“Extra batteries just in case?”
“They’re brand new. I just put them in.”
“Doesn’t matter. You always carry a spare set.”
Alex huffed as she went back to her kitchen, retrieving another pair of batteries from her junk drawer. “Okay, got it,” she said as she slipped them into her backpack.
“Good.” Ryan looked up, as he thought over the stuff he was making sure Alex brought on her first camping trip. “Swiss army knife?”
“Matches and a lighter?”
“Steph has it. And we have pictures on our phones.”
“You should have another paper copy.” He paused. “But you’re not going that far out, so I guess it doesn’t matter. What are you bringing for food?”
Alex opened the backpack and showed him. “A couple of cans of chili, stuff for smores, and beef jerky. Plus whatever snacks Steph decides to bring along.”
“Good. Make sure you have a trash bag with you, so you don’t leave your garbage behind.”
“Shut up.” Ryan rolled his eyes as he checked her sleeping bag. “This might be a little light. Are you bringing a sweatshirt?”
“Yes. And Steph said she’s bringing an extra blanket.”
“Are you guys going to be able to carry all of that?”
“I think so.” Alex hefted her backpack, feeling the weight. “Yea, it’s not that bad.”
Ryan smirked. “You say that now, but the spot I marked is at least an hour’s hike. You’d be surprised how heavy a backpack feels after walking for a few minutes.”
“I’ll manage one way or another. What about the thing?”
He reached into his back pocket and produced a small canister, holding it out for her. “You likely won’t see any bears out there, they usually stay further away from civilization,” he assured her. “But on the slim chance you do, just pull the safety pin and squeeze the handle.”
“Right.” Alex took it, jamming the canister into her bag. “Just in case.”
“Okay.” He checked his watch. “Steph will be here soon. Let’s get downstairs.”
She hefted the backpack over her shoulder, trying to make it seem effortless. Though she still wasn’t entirely sure about the trip they were about to embark on.
It’s one night. I can do one night.
Maybe we’ll actually have fun. She’s right, we’ve never done it before, and people do enjoy this.
She sighed as they got downstairs. The bar was mostly empty except for a couple having a late lunch, Charlotte, Jessie, and Ethan. All of whom had hands full of playing cards.
“Do yooooouuuuu… have any sixes?” Ethan asked hopefully.
Jessie smirked as she looked up from her hand. “Go fish.”
“Dang it.” Ethan was in the process of drawing a card when Alex caught his eye, as she dropped her backpack on the table beside them. “… are you about to run away from home?”
“Yes,” she answered playfully. “But only for one night. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Charlotte frowned as she looked over the backpack, noticing the sleeping bag tied to the bottom. “Are you going camping? Like, up in the mountains?”
“Cool!” Ethan looked at his mother. “I wanna go! Can we go camping?”
“Forget it,” Charlotte stated immediately. “We’ve spent hundreds of years making houses comfortable. I’m not backsliding.”
“Maybe next time you can come with us,” Alex offered, glancing at Charlotte. “If your mom says it’s okay.”
Ethan looked at her expectantly.
“Hey, if you’re willing to spend more time in the mountains, he’s all yours.” Charlotte smirked. “I am curious to see how you enjoy the experience.”
“Have you been camping before?”
“Once, when I was a kid. My father made me go.” She shook her head. “So many mosquito bites.”
“Ooh, right.” Ryan looked at her. “Do you-”
“Steph has the bug spray,” Alex interrupted him.
“What about a first aid kit?” Jessie asked, looking up from her cards. “A hatchet for firewood? Extra flashlight batteries?”
“Ryan already ran through the list. You go camping too, I’m guessing?”
“All the time, back home.” Jessie looked at Ryan. “Though I haven’t been in years. I wouldn’t mind going out over a weekend or something.”
The park ranger raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yea, totally.” She smiled as the door to the Black Lantern opened behind her. “It’d be nice to spend a little more time in nature. Especially with you.”
“Ugh.” Steph let the door close behind her as she rolled her eyes. “Get a room.”
Alex snickered as she watched Ryan flush slightly, then looked at the backpack on Steph’s shoulder. “You ready?”
“Yep.” She patted the strap. “Got everything we need.”
“Oh yea?” Ryan looked at her. “Tent? First aid kit? Map?”
“Yes. And a compass, two bags of beef jerky, a head lamp, extra socks, pocket knife, a bag of dryer lint for a fire, a blanket, and an external battery for our phones,” she rattled off.
“Okay, you know what?” Alex folded her arms, an irritated look on her face. “I don’t know how much I care for this babying you’re doing. Steph and I did our own research on what to take camping, you know.”
“It’s your first time,” he countered. “I just want to make sure you guys aren’t forgetting anything important.”
“Why?” Steph asked, eyebrow raised. “You don’t think we can hack it?”
“I think you’re a pair of amateurs who haven’t done this before.” Ryan nodded at Jessie. “And I don’t want to interrupt our date night to lead a rescue operation.”
