Down The River
By Thomas Mc

Note: This story is part of the 'Five of Hearts' series and tells of the romantic river adventure of Vincent and Catherine's two youngest daughters Nancy and Briget.

Chapter 1: The Boys, The River and Girls

March 2014

Justin waited impatiently for his cousin Adam to finish packing the watertight cooler for their trip. It was Spring break and an unusually warm spring. They were embarking on their planned tubing trip down the river. This would be their second such trip. It had been eight months since Justin had come to Connecticut to live with his cousin's parents while he finished up his degree at the nearby prestigious college. Adam was a sophomore in college and Justin was a junior. They had both become almost as close as brothers in that short time. Justin also found Adam's home life much more pleasant than his own. His parents had been going through a divorce when he moved out on his own three years ago.

Finally, they were all packed up and loaded into Justin's old sky blue truck (his pride and joy). Adam gave the old truck the once over with his eyes as he climbed into the cab. "When are you going to trade this old antique in for something built in this century?" He asked with a grin. Though Adam always teased Justin about his thirty-year-old truck, he was almost as fond of it as his cousin.

Justin put the truck in gear and pulled out onto the road. "This truck will still be around after your next dozen cars have gone to the junk yard." This was his usual response to his cousin who had already managed to wear out two cars in three years. Adam often claimed that he rarely broke the speed limit, but he did have a habit of getting up to the limit very quickly.

The next stop was at the college dorm to pick up three other buddies that were going down the river with them. Jordan, Rusty and Stephen came out to Justin's truck with a second cooler and a large waterproof floating backpack. The backpack contained ten of the popular fake inner tubes, currently un-inflated, a battery powered electric air pump and a couple of lengths of rope. Soon they were off to the river.

After a half hour, they came to the popular lower landing where most of those tubing down the river ended up. It was obvious, by the number of people and vehicles that the river was going to be pretty crowded today. It was, after all, spring break. After a few minutes of hunting, they found an open spot to park the truck. Then they had to rush to catch the next shuttle bus that ran the route up and down the river.

The bus passed two more landings on its way up the river, stopping to pick up more riders. It was now crowded to the point of absurdity with laughing teenagers, half of them soaking wet. The next three stops would be at the popular drop-off points. About half the riders got off at the first drop-off point. A very wet, bedraggled looking, couple also boarded at that stop. Adam figured that some minor disaster accounted for their condition and tried to strike up a conversation with them. It turned out that they had been on the river less than ten minutes when her tube had flipped at a shallow fast moving area and he had lost his tube when he was trying to help her out of the fast moving water. They had decided to give it up for the day and ride the bus back to their car. Adam and Justin offered their sympathies.

The bus came to the second drop off point and all but ten people got off. Very few were willing to go all the way to the farthest drop-off because of the section of rapids between the last two drop-offs. Three grinning, very wet young men got onto the bus with their still inflated tubes. They were high-fiving each other and babbling about how great it was and psyching themselves up to 'go at it again'. Six minutes later the bus came to the last stop. Everyone still left on the shuttle, except the bedraggled couple, got off. The three soaked young men headed straight for the water and had soon disappeared down the river.

Adam, Justin and their friends clustered at the dock and began inflating seven of the tubes, one for each of them and one for each of the coolers. Once finished, the electric pump was sealed in a watertight plastic bag and put back in the backpack. The coolers were then tied down into the two unoccupied tubes. One cooler with its tube was tied to Justin's tube with a six-foot length of rope. The other cooler and the backpack were attached to Rusty's tube in the same manor.

The five friends finally slipped into the water and began floating down the river as a group. They were joined by two other adventurous guys. The two other guys had also brought a cooler and were named Jeff and Eddy.

At first, the river was wide and rather slow moving. Beers came out of the coolers and they all relaxed. It would take them a bit over half the day to get all the way down the river to where Justin's truck was parked. The seven young men introduced themselves and talked about spring break and some of the things they had seen on previous tubing trips. It seemed like almost half the tales involved encountering girls in various states of undress along the river. Jeff related a tale about encountering a couple that was sharing an oversized tube and were actually 'making it' right there in the middle of the river last year. Then the talk shifted to the chances of picking up some cute girls while on the river. Word was that the odds in that direction were very good this year.

