

 

Jim asked Brian, “Do you think we need to arrange that now?”  Brian nodded in agreement.

 

Turning to the others, Jim announced, “We’re going to see about renting canoes for tomorrow.  Anyone want to join us?”

 

Mart and Dan agreed to go.  The girls waved them off, deciding to stay at camp.  As the guys drove away Honey giggled, “Here’s our chance.”  They made a mad dash to retrieve their Dollar Shop surprise.  They were thankful that they had moved them to the trailer when the guys weren’t paying attention.

 

“I hope they like them!” Trixie laughed.

 

The surprise took very little time to set up.  They had just sat in the camp chairs when Honey cleared her throat and asked, “So, our sleeping arrangements.  How did we all manage to--?”

 

Di politely interrupted. Smiling nervously, she addressed the other two.  “Mart and I had already discussed our sharing a tent before we got here. I didn’t know how you two would take the news.”  She addressed Honey, “What about you and Brian?  We go off to set up our camp, and the next thing I know, here come you two.”

 

Honey rubbed her forehead. “After you left, Brian and I talked.  We decided that we could try it and see if it would work out.”

 

Trixie had managed to keep silent the entire time.   Honey cocked her head. “How did you end up with Jim?”

 

Her friends stared at her wordlessly, waiting for an answer. Trixie began turning pink.  She threw her hands up in surrender.  “Dan was going to flip a coin, but Jim wouldn’t let him.”

 

“He was flipping a coin?” Di was confused.  “For what?”

 

“I think he was flipping it for the extra tent.  But for some reason Jim got really defensive and thought he was flipping a coin to see who shared a tent with me.”  She started laughing, “He was getting really mad too.”

 

“That’s my brother,” Honey smiled.  “Are you ok with being in a tent alone with him?  It’s not like you two are a couple.”

 

Trixie was silent.  She had been thinking the same thing.  She had been telling herself that sharing a tent with Jim would be like sharing one with either Mart or Brian.  Especially since she and Jim really had never been very romantic with each other.

 

Finally, she answered Honey’s question. “I’m ok with it.  I trust him not to try anything.” A smile crept up on her face.  She added, “Who knows.  We may end up as a couple after this trip.”

 

A noise drew their attention.  The guys had returned.  Brian waved a piece of paper.  “They are going to pick us up tomorrow.  We have to meet them at the parking lot by the beach.”  He glanced at the receipt. “The shuttle will be here at 8:00.”

 

Jim took a seat next to Trixie. “They’ll drop us off upstream at a place called…?”  He looked at Mart for the name.

 

Maumee,” Mart responded.  “It’s an eleven mile float back to here.  We’ll leave the canoes, paddles and life jackets on the beach when we get back.  Boy, the clerk kept reminding us to make sure we leave them at their sign.”

 

“I think he’s concerned about those thefts we heard about,” Dan assumed.  He noticed that Trixie had looked away, her jaw set. He shook his head.  She’s definitely not herself.  She’s letting a mystery pass her by without even making a comment.

 

Honey announced. “I think we girls need to get cleaned up.  The showers look pretty descent.  Are you two coming?” 

 

Di and Trixie nodded.  The girls left to get their toiletries.  As they walked away, Brian noticed the surprise that the girls had been working on.  “Jim, I like your lawn decoration.”

 

Jim turned and noticed the pink flamingo that was positioned just outside his tent.  “I didn’t put that there,” he said in confusion.  “Dan you have one too.”

 

Dan turned his head toward his tent, “So, that’s the surprise the girls had for us.”

 

“Oh no!” Mart jumped up.  “I don’t want any frilly decorations near my tent.”  He took off to check.

 

Brian started to get up, but changed his mind. “It does make the place look kind of homey, doesn’t it?” The other two nodded. 

 

“I’m not going to let it bother me, either.” Jim leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head, closing his eyes.

 

Trixie returned with her supplies, ready to head for the bathhouse.  “I guess you noticed our contribution to camp beautification?”

 

“They look great.” Dan reached for her hand and kissed it. 

 

The exchange did not go unnoticed by Jim. “We’ll start the campfire while you girls are cleaning up,” he offered.

 

Trixie waved as Honey and Di walked up to join her.  “It didn’t work,” she informed her co-conspirators.  “They like them.”

 

“Mart didn’t,” Di giggled. “He threatened to pull ours up and throw it into the river.  I had to convince him otherwise.  That’s what took me so long.” 

 

They headed for the bathhouse, promising not to be gone for more than a few minutes. 

 

Once they left, the guys began building a fire in the fire pit.  “We have the supplies to make S’mores, don’t we?” Mart wondered.

 

“We got the stuff to make them with at Harp’s,” Brian answered.  He went to the trailer and took out the grocery bag from that morning.  “Here it is with the rest of the snacks.  The perishables are in the ice chests.”

 

Working together they had the picnic table loaded with snack foods.  They retrieved the rechargeable lamps from the tents and had the table ready for the girls return. 

 

As the girls approached the campsite, they slowed.  Honey was the first to speak.  “Wow, you boys were busy.  This looks great.”

 

They quickly put away their toiletries and returned to join the guys.  “What do we want to do first?” Jim asked.

 

“I vote S’mores!” Mart responded enthusiastically. 

 

Di began taking several marshmallows.  “I guess the least I can do is make yours for you.”

 

Honey nudged Trixie.  “You want to follow her lead?  They did go to the trouble to set all this up.”

 

“I suppose that’s the least we can do," Trixie agreed.  “Jim, do you want me to make yours?”

 

Jim stood to hug her. “That would be great.” 

 

Trixie was a bit surprised at his sudden gesture of affection. “Just sit down, and I’ll get it started.”

 

Not wanting Dan to feel left out, Honey patted him on the shoulder, “Don’t worry Dan.  I’ll make you one too.”

 

They sat around the campfire, making S’mores, trying a few of the snacks and reminisced over the day’s events.  Mart announced, “I think it’s my turn to take a shower.”  Sniffing under his arms he added, “Di may run me out of the tent.”

 

“Will you girls be ok without us for a few minutes?” Jim asked.

 

The girls promised that they would be fine.  “Please, take a shower,” Honey begged teasingly.

 

With the guys at the bathhouse, the girls passed the time cleaning up the area of stray food.  “We don’t want to attract any animals,” warned Trixie.

 

After the guys returned from cleaning up, the group entered the screen house.  Since none declared themselves tired, they decided to gather around the picnic table and play cards, while sampling the snacks.  The rechargeable lamps provided enough light to see the cards.

 

They had played one game of Uno, when Brian looked at his watch.  “I think we all need to turn in.  It’s kind of late, and we need to be ready before 8:00.”

 

Di yawned, “While you boys were cleaning up, we made sure the breakfast things are accessible for in the morning.  All that is left to do is set it out.”

 

“I guess oatmeal and cold cereal is ok for everyone?” asked Honey.  “We have the hot pot and coffee maker handy too.”

 

Brian massaged his girlfriend’s shoulders.  “You girls are too good to us.”  He kissed Honey on the forehead and took her hand as led her out of the screen house. “Good night all,” he said, as they walked to their tent.

 

Mart took Di’s hand. “I guess we need to turn in too.”  He helped Di to a standing position, and they disappeared into the dark.

 

It became very evident that Jim and Trixie would also be retiring to their tent.  They sat in an uncomfortable silence for several seconds.  Dan broke the ice.  “You two go ahead.  I’ll tend to the fire.”

 

Jim cleared his throat, “Trixie, if you want to go first.  You can get ready.  I’ll come in when it’s safe to join you.”

 

Trixie gave a nervous laugh, “Let me go to the restroom first.” She remembered her prescription. “I’ll need to get a drink of water too. You can help Dan with the fire while I’m gone.”

 

As they watched her walk away, Dan took advantage of the opportunity to address Jim. “I didn’t mean to make you mad earlier, you know, with the tents.  I was just kidding around.  It looks like it worked out ok for the two of you.”

 

Jim accepted his apology.  “I shouldn’t have overreacted.” Jim resumed preparing the fire to be left for the night. “We don’t want this to rekindle, do we?”

 

“No, I don’t guess we don’t.” Dan answered.  He was hoping to continue their conversation when Trixie returned. 

 

She took a cup and filled it with water from the hydrant. “I’ll only be a couple of minutes,” she promised. Picking up their lamp she added,   “Give me enough time to take my pill and change.”

 

She froze.  Oh gleeps, I hope they didn’t pick up on what I just said.  They don’t need to know what I’m taking, especially Jim.  She slowly walked off, dreading any questions about what pills she was taking. Luckily, they didn’t seem to notice.

 

Once inside the tent, she switched the light on just long enough to get out her pajamas and find her packet of pills.  She then took that night’s dose.  Switching off the light, she changed clothing.  Don’t want any weird shadows projecting from the tent, she snickered to herself.  Now that she was changed, she unzipped the tent door and called out “It’s ok now.  I’m decent.”

 

Jim bid Dan good night and left him to finish tending the fire.  I don’t know if I’m decent, he thought to himself as he crouched to enter the cozy tent.

 

There were a few tense moments of silence.  Trixie pointed at the alarm.  “I set it for 6:00.  Is that too early?”

 

She could have said she set a bomb to go off.  It didn’t register with Jim what she had said.  He was too worried about controlling his libido.  He finally realized what she asked. “That will be fine,” he muttered as he crawled into his sleeping bag.

 

“Good night,” Trixie whispered.  She leaned across the tent to kiss him on the cheek, before crawling into her own.

 

Jim froze.  It took every ounce of strength to calm his raging hormones.  “Night,” was all he managed to say, before laying back and reigning in his urges.  The three feet of space between the two might not be enough.

 

Trixie rolled over on her side.  She was soon fast asleep.

 

*****************************************

 

Morning came. Trixie rolled over.  Thankful that Jim’s back was to her, she silently slipped on an over shirt and her shorts.  She turned off the alarm.  It was just minutes until it went off.

 

As she left the tent, she saw that Dan was already up and was filling the hot pot with water. 

 

“I’ve got the coffee perking, and this will be ready to heat water for the oatmeal.  Do you want to start setting the table?”

 

Trixie began opening the tubs and removed the various oatmeal and cereals they had bought for the trip.  “We’ll keep the milk under ice until the others get up.”

 

As if on cue, Honey, Mart and Di walked up to joined them.  Jim emerged from their tent just moments later.  “I didn’t hear you leave,” he commented to Trixie.

 

Trixie began looking around.  “Where’s Brian?”

 

Honey shrugged.  “When I woke up, he was gone.  I think he went to the bathhouse.”

 

********** In the bathhouse*******************

 

Brian had indeed gone to the bathhouse.  Out of force of habit, he got up early and left to take a morning shower.  He was very careful to not wake Honey, as he gathered his toiletries and towel.

 

Once in the shower area, he was relieved that he was alone.  He took the last shower stall.  Laying his clean clothes on the bench, he draped the towel on top.  Then, stepping into the shower and he took off what he was wearing, tossing it on the rest of his possessions.

 

He set the travel bottles of shampoo and liquid soap on the floor and bumped the shower’s faucet button with palm of his hand. He was in the middle of shampooing his hair when he thought he heard a noise.  “Hello?” he called out. There was no answer.  Shrugging, he continued.

 

With his shower completed, he shook the water from his hair. He pulled back the shower curtain to reach for his towel.  He froze.  His towel was not there.  His clothes were not there.  The bench where he left his possessions was empty.

 

“Is any there?” he called out.  He leaned his body out of the stall to see if there was anyone else around.

 

Silence.

 

He took the washrag and attempted to cover his private parts. He ventured into the dressing area.  He called out again.  “Is there anyone else in here?”

 

No one.

 

He cursed to himself, I wonder which of my so-called friends decided to play a joke on me?

 

Worried that he would be seen in his very embarrassing predicament, he stepped back into the stall.  How do I get out of this?

 

He noticed the shower curtain and got an idea.  Carefully, he took the curtain off of the loops that attached it to the rod. Then, he wrapped the curtain around his body like a toga. He managed to wrap it to where he could hold it in place with one arm. He scooped up the shampoo and soap and headed out of the bathhouse to find the guilty party.

 

The curtain was not comfortable. Furthermore, he had to put out of his mind the millions of germs lurking on its surface.  I’ve taken one too many microbiology classes,” he shuddered.

 

He was thankful that their fellow campers weren’t up and about; otherwise he could only imagine the attention that he would be attracting.  A six-foot three man, wandering around in a plastic sheet and flip-flops would certainly get my attention.

 

As he approached camp, he noticed the others were awake and sitting around the table.

 

Honey was the first to notice.  Her mouth flew open, and she rubbed her eyes.  One by one the Bob-Whites turned and watched as Brian approached.

 

Before he could speak, Mart stood, put his fist to his chest and saluted his hand towards Brian.  “Hail Caesar.”

 

Dan took Mart’s lead. He stood and repeated Mart’s gesture. “We who are about to die salute you.”

 

“Someone’s going to die all right!” Brian snapped.  “Which one of you took my clothes?”

 

Before the others could respond, a very soft voice of a child could be heard.  “Mister, are these yours?”

 

Brian looked down. Standing beside him was a girl of about six.  In her hands were his missing clothes. 

 

“My mom said to tell you she’s sorry.  My little brother got away from us this morning.  Before we knew it, he came back to our camp with these.”  She motioned to their pop-up trailer. “He’s kind of a handful.”

 

Brian looked back at where the little girl had pointed.  It was the same pop-up the ranger was at when they first arrived at camp.  He looked down and took his clothes with his free hand.  He gave the girl a quick “thank you.”  He nodded at his friends and turned to go back to the bathhouse.

 

“I’m Christina. My brother’s name is Scott,” she explained to the others.  “I’d better go see if my mom needs help.” She hurried away, headed for her parents’ camper.

 

The remaining Bob-Whites began laughing.  “We better get this out of our system while we can.  I don’t think Brian will be over it by the time he gets back,” Honey chuckled.

 

Brian returned, sans the curtain.  The others did not bring up the incident.  Brian did manage, however, to apologize for jumping to conclusions.

 

After a breakfast of oatmeal, cold cereal, fruit, and coffee, they began preparing their lunch for that day.

 

They packed tuna salad kits, granola bars, and other travel worthy items.  Jim mentioned, “I think we can stop on any gravel bar or bank and eat lunch.” 

 

Their gear was finally assembled.  Dan began ticking off the regulations they were told the evening before.  “The ice chest has to be lockable.  They gave us a mesh bag for trash.  No glass. Oh, and we have to each have a life vest.  That’s one of the regulations when floating.”

 

Brian agreed, “We’re all good swimmers, but you never know if there’ll be flash flood or some other emergency. We need to take every precaution.” 

 

By 8:00, they moved their supplies to the pickup area.  The girls decided to take advantage of the bathroom at the edge of the parking lot.   While inside, Honey brought up the subject of their sleeping arrangements. 

 

“I slept like a log,” Trixie offered.  “I think I heard Jim snore some, but he was on the other side of the tent.”

 

Honey rolled her eyes.  “Your brother doesn’t snore but he does toss and turn a lot. It was as if he were doing barrel rolls.”

 

The two stared at Di.  At first she said nothing.  She sensed that they wanted to quiz her.  She briefly commented, “We just slept.  That’s all.”  Her short answer got the message across. She was not open to sharing.

 

As they left the bathroom, they noticed that another couple joined their group.  It was the couple that had been fishing the day before.

 

A small, older bus entered the parking lot.  It had ‘Wild Bill’s’ painted on the side.  It stopped just in front of the group.  The driver got out and announced,   “I’m here for the Beldens, with a group of seven.  And I have the Murphys.  Are we all here?  Good!  Let’s load.”

 

Trixie and Honey exchanged smiles when they noticed Mrs. Murphy calling shotgun.  She took the seat behind the driver.   “I kind of get carsick,” she apologized.  Her husband sat in the seat across the aisle from her. They each had an arm load of gear.

 

Mart and Dan had noticed earlier that the couple had fishing packs, but no poles.  “Guess we won’t be able to get any fishing tips,” Dan shrugged. 

 

Their gear safely stored, the driver pulled out of the parking lot. 

 

The small bus made its way out of the camping area, exiting the park and onto the highway, traveling north.

 

Mrs. Murphy leaned forward to talk to the driver. “You’re Wild Bill!  Boy, we’ve never had you shuttle us before.  This is a privilege.”

 

The older man looked into the mirror and smiled. “I haven’t done this in years.  Then again, I haven’t had all the trouble we are having now either.”

 

Whatever the women was going to ask next was cut short as he turned the bus into a yard full of canoes on trailers.

 

“This will only take a minute, folks,” he apologized. “It looks like we need five.  I’ll get eight to be sure.”

 

He skillfully backed up to a trailer full of canoes. He was true to his word.  The trailer was quickly hitched and they were back on the highway.

 

Mrs. Murphy leaned forward again. “We’ve heard about the thefts.  We’ve been coming here for almost fifteen years.  I can’t believe that people are such thieves.”

 

Wild Bill let out a grunt.  “I’ve been in this business for over twenty-five years.  We’ll lose a canoe every once in a while. Someone will put it on the back of their truck or trailer and take off.  This has gotten ridiculous.  We’ve all been hit, or I would suspect my competitors.  We’re rival businesses, but we respect each other.  We’re losing five to six a week.”

 

He turned his head for a moment. “At least they are taking the older, aluminum ones.  I’ve recently spent a lot of money on several dozen new, fiberglass models.  These are doubled hulled and lined with Styrofoam.  I’ve had too many customers complain that when they swamp, they can’t raise the canoe again.  It gets too full of water.”

 

He hit the steering wheel. Looking at the reflection in the rear view mirror he asked, “My insurance company actually sent an investigator out. They started accusing me of filing false claims.  They pointed out the fact that I was buying the new ones and was probably trying to cover my expenses.  When the other companies started filing claims too, they backed off.”  He added, “It’s the same with them. Practically every stolen canoe has been aluminum.”

Trixie sat and listened, taking it all in.  She wished she could speak, but she did not want to interrupt.  Besides, Jim had been giving her a hard enough time as it was.

 

“You would be able to see if someone was driving away with them.  There’s another business on the road to the park. The two of you would surely notice something,” Mrs. Murphy speculated. “Unless they are turning them invisible,” she added facetiously.

 

“Exactly,” the business owner agreed. “Somehow they are disappearing at the landings. You noticed my sign?”  She nodded.  “There are no roads to the river, other than the established takeout areas and campgrounds.”

 

He signaled a left turn and waited on traffic before turning off the highway.  “Other than driving across open fields and forest, I don’t see how they are getting them out.  The Park’s department is understaffed, or they could help.  The sheriff has been working with us on this.  He’s had deputies on the alert.  Some have even watched the landings.  They just can’t catch them.”

 

Trixie shifted her weight and leaned forward.  She was hoping that the conversation would continue.  A strong, freckled arm pulled her back.  “Easy there, Shamus.  Remember you’re on vacation.”  Jim pulled her to him.

 

Trixie’s body stiffened.  She fought back tears.  These were tears of anger.  Here he goes again. She gritted her teeth.

 

The remainder of the trip was long and bumpy.  The bus bounced and swayed as Wild Bill navigated their way to their launching area. There were times it seemed that the canoe-laden trailer was airborne.