“That’s a little insulting.” Alex shot him a glare. “We’re more than capable of handling ourselves.”
“Yea, and it’s an overnight trip two miles out of town,” Steph added. “Not like we’re hiking up Mount Everest.”
Ryan sighed as he held up both hands. “Okay, okay. Sorry for trying to help.”
Alex nodded. “That’s better.”
“Can I ask one question?”
“Which one of you has the toilet paper?”
Silence answered him. Alex and Steph slowly looked at each other, each one clearly hoping for the other to answer.
Ethan was the first one to start laughing, followed by the others as Alex scowled, turning on her heel and going back upstairs.
“So, what are you guys doing?”
Ryan looked behind him as he hopped out of the driver’s seat of his truck. “Huh?”
“For your date night.” Alex dragged her backpack from the bed of the truck, shouldering it. “Unless you’re closing the Black Lantern early, you won’t be able to do anything until, like, ten o’clock.”
“Yea, I know.” He sighed. “Running the town’s only bar sucks sometimes. But we’re going back to her place to eat a late dinner and start watching a show on Netflix.”
“I don’t know, something called Umbrella Academy. The trailer looks interesting, so we thought we’d give it a shot.”
Steph walked around the back of the truck, adjusting the straps on her backpack. “What’s happening?” she asked distractedly.
Alex looked at her with a smirk. “Ryan and Jessie’s plans are to Netflix and chill.”
“… huh.” Steph looked at Ryan, an impressed look on her face as she nodded. “Good for you, man.”
“Um… thanks, I guess.” He looked puzzled, but shook it off as he pointed behind them. “Trail head’s that way. Call me when you guys start walking down tomorrow, and I’ll be here waiting when you get back.”
“Awesome. Thanks for the lift.”
“Yea.” Alex patted him on the bicep. “Enjoy your night, big guy.”
He still looked confused, but didn’t respond as he said goodbye and got back in his truck, driving off.
“… I don’t think he knows what Netflix and chill means,” Steph remarked as the dust from the tires settled.
“I suspect you’re right.”
“Well, this trip won’t start itself.” Steph reached over and smacked Alex’s butt through her jeans, making the dark-haired girl squeal. “Let’s get a move on.”
“I don’t like this idea anymore.”
Steph watched Alex struggle on the latest hill, the brunette leaning against a tree as she took deep breaths. “What?” she gasped out. “Not having fun yet?”
“Not in the past hour.” Alex finally made it to Steph resting both hands on her knees as she panted. “If I had known the trail was this steep…”
“It’s a mountain, babe. You didn’t think we’d be walking uphill at some point?”
“Never made the connection, to be honest.” Alex slowly stood upright, taking a deep breath through her nostrils. “How much further?”
Steph pulled the map from her back pocket, unfolding it and looking around as she checked. “Not far, I think,” she allowed. “We passed that really big boulder already. I think we’re only a few minutes away from where Ryan told us to set up the tent.”
“Super.” Alex bounced the backpack, re-adjusting it on her shoulders. Though she would never tell him, Ryan had been right; the bag had gotten heavier since they’d started hiking. She took a greedy sip from the water tube on her shoulder before dropping it. “Fair warning, I’m sitting for at least an hour before we start doing shit.”
“Yea, yea, yea. Come on, slowpoke, let’s finish up this cardio workout.”
Alex grumbled as she began walking behind Steph again. Never should have agreed to this. Or at least should’ve gone to a campsite at the same altitude as Haven Springs. Fuck this mountain.
Thankfully, Steph was right. It was only another few minutes of climbing before they got to the site Ryan had picked; a small, flat area on the side of the mountain that overlooked a large valley. A fallen tree he’d told them to look for laid perpendicular to the trail, almost pointing towards the site. And a large boulder sat at the edge, where the mountain began to slope back downwards.
Alex noticed a small ring of rocks with dirt in the middle. “This must be the fire pit he said he made last time,” she deduced as she set down her backpack, sighing as she enjoyed the release of the weight from her shoulders. “I suppose it’s a nice enough spot.”
“Babe, did you see this?”
She looked over to see Steph standing beside the boulder, having dropped her bag behind her. “See what?”
“Come here. You have to check out this view.”
Alex stepped over to stand beside her girlfriend. “… holy shit,” she breathed.
The valley in front of them extended for miles, lined with mountains on either side. The peaks in the distance were covered in snow, and trees dotted the rest of the landscape. A small river curved through the valley below them. Brown animals that Alex assumed were deer walked by the rushing water below them, and large birds soared between the mountains.
Steph slowly sat down, and Alex followed suit as they silently stared at the scenery. After a few minutes, the brunette leaned her head on Alex’s shoulder, sighing as she nestled into her girlfriend. “This was totally worth the hike.”
“The view’s worth it,” Alex agreed. “I don’t know about the hike, though.”
With all her inexperience, Alex was proud that she was able to get a fire going fairly quickly.
Unfortunately, her cooking skills weren’t much better over an open flame.