After about a mile, the river narrowed and began flowing much faster. Shortly after that, they passed a tree with a hand-lettered sign hanging from a large branch over the river. The sign said 'Abandon all hope you who pass this point'. Shortly after that, the river widened back out and became much shallower. It also was moving significantly faster as well as getting rougher. Soon everyone was hanging on as they all fought to stay in their tubes and upright.

They had just rounded a bend in the river when they came upon the three boisterous young men from the shuttle. One of them had flipped over and the other two were laughing while fighting the current trying to help him back into his tube. They finally succeeded just as Adam and Justin's group was disappearing around the next curve. A little further down the river, Jeff and Eddy got into a little bit of trouble. Justin stopped to help but Eddy said they were OK and waved Adam and Justin's group on. After another quarter mile, the river smoothed out and slowed down.

Soon they had come to the second drop-off point and the river became much more crowded. There were now a large number of girls in the mix but most of them were already paired off. A short distance beyond the drop-off a group of six unattached girls hooked up with their group and there was some playful flirting for a while as they floated down the river together.

An hour later, they came to an extremely crowded spot in the river and somehow got separated from the girls in the crush of tubes and people. Then a few seconds later Justin and Adam noticed that they had lost the other three members of their little group as well. Several hundred feet further on, they came to the apparent cause of the inner tube traffic jamb.

The sound of loud cheers wafted over the crowded river. "Did you see that?" Adam called out in surprise.

"See what?" Justin looked up from the cooler he had been digging in and glanced around.

"I would swear I just saw a naked girl drop out of that tree." Adam replied.

"You're kidding." Justin responded as he gazed in the direction his cousin had indicated.

There was a large overhanging tree with fair sized group of young men clustered in the water beneath it. There seemed to be a lot of shouting but too many were shouting at once and the content was unintelligible. Somebody in the crowd threw something small, about the size of a flashlight battery, up into the tree. About five seconds later something that looked like a piece of clothing came fluttering down and the noise increased for a moment. Then two more small items were expelled from the crowd and flew up into the tree. Shortly there after, two more colorful objects came fluttering down.

"I gotta see what's going on." Justin told Adam. "Let's move in closer."

Adam shrugged, he too was curious, and they shifted their direction of travel, working their way toward the tightly packed center of the commotion. As they approached the heart of that crowd, the peculiar sequence of actions continued. Just as they reached the outer fringes of the boisterous gathering, another of the small items flew up into the tree. A second later, a totally unclothed girl dropped out of the tree and landed in the water near the center of that group with a large splash and loud raucous cheers.

A light began to dawn as another of those small objects flew up into the tree. "What is that they're throwing to the girls?" Adam asked the nearest person in the crowd.

"Jell-O shots." Came the reply from one of the many young men in the crowd.

Just then, Jordan, Rusty and Stephen arrived, drawn by the same commotion. A few more questions elicited little additional information. The exact point of what was going on was very unclear. It had something to do with some type of dare, mixed with alcohol. Then another nude girl dropped out of the tree. The boys all enjoyed the 'show' as much as the next guy. For a while they just took it easy, sipped on their beers, and shot the breeze with their friends. A large part of the conversation did revolve around the girls in the tree. Meanwhile two more girls dropped out of the tree.

Eventually Adam and Justin decided to move on, but Jordan, Rusty and Stephen wanted to stay and watch the fun a little longer. Justin glanced at his diver's watch. It had been a birthday present from his parents four years ago. It was the last pleasant memory he had of them together, just before their marriage had turned into open warfare.

Justin commented to the other three young men. "If we're going to separate, then we need to arrange some type of rendezvous for this evening." Adam then suggested. "How about we all meet at the lower landing next to the tube rental shack at eight o'clock sharp." Jordan, Rusty and Stephen all agreed to it then Justin and Adam took off on their own.

Justin and Adam talked for a while, discussing the various nude girls they had seen jump out of the tree. Adam's opinion was that the blonde, that had been the fourth one to drop in, had been the best looking. Justin thought the brunette, number six, had been the best looking. They finally agreed to disagree and, that subject having been exhausted, they moved on to the various peculiarities of the professors at their college.