 

At last, the river came into view.  The bus swung around and came to a stop.  At Wild Bill’s opening of the doors, the passengers began gathering their belongings and exiting the bus. They moved to the back to help remove the rest of their gear. 

 

The Murphys placed their things at the water’s edge.  Next, they picked out a canoe and carried it to their belongings.  The Bob-Whites followed their lead.

 

“¡Baño!” Mrs. Murphy exclaimed, as she took off up the road.  Her husband shook his head as he placed their cooler in the middle of the canoe.

 

The girls heard what the middle-age woman said.  “Did she just say bathroom?” Di asked. 

 

“I think so.  Let’s go find it.” Trixie said, as she motioned to the top of the hill. They trudged up the steep slope to the top of the landing. 

 

The three neared the top.  Mrs. Murphy came trotting past.  “It’s out of toilet paper,” she warned.

 

Meanwhile at the bank, the men had finished loading the canoes and were waiting on the women.  Jim asked Mr. Murphy about their water-cooler style ice chest.  “The round, cylinder shape lets it just fit into the notch of the canoe’s center brace.   It also locks down better.  I like the screw down lid.  You don’t have to worry about it popping open and your things spilling out or getting wet,” explained Mr. Murphy.  He took the remaining bungee cords and attached the cooler and his backpack to the canoe.

 

His wife returned, and he took his turn up the hill.   She bungeed her fishing pack and backpack to the canoe.  It was now that Mart noticed her rod and reel.  Where did that come from?  They didn’t have that before.  She then reached into canoe and pulled out a telescoping rod.  That’s it.  They have telescoping rods.  Mart bumped Dan’s arm and jerked his head towards the woman.

 

They watched as she untangled her line.  Then, she cast out into the river, just a few feet from shore. She began slowly reeling in.  Suddenly, BAM!  She reeled in a small bream.   She took it off the lure and cast.  Again, she caught a fish.  She looked at the top of the landing.  Her husband was just coming down the hill.  She took the second rod and reel.  After casting, she pulled the slack out of the line.  “She’s using a top water lure,” Dan observed.  The water suddenly exploded.  She fought with the fish for a few seconds.

 

“Small mouth?” her husband asked as he approached.

 

“It’s small all right,” she huffed.  “At least it is a bass.”

 

The girls had returned.  The Bob-Whites began loading their own canoes.  Wild Bill approached the canoeist.  “Don’t forget the regulations.  No Glass and bungee everything.  Lock down the lid on your cooler.” He paused for a second before adding, “I’d appreciate it if you would keep an eye open for any wayward canoes.”

 

Trixie glanced at Jim. She was relieved. Good, he’s not going to say anything.

 

As they were preparing to take off, they noticed Dan was busy with something at his canoe.  When he turned around they noticed that he was blowing up a beach ball.

 

“What in the world?” Mart puzzled.

 

“I picked this up at the Dollar Shop,” Dan explained.

 

They noticed that he had drawn a face on it.  He started bungeeing it to the front of his canoe.

 

He continued, “I hate to be the odd man out.  Since I don’t have a partner, I thought I would make one.”  He finished securing it. “Meet Buffy.  I drew the face on her while I was waiting on you all to wake up this morning.”

 

The others shared confused looks.  Dan looked hurt.  “You think I’ve lost it, don’t you?”

 

Mart held up his hand.  “No comment.”

 

They began shoving off to get the feel of their canoes. Each male Bob-White was at the back, steering.  This arrangement allowed the girls to be the lookout for unexpected obstructions in the way.

 

Mart noticed that the Murphys had already left and were fishing along the opposite bank.  He pulled up to Dan’s canoe. “We’ve got to see what they are using.  They’ve already caught several.”

 

Although all the Bob-Whites had planned on fishing, it appeared that Mart and Dan were the two that were most determined to catch a fish.

 

The next two hours were spent floating and fishing.  There was little success with catching.  They and the Murphys took turns passing each other along the way.

 

The beauty of the river was mesmerizing. The crystal clear water and the towering bluffs that lined the river were breathtaking. 

 

They voted to pull off on a large gravel bar and stretch their legs.  They noticed that the Murphys had already stopped and were just downstream.  Mart saw this as his chance.

 

“Excuse me,” he interrupted.  “I couldn’t help noticing.  You seem to be having a lot of luck fishing.  May I see what you are using?”

 

The couple was eager to help.  “We’ve had good luck using these small white grubs.”  She grasped the end of her line and took a lure into her hand to display.  They run 1/32 of an ounce and smaller.  You can get these at Wal-Mart.  I have some that are similar that I’ve found only at Kmart.”

 

She handed Mart a loose lure from her pack.  He began to examine the lure.  “You’re welcome to try that.  Hold on.”  Digging in her pack she produced several more, including those of another variety.

 

“They do tend to prefer a white-colored lure, but we’ve caught fish on other colors too,” her husband acknowledged. “We’ve also caught them on small poppers.  We use a tiny bobber to help get some distance when we cast.  Sometimes they’ll hit the bobber first.”

 

“I’ll be right back,” she said. She returned with a small sandwich bag and several more lures inside.  “Here, that ought to do you for a while.”

 

Mart started to protest.  “I can’t take all your lures.” 

 

“Relax.  We have dozens more,” Mr. Murphy assured him.

 

By now the others were approaching, curious to see what was taking Mart such a long time.  Mart gave an earnest “Thank You” as he joined his friends.  He handed Dan the baggie of lures. They both selected one each and tied it to the end of their line.

 

On his third cast, Mart was landing a nice-sized sunfish.  He turned to show the Murphys, but they had already shoved off and were heading downstream.

 

“This is more like it!” Dan exclaimed as he caught his second fish.

 

“Guess we need to give it a try?” Brian quizzed the others.

 

In just a few minutes they had each caught several fish.  “Too bad we’re practicing catch and release,” Jim noted as he took a fish off his lure.  “We could have a terrific fish fry.”

 

Brian checked his watch.  “We need to shove off.  It’s a too early for lunch right now.  We can stop a little further down stream and find a shady place to eat.”

 

As they boarded their canoes and prepared to shove off, Mart tapped Trixie on the shoulder.  “Seen any missing canoes yet?”  He quickly climbed into his canoe, shoving off at the same time.

 

Trixie looked to Jim for comfort; however, he seemed to be in on the joke.  It figures, she fumed.  Their canoe entered the river and was quickly picked up by the current.  She turned her attention to the river flowing beneath their canoes.  It was definitely a floaters river.  Trixie leaned out of the canoe, dipping her hand into the cool, fast running water.

 

At times, the canoe barely glided over the rocky bottom.  The river was just inches deep in those spots.  The canoe fairly bounced over the ripples as it passed. Then there were the areas that you could see large boulders and submerged trees along the floor.  She estimated those areas to be seven to ten feet deep.  Finally, there were the drop-offs.  Suddenly the bottom disappeared, and she could see nothing but blackness. 

 

In less than an hour, a shaded gravel bar came into view.  One by one they landed their canoes.  As the guys unloaded their picnic gear, the girls picked out a shady spot near the bank.  Looking upstream, they noticed the Murphys were coming around the bend.  They had passed them earlier.

 

“Howdy!” she called out.  “Mind if we join you?  This is going to be one of the few shady spots on the river.”

 

Brian and Jim motioned for them to join their group.

 

“Any luck?” Mr. Murphy asked.

 

“Yes, thanks for the lures,” Mart beamed.  “We’ve all caught a good number of fish.”

 

As both groups set out their lunches and began eating, Honey asked the couple, “You’ve floated this before, haven’t you?”

 

Taking a drink of lemonade, Mr. Murphy answered, “We’ve floated this river several times over the years.”

 

Mrs. Murphy added, “It’s a shame about the canoes.  Some people have no morals.  The rental companies will have to pass their losses on to their honest customers.”

 

Trixie hesitantly asked, “I heard you and Wild Bill talking earlier.  There’s no other way for the canoes to leave the river, other than established landings?”

 

Nodding she replied, “Yes, unless they take them all the way to Buffalo City.  That’s where this river ends, and it flows into the White River.” She produced a large, laminated topographical map of the river.  Pointing at it she explained. “As you can see, there are no other roads leading directly to the river, other than what the park controls.  They try to keep this river as undeveloped as possible.  It’s all on national park land.”

 

She took a nutty bar from her pack.  She removed the wrapper and took a bite.  “The entire river almost went out of existence.  There was a push in the late sixties to put a series of dams along it.  There would have been lakes formed behind each one.  A battle of sorts ensued.  On one side, you had the folks that wanted to preserve the river and not let the lakes happen.  One the other, you had the folks that wanted the lakes.  They reasoned that with the lakes, you would have businesses and more money flowing into the economy.   At one point, the home of one of the preservationists mysteriously burned to the ground while he was away. 

 

“The river preservationist petitioned the federal government to intervene and preserve the beauty and uniqueness of the area. In 1972, this became the first nation’s National River.  It’s part of the National Park system.”

 

“Well, I for one am glad that they were able to save this.” Jim grabbed Trixie’s hand to help her stand.  As he did so, he moved a stray curl out of the way, tucking it behind her ear.  “Shamus, that’s enough mystery solving for today.   I don’t want to have to save you from canoe smugglers.”

 

That did it!  Trixie had heard enough.  As they neared their canoes, she stopped in front of Dan.  “May I have a word with Buffy?”

 

“Sure, I guess,” he answered, a bit puzzled by her question.

 

She then walked to the front of Dan’s canoe, and removed the cords securing the ball to the bow.  Taking the ball and cords in her hands, she walked to the canoe she shared with Jim and proceeded to attach ‘Buffy’ to the front.  She finished with “There, you don’t mind. Do you?”

 

The others looked on in silence.  Finally, she went back to Dan’s canoe and sat in the front.  “We’re ready now!” she announced.

 

Dan looked at Jim.  He rubbed the side of his head and mouthed, “What’s up with her?”  Jim shook his head and looked to Honey for an answer, only to have her turn her back to him.

 

No one spoke a word as they entered the river.  They did manage to wave goodbye at the Murphys, who were staying behind to try their luck fishing.

 

For the rest of the float they took a few additional rest breaks, stopping to stretch their legs and/or to fish.  Trixie managed to avoid Jim.  She deliberately walked away from him at one point as he tried to speak to her.

 

They took turns passing each other’s canoes, pointing out things that they found interesting and taking photos with the waterproof cameras they had purchased earlier.  As they neared the end of one gravel bar, Mart signaled the others to be quiet.  As the lead canoe, he quickly turned and faced towards the backside of the bar.  The others followed his lead. The rest of the Bob-Whites were able to see what had peaked his interest.

 

There, hidden from the river’s view, was a pack of otters.  They were taking turns climbing a stack of brush and rocks and jumping into the water.  The humans watched the activity for a several seconds before one of the furry creatures looked up and signaled the others that danger was in the area.   One by one, they quickly dove into the water and disappeared.   The gang turned their canoes, allowing the current to catch them once again.  “They were adorable,” Honey commented as she and Brian passed the others.

 

“I hope my pictures come out,” worried Di.

 

By late afternoon they passed under the Hwy 14 Bridge.  “I saw pictures of this bridge at Wild Bill’s,” Mart announced to the others.  “It was during a flood.  There was water flowing over the top of it.”  They craned their necks to see the top of the bridge.

 

Jim marveled, “It must be at least seventy feet to the top of the bridge.”

 

Within an hour they could see Skull Rock, the bluff they had been on the evening before.  Minutes later they were beaching their canoes.  They made sure to stack them near the sign as instructed, stowing their paddles and lifejackets underneath each one.

 

Once they reached camp, the girls declared that they were going to the bathhouse to clean up.  Honey tried to start a conversation with Trixie.  She refused to talk about what was bothering her.  They quickly showered and changed.  Trixie hurried out first. When Honey and Di rounded the corner of the building, she was standing in front of the bulletin board.  They noticed she was crying.  She had dropped what she was holding. She was wiping her eyes with the towel she had around her neck.

 

Dan was just exiting the men’s side.  He stopped behind Trixie and touched her on the shoulder.  “Trix, what’s wrong?” he gently asked.

 

“Why doesn’t he believe in me?”  She began sobbing in earnest now.  “He, of all people. He doesn’t support me.”  Dan pulled her into a hug.  He looked at Di and Honey, his expression begging for help.

 

The two looked at each another, as if exchanging a silent message.  They motioned for Dan to take her to the opposite side of the camp loop.  Their finger jabs, in the opposite direction, indicated that they would go back to their campsite.  It was apparent that they were going to get to the bottom of whatever was going on.  The gathered Trixie’s belongings and they made a beeline for the base camp.

 

I would hate to be in Jim’s shoes right now, Dan thought.

 

Gently pushing Trixie away, he dried her tears with her towel.  “Come on.  Let’s go for a walk.”  He put his arm around her he led her away from their area of the camp.  As they got to the entrance of the loop, Dan looked down and noticed Trixie was wearing flip-flops.  We need to stay on an even surface.  Those won’t do on the rocks.

 

Dan recalled that there was small building with pay phones and drink machines that was not too far away.  He guided her there.  Spreading out her towel, they sat with their backs against the wall of the small structure.

 

He placed his arm around her. “Ok, what’s up?  Talk to me.” 

 

The tears had started again.  For the next few minutes, she poured her heart out.  She had felt that Jim had been making fun of her and was not taking her seriously.  His teasing had gotten the best of her.  She didn’t feel that he supported her or accepted her for who she was and what she wanted to be.

 

Dan let her get it out of her system, before he finally spoke.  “I think he does support you.  He’s just teasing.  I don’t think he’s trying to hurt you on purpose.  If he knew that it was hurting you, I don’t think he would do it.  He cares too much about you to do that.”

 

“He has a funny way of showing it,” Trixie shot back.

 

Dan didn’t know how to respond to her comment.  He moved her hair out of her face.  It had fallen during the torrent.  “I believe in you.  You need to follow your heart and not let anyone stop you from being what you want to be.  You’re going to make a fine detective.”

 

Trixie dried her tears and smiled.  “Thanks,” she sniffed.  “It’s nice to hear that from someone.”

 

They stared at each other for several tense seconds.  Then it happened.  Before either one realized it, their lips had met in a kiss.  At first it was light.  As they proceeded, it deepened.  He pulled her to him, and it was several seconds before they separated.  Dan gave a slight smile and gently wiped a tear from her check with his thumb.

 

She put her hand on the side of his face and leaned forward.  He stopped her.  “I think we need to get back before they call out a search party.”  However, inward he was thinking. I couldn’t let that go any farther. I am not going to come between her and Jim.

 

“I suppose you’re right,” she said with a mixture of disappointment and confusion. What was just happening? What if someone saw us? What would Jim think? It felt so nice to be held and to…

 

He stood.  Then he held out his hand to help Trixie to her feet.  She picked up her towel, and they walked silently back to the camping loop.

 

As they approached the camp, Trixie noticed that Jim was sitting alone at the fire.  He acknowledged their presence. “The others left to buy more ice.”  From his contrite spirit, Dan guessed the girls must have really worked him over.

 

*********earlier**********

 

That they did.  He got his reality check. They had spent ten minutes letting Jim Frayne know just how     much he was hurting Trixie with his comments and teasing. He had protested that it was in good fun, and he didn’t realize that it bothered her. Brian and Mart observed silently.  When he looked to them for support, Brian held up his hands.  “I think they have a point. If you care for our sister, then stop.  As her brothers, we should be the only ones allowed to tease, and I think even we need to stop.  She’s a little too old to tease like that.”

 

*************************

 

Dan cleared his throat.  “I think I’ll go and find more firewood before it gets too dark.  It looks like the campground host at the other loop had plenty. Maybe he’ll share.”

 

As Dan walked away, Jim patted the seat across from him.  Trixie paused for a moment before sitting.

 

He took her hands and looked her in the eyes.  His words spilled out.   “I’m sorry if I hurt you.  It wasn’t my intention.  I’m stupid, and I let myself get carried away.  I didn’t mean to belittle you.  I believe in you and support your decision to become a detective.  I don’t know why I said what I said, other than I was being an idiot.” He shifted himself to a kneeling position, “You mean too much to me to hurt you like I did.  Will you forgive me?”

 

Trixie studied his face before answering.  She noticed that he had tears forming in his eyes.  “I forgive you.  I guess I should have let you know how I felt about it.”

 

As he leaned forward to place a kiss on her forehead the Denali pulled into its space.  The others had returned with ice and Dan.  Opening the back door, Dan produced a stack of wood.  “The host said he usually doesn’t provide wood like this, but he decided he had plenty for now.”

 

Di opened the trailer to reveal their food supplies. “Who wants hotdogs?”  She didn’t have to ask twice.

 

Past transgressions forgiven, they roasted hotdogs over a roaring fire.  “I think it’s getting colder,” Honey shivered. 

 

“The radio weather forecaster said it would dip into the 40s tonight,” Mart pointed out.

 

Dan added another log to the fire. 

 

They sat in silence, listening to the sounds of the forest and watching the flames.

 

A discussion on what they would do the next few days was started.  It was decided that they would attempt the second float the next day.  The river would take them from Buffalo Point to Rush. 

 

Wednesday, they would stay at the campground and hike the Indian Rock House Trail in the morning and visit the ghost town at Rush that afternoon. 

 

“I don’t know about you guys, but I can barely stay awake. I’m worn out,” Brian announced.  He got up, stretched and walked toward his campsite. 

 

The others agreed to call it a night.  Mart and Di bid their good nights, holding hands as they left. 

 

Honey asked if Trixie wanted to accompany her to the restroom.  Excusing herself, Trixie ran back to her tent and put on sweats instead of her pajamas. It’s supposed to be cold tonight, she reminded herself.  She made sure to also take her pill, swallowing it without water.

 

As they entered the bathhouse Honey grabbed her shoulders.  “Well, how did it go?  Did he apologize?”

 

“I know you two had to have talked to him.  It was also too convenient that you all weren’t around when we got back.” She paused to brush her teeth.  She rinsed and leaned against the sink’s counter.  “He did apologize, and I think things are going to be different.” She hugged her best friend before leaving the building. “Thanks.”

 

As Trixie approached the camp, she noticed that Dan was the only one at the fire.  He motioned toward her tent.  “He’s already gone in.  Did you two talk it out?” 

 

“He apologized.” She gave Dan a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for being my friend.  I can always count on you to be there for me.”  She hesitated.  “About what happened at the shelter--”

 

Dan interrupted by placing a finger on her lips.  “We got carried away.  Let’s leave it at that.”  He motioned to the tent.  “Someone is waiting on you.”

 

 Trixie nodded in reluctant agreement and gave him final peck before saying, “You’re a terrific friend. Good night. Love you,” and heading to her tent.

 

Dan watched as she entered her tent.  “I love you too,” he whispered.

 

Once inside, Trixie found Jim lying on his side, propped on his elbow.  He, too, had opted to wear sweats.  “I thought I should be prepared for the colder temperature.”

 

Trixie agreed, “It’s kind of chilly right now.” She finished putting away her toiletries. “Are we finished with the lamp?  I’ll turn it off.”

 

Jim answered with a casual, “Uh huh.” 