“You’re going to have to scour the crap out of them when we get back,” Steph said with an amused expression, as Alex stabbed her metal fork into burnt chili that caked the bottom of her mess kit pan. The two of them were sitting beside each other on folding camp stools as they ate their dinner. “I think you left it on there a little long.”
“Yea, well, there’s not really a timer out here to help me.” Alex peeled up a large, black chunk of burnt food, flipping it into the fire. “Least it was warm.”
“Maybe next time we should bring Spaghetti-O’s.”
“… shit.” Alex looked up at her. “I could totally go for some right now. I haven’t had them since I was a little kid.”
Steph raised an eyebrow. “So you’re open to doing this again?”
“I will give you a soft ‘maybe’.” Alex looked back over the valley, made even prettier by the setting sun behind her. “If there are other views like this, I wouldn’t mind seeing them. And this is kinda fun.”
“Awesome.” Steph set her mess kit at her feet. “Now, please tell me you remembered the stuff for smores.”
“Yes, I got the stuff for smores.” Alex reached into the backpack beside her, pulling out the Ziploc bag with crackers, chocolate bars, and a few marshmallows. “You got your stick?”
Steph lifted it and pointed the sharpened end at Alex, who quickly stuck a marshmallow on it. “You know how to do this, right?”
Alex gave her an incredulous look as she stuck a marshmallow on her own stick. “Who doesn’t know how to make smores?!”
“You said you’ve never been camping before.”
“Yea, but I’ve been exposed to pop culture.” She held her stick over the fire while looking at Steph. “I think I can figure out how to roast a marshmallow.”
Steph grinned maliciously. “You have burned almost everything I’ve seen you try to cook since we met.”
“That stuff was complicated. This is a marshmallow.”
“Cooking canned chili in a camping pan over a fire is not complicated.”
“It is when I can’t tell how hot the fire is getting. It’s not like this is a stove where I can control the heat.”
“So you have confidence in your marshmallow-roasting skills?”
Steph nodded at the fire. “You sure about that?”
Alex looked over to see her marshmallow flaming up; she’d let it sink too low.
“Shit!” She pulled it back, quickly blowing it out. Then looked over the half-blackened mess with a sigh. “… I quit. I’m never cooking again.”
Steph held her stick out. “Trade you.”
“It’s fine, we have more.”
“I like them burnt. Hand it over.”
Alex gave her a puzzled look, but complied, making sure to hold her new marshmallow well above the flames. Steph stuck hers back in the fire, letting the flames finish the job. The marshmallow was fully black when she pulled it out and blew the flames away.
“That cannot be good for you.”
Steph winked as she bit down, pulling the burnt shell off with her teeth and munching into it. “Yummy.”
“What?” She shrugged as she retrieved crackers and chocolate from the bag, starting to build her smore. “It’s crunchy.”
Alex shook her head as she slowly roasted her marshmallow, watching it turn golden brown. She finally pulled it out after a couple of minutes, carefully squeezing it between the graham crackers and chocolate bar before biting into it. “Mmm.”
Steph smirked as she swallowed the last of her smore. “Good?”
“Amazing,” Alex mumbled through her full mouth, chewing and swallowing. “That’s worth the hike, right there.”
“You know we can probably make these at your apartment, over your grill.”
Alex pondered that as she took another bite. “I don’t think it’s the same.”
“We’ll have to try it out. And maybe switch it up, I’ve heard these are even better if you use peanut butter cups instead of chocolate bars.”
“That sounds killer.” Alex popped the last of her smore into her mouth, licking her fingers. “We totally should’ve bought some with us.”
“Agreed.” Steph paused, then leaned over and reached into her backpack with one hand. “Though I did think we’d enjoy a little of this.”
Alex watched her produce a small bottle of Fireball, her eyebrows arching. “I thought you didn’t like that stuff.”
“I can tolerate it.” Steph smiled as she unscrewed the cap, taking a small swig, before holding it out towards Alex. “Besides, I know you like the taste of it.”
“I do.” She grinned as she accepted the bottle. “Especially when I taste it on you.”
“Well, shit. Give it back.”
“Mm.” Alex took a sip for herself before she frowned. “Wait, you didn’t bring this out here just to loosen my inhibitions and take advantage of me, did you?”
Steph put a hand to her chest. “I can’t believe you’d accuse me of something like that. I’m greatly offended.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to get mad.” Alex smiled at her coyly. “I was just going to say that you didn’t need the booze for that.”
“We’re out here all alone…” she sipped from the bottle again before screwing the cap back on. Then she laid hand on Steph’s thigh and traced the seam on the inside of the brunette’s jeans with her fingernails. “There’s nobody else for miles…”
Steph looked at her intensely. “Babe, you keep this up and the next thing I do isn’t going to be roasting a marshmallow.”
Alex grinned as she leaned in close, putting her mouth at Steph’s ear so she could whisper. “We can be as loud as we want…”
Her girlfriend pouncing wasn’t entirely unexpected, though Alex was still caught off-guard by the speed as they both fell into the grass behind them.