 

Trixie turned off the lamp and immediately switched on her key chain light.  “This sure comes in handy,” she commented as she climbed into her sleeping bag.  She noticed how quiet he had become.  “Is there something wrong?” she asked.  She turned off the small device and was amazed how much light was entering the tent.  A combination of the campfire and moonlight lit the tent up to where one could still make out some objects.

 

Jim began to enter his sleeping bag.  Without looking at her he asked, “Do you want to talk?”

 

Trixie was hesitant in her answer. “Sure, I guess.”

 

“Do you want to scoot closer?” he asked awkwardly.

 

Trixie began to scoot herself closer.  However, Jim reached and gripped her sleeping pad, pulling the pad and her along with it.  She was now less than a foot away.  He reached out and ran his fingers through her hair, pulling one of her curls.  Finally, he spoke.  “First off, I’m glad we cleared the air this evening. I’ve wanted to talk to you for some time.”

 

Trixie took his hand from her hair and held it to her cheek.

 

“Trixie, I care for you.  I know I haven’t been very good about showing it.” He paused for a second, as if to catch his breath and formulate his next words.  “I think I was letting our age difference play a role in it somewhat.  The fact that I’m in college hasn’t helped.  I do know that I didn’t think it would be fair to either one of us to try to start something that we couldn’t give one hundred percent to.  Right now, I’m thinking that I was being unfair to you, for not giving us a chance.”

 

Trixie’s heart was racing.

 

“So, I guess what I’m saying is… I really care for you.  I always have.  You’ve always been my special girl.” He fingered the ID bracelet on her wrist.  “It’s just that I’ve been reluctant to start a relationship. I’ll admit that I’m scared to leave myself vulnerable.  I’ve lost too many people that I care about.  I know that you wouldn’t hurt me, but I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you or if I were to lose your friendship.  I didn’t know how you felt either.  I didn’t know if you would be willing to give us a try.”

 

He leaned forward and ran his finger along her cheek. “Trixie, do you feel the same way?  Would you want to give us a try?”

 

Trixie’s mouth went dry.  She wasn’t able to speak.

 

Leaning back on his pillow he groaned, “I know I’m bringing it up now, when we are both about to spend the next few years at separate colleges.” Rising, he took her hand again.  “We’ve got this summer to try… to see if we can have a relationship.  Of course, saying goodbye in a few weeks is going to be hard.”  Placing his head on hers, forehead to forehead he pleaded, “Trixie, say something.  Do you want to give us a chance?”

 

Trixie put her hand behind her neck and asked, “How can we say goodbye, when we’ve never said hello?”

 

Jim leaned forward and kissed her.  She smiled and whispered, “Hello.”

 

Jim reached and pulled her sleeping pad even closer to his as they kissed again.  This time they deepened their kiss, tongues playing against each other’s.  Jim ran his hand down Trixie’s back.  Oh my gosh, he cried to himself.  She’s not wearing a bra! Got… to keep… under… control.  He began to pull Trixie to him.  She willingly followed his direction.  Just when he thought he was going to lose control….

 

GROOOOOWLLL

 

The noise came from just outside their tent. 

 

They broke apart, panting heavily.  “What was that?” Trixie was having difficulty whispering.

 

Spilling out of the tent, they stood, holding hands in the middle of the campsite.  Dan joined them.

 

“Did you hear it too?” Dan asked, his hushed voice showing excitement.

 

“It would be kind of hard to miss.” Jim gripped Trixie’s hand tighter as he spoke. He continued the answer in his thoughts.  And it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.

 

Shining his flashlight behind their campsite Dan speculated, “It sounded like a wildcat of some type, maybe a bobcat or cougar.”

 

“It’s just as scared of us as we are of it.  It’s probably long gone by now,” Jim said with a degree of certainty.

 

“Trixie, are you ok?  You’re not scared, are you?”  Dan had noticed that Trixie was unnaturally quiet.

 

“No, I’m ok,” she answered.  “It did startle me when it growled.  Jim’s right.  It’s long gone.”  She gave a long yawn. “I guess we need to go back to bed.”

 

“It’s a good thing we locked the food up in the trailer.  We don’t need any nighttime visitors.” Shutting off his flashlight Dan added, “Good night.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Once Jim and Trixie were in the tent they sat cross-legged, facing each other.  Taking both her hands Jim confessed, “Trixie, you don’t know how happy I am that we finally got all this out in the open.  I really hope that we can make this work.”  Taking a deep breath, almost sounding like he was unsure of himself, “But I think we might need to take things a little slower.  You don’t know how close I came to…” he paused.  “We almost started something that I don’t think we’re ready for at this point in our relationship.”

 

Trixie leaned forward and stroked his chin, “I guess we do need to take things a little slower.” She giggled, “We went from ‘hello’ to…almost …um.”  Trixie was having difficulty finishing her sentence.

 

Drawing her to him, Jim kissed her on the cheek.  “I don’t want our first time to be in a tent.  I would hope that it would some place special, romantic,” Jim whispered in her ear.

 

They sat in embrace for several more seconds.  Finally, Jim broke their bond.  “Why don’t we call it a night? Would you feel comfortable sleeping next to me?  We would stay in our own sleeping bags.”

 

“I suppose that would be safe,” Trixie answered as she was climbing into her bag. Giving a soft, evil laugh, “I think the question could also be ‘do you trust me?’”

 

Jim thought for a moment. “I would never do anything that you wouldn’t want to do.”  As an afterthought he included, “or that we may regret the next morning.”

 

Giving each other a quick peck on the lips, they both settled onto their pillows.

 

I had to slow us down. Jim’s thoughts were racing.  It would kill me if I hurt her.  We need to take our time.  We can’t risk it all on one night.  He glanced at the form beside him.  It will be worth the wait.

 

Meanwhile Trixie’s mind was undergoing its own whirlwind, Oh gosh, we could have…  He’s right.  We need to take things slow.  We have all summer.  How are we going to last the rest of this trip? Her thoughts traveled to the conversation with Moms.  We would be prepared, just in case.  No, I can’t.  We can’t.  At least not just yet.  With that as her final thought, she drifted off to sleep.

 

****************************

 

With the breaking day’s sunlight filtering through the tent, Trixie rolled over to see Jim putting on his shoes. 

 

“Good morning,” he greeted her.  “I’m sorry if I woke you.”

 

She rolled on her side.  “I think I was about to wake on my own.  Give me a minute, and I’ll join you outside.”

 

Once outside, the other Bob-Whites were already busy setting up for breakfast.  Taking seats around the picnic table, the conversation soon drifted to the previous night.

 

“Did you hear that growl?” Honey shivered.  “It sounded like it was just outside our tent.”

 

Mart ate a spoonful of oatmeal. “I was too occupied to notice anything last night.”  A swift kick, from under the table, courtesy of very red-faced Di, got the message across that he had just said too much.

 

The remaining friends paused just long enough to realize that this was a subject that should not be broached.

 

Breaking the tension, Honey interrupted.  “Are you men going to set up our float for today?  We can clean up while you’re gone.”

 

“That would be terrific Sis.  Who wants to go?” Jim looked around the table for volunteers.

 

Brian noted the hands that went up.  “I guess it’s just the guys again.”

 

Before they left Mart reminded the girls, “No more decorating while we are gone.” 

 

The girls promised that they wouldn’t take on any more camp beautification projects.

 

The guys left to make the arrangements, leaving the girls alone at the camp. Di used this time to speak to the other two.  “I know what Mart said sounds bad.  Believe me. We aren’t doing anything that we’re not ready for.  We’ve talked about marriage, and we considered waiting.”  She sat at the table, grasping her hands, staring at her class ring, “It may be years before we get married.  We both want to get our degrees first.  We also want to be able to get our careers started and save some money.”

 

She looked at Trixie. “I know I have my trust fund.  Daddy’s loaded.  But, he started out with nothing.  I don’t want everything handed to me.  I need to prove that I can make it on my own first.”

 

Trixie got up and placed a reassuring hand on Di. “We don’t think any less of you Di.  Whatever is going on between you and my brother is your business.  Believe me, I really don’t care to hear any details,” she giggled.  She looked at Honey and added, “That goes for you too.”

 

Shaking her head, Honey sat at the end of the table. “I guess we’ve come to a point in all our relationships that we need to keep certain things private.”  The other two nodded in agreement. 

 

Trixie thought for a moment. “You two can talk. You’re not dating each other’s brothers.  I can talk to Di about Jim.”

 

“I guess we’re not that limited after all.” Honey waved as the guys pulled up.

 

“We’re all set,” Mart reported, as he waved the papers that he held in his hand.

 

Brian joined Honey at the table. “You’ll never guess who we ran into at Wild Bill’s.”

 

Trixie guessed, “Our favorite fishing couple?”

 

“Good guess.” Mart smiled as he spread the papers that he held in his hand onto the picnic table. “They gave us copies of their topographical map of the river.”

 

“We’ll be able to know were we are and how close we are to our takeout point,” Jim added.

 

Trixie studied the maps briefly.  There really are no roads leading to the river, other than the park’s areas.  She had gotten a look at the map earlier when Mrs. Murphy displayed it.  She was eager to be able to make a closer examination.

 

“What do we do now?” Honey asked.

 

“We need to gather our stuff and head to the beach.  Wild Bill said they were going to drop off some canoes after we left.  I think the Murphys are already down there,” Brian answered.

 

In no time, the gang had their gear organized and gathered.  They made sure to pack extra snacks, in addition to their lunch.  They guys had arranged to take the last shuttle from the takeout area.

 

Jim explained, “Our choices were 1:00, 3:00 or 5:00.  We picked the latest time.”

 

After dividing up the gear and retrieving the paddles and lifejackets from the Denali, they headed to the beach.  Selecting four canoes from the Wild Bill area, they secured their possessions and shoved off.  Dan made sure that Buffy had her designated spot on the front of his canoe.

 

“Look at the mist coming from those creek on the other side,” Di observed.

“The water must be a lot cooler,” assumed Dan.  He paddled over to the area and cast his lure.  It barely had time to settle when he began reeling in a hand-sized sunfish.

 

After fishing for several minutes, the group meandered around the bend of the park’s beach area.  As they rounded the corner, Honey pointed at the towering bluff before them. “Look!  It that the restaurant?” The others looked in the direction she was pointing.

 

Brian responded from the back of their canoe.  “It is.  And there’s the cabin we saw down the road from it.” 

 

They could see both the small restaurant and the duplex-cabin that they had driven past two days before.

 

Dan scanned the side of the bluff. “I don’t think you can see the overlook we hiked to. It is well obscured by the trees.”

 

The group continued snaking around the various bends of the river, Trixie called by to Jim.  “When I looked at the map I noticed there was a formation called the Devil’s Tea Table.  It is somewhere on the right side of the river.  I wonder what it looks like.  I hope we don’t miss it.”

 

“We’ll pull over and fish soon.  We can look at the map again and see if we can find it.”

 

“Did someone say fish?”  Mart asked as he paddled his canoe past Jim and Trixie.  “Do we want to pull over here?” 

 

Jim whistled and signaled the others that he and Mart were going to stop at the gravel bar closest to them.  As they began landing their canoes, they saw a familiar site.  The Murphys were on the opposite bank.  The couple waved at the Bob-Whites.  “The fishing’s good on this side,” she shouted.

 

The friends spread out along the bank of the gravel bar and began casting their lures.  The Murphy’s luck appeared to be on both sides of the river.  Di managed to reel in a trophy-sized bluegill.

  

The Murphys left the area, giving the Bob-Whites a wave as they headed downriver.

 

Waving back, Brian commented, “Guess we’ll take turns passing each other all day again.”

 

They decided to fish a bit longer before continuing with the float.  

 

Before shoving off, Jim pulled out the map.  “I don’t think we’re too far from that formation Trixie was curious about.”

 

Dan walked over to where Jim had the map spread on the rocks.  “Formation?”

 

Jim ran his finger along the map. “Something called the,” he paused, “here it is.  It’s on top of one of the bluffs.  The Devils Tea Table is at the beginning of a left hand bend.”

 

Dan gave an amused laugh. “I don’t know if I like the sound of that name.  But it sounds interesting.”

 

As they allowed their canoes to be carried along by the current, from time to time they would cast their lure.  More times than not, it would yield a fish.

 

“I think I’m getting the hang of this float-fishing,” Brian announced, as he reeled in a feisty Ozark Bass.

 

 

 

Trixie jumped with a start, rocking her canoe.  “Is that what I think it is?”  She pointed at an outcropping, high above them at the top of the bluff.

 

“I think you’re right,” agreed Dan.  He pulled even with Trixie.  “That’s a neat formation.”  He glanced back at Jim and winked.  “Do you want to climb up and investigate it?”

 

She answered with her paddle and swash of river water, drenching Dan’s shirt.

 

He responded by removing his shirt and explaining, “Thanks.  I was starting to get a bit warm.”

 

As he took off his shirt, Trixie had to catch her breath.  He’s been working out.  Trixie gazed a bit longer at Dan, appreciating his muscular chest.  Guess all that wood chopping makes for good exercise..

 

“Careful, Buffy will get jealous,” Honey warned as their canoe edged past.

 

Trixie had to shake the thoughts she was having from her mind.  She glanced back at Jim.  He was busy casting his line.  He’s got a nice body too. She remembered the feel of that muscular chest in her arms the night before.

 

Di interrupted her daydreaming. “I’m starting to get warm myself.  It didn’t seem this hot yesterday.” She took off her T-Shirt to reveal her swimsuit   Trixie and Honey followed Di’s lead.  Dan stopped paddling for a moment.  He was appreciating the ‘view,’ until he realized that he should pay attention to the direction his canoe was heading.  It had begun to drift into a submerged log.

 

“It’s a good thing we put on extra sun-block this morning,” Trixie commented as she picked up her paddle.

 

Honey agreed, “The sun wasn’t out enough yesterday to take advantage and get a tan.”

 

Jim cleared his throat and managed to choke out, “Yeah, sun-block is a good thing.”

 

Brian, always the doctor asked, “Do you think we guys put on enough this morning?”

 

“I suppose I could use some more,” Mart answered, as he guided their canoe to the nearest beach.

 

As each couple landed their canoe, they passed around the lotion, allowing each female to apply a generous amount to her respective boyfriend’s back and shoulders.

 

Dan cleared his throat.  “Excuse me.  What about me?  I get sunburned too.”

 

“Oh, poor Danny,” Honey cooed.  She gave a wink to the other girls.

 

The three ladies surrounded Dan, each making an exaggerated fuss while applying sun-block to his body. He was thoroughly enjoying the attention, until he noticed that the other men stood close by, arms folded.  They did not appear to be at all happy with what they saw.

 

“Thanks girls, but I think that is enough for now.”  Dan smiled sheepishly at his male friends. As he swung his canoe around to enter it, he noticed that Jim had lingered a moment longer.  He nodded at Dan and headed for his canoe.  He can’t possibly be that insecure, Dan shook his head in disbelief.

 

The remainder of the morning was spent stopping for fishing, swimming, or taking a break and snacking.  They ate lunch around midday. 

 

“We passed the three rocks in the river. Wild Bill mentioned they mark the halfway point.  I guess we’re making good time,” Mart said between bites of his peanut butter sandwich.

 

Dan added, “The river is running fast, according to the chart in the store.”

 

With lunch out of the way, they repacked and shoved off.  The current carried them for several minutes, before arriving at a large boulder that had obviously fallen from the bluff above.

 

“This looks interesting. Want to check it out?” Brian asked.

 

They pulled their canoes to the large rock. Honey got out to investigate. She discovered that the water was deep enough to dive.   “I think we can drive off the rock and into this pool. It’s deep enough.”

 

“Let’s still be careful though,” Brian warned.  He was trying his best to not sound too much of a kill joy. “It looks like the highest we’ll be able to drive from is only seven feet. We should be safe.”

 

For several minutes they took turns climbing on the various natural ledges and jumping or diving into the water.

 

After waiting patiently, Jim took his turn.  He had been keeping the canoes from floating away while they were buttressed against the side of the large outcropping.

 

He dove into the clear water.  He came back up, breaking the surface, with a distressed look on his face.

 

Before Brian could ask what was wrong Jim warned, “Stay back!  My trunks, I think they fell off.”

 

Jim bobbed below the water surface.  He came back up.  “I still have them.  I’ve got the drawstring pinched between my toes.” Jim dove down for several moments.  Finally, he came back up, with a relieved look on his face. He pulled them back on. “That was close.”

 

“Thanks for the show.”  Di raised an eyebrow.  “You know, the water’s awful clear.”

 

Jim turned beet red and started to speak.

 

Mart assured him, “She’s kidding. We couldn’t see anything.”  The others nodded in agreement.

 

“Gotcha,” Di giggled.

 

“Very funny.” Jim splashed in Di’s direction.  Climbing into the canoe he asked Trixie, “You really couldn’t see anything, could you?”

 

Trixie answered only with a wink and a ‘come hither’ look.

 

“Oh, great,” Jim groaned

 

“They’re just playing with your head,” Dan comforted him, as he paddled past.  “We couldn’t see a thing.  Right, Buffy?” he asked his silent companion. 

 

Honey scratched her head. “What is it with you guys and not being able to keep up with your clothes on this trip?”

 

For the next two hours they primarily floated, taking in the scenery.  At one point the group did a double take.  Some prankster had made a sand sculpture of a larger- than- life nude human.   The figure was facedown, his bare butt mooning anyone that passed by.  After a good chuckle, they continued on.

 

“I think this is Gage Bluff,” Jim announced as he studied the map.  “It is the last one we will pass before we get to Rush.”  He checked his watch. “We still have almost an hour before we have to meet the shuttle.”

 

“Let’s back track to that last gravel bar,” suggested Brian.

 

As they began paddling upstream, they noticed that there was already someone on the bar.  “Howdy,” came Mrs. Murphy’s familiar greeting. 

 

The friends exchanged greetings and fish stories from the day.  Jim was thankful that no one mentioned his incident.

 

“We’d like to try to fish against the bluffs sometime.”  Mr. Murphy pointed at the bluff just down stream. “There has got to be catfish down there. Those holes are fairly deep.”

 

The group spent the remainder of their time fishing and listening to the Murphys’ advice for their hikes the next day.  Mrs. Murphy assured them that they would enjoy both hikes.  “There’s a trail before you get to Indian Rock House.  It goes to another cave.  We’ve never been on it.  It’s supposed to be a tough hike.  We know people who have hiked to it. They said it was kind of neat.”

 

I hate to break this up, but it looks like we need to hurry, if we’re to catch the last shuttle,” Brian reminded the others.

 

After pushing off, Jim allowed the current to float them past the bluff.  Trixie peered over the side of the canoe. I wonder just how deep it is.

 

Shortly, the landing was in site.  Brian read the sign that was posted above.  “’Rush Landing,’ I guess we’ve made it.”

 

As if on cue a shuttle bus came down the hill and stopped at the landing. Wild Bill’s Outfitters was painted on the side.  The driver climbed out and shouted, “It looks like you’ve got great timing.  You’re the last groups of the day.  Are you the Murphys and Beldens?”

 

Jim cupped his hands to his mouth and answered with a loud, “Yes!”

 

With a few more deep strokes of the paddles, the canoes were running aground on the shore of the landing.

 

“I’m Chuck.  We’ll be heading back in a few minutes, just as soon as we load these canoes on the trailer.”

 

The canoes were loaded on the back of the trailer.  The exhausted paddlers began taking their places on the bus. As Chuck hopped into his seat and slammed his clipboard onto the dash.  He picked up the radio’s mike and reported in, adding, “Tell Bill that they got another canoe.  When I left Buffalo Point, we were missing one.  I was hoping it would show up here.”  He turned to the passengers.  “You didn’t happen to see any unattended canoes, did you?”

 

After seeing their head shakes and hearing their replies of no, Chuck let out a curse and started the bus.  

 

Jim put an arm of support around Trixie. “We’ll keep a better eye out next time we float,” he encouraged her.

 

She nodded and felt a warm feeling of relief inside. I guess he really meant what he said about believing in me.

 

Mrs. Murphy took her customary seat behind the driver.  Closing her eyes and leaning back, she informed her husband, “I am not cooking tonight.  We’re eating at the restaurant.”

 

Dan addressed his fellow Bob-Whites. “That sounds like a good idea.  How about after we get back, we get cleaned up and grab a bite at the restaurant?”  He then took his wallet out of the waterproof bag.  “I’m buying.”

 

Honey waggled her eyebrows.  “This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with a certain brunette waitress, would it?”

 

“No. Maybe.  Are you all hungry or not?” Dan appeared to be a bit flustered by Honey’s insinuation.

 

Di giggled, “That’s a silly question to ask with Mart on board.”

 

The ride back was quiet. However, the driver slowed at times to point out the dilapidated buildings and long abandoned mining areas of the ghost town. He paused at one point to direct their attention to a field.  “And that is where a one hundred year old barn once stood.  At least before vandals burned it down back in ’98,” he informed the riders.

 

Mrs. Murphy reminded her husband, “At least we got to see it before it was destroyed.”  She mentioned to the others, “Some people are complete idiots.”

 

Trixie reflected on what she just heard.  Arson?  Missing Canoes?  Surely they can’t be related?

 

******************************************

 

In less than thirty minutes they arrived back at Buffalo Point.  The bus lumbered its way to the parking area in the park to drop off its passengers.  Trixie noticed how quickly the Murphys loaded their Explorer and left the area.  She mentioned how fast they departed to Jim.

 

“Guess they’re even hungrier than Mart,” he presumed.

 

Once at camp, they stowed their gear and headed for the showers.  They had the bathhouse to themselves and were able to shower and change clothes with no waiting.

 

 As they approached the parking lot of the small restaurant, Brian noticed that the parking area was quite full.  “We may have to wait for a table,” he warned.

 

The group entered the dining room and noticed that most of the customers appeared to be finishing their meals.  They managed to take two separate tables not far from each other.  They waved at the Murphys, who were already seated and eating their salads.

 

“Ya’ll clean up real good,” Mrs. Murphy teased.

 

Dan quipped in response, “And we smell a lot better too.”

 

Honey nudged Trixie with her elbow.  Across the room was Dan’s favorite waitress.  She was carrying on a very friendly conversation with Ranger Bates.  Each time that he would try to take a bite, she would bump his arm and make him miss his mouth.  His look of exasperation also gave way to one of good humor.  She noticed that she had new customers and quickly made her way to their tables.

 

“I’m sorry about that,” she apologized.  “He’s fun to tease.  What can I get ya’ll to drink?”

 

As she went around the tables taking their drink orders, Dan’s mood became quiet and withdrawn.  “Just water for me,” he requested.

 

Trixie and Honey noticed the change in his demeanor.  To brighten his spirits, they began talking about their plans for the next day.   Amber returned, passing out the various beverages. As she began taking their orders she interrupted, “I hate to appear to be nosy, but you will really enjoy those hikes tomorrow. Also, don’t forget, we close early on Wednesdays.”

 

Dan mumbled a “thanks” and proceeded to place his order.  

 

Their orders arrived just as the Murphys rose to leave.  They stopped briefly at Jim and Trixie’s table.  “We had a good time today.  Enjoy your hikes tomorrow.  We’re going to hang out here and visit the beach area.  I think we’ll head to Flippin tomorrow evening to do some laundry and eat a bite,” Mr. Murphy informed the group. 

 

After the couple left, Mart asked, “What’s a Flippin?”

 

“That’s a town just northeast of here,” Amber answered. She continued as she placed the plates of food on the table. “It does have a decent Laundromat and several restaurants. It also has a Wal-Mart Super Center.”  After she finished her explanation, she left to attend the checkout counter.

 

Dan’s spirits seemed to have been lifted for a moment, but as Ranger Bates stood at the counter to pay his bill, his attitude suddenly took a nosedive as he observed the transaction.

 

Honey looked over Brian’s shoulder to watch what had Dan’s undivided attention.  Well, they seem awfully friendly.  But I wonder.

 

As the young ranger prepared to leave he put his hat on his head, only to have Amber grab it and pull it sideways.  He responded by rolling his eyes, straightening his hat. “See ya tomorrow,” he called out, as he passed through the door.

 

As Amber left the counter and approached their table, Honey got an idea. “Boyfriend?”

 

Amber froze for a moment.  She started guffawing “Dexton?”  She began shaking her head vigorously.  “No, Dex is just a friend.  We’ve grown up together.  We’re like brother and sister.” 

 

She motioned to the other waitress that she was going to take a break.  She pulled up a chair, between the two Bob-White tables.  “Dex and I are just friends.  We give each other rides to college when the other has car trouble.”

 

“Are you two Razorbacks?”  Brian asked.

 

His seemingly innocuous question must have struck a nerve.  Amber stood, placed her hands on her hips, and demanded, “Do I look like the type of person that would wear a big plastic hog on her head and yell ‘whoo pig sooey’?”

 

Brian held his hands up in surrender and opened his mouth to speak when he was interrupted.

 

Taking a deep breath, Amber apologized, “I apologize.  I was out of line.  I am not a fan of the U of A.  There’s too much hype heaped on that university.  It’s only because of the athletic program.”

 

She was now much calmer and smiling.  “I attend the University of Central Arkansas, in Conway.  It’s a couple of hours from here. I’m a psychology major, with a minor in geology.”

 

“Do you and Dexton attend the same college?” asked Di.

 

Amber chuckled, “No, we actually go to rival schools.  He goes to Arkansas Tech in Russellville. The cities are just minutes apart. He’s a parks and recreation major.”

 

“You two are just friends then?” Trixie asked, wanting to clarify for Dan’s sake.

 

Glancing back at the other waitress, Amber held up her hand to indicate five more minutes.

 

“Dex’s parents and my parents grew up together.  They graduated from the same high school, Yellville, the same school we graduated from.  Our dads sometimes work together.”

 

Seeing the look of confusion on their faces she explained.  “Dex’s dad is the chief wildlife officer for this zone.  My dad is the sheriff of Marion country.  At times they are called in to assist each other. Dex is called into help at times himself.”

 

“Dex and I are close, but we are just friends.” She looked around to make sure no one could hear.  “We’ve even read Lucy Radcliffe books to each other.”

 

“Lucy?  You’re a Lucy fan?” Trixie asked with interest.

 

“Oh yes.  It’s hard to be the daughter of a law enforcement official and not be drawn into the world of Lucy,” Amber responded.

 

“Actually, Dex needed help with his reading when he was younger.  So, I suggested that we read to each other.  It seemed to help.”  She winked, “He won’t admit it, but he’s a fan too.”

 

Her mood had turned serious. “He still has trouble with reading and some other learning disabilities, but he is not a quitter.  It may take him an extra year, but he will graduate.  He’s that determined.  He’s actually only a summer intern for the Park Service.  Once he gets his degree, he plans on getting a job fulltime.”

 

She began gathering the empty plates on the table. “He’s also an awesome friend.  He took up for me when I had some guys harassing me in high school.  He may not be super tall, but he’s not one to back down or be intimidated.”  She came back for more plates and continued. “I had a group of rednecks causing problems here a while back. He came to my rescue.  He ran the entire gang out and made them pull out of their campsite as well.”

 

She began wiping off the tables. “I’ve even helped him some.  We drove around one day trying to figure out where all those canoes are disappearing to.  We drove down every road, trail, and field that we could think of.   No luck.”

 

Dan’s attitude seemed to have improved.  “It’s nice to know you have someone to look out for you.”

 

“Oh, it’s not just me,” she declared.  “He took a lot of teasing when we were in school over his learning disabilities.”  She gave a slow, almost evil, grin.  “I put a stop to that, real quick.”

 

She didn’t have to opportunity to elaborate. Additional customers walked through the door. She excused herself to wait on them.

 

Taking the check in hand, Dan reminded the others that he was going to pay the bill. “Would someone else like to handle the tip?” he requested. 

 

Di volunteered.  She took out a few bills and left them on the table.

 

The Bob-Whites said their goodbyes to Amber as they left, leaving Dan behind to pay the bill.  Amber stood behind the counter and rang up the ticket.  “Are you working tomorrow?” inquired Dan.

 

“I’ll be here until we close at 3:00.”  She answered as she handed him his change.  “Are you planning on coming back?” she asked, with a hint of anticipation in her voice.

 

“I think that can be arranged.  We could probably come here between our hikes,” Dan speculated. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

“Sure thing,”

 

Dan pocketed his change and promised, “I’ll see you then.”

 

The rest of the Bob-Whites had gathered near the SUV.  They hushed their conversation as he approached.  Di broke the silence. “So, are we coming back tomorrow?”

 

A slight blush crossed Dan’s face.  “I might come back by myself, if you all don’t want to.”

 

Jim unlocked the doors on the vehicle and they climbed in, claiming their seats.  “What do we want to do now?”

 

“I guess we could go back to camp and see what we can find to do there,” suggested Brian.

 

Back at camp, they rekindled the campfire and assembled around the picnic table.

 

They played Phase 10 until well after dark.  At one point it was ‘pick on Mart.’ As each person placed a skip card down, they declared that Mart should be the one skipped.

 

“I’ve had enough abuse for one night,” Mart announced with mock hurt. “I think its time I go to bed.”

 

As Di rose to leave, she whispered in Honey’s ear. “If he thinks he’s being abused now, just wait until we get to the tent,” she said with a wink.

 

Unfortunately for Honey, at that exact moment, she was taking a sip of hot cocoa.  As Di finished her statement, she spewed her drink across the table.

 

“Yuck, sis.  What gives?” demanded Jim.

 

Watching Di stroll off, Honey apologized to her brother, “Oh, it’s nothing, nothing at all.  It’s a private joke, between Di and me.”

 

Trixie rolled her eyes and gave her head a quick shake. “I don’t want to know,” she declared.

 

“I don’t think I want to know myself.” Brian took Honey’s hand.  “We’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Trixie bumped Dan with her elbow, “Are you ready to call it a night?”

 

“No, I think I’ll stay up a bit longer and watch the fire.  You two go on.  I’ll be ok.”

 

Jim stood and stretched.  “I guess I’m more tired than I thought.  Are you coming now Trix?”  Trixie agreed she, too, was tired. 

 

They wished Dan a “good night” and retired to their tent.

 

They were once again met with the awkwardness of their sleeping arrangement.  “I suppose we need to decide how we want to sleep?” he asked.

 

Trixie bit her lip.  “I think as long as we stay in our own sleeping bags, we’re safe.”

 

“In other words, resist temptation.”

 

Trixie sat on her sleeping bag.  “Something like that, I guess.”

 

Jim sat across from her on his bag.  “We probably should turn off the light.” He reached around Trixie to shut off the small lamp.  As he did so, he gave her a quick kiss on the lips.

 

Trixie’s pulse rate quickened.  “Um, what about temptation?” she murmured, before he took her head in his hands.  This time his kiss was much deeper.  She relaxed and allowed his tongue to part her lips.  Now, both of them were starting to breathe heavily.

 

“Trixie, I’m sorry.  I can’t help myself,” Jim apologized as he began kissing her throat.

 

They were now in a reclining position.  They were both lying on their sides, facing each other.  Trixie ran her hand up Jim’s shirt and began lightly running her fingernails across his chest. 

 

“You don’t know what that does to me,” he warned.

 

Feeling his arousal pressing against her hip she whispered, “I have an idea.”

 

She pushed him slightly away.  “Jim,” she paused.  “Before we go any further, there’s something you need to know.”

 

Jim stopped her and held her at arms length.  Clearing his throat, “I don’t think I can control myself.  I need… We need…” He took a deep breath, “We’ve been through this once before.  As much as I want you right now, I think we need to slow down.  We can’t keep doing this.”

 

Trixie closed her eyes.  He was right, of course.  As much as she wanted to let their current situation proceed, she also knew that they were moving too fast.

 

Trixie pursed her lips and then spoke, “How will we know when it’s time?  When it’s the right time,” she motioned around the tent, “and place?”

 

 “We’ll know,” he assured her.

 

He kissed her on the cheek. “Can I hold you?  Do you think that will be safe?”

 

Trixie dreaded saying the next few words, “I think we need to stay apart.  Temptation, remember?  I think it would be best if we make sure that our sleeping bags stay on their own side of the tent.”

 

“You’re right, of course.  You’re not mad at me, are you?”  He touched the side of her face. “Or disappointed?”

 

“No, I’m ok with this. We do need to go on some actual dates and get to know each other better before we…” she trailed off.   “Let’s try to get some sleep.”  She scooted her sleeping bag to her side of the tent.  “Good night,” she whispered.

 

“Night,” he answered with a disappointed sigh.  He turned his back to her and faced the tent wall.

 

They both fell into a frustrated sleep.

 

***********************************

 

Trixie woke first.  Jim was still asleep.  She slowly extracted herself from the sleeping bag and slipped out of the tent.  As she turned away from re-zipping the closure, she noticed she was the only one stirring about.

 

I guess I can make myself useful.  She was setting up for breakfast when Dan emerged from his tent.

 

“Good morning,” she said in a hushed tone. “I guess we’re the only ones up.”

 

Dan began running his hand over his hair, in an attempt to rid himself of ‘bed head.’  “It would appear that way.  I suppose they are worn out from yesterday.  We did stay up a little late last night too.”

 

“Coffee?”

 

 He nodded, and she handed him a cup of the steaming liquid.

 

“So,” she quizzed. “You want to go back to the restaurant today?  You like the food that much?  Or is there another reason?”

 

Dan smiled as he pretended to blow on his coffee.  “Oh, maybe.”

 

“To which question?”  Trixie inquired

 

Dan took a drink from his mug and changed the subject.

 

“So, how are you and Jim making out?” Dan asked innocently. Trixie’s beet red face let him know that his question was taken the wrong way.  “That’s not what I meant,” he apologized.  “How are you two getting along?”

 

Trixie regained her composer. “We have ‘issues’ that we need to work through.”

 

“Who has issues?” Brian asked, as he began opening a package of instant oatmeal.  He and Honey had walked up just as Trixie was speaking.

 

Trixie quickly changed the subject. “Do we want to fix a picnic lunch or just take snacks?  I think Dan wants to go back to the restaurant.”

 

Mart and Di arrived.  Di poured a cup of coffee.  “I don’t mind going back, if I can pay for the meal this time,” she smiled and nudged Dan.  “Dan, would you mind taking care of the tip?”

 

“Sounds like it’s settled,” Trixie observed.  “We can take snacks and eat at the restaurant, before leaving for Rush.”  She turned to Dan.  “Why don’t you ask Amber if she wants to join us?  She’ll know her way around the area better.” 

 

Rubbing the stubble on the end of his chin, Dan replied.  “You know, I might do that.  Do you think she’d want to go?”

 

“Who’s she?” Jim asked as he took a seat beside Trixie.  It became obvious to him who ‘she’ was.

 

“You’ll need to ask Amber first, if you want the answer to that,” Trixie reminded Dan.

 

“I guess it won’t hurt to ask then.”

 

********************************

 

After breakfast, they packed a few snacks for the hikes and headed to the trailhead’s parking area. 

 

“We picked up a couple of trail maps at the ranger station the other day.  It looks like there are some neat things to see, other than the Rock House,” Brain commented while they clipped on their fanny and backpacks.

 

The group crossed the road and entered the trail.  They hiked in silence, taking in the sounds of the wilderness.  “Hey, look,” whispered Dan.   He pointed to the left.  “A deer.”  They watched quietly as the doe made her way across the footpath and behind a bush.

 

“Oh, a fawn,” whispered Honey.  A small fawn, barely two feet high, crossed the path and followed the doe into the brush.  Jim gave the deer a few moments, before he signaled to resume hiking. 

 

Mart pointed at his map and then to the left.  “I think this is the Sinkhole Icebox.”  They wandered off the trail to peer down at the large hole in the ground.  Barricades had been erected around one edge of the sunken feature.  The remainder was protected by an overgrowth of poison ivy and briar bushes. Mart read the description of the natural phenomenon. It had been caused by the collapse of the roof of a cavern below.  A slight current of cool air could be felt rising from its depths. After peering into the pit for short time, they continued their hike.

 

The next features they encountered were a small waterfall followed by an abandoned zinc mine. “I think that is what they were mining at Rush,” Mart announced.

 

They stopped at a small cave to cool off.  After they left the cave, they found themselves following an old roadbed.  Not long after that, they crossed a small creek.  “The Rock House is just ahead, up the hill some,” Jim said as he studied the map he was carrying.

 

As they started up the steep section of the trail, it leveled off and they found themselves staring at a large hole in the rock facing.  “Is this it?”  Dan asked.

 

Trixie moved off to the left.  Something else had drawn her attention.  Pushing her way through the brush, she came upon another hole in the ground. She heard movement behind her.  She was being followed.  Someone grabbed her arm. “Careful.  I think that’s another sinkhole.  It’s not on the trail map,” Jim warned.  Trixie looked at Jim with a slightly pained expression.  Seeing the hurt in her eyes, Jim squeezed her shoulder.  “I don’t want anything to happen to you.  We don’t know how stable the ground is here.  Come on, let’s get back with the others and explore the cave.”

 

She reluctantly followed him out of the thicket. At least he didn’t remind me of the Bob-White cave sinkhole incident.  They joined the others who were already inside the cave.  To the right was an opening in the top of the rock shelter.  Just below that was a small patch of vegetation.  “Looks like just enough light hits this one area that some things will grow,” observed Mart. He and Di went to investigate.

 

Hearing a noise, Trixie turned to the left.  “What’s back there?” she wondered aloud.  She crossed the floor of the bluff shelter and stood beside Dan, Honey, and Brian.  “There’s more?”  From their vantage point, you could see that there was a small hole at the back of the cavern and a stream was flowing from somewhere below.  Jim joined them.

Brian took out a small flashlight from his pack.  He directed the beam at the sloped trail.  “I’m not going to risk going down there.  Look how muddy and steep it is.”  Just as he said that, two people emerged from the small opening.  They were coved in mud.

 

“Don’t waste your time,” they informed the onlookers. “It only goes back a few feet and stops.” They noticed their clothing and shoes.  “It looks like we ruined our shoes for nothing.”

 

Brian held out his hand and helped the two men up.  “Thanks,” said the taller of the two.  He addressed his partner, “I think we’d better get back to the cabin and get this mud off before it sets in.”

 

By now the Bob-Whites had regrouped. “This is a neat place. Too bad they won’t let folks camp here,” Dan said as he dodged a small drip coming from somewhere high above.

 

“I don’t know about you all, but I could use a snack right now,” Mart announced.  He began opening his pack. 

 

Di stopped him and pointed at the large rocks near the mouth of the cave.  “Why don’t we sit on those rocks and relax a while?”

 

The gang shared their snacks while they relaxed on the large rocks that guarded part of the shelter’s opening. Jim pointed at the ledge above them and speculated, “I think these fell from above.” 

 

They were finishing just as another group was coming up the trail toward the cave.  The group sounded rather large and was a little noisy.  “I think now is a good time to leave,” suggested Brian.  The horde assembled just outside the opening.

 

It was a group of young ladies, apparently from some sort of organization.  Their leader apologized for the intrusion on the otherwise peaceful setting.  Trixie noticed her nametag.  It appeared to have a nickname, ‘Boots.’ 

 

“Sorry,” the leader apologized.  “The girls are excited to see the cave.  I’m going to remind the about proper hiking etiquette once I get them in here.”

 

“No problem. We were just leaving,” Jim explained.

 

They picked up their trash, making sure that no trace was left behind and resumed the hike.  As they started back down the hill, Jim pointed at a path on the left.  “I think that goes to the other cave.  Do we have time to explore it?” 

 

Brian shook his head.  “I read it could add an hour or more to your time.  We might be able to come back later in the week.”

 

The others nodded in agreement. At the bottom of the hill, they took the return path, to the right. 

 

 

 

 They crossed another small creek  

and explored an area of small springs and sculptured rocks.  Honey had taken over the navigation duties and pointed out that the map described the next feature as a ‘natural bathtub.’  She read from the brochure.” There was a home site nearby at one time and this was actually used to bath in.”  They spent several minutes exploring the area interesting rock formations, before getting back on the trail.

 

 

Not long after that, the trail forked once again.  “Rock Quarry,” Honey read from the sheet of paper.   As they walked along the detour she continued, “The *Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, blasted rocks from here to build the cabins and other stone structures, like walls, back in the 1930’s.”

 

As they approached the rock outcropping they could see the tubes that were drilled to place the dynamite, in order to blast the portions away.  Turning back, they followed the path out and soon were back at the main road just across from the Denali. 

 

Checking his watch Dan asked, “Is anyone ready for lunch now?  It’s almost 11:30.”

 

Di gave Mart a playful elbow, “I’m sure one of us is.”  She reminded the others, “Remember, I’m buying this time.”

 

“And Dan’s got the tip,” Trixie added.

 

After the short drive to the restaurant, they pulled into the nearly empty parking area.  The others hung back, allowing Dan to enter first.  As they filed in, they noticed that Dan was already being seated but not by Amber.

 

Honey gave the others a worried look.  She breathed a sigh of relief when she noticed that Amber was restocking the salad bar.  The waitress gave a quick wave, before she added more sliced cucumbers to its container.  Honey smiled when she noticed Amber scanning the room, obviously looking for someone.   The expression on her face gave way to indicate that she had, indeed, found the person for whom she was looking.

 

“I’ll take this table when I’m finished here,” she told the other waitress.  Wiping her hands on a towel, she picked up her order pad. She stopped in front of their table asked, “Did you already hike to Indian Rock House?”

 

Jim answered, “We just left it. I think I can speak for the others when I say that we really enjoyed it.”

 

She stood next to Dan as she began taking their drink orders.  She then announced, “The salad bar is really good today.  I just stocked it.”

 

“That sounds terrific,” Honey responded.  “I’ll have the all-you-can-eat salad bar.” Trixie and Di nodded in agreement and ordered the same.

 

Mart rubbed his stomach, “I need something a little more substantial than a salad. He and the other men ordered hamburgers and french fries.

 

As Amber began placing their orders on the table Dan saw this as his opportunity. “Amber, we were wondering if you’d like to join us this afternoon.  We’re going to Rush after we eat.  What time do you get off work?”

 

Amber placed Jim’s french fries in front of him. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I don’t get off work until 3:00.”   She turned and disappeared into the kitchen.

 

Dan gave a heavy sigh and started to speak when she returned. She added, “I might be able to do something with you when I get off.  What were your plans when you were finished at Rush?”

 

“Well, we need to do laundry,” Trixie replied.  “The Murphys, that’s a couple that’s been in here lately, they mentioned a place called Flippin.  I think you said it had a Laundromat and some restaurants.  Maybe you could show us?”

 

Amber thought for a moment, “Tonight?”  She stared at an unseen object in front of her.  “Well, usually on Wednesday nights I help Dex with Children’s Church.”  She started slowly nodding her head.  “But, he really doesn’t need me until it’s over with. That’s when we start activities. April, the Children’s Church director, has us alternate recreation night with movie night. They need me to help with crowd control.  I think they are intimidated by the fact that my dad is the sheriff.”  She asked, “Can we be finished by 8:00?”

 

“I think that’s doable, but we should leave right now, if were going to explore Rush,” declared Jim.

 

Dan cleared his throat and mentioned, “We will need to take two vehicles.  Ours only holds seven.  I hate to ask, but can we take yours too?”

 

“No problem.  I can get up to four in my Bronco.” She motioned to the parking area.  “I have a small Bronco II.  It’s over fifteen years old, but still runs like a top.”

 

Jim looked at his watch.  “What time should we meet you?” 

 

Amber thought for a moment, “It’s not quite 12:30 right now.  How about you meet me here by 4:30?  That should give you plenty of time to do your laundry and eat.  Plus, I should be able to get to the church in time to help Dex.” She started chuckling, “He is a really good Bible teacher.  Just imagine, ‘Hill-Billy meets Billy Graham’.  He’s got a unique way to present Bible stories.”

 

Di took the ticket and headed to the counter.  The others followed.  Dan paused for a moment to leave a tip.  Just as he was placing it on the table, Amber asked, “Are you planning on riding with me?”

 

Dan looked up and gave a weak smile, “If that’s ok. I’m kind of the seventh wheel with this group.”  He motioned to where they were standing.  They were conveniently waiting, near the counter, watching him leave the tip.

 

“I’ll welcome your company,” she smiled.  They stood and looked at each other for several seconds, neither speaking.

 

Dan had to make himself turn away.  “See you later,” he managed to say, before joining the rest.

 

“I didn’t need an audience,” he whispered to Mart as they walked out the door.

 

**********************************

 

The ride to Rush was silent.  Dan managed to avoid eye contact with his companions.  Why am I so nervous about this, he wondered. It’s because I haven’t had a date in week, not since prom-night. He smiled and looked at Trixie.  She noticed that he was looking at her. His smile was returned.  She turned away to answer something Mart had asked.  Dan continued.  I’m glad that she’s finally happy.  I hope Jim realizes just how lucky he is.

 

Jim took a right had turn and announced, “Looks like we’re here.”

 

They passed several fenced off abandoned building before finding a safe place to park.  As they piled out of the vehicle, Mart pointed to an information sign at the bottom of a row of steps.  He stopped to read it. “Wow,” he paused, “this was some place back in its heyday.”

 
              

“There were mines and buildings all over this hill,” Brian pointed at the map and brochure that they had been given when they first arrived at the ranger’s station.

 

The gang followed the trail up the hill and explored the ruins of the Morning Star Zinc Processing mill.  They continued to follow the trail passing by several gated mines.  “A person could just go around some of these gates and enter the mines,” Dan imagined.  “But it is way too dangerous.”

 

Mart started to make a comment, but was quickly silenced by well placed elbows from both Di and Honey.  “I was not going to say anything about Trixie,” he complained to Di.  Besides, I’m sure there are no ghost fish in those mines anyway.

 

Doubling back, they passed the processing area and followed the trail west.  This time they passed the ruins of a blacksmith shop and smelter. 

They ended up in a large clearing.  Noticing the back of an information board, they assembled around the front of it.  They discovered that in the cleared area, at one time, stood the Livery Barn.

 

Jim pointed at the photos. “Here’s what it looked like before the arsonists burned it in 1998.” He looked further down the road and noticed a row of dilapidated homes.  “Let’s check out the houses.”

A fence separated the visitors from the houses.  “One of these was a store,” Honey read from the brochure Brian was holding.  The simple board and batten construction had surprisingly held up well over the years of neglect. 

They arrived back at the Denali, ready to explore the remainder of the deserted mining town. Following the road from the parking area, Jim slowly drove to the river’s landing.  As they passed a stone structure on the left, Jim allowed the SUV to idle for moment.  Brian read from the page, “This was another store*.  The flood of 1982 reached this building.  Hey, that’s the same flood that was over the top of that highway bridge we floated under the other day.”

 

Jim allowed the SUV to continue to roll downhill.  They passed an old gristmill and another mine.  Seeing the river ahead, he pulled into a parking area.  The girls quickly jumped out of the vehicle and headed to the restroom that stood nearby.

 

“Let’s see,” Brian continued to scan the paper, “this area had a couple of more mines and a road that followed the river.  It ended up at the White River, where they shipped the ore out.”  He pointed past the parking lot, “And where the campground is now, there was a town during World War I.”

 

By now the girls were back.  “Wouldn’t you like to be able to step back in time and see what it looked like back then?” Honey dreamed.

 

Trixie, however, was staring back at the river.  Is this where they are stealing the canoes? This area is remote enough, but you would think someone would notice. 

 

 

“Let’s check out the campsites,” suggested Mart.  “We can drive through it as we head back.”

 

The others agreed and loaded into the vehicle.

 

Jim drove across a low-water bridge. A row of grills and fire-rings greeted them, as did another vault toilet.  “This is pretty rustic,” Jim noted, “but you’d have a lot of privacy.”

 

He guided the Denali back on the main road.  In a matter of minutes they were back at their campground, gathering laundry and freshening up for dinner.

 

They arrived at the designated meeting area just a few minutes before 4:30.  Amber was there, waiting by a shiny, red Bronco II.  “Hey!” she greeted the Bob-Whites.  “You’re right on time.”  She glanced at the back of the Denali. “Who’s all riding with me?”

 

Dan climbed out of the backseat and exited the vehicle.  “I suppose it’s just me,” he answered sheepishly. 

 

“Great!” Amber replied enthusiastically.  “I assume you’re going to follow me?  Right?” she asked Brian.  As driver, he nodded an affirmative.

 

“I’m sure you’ll want to start your laundry first. That will be our first stop,” she informed them.

 

She and Dan got into the small SUV.  As they clipped on their seatbelts, Amber smiled and told him, “I’m glad you all invited me. I don’t get to go out very often.  I’m usually working or at church.”

 

“I’m glad you could join us,” Dan sincerely commented.  “And thanks for offering to let me ride with you.”

 

Amber started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot.  She left the park, making sure that her speed was not too fast for Brian to keep up.  As she drove along the highway she and Dan discussed their college majors and career plans.

 

He was puzzled, “So how do psychology and geology fit together?”

 

“I would like to eventually be a family counselor,” she explained.  “The geology minor is just something that I’m interested in.  I love looking at the different rock formations in this area.  Don’t tell Dex, but I managed to sneak a peek at some of the abandoned mines at Rush.  He and I tried to get permission from the parks department to rappel into the sinkholes along the Rock House trail, but they flat refused us.  He likes to go caving too.  That’s spelunking to you city folks,” she teased.

 

They entered the small town of Flippin.  Amber signaled and made a left hand turn into the deserted parking lot of a Laundromat.  “Good, they’re not busy.”

 

Brian parked beside her Bronco.  He released the lock to the back door, and they began removing their bags of laundry.

 

“It shouldn’t take that long for the clothes to wash,” Di explained.  “Is there someplace we can go while we are waiting?”

 

Amber pointed down the highway.  “We passed a Wal-Mart Super Center just before we turned in here.  By the time we get there, do some shopping and come back, your laundry should be washed.  We can eat while it’s drying.”

 

“That sounds like a great plan,” Jim said as he watched the girls placing the separated laundry into different washers.  They started the machines and approached the cars.   He held the door for Mart and Di before getting in himself.  “We’ll follow you there.”

 

While in Wal-Mart the gang restocked their supply of bottled water.  They also found fishing lures similar to the ones that the Murphys had given them.

 

Di checked her watch. “I think we should head back and see if the clothes are ready for the dryer.”

 

As they stopped in front of the laundry, Honey noticed that the lights had gone off of some of their machines.  “We got here just in time.”

 

In just a few minutes the other clothes finished as well.  The wet articles were placed in the largest of dryers and enough coins were added to allow for an hour of drying time each.

 

Mart rubbed his stomach, “Now, we just need to decide where to eat.”

 

“We could go to Sodie’s Fountain.  They have a variety of food, including great ice-cream desserts.  Then there’s Pizza Hut.  You know what you can get there.  That’s about it, unless you want fast food,” suggested Amber.

 

The Bob-Whites contemplated their choices.  “I guess pizza would be ok?” Brian looked at the others.  No one appeared to object.  “Ok, pizza it is.”

 

As the gang entered the pizza restaurant, they took a seat at a row of tables near the center of the dining area.

 

Amber had just sat down when she gave a start.

 

“I must be seeing things,” she said with excitement.  “I can’t believe who’s here.”  The others turned to see who had gotten such a reaction.

 

Amber excused herself from the Bob-Whites and hurried across the restaurant to a young woman sitting alone.  The unknown female jumped from her seat when Amber approached.  The two were obviously happy to see one another.  Grabbing the newcomer’s hand Amber led her to the Bob-Whites’ table.

 

“Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to my cousin.  This is Andrea.  She’s from Tennessee.  She’s yet to tell me what she’s doing in Arkansas. Andrea, these are my new friends.”  Introductions were made around the table.  The waitress came over and asked Andrea if she would be joining the others.  Amber answered for her cousin by pointing at the last empty chair at their table.  Andrea readily accepted it.

 

“I know Amber has a million questions,” she grinned.

 

The waitress took the table’s remaining drink orders and left to fill them.

 

Amber turned to her cousin. “Ok, what gives?  Why are you here?  Not that I’m not excited to see you,” she clarified.

 

Andrea looked a bit embarrassed, “As you know, I recently graduated from U.T.  And now, I’m here to take some much needed time off.”  She bit her lip, “I was also thinking about moving to Arkansas.  I’m interested in starting my graduate program in the fall.  I could become an Arkansas resident in a matter of months.  The tuition will be even cheaper, and I’ll get to spend time with my favorite cousin.”

 

Amber gushed with excitement, “That’s terrific.”  She noticed that Andrea had scanned the table when they first walked up. “I know Dexton will be happy too.”  Amber remembered her cousin’s crush on the park ranger.  At the mention of his name, Andrea blushed.

 

“Where is old Dex?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

 

“Right now?  He should be getting ready for church.  We came in separate cars. I can go to church from here.  This way I can help him with the recreation activities.”

 

The waitress appeared with their drinks.  Trixie took this as an opportunity to ask their new friend, “What is your degree in?”

 

“I have a degree in English, with an emphasis on creative writing and a minor in literature. I hope to continue that theme in graduate school.”

 

“Which university are you going to attend?” asked Amber.

 

Andrea hesitated for a moment, “If it’s all right with you, I was thinking about UCA.  After attending Tennessee, I would appreciate a smaller school.  Nothing against my Vols, mind you.”

 

 “Are you sure that you wouldn’t rather consider going to Tech?” teased Amber. The waitress arrived with the breadsticks, saving Andrea from having to answer. 

 

With the pizzas demolished and not a crust left, the group rose to leave.  “Dan, did you want to ride with me?  You can help me corral children.  I can drop you off at the campground afterwards,” informed Amber.

 

Dan considered the offer for a few moments, “I appreciate you asking, but I need to get back.  Thanks for the ride.”  He walked her to her vehicle. Andrea followed behind.

 

Stopping at her Bronco, she grabbed his hands, looked into his eyes and said, “I’m glad we met.  It’s a shame you don’t live closer.  New York seems like a world a way.”  She then reached up and kissed him on the lips.  “Call me.  You have my number,” she reminded him.

 

She turned to Andrea. “Are you going to follow me?  I know Dex will be happy to see you.”  Her cousin nodded silently as she stood next to Dan.

 

Dan watched as Amber backed up and pulled out of the parking lot.  Andrea finally spoke, “It is a shame you aren’t going to be around.  This could be a very interesting summer.”  She stuck her hand out and shook Dan’s.  “It was nice to meet you.  And don’t forget to call.  She’ll be expecting it.”  She gave Dan and the others a wave and crossed the parking lot.  Dan noticed she was getting into a new Mustang.  “It was a college graduation present,” she beamed. 

 

Dan watched the sonic-blue Mustang disappear from sight. The others sat in silence as he climbed in the backseat.  He had just clicked his seatbelt when Honey grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.  “Call her,” she whispered.

 

***************************************

 

It was well past dark when they pulled into the campground.  Their clothes were not only clean but also quite dry.  Fortunately, they sorted the clothing among the owners prior to leaving the Laundromat.

 

“Guys, I am beat,” Jim announced.  “I’m too tired to even think right now.”  

 

The others professed that they were also tired.  They prepared for bed and retired to their respective tents.

 

As Trixie entered their tent, she was relieved to see that Jim was sitting up and thumbing through a magazine. She smiled shyly and asked, “I see we’re going to try to stick to our agreement?” She pointed at the distance between their sleeping bags.

 

“That’s what we decided.  I can live with it,” he assured her. “When’s our first date?” he asked playfully.

 

Trixie giggled, “Does tonight count?”

 

“It does to me.”

 

He leaned across the tent and gave her a quick kiss.  “Good night.”

 

“Good night,” Trixie repeated.  “I may stay up and read awhile,” she warned. “Will the light bother you?”

 

Jim rolled on his side and mumbled something inaudible.

 

“I guess it won’t,” Trixie said to herself.

 

Trixie read for well over an hour, when she set the book down.  Too much ice tea, she chastised herself. She quietly got up and slipped out of the tent to visit the restroom.  As she left their camp, she noticed that their campfire was lit and the flames were quite high.  Someone forgot to check the embers, she mused. I’ll take care of it when I come back.  You should never leave a fire unattended.

 

As she came back from the restroom, she noticed that the fire was not unattended.  I must have missed that the first time. As she approached the fire, she noticed that Dan was the lone figure near the fire.

 

“Hey Trix,” Dan greeted her.  “I thought I was the only one up.”

 

As Trixie approached she could tell that all was not quite right.  In the firelight she noticed the first bottle.  Then, she noticed the other bottle.  There were two bottles sitting on top of an ice chest.

 

“Dan, are you drinking?” she asked hesitantly.

 

“I thought I may as well check these out,” he answered with a dopey grin.  “Brian actually came by earlier to retrieve one of his bottles of that girly Champagne.  That’s when I decided to try the local wines.”

 

She quickly dismissed the thought of her brother and best friend sharing a bottle of champagne.  I don’t even what to know what they’re celebrating, she told herself.  She watched Dan.  He added another log to the already roaring campfire.  He grabbed the bottles from the ice chest and held one in each hand.   Why is he doing this to himself?

 

Trixie sat in the chair closest to Dan. Taking one of the bottles she asked, “Just how much have you had to drink?”  She noticed that they both appeared to be slightly less than half full.

 

Dan ignored her question and held up the bottle that he still possessed. “This one is a very sweet red, from Missouri. It’s really good.  Tastes like almost like grape juice. The one you have is a Muscadine wine from here in Arkansas.  It’s not too bad either. It’s a little on the dry side.”

 

“Dan, why?”  Trixie shook her head as he drank the remainder wine from the bottle in his hand. “Why are you doing this?  Did Amber say something to you?”

 

Dan once again avoided answering and changed the subject. “Trixie, I’ve been sitting here thinking.  I’ve been thinking about how far I’ve come compared to where I was before I moved to Sleepyside.”  He closed his eyes for a moment.  When he opened them he recounted.  “When my dad died, it was just me and Mom.  I did my best to be the man of the house.  I wanted to make her happy, do well in school and stay out of trouble.  But when she died, all that changed.  I hit the streets and joined a gang.”

 

Trixie remembered, “The Cowhands.”

 

Dan rolled his eyes.  “I did things that I’m not proud of.   I was arrested several times.  I spent time in Juvenile lockup.  That’s the reason why I was sent to live with Uncle Bill.  I was being given a second chance. Mr. Maypenny was generous enough to offer to take me in.  He’s like a grandfather to me.”

 

He took the remaining bottle from Trixie. She wanted to say something, but he seemed on a roll.

 

“Then, I met you guys.   I know I wasn’t the easiest person to like when I arrived.  But you all accepted me.  Well, not you at first.  But we all became friends and the rest, as they say, is history.”  He smiled, “I owe a lot to all of you.  I hate to think of where I’d be today if I had never come to Sleepyside.” He snorted, “I’m practically domesticated.” His expression became very serious.   “You all aren’t just my friends.  You’re my family.”

 

Trixie smiled, “We all think highly of you too.  You’re a good person.  That’s why I’m concerned.” She repeated her earlier question, “Dan, did something happen between you and Amber?”

 

“Trix, I have a question for you.”  He leaned back in his chair.  “Why is it that I always fall for the ones that are out of reach?  Look at Hallie.  As much as I wanted to have a relationship with her, we knew it wouldn’t work. She lives halfway across the country in Idaho.  Now I’ve found someone a little closer that I’m interested in, but it’s another almost impossible situation.  There’s no use trying.”

 

Trixie leaned forward and took his hand.  “Dan, Hallie has plans to attend college in New York when she graduates in December.  She’ll be closer then.  When you get your degree, you can apply to any police academy in the nation.  Who’s to say you can’t apply here in Arkansas.”  She squeezed his hand.  “Dan, don’t give up. If those don’t work out, there are others out there.”

 

Dan pulled his hand free and turned his face from her to gaze at the fire.  He continued his voice barely audible.  “Then there are the ones that I fall for, that are literally in my backyard.”  He gave her a quick glance, before turning away again. “That’s the one that I’m most scared to tell how I feel.”  He finished off the bottle of Muscadine.

 

Trixie froze but was able regained her composure.  “Dan,” she paused, “who are we talking about?”   She had a feeling she knew, but she wanted to make sure.  “Dan?”

 

“Trixie, are you happy with Jim?”  Dan stared into her eyes.  “Is he what you want?  Is he the one that you love?”

 

Trixie looked away.  Now it was her turn to stare into the flames.  Love?” she asked herself. We’ve haven’t even said that, yet.  Do I love him?  Does he love me?

 

“Trixie, answer me.”  Dan touched her cheek, and turned her head to face his.  “Are you in love with him?”

 

She began shaking her head slowly.  “I don’t know,” she whispered.  “That subject hasn’t come up yet.”

 

Dan closed his eyes and grimaced.  When he opened them, he announced, “I think I need to call it a night.”  He started to get up, but immediately collapsed back into the chair.  “On second thought, maybe I’ll stay here.”  He was obviously too drunk to stand.

 

Trixie shook her head and held out her hand. “Here, I’ll help.  Just don’t fall on me.”

 

With a little effort, she managed to help Dan from the chair and guide him to his tent without too much trouble.  Twice he almost fell but she managed to keep him in a semi-upright position.  Once at the tent she gestured, “I think you can make it by yourself from here.”

 

“Thanks Trixie,” he gave her a one arm hug, that more resembled a choke hold.  “You don’t know how much you mean to me.”

 

She stepped back and squeezed his arm, “I think I do now.” She stifled a giggle.  “I just don’t think you’ll remember much of this tomorrow.”  She added in her thoughts, and that might be the best thing for both of us.

 

With Dan safely in his tent, Trixie tended to the fire, smothering it as best as she could with the ashes.  There, it should be safe now. 

 

Crawling into her sleeping bag, she looked at Jim’s sleeping form. Do I love him? She sighed.  She tried to think through her feeling.  However, sleep overtook her thoughts.

 

*************************

 

When she woke, she realized that she had overslept.  As she emerged from the tent the others were already finished with breakfast and appeared to be ready to explore the beach.  She waved them on promising to join them later.  “Let me eat breakfast first, and then I’ll be there.”

 

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Jim greeted her.  He was coming from the direction of the bathhouse.  “I was wondering when you were going to wake up.”  He sat beside her, his back to the table.  “Was I dreaming, or did you leave in the middle of the night?”

 

She laughed nervously, “I did get up to go to the restroom.” She inserted, “Oh, and I stopped to talk to Dan for a bit.”  She looked around the camp area.  Remembering his inebriated state the previous night, she became a little worried.  “Where is he?” 

 

“He’s still asleep.” Jim motioned toward the tent.  “I was about to check on him.”  He pointed at the empty wine bottles under one of the camp chairs.  “Was he ok when you talked to him?”

 

Trixie knew she shouldn’t lie. “I could tell he had been drinking,” was all she would say.

 

Jim shook his head in disapproval.  “I’ll go check on him now and meet you at the beach.”

 

Trixie hurried to throw away her trash and lock up the remainder of the food items. Then she went to her tent to change into her swimsuit.  As she came out, she saw that Dan and Jim were deep in conversation. At least Dan’s not puking his guts up, she thought in relief.

 

She tried to slip off but was stopped.  “Hey Trixie, wait for me,” requested Jim.  He caught up with her and took her hand. 

 

“Is Dan ok?” she asked cautiously.

 

“Yeah, he’ll be fine.”  Jim frowned, “I wish we would talk more often.  We came from similar backgrounds. We were orphans, with no place to live, and then found someone who cared for us.  If it wasn’t for his obligations to Maypenny and my attending college early, we might have become closer friends.”

 

Trixie peered back at Dan.  He was just leaving the campsite.  She asked Jim, “If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to see if he needs help.  He doesn’t look so good.”

 

Jim let go of her hand to allow her to check on their hung-over friend.  His eyes narrowed as he watched her walk away. He continued to the beach.  I will not be jealous, he began repeating to himself. 

 

As she approached Dan, he did indeed look green.  “Are you going to live?”

 

All Dan could manage was a squeak, and an “I’ll be ok.  Just let me go drown myself in the river.”

 

“Didn’t you drown your sorrows enough last night?” She chastised.

 

“Trixie, I don’t know what I was thinking.  Actually I do know.”  He took her arm. “I think I made some confessions last night, about my feelings.  I’m not too sure how much I said. But, can we keep it between ourselves?” he pleaded.

 

“Don’t worry,” she assured him.  “What you said last night,” she put her hand on her heart, “stays right here.”

 

Dan stepped forward and stopped.  For a moment it seemed that he was going to kiss her, but he pulled her into a hug instead.  “Thanks for not judging me and especially for keeping my secret.  I’m glad I didn’t run you off.”

 

As they separated, Trixie said, “I’m proud to be your friend.” She picked up their beach gear and motioned towards the beach.  “Come on.  Let’s join the others.”

 

They hurried their pace and caught up with Jim. As Trixie came into step with him, he said to himself, I know I should trust them.  They are just friends.  He took Trixie’s hand. Besides, I don’t have a choice.  They are about to attend the same college. I trust her, and I guess it’s time I start trusting him even more.

 

When they arrived at the beach, Honey and Di were already lying out.  Mart and Brian had walked to the far, left end of the beach and were fishing.

 

After surveying the scene, Trixie decided to join the girls. She spread her blanket. Just as she was about to lie down, Di sat up and placed her sunglasses on top of her head. “Well, look who finally decided to join us.  Busy night last night?” she asked, eyebrow raised.

 

“No, nothing like that,” Trixie rolled her eyes in response.  “I had trouble sleeping.  So, I decided to stay up and read.  I guess I didn’t notice the time.”  She was keeping her word to Dan about not revealing their discussion.

 

“I assumed it was something like that.”  Honey commented as she rolled onto her stomach.  “My honorable brother seems to be doing a good job behaving himself.”  She then added with a snort. “Your brother on the other hand,” her voice trailed off.

 

Trixie tossed a small pebble at Honey.  “TMI!  Remember?  I don’t want to know!”

 

Honey raised her head long enough to add, “Please not so loud.  I have a champagne headache.  And it’s a cheap champagne headache to boot.”

 

Di placed her sunglasses back over her eyes.  “I knew that this was going to be an interesting trip.” She let out an exaggerated sigh, stretched, and returned to her towel.

 

Before lying back, Trixie noted what each male Bob-White was doing.  Mart and Brian were untangling their fishing lines from each other’s. Jim was wading to the opposite shore.  And Dan was sitting in the flow of the river, letting the water wash over his body.

 

“This is all right,” she smiled and closed her eyes, stretching out on the towel.  Her mind drifted to Dan…Prom night…the kiss…She rolled over. Jim…silver bracelet…the tent…

 

The next thing she knew, Jim was gently shaking her.  “Sorry,” he apologized, “I know it’s a bit early to think about lunch, but we were talking about roasting the rest of those hotdogs.  Are you interested?”

 

Trixie sat up and blinked, allowing her eyes to become adjusted to the light.  “By the time we get everything set up, it will be time to eat,” she answered.

 

“We have that covered,” Jim smiled.  “We’re going to cook for you ladies.”

 

He kissed her on the cheek and joined the other male Bob-Whites.  Dan passed by Trixie on his way to catch up with Jim.  “Hey Dan,” Trixie called to him, “I didn’t think you would care too much for food right now.”

 

Dan groaned and managed a weak smile. “I’ll be ok, as long as I don’t have to eat.”  He smile began to grow. “I am going to suggest coffee and dessert for later.”

 

“Gee, I wonder where?” Trixie asked innocently.  He waved her off and continued on to the camp.

 

The girls were wading in the river, cooling off, when Dan appeared and announced, “If you ladies are ready, lunch is served.”  He looked a lot better then he had earlier.

 

Honey and Di walked on either side of Dan, placing an arm in the crook of his.  Trixie walked ahead, leading the way.

 

When they arrived at the camp, the girls noticed that the men had put a lot of effort in an attempt to make the hotdogs look more appealing.  They had the table neatly set with plates, utensils and napkins. They also had condiments as well as a variety of chips and dips. In the center of the table were some wildflowers that apparently had just been picked.  “Moms would be impressed,” Trixie complimented.

 

“It’s not fancy, but I think we did an ok job,” boasted Brian.

 

Honey patted him on the back, “Yes, you did.  It looks nice.”  She quickly glanced over her shoulder and added.  “I promise to not turn you boys in to the park service.  You do know that picking wildflowers is illegal?”  Before Brian could respond Mart appeared.

 

“Gang way for the wieners,” Mart announced, as he and Dan came through with a tray of grilled hotdogs and toasted buns.

 

Di began laughing, “I’m not even going to attempt to touch that one.” 

 

They sat around the table, enjoying their meal when Jim spoke, “You know, I think meals eaten outside are the best.” 

 

Trixie reached over and took a Pringle from his plate. “Especially when it’s cooked by someone other than myself.”

 

Mart yawned, “Well, I could use a nap right now.”  He grabbed Di’s hand and kissed it. “Or, we could go take a dip in the river?”

 

“Don’t forget to wait thirty minutes after you have eaten,” Brian gave mock warning.

 

Mart held up his right hand, “I promise we won’t be swimming.”

 

Di smacked him on the arm in exasperation.  Rising from her chair she grabbed his hand and pulled, “Come on before people start taking that the wrong way.”

 

Jim shook his head and laughed as the couple headed to the beach.  “I guess we could head back to the river too.”

 

As they began putting away the last of the food and throwing away their trash Dan slapped his head.  “I almost forgot.  Too bad Mart took off.  He would have loved my suggestion.  How about some coffee and dessert this evening?”

 

He looked at the expressions of the others, anticipating an answer. Brian finally spoke, “Actually, I hate to admit it, but we don’t have enough leftovers for dinner tonight.  We could go back to the restaurant for a late dinner.”

 

Dan breathed a sigh of relief.  “That sounds even better.”

 

“Oh, do you have it bad!” Honey poked Dan in the ribs.  Dan nodded and looked at Trixie.  She gave him a reassuring smile.

 

**************************

 

They stayed at the beach until late afternoon.

 

Gathering their towels and other beach items, they carried their possessions back to camp.  Within minutes of stowing their gear and cleaning up, they were walking through the glass doors of the restaurant.

 

“I was wondering if you all were going to come in.” Amber grinned as she led them to their tables.  By now she knew their drink orders by heart; however she did clarify, “The usual?” before leaving to fill their drinks.

 

They were part of the few customers in the small dining area. Their meals came out in record time, finished off with coffee and blackberry cobbler a` la mode. 

 

Di leaned against Mart. “I would hate to admit how much I just ate.  I guess I didn’t realize how hungry I was.” 

 

“It looks like I’m rubbing off on you, sweetie,” Mart kissed her on the forehead.

 

Trixie grimaced, “I wonder if they sell antacids at the counter. I think I’m going to be sick.”

 

Brian put his arm around Honey’s shoulder and asked, “Are we ready to try another float tomorrow?” 

 

The group gave a unanimous vote of yes.

 

“Now the only thing we need to decide is which one,” Jim clarified.

 

“I liked the last one,” blurted Trixie.  Something had been pulling at her conscience since they had gotten back.  She composed herself and apologized, “I mean the last one was nice,” she shrugged sheepishly. 

 

Honey agreed, “It was nice being able to leave at anytime.  We were able to time it so that we arrived at the same time as the shuttle.”

 

“Thanks to the maps,” reminded Jim.

 

“Then I guess we’re going to take the Rush float again tomorrow?”  Brian looked around the table to make sure that they were all ok with the decision.

 

Honey looked at Amber, who was busy attending to Mart’s empty coffee cup, “Amber, would you like to join us?  We have space for an extra.”

 

“I have room at the front of my canoe.  You could ride with me,” Dan offered.   “I don’t think Buffy would mind,” he added with a chuckle.

 

Amber chewed on the end of her pen for a moment.  “I don’t know.  I do have a day off coming.  Let me check.  What time would we leave?”

 

Jim shrugged his shoulders and guessed, “By 8:00 AM for sure.”

 

“I won’t know anything until I get home.” Amber rubbed the back of her neck. “The manager isn’t here, and I’ll have to call him to make sure.”  She set her jaw. “Friday is usually a busy day, but I think they can manage.”  She smiled and placed her hand on Dan’s shoulder. “If I’m not there by 8:00, then you can leave without me.”

 

Dan grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Alright, I guess we’ll wait until 8:00, and if you don’t show, we’ll assume you can’t make it.” 

 

 Brian added, “We’ll need to sign up at Wild Bill’s in the morning anyway.”

 

Dan had a sudden revelation, “You know.  Most of us have our cell phones with us.  Why don’t we give you our cell phone numbers too?  I noticed that the reception is spotty, but surely we can eventually get a call through.”

 

Amber tore off a page from the back of her order pad and wrote down the cell phone numbers.  Honey smiled when she noticed the ‘star’ that Amber placed beside Dan’s.  The waitress folded the page and placed it in the pocket of her jeans.  She started to turn away, but stopped.  “Who’s Buffy?”

 

The table erupted into laughter, only adding to her confusion.  “It’s a long story,” Honey tried to keep a straight face.  “It’s someone Dan picked up in Harrison.”

 

Amber started to say something, but quickly realized that there was some type of ‘joke’ involved with Buffy.  “I guess I’ll get to meet her tomorrow?”  She asked with a sly grin.

 

Jim looked at his watch, “It’s later than I thought.  I hate to break this up, but I think we should be moving along.” 

 

Brian grabbed the check and informed Dan, “We don’t mind.”  He tilted his head toward Amber.  “Why don’t you leave your usual?”

 

Dan started to protest, but Brian walked away before he could say anything. It was my idea to come here, he reminded himself.

 

He noticed that Amber was beginning to clear their table of the remaining dishes.  She looked up just as he approached.  “Here’s the tip.” He handed her the bill.

 

“Thanks.” Amber stuffed it into the front pocket of her apron.  She smiled, “I hope I get off tomorrow.  Believe it or not, it’s been ages since I floated.” 

 

She looked around the room to make sure that no one could hear, “One of the last times I was at the river, I was skinny-dipping with Andrea. That was last summer.”  She started laughing, “Poor Dex!  He about had a heart attack.”

 

Dan raised his eyebrows in shock. 

 

“Oops, let me clarify,” Amber insisted.  “He was suppose to meet us at Rush, but to go fishing.  Unfortunately, for him, he showed up a bit too early. He was so embarrassed that he tripped over his own feet trying to make a hasty retreat.” She held up her hands, “I don’t think he’s looked at the two of us the same way since.” 

 

Dan nodded thinking about the times he was almost caught skinny-dipping at the Wheeler’s lake. “I better go.  I’m sure the others are tired of waiting on me.”  Waving as he walked away, his thoughts soon wandered.  Amber skinny-dipping.  Why did she have to tell me that? I’ll never be able to sleep tonight.

 

It was dark by the time they arrived at their campsite.  Jim started a fire in the fire-ring. They pulled their chairs in a circle around the flames. No one said a word while they sat in contented silence.

 

Brian broke the silence.  “Does anyone want to play cards?” he asked absentmindedly.

 

“I don’t mind sitting here, just watching the fire and listening to the insects,” Jim announced pulling Trixie closer to him.

 

Dan surveyed the scene.  Each couple had his or her arm around their respective partner.  Hopefully I’ll have someone to put my arm around tomorrow.

 

As the flames died down, each couple said their goodnights, leaving only Dan sitting at the fire.  “Yeah, maybe tomorrow,” he whispered, as he doused the flames in ashes. 

 

*************************

 

Trixie woke. She started to roll over, when she realized that something was laying against her.

 

Oh, Jim, she reminded herself.  They had spent a great deal of time the night before talking, and had decided to scoot closer in order to hear. I could tell he wasn’t real comfortable discussing his feelings, but still… At least we were able to get more out into the open.

 

The Bob-Whites were up and gathered around the table eating breakfast. Dan was unusually quiet.  This did not go without notice.  Honey bumped Trixie’s arm and tilted her head toward him as he sat at the end of the table.  “Wonder if he got any sleep?” She said under her breath.  “I hope she shows up.  You know, he’s kind of cute when he’s nervous.”  

 

Brian and Jim excused themselves from the table to leave camp and make arrangements for that day’s float. 

 

Just before 8:00 they gathered their gear and headed for the beach.  “We chose the latest pick up time, again,” Jim explained. “Since this is our last day floating, we wanted to take as much time as we can.”

 

Dan trudged along in silence.  His mind was obviously elsewhere.  Honey walked along side him.  “Give her time.  She’ll show,” she encouraged him.  “Remember, our cell phone’s reception is pretty bad here.  She probably wasn’t able to reach us.”

 

They loaded their canoes, firmly securing the contents. 

 

Suddenly, Dan spun around, his head looking back and forth.  “Buffy!” he shouted.

 

Just then, a blur raced past Trixie.  She made a grab, but it was too late.  Brian’s clothes thief had struck again.  Scott began racing along the edge of the river, laughing, holding the beach ball in front as he ran.

 

With one toss, the beach ball landed in the river, and the current quickly carried it away.

 

Christina once again came over to apologize, “I’m sorry.  Scotty thinks everything is a game.” She tugged Dan’s shirt. “Mister, you can have my beach ball,” she offered.

 

Dan looked down and smiled. “Thank you, sweetheart, but I’ll be ok without her. We might be able to catch up with her downstream.”

 

“Her?” a voice asked.  “You mean the beach ball?”  Dan looked up.  He breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Amber was there, with a large ice chest in tow.

 

“You made it!” Dan hurried over to help her.

 

As Dan took the chest, Amber began apologizing, “I’m sorry for showing up at the last minute. I’d planned on getting here earlier, but Mom insisted on making sandwiches for our lunch.”

 

“Sandwiches?”  Mart took a couple of steps towards the ice chest that Dan was busy securing in his canoe.

 

Di’s firm hand grabbed his arm and pulled him back.  “Down boy, you just ate.”

 

One by one they pushed their canoes off, into the river’s current.  Amber looked back at Dan. “I bet you thought I wasn’t going to show?  I’m sorry about not calling, but I knew that the reception here wasn’t that great.  Besides, I thought I would surprise you.”

 

Dan smiled as he steered around a log. “I like surprises, especially when they are pleasant.”

 

As they rounded the bend, Amber began waving at the restaurant on the top of the high bluff.  “I know it’s silly of me to wave, but I told my substitute that I would wave as we passed.”

 

“Substitute?”  Dan asked.

 

“My wonderful cousin!  She offered to be my substitute,” Amber bragged.  “Now, if I can just get Dex over his shyness,” she laughed.

 

The morning was spent much like their previous floats, alternating between floating with the current, fishing and stopping occasionally to stretch their legs.  They stopped for lunch, just before the halfway point. 

 

As the girls set up for lunch, the guys decided to cool off by taking a dip. “Whew, Amber said that this is the hottest day so far this year,” Dan informed the others.

 

Mart splashed water at him, “So, you think you two might try to start something?”

 

Dan’s face clouded over for a brief moment, he forced a smile, “Who knows.”

 

Jim waded past. “She seems like a great person, Dan.  Don’t let a good thing pass you by.”

 

“At least try to stay in touch with her,” Brian said, adding his advice.

 

Dan looked back at the beach.  Apparently the girls had lunch set up and appeared to be talking among themselves.

 

Di brushed the sand off her legs.  “So, you’re trying to help Andrea get Dex’s attention.  Does he know she likes him?”

 

Amber rolled her eyes, “He’s clueless.” She held up her hand to clarify, “I don’t mean that in a negative way.  He just doesn’t take hints very well.  I’m hoping that they do get together.  She’d be good for him.  He needs to get out of that shell and let himself have some fun once in a while.  He’s just too serious at times.”

 

Trixie looked over to where the guys were coming ashore.  Watching Jim stop to skip a stone, her thoughts went back to the talk they had the night before.  Speaking of serious

 

“I’m staving,” Brian announced as he kissed Honey on the cheek.

 

She giggled, “You sound like your brother.  Sorry, Mart.”

 

Mart responded with a snort and a bite of his sandwich.

 

Jim turned to where Amber and Dan were seated. “Tell you mom thanks for the food.”

 

“She insisted that I not arrive empty-handed,” explained Amber.   “She said she’d love to meet you all too.” She punctuated the last statement with a gentle nudge to Dan’s shoulder.

 

That remark resulted in a series of chuckles from the others. A slightly embarrassed Dan took the wrapping off of the homemade brownies that Amber had provided.

 

“We would love to meet both your parents.” Honey batted her eyes at Dan.

 

Dan turned his head and mumbled, “I’d love it if some of you would shut up right now.”

 

“Dan, did you say something?” asked Amber.

 

Dan responded by giving the others a warning glare.  Turning back to Amber, he smiled. “It was nothing important.”

 

The brownies brought rave reviews from all the Bob-Whites.  “Please, send my compliments to the chef,” Mart requested.

 

Honey agreed, “These are the best chocolate and peanut butter brownies I’ve ever eaten.”

 

Amber looked a little embarrassed, “Well, I actually made those.  Mom made the sandwiches.”


”I hate to break this up, but we should move on.  I’d hate to miss our shuttle,” warned Jim.

 

Securing their gear in their canoes, they continued downstream.  Dan and Amber took the lead.

 

As the canoes passed the halfway point Amber announced, “Three Sisters.”

 

 

Brian asked, “What was that?”

 

Amber laughed, “I forgot.  You’re not from around here.”  She pointed back at the three boulders in the middle of the river. “We call those the ‘Three Sisters.’    It marks the halfway point on this float.”

 

“Someone told us about the rocks.  We just didn’t know that they had names,” explained Brian.

 

Dan let out a slight whimper.  “What’s wrong, Dan?”  Amber looked back at her companion.

 

“You just reminded me.  Buffy, my poor Buffy.  I hope she found a good home.”

 

Amber turned so quick she almost tipped the canoe.  “Buffy?  Oh, get real!” she laughed and thoroughly doused Dan with a paddle swish of water.

 

Her act of baptism was met with a round of applause by the other Bob-Whites.  “Has he always been hung up on beach balls?” she asked as the others floated past.

 

“Yes,” Mart answered with mock pity.  “Our poor friend has a thing for beach balls and brunettes.”

 

As the laughter subsided, it gave way to serenity.  The sound of the gently flowing river mixed with the sounds coming from the surrounding wilderness gave a sense of calm.

 

“I think I could live here forever.” Trixie stretched and leaned against the seatback. “This is absolutely wonderful.”

 

Their flotilla came to the same gavel bar that they had beached at the last time.  Jim and Brian signaled the others to paddle to it.  As they approached Brian looked at his watch.  “We still have some time to kill before the shuttle comes to pick us up.  How about hanging out here again?”

 

Mart looked at the bluff in the distance.  “Didn’t the Murphys say that there should be catfish in the deep pools?”

 

“You want to go paddle over and try?” asked Dan.

 

Amber agreed, “There are catfish in the river.  That would be a good place to find them too.”

 

Mart asked Amber, “Since you’re from around here, what should we use for bait?”

 

Amber inspected Mart’s tackle box.  “You have hooks.  That’s good.  I see sinkers.  Good.  Oh, and bobbers.  You really don’t need those, but it lets you know when something is buggering your bait.”

 

She stood, “Bait!  You don’t have any bait.  You need worms or something really stinky and disgusting like chicken livers.”  She put her hands on her hips and surveyed the gravel bar. She began to think when a light bulb went off. “Give me one minute.  Grab something to put worms in,” she instructed.

 

The others, curious to what she had planned, followed her.  Dan paused long enough to retrieve an empty water bottle from the mesh trash bag in their canoe.  Amber stopped at a large log and ordered the guys to “push.”  The heavy log rolled over and revealed an entire world of insects and other creepy crawlies, including several earthworms.  Without any hesitation, she bent over and began scooping up the worms before they had a chance to crawl away.  Dan saw what she was doing and quickly took his pocketknife and cut the top off of the empty water bottle.

 

“Here you go,” he said.  He handed her the bottle and she began dropping the worms into it, adding more until she caught all that she could before they escaped.

 

“This should do,” she handed the worms to Mart.

 

Amber noticed the expressions on the other girls’ faces. “Worms don’t bother me.  Now if a snake had been under there, you would have seen me take off running.  I would have been the third person to walk on water.”

 

As Mart, Dan and Amber headed toward the canoes, Amber called back, “Is anyone else going catfishing?”

 

“Guess I’m going catfishing,” shrugged Di. She hurried to join Mart. 

 

Before leaving shore, Amber demonstrated how you could break up the worms by pinching them in half.  “That way, you get more worm for your money.”

 

Honey leaned close to Brian, a bit apprehensive.  “I think I’ll just watch,” she whispered.

 

Soon, all four canoes were positioned near the wall of the bluff.  “It looks like we’re sheltered from the current here,” observed Jim.

 

Dan was the first to cast out.  Taking the slack out of his line, he began watching his bobber.  In a matter of seconds the bobber began to twitch.  It went down once…twice…then, it took off.  “Start reeling,” ordered Amber.

 

Dan obeyed and soon discovered that he hadn’t caught a catfish, but a very large bluegill.  Amber whistled, “That is some bluegill.”  She addressed the others, “If he caught a bluegill that size, there’s bound to be a catfish or two down there as well.”

 

After several minutes and a couple robbed baits, Mart finally caught a catfish.  He was just leaning out to grab it when Amber shouted, “Stop, you’ll get finned!” 

 

Dan paddled their canoe closer to where Mart held the fish out on the end of his pole.  “They really aren’t poisonous, but some folks are sensitive to their slime.”  She reached out and grabbed the fish on its underside and positioned her hand under the fins. “See, if you grab them like this, they can’t get you.  They can really cut you bad with those fins.  The barbs can also do a lot of damage.”  She expertly reached with her other hand and dislodged the hook from the fish’s mouth.  “Good thing it wasn’t in there too good, or we’d need to use pliers.”

 

She held the fish out so the others could see.  “Listen,” Honey said with amazement.  “It’s talking.”

 

“Yeah,” Amber nodded. “They do make noises.”

 

Di leaned closer, “It almost sounds like a frog?”

 

After she made sure that everyone had a good look at the catch, Amber leaned out and turned the fish loose.

 

Dan, anxious to catch his own catfish, cast his line.  However, he ended up getting hung.  Grunting, he gave his line a quick jerk, breaking his line.  “I’m glad we bought extra hooks and sinkers,” he commented as he began tying on new equipment.

 

Mart chuckled at his friend’s predicament only to have his smile quickly fade.  He too was hung on something.  “Darn it!  I’m hung up.”  Mart struggled to break free from whatever had his line.  “I really don’t want to tie on another rig.” 

 

Di peered over the edge of the canoe, trying to see what Mart was caught on. The river was too deep to see the bottom. “Hold on,” she requested.  “Let me see if I can get you unhooked.”  She slipped over the edge of the canoe and into the water.

 

She surfaced and motioned at Mart, “Can you pitch me the swim goggles?” She caught the goggles and quickly slipped them on. 

 

“I didn’t think we’d ever have a use for those,” commented Brian. “The water is so clear otherwise.”

 

Di broke to the surface again, this time with knowing look on her face, “Trixie, can you help me?  I seem to have run into a bit of a problem.”

 

“Sure,” Trixie shrugged.  Di nodded at the others as Trixie fit her goggles over her head.

 

Effortlessly rolling off the canoe, Trixie joined Di below.  As if shot out of a cannon, Trixie came out of the water shouting, “They’re here!  They’re here!  There has to be, at least a half dozen.”

 

Totally confused, the others began talking at once.  Finally, Jim asked, “What’s here?”

 

“The canoes!”  Trixie shouted, still excited from her find. Taking a deep breath calming breath, Trixie tried to explain, “There are several canoes on the bottom of the river.  It feels like they are weighted down with rocks, or something.  It’s kind of deep down there.  Visibility is terrible.”   

 

“You can barely make them out, but you can feel around and tell that they are definitely canoes.” Di added as she swam over to hug Trixie.

 

Jim held his hand out to help Trixie back into the boat. “Now that we found them, what do we do about it?”

 

Amber jumped with a start and began rummaging through her backpack.  “I’ve got to call Dad,” she announced as she took out a cell phone from several layers of zip-lock bags.  “Please God.  Let me be able to call out.  THANK YOU!” she exclaimed, as she pointed up to the sky.  She held the phone to her ear.  “Dad?  No, we’re ok.  Can you meet us at Rush Landing?  We have something to show you.” 

 

By this time, Trixie and Di had been helped back into their canoes.

 

Amber gave the thumbs up sign to the others. “My friends have run across several canoes… we’re below Gage Bluff. We think it’s the ones that have been disappearing.”  She listened to the reply, and then lowered the phone.  “Dad wants us to go to the landing and wait.  He said to go ahead and let Wild Bill’s take the canoes and tell them that we’ve made other arrangements for our ride back.”  The Bob-Whites nodded.  “Dad, there are eight of us,” she informed her father.

 

Amber started laughing, “Oh, you’re going to send the Paddy Wagon?  That will be perfect.”  She listened for a bit longer.  “Ok, we’ll see you in a few.”

 

She shut off the phone and resealed it in the plastic. “We need to get to the Rush and wait on my dad.”

 

The Bob-Whites began paddling in earnest for the rendezvous point.  Trixie looked back at the bluff.  It grew smaller in the distance. “I can’t believe we found them.”  She smiled as Di and Mart came closer.  “Almost-twin, thanks to your fishing mishap, we solved another mystery.”

 

As they approached the landing, the shuttle had not yet arrived.  “We still have a couple of minutes,” observed Amber.  “We’ll have plenty of time to gather our stuff and wait.”

 

The canoes ground to a halt in the shallow water of the landing.  The group quickly got out and dragged the canoes to the shore.  As the girls unloaded and carried their belongings to a safe place, the guys tipped the canoes, ridding them of the water that had accumulated in the bottom.  Placing the lifejackets, paddles and seatbacks in a pile, they sat and waited.

 

Jim looked at Trixie. “I don’t think we should mention to the shuttle driver what we just found.”

 

“That’s right,” agreed Dan. “We need to let the Sheriff handle that.  This is part of an investigation.”

 

The sound of a vehicle could be heard in the distance. “Besides, there’s no telling who all is involved with the thefts,” Amber reminded them.

 

The shuttle came to a halt, the driver opened the door.  “Hope you haven’t been waiting long,” he apologized.  “Looks like you’re ready.”

 

As Brian explained to the driver that they had made alternative arrangements for their ride back, the others loaded the rental company’s gear onto the trailer and storage area of the bus.  The shuttle had been gone for less than five minutes when they heard the sound of another engine.

 

A green Ford Explorer with “Marion County Sheriff” on the side pulled into the parking lot.  Amber ran to meet the driver.  After a brief reunion, she led the newcomer to meet the group.

 

“Everyone, this is my Dad, Sheriff Glynn Reynolds.  Dad, these are my friends from New York.”

 

Introductions were made.  Amber’s father shook Dan’s hand a little longer than the others, adding, “I’m mighty glad I got to meet you.  I hear you plan on going into law enforcement.”

 

“Yes sir.”  Dan explained, “I hope to enter the police academy in the next couple of years or so.”  Dan motioned to Trixie and Honey. “These two plan on becoming detectives.”  This brought a look of surprise from the man.

 

“With the way things are nowadays, we need all available help.”  He addressed the others.  “Now, tell me about these canoes you found.”

 

Trixie took the lead, explaining how Mart’s line got snagged and Di dove down to try to get him unhooked.  She grabbed Di’s hand as she related how Di led her to the discovery.  “And that’s when Amber called you.”

 

The Sheriff complimented the group, “I’m impressed.  In less than a week, your group helped break a case that my office has been working on for months.” 

 

The sound of a vehicle pulling into the parking lot drew their attention.  It was a National Park Service pickup. As the driver exited the truck, Amber started clapping. She turned to wink at the others.  The driver, Dexton, walked to the group.  He had a passenger following.

 

“Hey cousin,” she greeted Andrea.  “How’d you manage to get a ride with him?”

 

Andrea put her hands over her face to hide her slight embarrassment.  “I was with Dex when Uncle Glynn called.”

 

Dexton addressed Sheriff Reynolds, “I’m keeping this quiet like you asked.  It was a good idea to not use the radio.  There are too many folks around here that monitor our frequencies with scanners.”

 

The group moved to the shore, as the Sheriff and Dexton removed the small Jon Boat from the back of Dexton’s truck.  “It’s a good thing my house is on the way here. I got my little motor too.” Dexton lifted the small engine from the truck bed, hoisting it on his shoulder.

 

Dexton effortlessly attached the small outboard to the back of the boat. After putting on a life jacket, he motioned for the Sheriff to get in. “I brought my waterproof light.  Do any of you have swim goggles?” Dexton asked.

 

“Here,” Di held out her goggles.  Trixie did the same with hers.

 

“Thanks ladies.” Sheriff Reynolds took the goggles from the two.

 

Dexton started the five-horsepower motor on the first pull.  He and the sheriff slowly disappeared around the bend.

 

Turning to her cousin, Amber prodded, “Soooo, you just happened to be at the Ranger Station?” 

 

Andrea inspected her fingernails, and replied, “Your boss told me I could take off a little early, so I stopped off to see what Dex was up to.  I was helping him check the self-pay stations when Uncle Glynn called.”  She gave a short huff. “I was going to ask him to grab a bite to eat when he got off work, when all this came up.  I think I was about to chicken out.  This may have saved me from embarrassing myself.”

 

Amber put her arm around her cousin.  “He doesn’t bite.  He’s just a little naïve when it comes to relationships.”

 

Trixie had been listening quietly to the cousins.  “Gleeps, I wonder what they are planning on doing next?  I mean, we found some of the canoes, but what about the others?  Who took them?  Why?  Why did they leave them there?”

 

Jim held her by the shoulders. “Slow down.  You’ll get your answers soon enough.  Well, at least part of your questions will be answered,” Jim comforted her. 

 

After several minutes of waiting, Mart pointed at the bend. “Look, I think I seem them now.”

 

Sure enough, the Jon Boat could be seen in the far distance.

 

Their attention was diverted when, two more vehicles pulled into the parking area. This time, it was a white, twelve-passenger van, followed by a Dakota. “The Paddy Wagon,” announced Amber. “We also use it for church activities.  For some reason Dex’s group loves riding in it, in spite of the fact it has ‘Marion County Detention Center’ plastered on both sides.”

 

The deputy got out and stood by the van.  Amber motioned him forward and explained that they were waiting on her father.  “Thanks for dropping this off.  We really appreciate it.”

 

“No problem,” he answered, as he handed her the keys.  “My wife followed me. Glynn said he needed the van and that you would take it from here.”  He waved as he got into the passenger seat.  The Dakota turned around and left the area.

 

The small craft was much closer.  As it approached the shore, a very wet Dexton sat at the rear guiding the motor.

 

“There’s a bunch down there all right,” the young ranger proclaimed.

 

Dan helped the Sheriff pull the boat onto shore.

 

“Thank you son,” the Sheriff acknowledged.  “Ok, here’s the plan…” 

 

As he addressed the group, he talked simultaneously to the various agencies on his cell phone, thankful for what little reception he could receive.

 

“So, does everyone understand?  You can’t breathe a word of this to anyone.  I’ll get some of my deputies to dive along the river.  I have a feeling that there are a lot more out there.  I’m going to direct them to concentrate on the bluffs, since those are the deepest areas. At the same time, we’ll keep an eye out.  They didn’t sink them for no reason.  I have a feeling that they’re coming back for them, once the heat is off.”

 

He motioned to Dexton.  “You’ll need to keep this quiet at the station too.  The fewer that know about this, the better. There’s so few of you park rangers as it is. I don’t see you all being able to spend much time waiting around for a bunch of crooks anyway.”

 

He flipped his phone open, and closed it quickly as if changing his mind.  “I thought about calling some the canoe companies and let them know what we found, but I think we need to keep them in the dark, for now anyway. At least, until we find out more.”

 

Dexton started shivering in his wet clothes, “If it’s all the same to you, I need to get home and changed.  Is anybody else hungry, or is it just me?”

 

Andrea took this as her cue, “Oh, Dex, you must be uncomfortable. You do need to go home and change.”

 

Sheriff Reynolds opened his phone. “Are you all hungry?  I can call ahead and ask the Front Porch* to stay open a little longer than usual.”

 

“That’s a restaurant in Yellville,” explained Amber.  “Dad, I think they will want to drop off their gear and clean up a bit first.  I’m sure that’s what Dex had in mind as well.”

 

Dexton smiled weakly, “Just let me change, and I can meet you there.  Andrea, do you want to ride with me?” The anticipation in his voice was obvious.

 

“Sure, if you don’t mind,” requested Andrea.  “I need to change too.  This is the place with the buffet, right?”

 

“Buffet?” Mart repeated.

 

That brought laughter from the Bob-Whites.

 

“Forgive him, he’s always hungry,” apologized Di.

 

“Ok then,” the sheriff began his call, “I’ll tell them that we have some special visitors and ask them to stay open a little longer for us.”  He added, “Oh, and this is on me.  I really owe you young people big.”

 

Promising to meet at the restaurant, the different groups left for their destinations.  It was quiet in the van for most of the trip.  Amber drove along the bumpy road as Dan sat beside her in the passenger seat.  Each Bob-White couple occupied a seat in the spacious van. The only sound was the noise coming from the rough road.

 

Trixie finally broke the mood. “Well, we did it again.” She leaned forward and hugged Di’s neck. “It was your idea to dive. If you hadn’t, we would never have known the canoes were down there.”

 

“Hey, what about me?”  Mart demanded.  “It was my hook that was tangled.”

 

“I think it was a group effort,” Amber corrected as she took Dan’s hand.

 

 Dan addressed the back of the van, “It was a Bob-White effort.”

 

Amber squeezed his hand.  “Bob-White?”

 

The Bob-Whites began filling her in on their club history and some of the adventures they had shared over the years.  They ended by demonstrating the Bob-White whistle.

 

“Wow,” she sounded impressed, “sounds like ya’ll fall into a world of adventure everywhere you go.”

 

Once at the campground, they locked up their belongings and hurried to freshen up and change.  Amber had the foresight to bring along her own change of clothes.

 

***********************

 

During the drive to Yellville Amber informed them, “The restaurant usually closes at 9:00, but they’ll stay open for special occasions.  I think this is pretty special.”

 

She parked the van along side the National Park truck and her Dad’s Explorer. “I hope we’re not too late,” Mart worried.

 

As they stepped onto the restaurant’s porch, the door swung open.  Out stepped the Murphys.  “We’ve got to quit running into each other,” she teased.  “We’re on our way to Petit Jean State Park.  Did you all have a good day?”

 

Remembering their promise to the sheriff, they briefly related that they had taken one last float and would be leaving the next morning for Branson.

 

The couple wished them well.  As they hit the bottom step, he turned and warned them, “Drive the back roads and traffic relief routes as much as you can while you’re in Branson.  The traffic on the strip is awful.”

 

“We hope to meet up with someone from the area.  She should be able to help us avoid the gridlock,” Brian assured them.

 

Once in the restaurant, they were ushered to a back room.  “It’s about time.  I thought we were going to have to send a search party,” Sheriff Reynolds laughed. 

 

Amber bent down and kissed her father on the forehead. “We’re sorry you had to wait.”

 

She introduced Dan to her mother.  Dan looked surprised when Mrs. Reynolds stood and embraced him. “She told me that she met a nice young man.  I hear that you plan on going to a police academy.”  Dan nodded and thanked her for being so friendly. 

 

“I don’t think we’ve met a stranger yet while we’ve been here,” marveled Dan.  The other Bob-Whites readily agreed.

 

The Bob-Whites claimed a seat around the large table.  After placing their drink orders, they proceeded through the buffet line.

 

“Fried chicken, Bar-B-Q, Catfish, desserts, I’ve died and gone to Heaven,” Mart licked his lips.

 

Di rolled her eyes and placed her napkin in her lap.  “He says that now, wait until later when he realizes that he ate too much.  He’ll claim he’s dying then,” she shared with Trixie.

 

After several trips to the buffet, sampling the wide variety of items, they sat back and discussed the activities of the day.

 

“I’ve got men set up to help me dive this coming Monday.  We’re going to take a fish-finder and see if they show up on it.  If not, we’ll dive in every hole from Maumee to Buffalo City.”  He turned to Dexton. “I’ll have some of them keeping an eye on the Park’s river accesses.  That’s really the only way they are going to get them out, unless they float them all the way to the White River.”

 

Dex started to speak, but was interrupted by Andrea.  She reached over to wipe some blueberry pie off his chin.  “Sorry,” she said with a blush.

 

He turned his own shade of pink before responding. “We really don’t have the manpower to watch the accesses ourselves.  I’ll do what I can.  We can also keep reminding the floaters and campers to report any suspicious activity.” 

 

Andrea raised her hand, “Uncle Glynn, I can pitch in too.  Just tell me what to do.”  She grabbed Dexton’s arm.  “That goes for you too, Dex.”

 

He reached over with his free hand and squeezed hers.  “Thank you.” He trailed off when he realized that the entire table was watching their exchange.

 

Sheriff Reynolds chuckled at the embarrassment of the young man.  He addressed the Bob-Whites. “We’ll need your phone numbers, email and regular mail addresses, just in case we need any statements from you.  I’m sure Amber will keep you posted on any developments.”

 

“I hate to break this up, but we need to get back to camp,” Jim reminded the table.  “We’re planning on leaving in the morning. There’s a lot of gear that we’ll have to re-pack.”

 

Dan rubbed his forehead. “I hope I remember how we had it all stacked.”

 

Amber grabbed her purse. “I guess I need to get you all back to your campsite.  I also need to get my Bronco.  Will we see you before you leave?”

 

Brian and Jim looked at each other for a moment, “I guess we can meet at the restaurant for breakfast.  Will you be working?”  Brian asked.  The last line got Dan’s attention.

 

“Unfortunately, I have to report in bright and early tomorrow. We open at 7:00.  I’ll set up a table just for you,” Amber offered.

 

“Count me in,” Dex added.  He looked at Andrea, who smiled her answer.

 

They stood and said their goodbyes.  Amber’s parents reminded her to drive safely.  Her father told her he would send a deputy to pick up the van the next day.

 

Placing her hand in the crook of Dexton’s arm, Andrea waved and promised to meet them in the morning.

 

The drive back to the park was quiet.  Amber had the radio tuned to an oldies station. She remarked, “That’s really the only station we pick up this far out.”

 

She stopped at the campsite, in order to let the other couples out.  Dan rode with Amber to the parking area below.  She was going there to trade vehicles. They got out and Dan helped her to transfer her belongings to the storage area of the Bronco. Leaning against the side of the small SUV, Amber folded her arms.  “I guess this is goodbye?”

 

“We’ll keep in touch,” he assured her.  “You have my email address. I’ll try to get back sometime.  And, you’re always welcome to visit New York.”  He put his arms around her waist and pulled her into a long, slow kiss.

 

After pulling apart Amber fanned herself, “Whew, in what part of New York did you say you lived?”

 

Dan led her to the driver’s door.  He opened the door for her and shut it behind.  He got into the passenger seat, and she drove the short distance to the campsite.

 

He leaned over the console and gave her a final kiss before promising, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”  He reluctantly exited the vehicle. 

  

She put the vehicle in gear and slowly drove away. 

 

******************************

 

Trixie and Jim were just settling down in their tent.  Trixie was giddy, “I can’t believe it.  Another mystery has been solved.”

 

Jim leaned over and kissed her nose.  “It’s not solved, yet.  They still need to find the thieves.”

 

“I have a feeling that they’ll turn up sooner or later,” Trixie predicted.

 

“I have a feeling that your feeling is right.”  Jim leaned closer.  “Speaking of feelings…” 

 

When they came up for air Trixie apologized, “I’m still not ready for the next step.  Sorry.”

 

“I’m willing to wait,” Jim said as he moved a stray curl from her face.  “We still have those issues we discussed the other night to work through.”

 

Settling back in their sleeping bags, they drifted off to sleep.

 

 

**********************************

 

The next morning the Bob-Whites quickly packed their belongings and began taking down the tents.  With the tubs packed and the camping equipment ready for stowing, they began re-loading the trailer.

 

They picked their campsites clean of any evidence of their stay and paused before loading into the Denali to take one last look.  “Goodbye campground,” Honey sadly waved.

 

“We’ve got to come back,” Jim declared.  The others affirmed their wishes to return too.

 

***************************************

 

Jim pulled the vehicle into the restaurant’s parking lot. He parked beside the Park Service truck.  “Looks like Dexton’s already here,” observed Trixie.

 

As they entered the dining area, they were motioned over to a series of tables. Dexton and Andrea were seated and drinking coffee.  “We waited on you before we placed our order.  I figured you’d be a little late.  You all had three campsites worth of gear,” Dexton smiled as he shook their hands.

 

Amber came out of the kitchen area, order book in hand. “I had a great time yesterday and last night too. Let me get your drink order and I’ll be right back. We’re not busy right now. I can come back and talk for a bit.”

 

Their breakfasts came out very fast, allowing Amber enough time to stop and talk between waiting on the other tables.

 

“You’ll like Branson,” she promised them.  “Don’t forget to go through the cave at Silver Dollar City.  That was the reason the park came into existence.”

 

Dexton added, “There are a lot of really good shows too.  There has to be at least forty theatres.”

 

“Don’t forget the great restaurants.” Andrea licked her lips, “McFarlain’s has the best pie. It’s in the Imax Entertainment Complex.”

 

Jim grabbed the ticket. “Well, keep in touch.” He lowered his voice, “Let us know how the case is going.”

 

As they left, Dan stayed back for a moment to give Amber a quick kiss.  “I want to hear from you. Call me, Email, Snail mail, it doesn’t matter.  You have our contact information for the investigation.”

 

“Don’t worry; I want the same from you.  Don’t forget me,” she requested.

 

Dan reached into his billfold and took out a Twenty.  “For old time’s sake,” he joked.  As she reached for the bill, he took her hand and kissed it.  “Goodbye,” they said simultaneously.

 

Dan slowly backed away, before turning to leave. 

 

“He seems like a great guy,” Amber’s cousin noted. “You might want to wait until he gets back home before you try contacting him.”

 

As they passed the ranger station for the last time, Honey turned to Dan.  It was evident he was already missing Amber.  “Don’t worry Dan.  You haven’t met Linnie yet.  We’ll look her up first thing, as soon as we get to Branson.”

 

The Denali wound its way through the park and past Wild Bill’s before turning onto Hwy 14.  Jim paused the vehicle long enough to turn to the others and say, “Let’s see what adventures we can find in Branson.”

 

 

************************

 

It was several weeks later.  The Bob-Whites were holding a meeting at the clubhouse to start making plans for moving each member to their particular college. 

 

“Where’s Dan?” asked Brian.  “He volunteered to move Trixie and Honey, since he’s already going that way.”

 

“He’s either emailing or reading an email from Amber.  She’s been keeping him up-to-date on the missing canoes,” Mart informed them.  “They found dozens hidden in the deep pools below the bluffs and the other deep holes.”

 

Jim let out a whistle, “Those thieves were busy.”  He began chuckling. “Dad finally tried some of that wine Dan bought on the trip.  I don’t think he’ll admit it, but I got the impression that he thought it was pretty good.  I’m glad Dan gave it to him, rather than try to drink it all himself.”

 

“Speaking of Dan, I don’t know how we are going to make it at college without him.  I’m so glad that he’s going to be there for the two of us,” Trixie commented to Honey. Honey nodding in agreement. 

 

Jim stiffened. A hint of jealousy flashed in his already green eyes.

 

Seeing his reaction, Honey comforted him, “Big brother, I know you wanted to take us.  Too bad our Freshman Orientation clashed with your schedule.”

 

Just then the door opened. A very apologetic Dan entered, holding a sheet of paper.  “Sorry, I was checking my email at Uncle Bill’s.  I got an email from Amber.”

 

“Oh!”  Trixie asked, “Is she doing ok?”

 

Dan’s answered with a blank look and a short, “I’ll tell you about it later.”

 

“Anyway,” he changed the subject, “she had news about the canoe thefts.”

 

Dan half-read, and half-recited from memory, the printout of the email.

 

“Apparently she, Andrea, and Dexton wanted to take some time off before their colleges started and go camping.  They decided to go to Rush since it’s less crowded and they were, after all, trying to get away.”

 

“Dexton had gotten up at daybreak to go fly fishing.  He had just gotten to the landing when he could hear a boat motor.  He had a pair of field binoculars in his pack, so he watched upstream.”

 

“A flat-bottom boat came around the corner of the gravel bar pulling eight canoes, all from different companies.”

 

“He had his two way radio with him, so he called the Ranger Station and had them call Sheriff Reynolds.  His cell phone didn’t have a clear signal.”

 

“At the same time the girls had left their tent to see if Dexton was having any luck.”

 

“He yelled at them to get his rifle from his truck.  They got back with it just as the flat-bottom and its flotilla was going past the landing.”

 

“Dexton pointed his rifle, flashed his badge and told the operator to turn off the engine and stay put.”

 

Dan stopped and looked at the others, “Apparently, in addition to being an Intern with the Parks Department, he’s also a reserve deputy.”

 

“The guys in the boat started to balk, but Dexton fired a warning shot over their head.  They decided to surrender after that display.”

 

“One of them started coming up with excuse after excuse as to how they had so many canoes. After the Sheriff arrived and arrested them, they decided to come clean and started ratting out all of their friends that had helped cook up the scheme.”

 

“They were on their way to Buffalo City, where the Buffalo joins the White River, to meet up with the rest of the gang.”

 

“Apparently, they have been sandblasting the names and serial numbers off of the canoes.  Their scheme was to start up their own rental company on another river.”

 

Honey raised an eyebrow, “Is that all she had to say?”

 

Dan folded the paper and placed it in his pocket.  “No, that’s all,” he replied. A glace at Trixie, however, gave away that there was something more to the email.

 

I guess he got some bad news, Trixie surmised. I’ll see if he wants to talk about it later.  She reminded herself to talk to Dan when they could be alone.

 

Jim reached across the table and took her hand, giving it a squeeze. She squeezed back.  Her mind began to reflect over the past few weeks.  This summer has been perfectly, perfect.   A warm feeling flushed through her body.  I only hope that we can manage to keep this going while we’re apart.

 

While the Bob-Whites began discussing college moving day plans, Trixie leaned back in her chair and smiled. It looks like we helped solve another mystery after all.  Hopefully, college will a little quieter.

 

 

THE END (for now, maybe)

 

*****In case you couldn’t see the pictures.  Some folks have claimed they can if they copy the story and past it as a Word document.  It could be worth a try. *******

 

 

Credits (August 2006)

 

A big bucket load of thanks to Andrea/Moon-Spinner and Amber for re-editing this for me.  I am still baffled at what could have happen to the original to cause it to have all those crazy errors.

 

Hopefully between the three of us, we caught them all.

 

I was able to add the “couple of things” that I needed to do.  Now one of my future stories will work.

 

Andrea asked about the CCC.  Listed below are some links that will give you information to that neat chapter in our history. 

http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps

 http://www.cccalumni.org/history1.html

http://www.ccclegacy.org/

http://www.answers.com/topic/civilian-conservation-corps

http://www.cccalumni.org/museum.html

http://www.historystateparks.com/ccc/

(The above has examples of their workmanship found in my own state, Arkansas)

http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/ccc/ccct.htm

(The above has excellent info on the program and how it affected the national parks service.

 

Credits-(May 2005)

 

I do realize I leave some things up in the air.  I have over a dozen books lined up to read this summer.  Who knows what I’ll do when I’m finished with them and find myself with extra time on my hands.

 

Special thanks to the following people: The “A” team - Amber, April/Boots, Andrea and especially AprilW. 

 

AprilW did my final edit!  I owe her a million thanks.  She was very kind to tackle this in its completed form.  You are the absolute best!

 

I own a debt of gratitude to the greatest English teacher to ever grace the halls of HTMS.  K.L. Brewer.

 

We’ve taught together for the last 9 years.  That’s half of my teaching career.  I’m really going to miss team teaching with her next year.  She did her best to explain to me those darned comma rules.  Too bad I am such a poor student.  I guess that’s why I teach Geography instead of English.

 

I do not have permission from the various book companies, authors and other interested parties that own the rights to Trixie Belden and her friends.  I would appreciate it if they do not sue me for writing this project.  The readers, however, may decide to do that themselves.

 

I will also apologize for using my own last name in the story.  I just couldn’t come up with a name that I liked. 

 

I also realize I had minors in possession of alcohol and consuming alcohol which violates a number of state laws.  These are teens and post teens.  I know that in the real word minors do possess and consume alcohol.  Even as terrific as our Bob-Whites are, they are not above that temptation.

 

God’s blessings and peace to all!

 

Teresa A. Murphy

 

Notice:

 

Steve and I just got back from a camping trip to Buffalo Point.  (June 2005)

There were some minor changes that had been made.

1)   The NPS still hasn’t repaired the beach after the flooding last year (May 2004).  The shore line is still too steep.  The canoe companies refuse to allow folks to put in or take out from there.  It’s all done at the bridge.

2)   They did some remodeling of the Café at Buffalo Point.  They enlarged and made the restrooms much nicer.  They also added Central H/AC to the café, redid the ceiling, lighting and flooring.  It was really nice.  We made sure we mentioned to the manager how much we liked the changes.

3)   Some idiots burned down the historic store at Rush.  This is the one that is closest to the river.  It survived the flood of 1982.  It is mentioned in the project.  Dumb-butts.

4)   Flippin has a Wal-Mart Super-Center!  It’s almost next door to the laundry.  That makes for a minor change in the project as well.  (I changed that for the revised-06 story)

5)   I may have given the impression that Steve and I like eating at the Front Porch.  NOT.  Neither one of us like it.  They do have a Mexican restaurant, Burro Loco that is really good.  We ate there when we were camping in the summer of 05.

6)   Bass Pro shop took down the display of the hiker person on the swinging bridge. (I think it is back up now-T 7/06)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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