A half hour later, they rounded a bend in the river and come across two very cute girls that were apparently being harassed by two very large and belligerent young men. Both girls were around five-foot-three. The two guys harassing the girls were a bit over six feet and from the looks of it they were becoming more aggressive by the second.

Justin was a hair under six and a half feet tall and built like a tank because of his daily workouts. He had plans to go into law enforcement. Adam was five foot eight and only weighed a hundred fifty pounds. Though Justin was much larger and stronger, Adam had managed to, almost, hold his own in many a wrestling match with his cousin due to his quick agility. They looked at each other and, with a shrug and an answering nod, decided to try to help. They started making their way over toward the escalating altercation.

Justin opened his mouth to call out a challenge, when suddenly with a double splash, the two obnoxious young men were both floundering in the water and the two petite girls were staring down at them, hands on hips.

One of the girls looked up at the cousins. Justin, his mouth still open, and Adam, his mouth closed but looking equally surprised just stood there. She cocked her head. "Well." She called. "Do you two have something on your minds or are you just lost?"

Justin opened and closed his mouth a couple of times without anything coming out. He paused, as the second girl looked up, then he tried again. "Ah, actually we were thinking of coming to your rescue." He finally got out.

Adam snickered at the combination of the situation and Justin's comment.

The two potential troublemakers struggled to their feet. "Hey, this is none . . ." At this point his gaze had moved from Adam, small and skinny, to Justin, large and very powerfully built. Both of the young men were suitably cowed by Justin's size and staggered, mumbling, away.

The second girl chimed in sarcastically. "And I suppose you two expected us to swoon and fall into your arms after you swooped in and rescued us poor defenseless girls." There was a definite edge of annoyance to her voice. "Next you would be offering to escort us poor defenseless girls down the river to protect us from all those other dangerous guys."

The first girl smacked the second girl on the arm. "Brigit!"

Justin stared, stunned, back at the girl, now identified as Brigit.

Adam seemed to be seriously considering her suggestion for a second then he responded. "I thought it was more likely that you might be willing to float down the river with us for a while." He shrugged. "Since our aid is not really needed, I suspect that the swooning into our arms part is not necessarily expected, although I certainly wouldn't object to it if you fell into our arms."

Justin glanced over at Adam, a bit surprised at his cousin's response.

Adam glanced at Justin then continued. "Now that I think about it maybe you two could escort us down the river and protect me and my cousin from all those aggressive girls." He shrugged. "Flirting is certainly still optional." He gave her his best helpless puppy-dog eyes look.

Justin continued staring at his cousin in surprise then, trying very hard not to laugh, he attempted, a little less successfully, to imitate his cousin's expression.

The first girl looked back at Adam and Justin in wide-eyed surprise then held her hand over her mouth to hide her grin. After about a second, Brigit's anger began to crumble before the looks on the two boy's faces. When the other girl finally cracked up a second later, Brigit's self-control also slipped and a couple of snickers escaped.

Adam, who was actually a pretty good actor, really laid it on thick with the helpless puppy-dog look and Justin finally cracked up. A second later Brigit finally gave in and also broke up laughing. Adam was the last to crack and start laughing.

Adam pointed to his cousin. "This is my cousin Justin, and my name is Adam. We really would enjoy your company." He indicated, with an exaggerated gesture, the third tube that was attached to Justin's tube by a six-foot rope. "We have a cooler."

The other girl spoke up. "My name is Nancy and this is my sister Brigit." The two girls were so similar in appearance that there could be no doubt that they were sisters. The most obvious difference between them was their eye color.

With a little bit more coaxing from both boys, and a few more humorous cracks from Adam about being chased by all those aggressive girls, Brigit and Nancy finally agreed to join them and continue down the river together.

After a few moments of, slightly awkward, silence, Adam spoke up. "I don't mean to be too forward but I saw what you both did back there to those two idiots. That was not just some trick judo throw. You picked those two guys up and threw them down into the water. That took some serious strength. I couldn't have lifted either of them like that."

Justin jumped in. "You two are a lot stronger than you look, aren't you."

Brigit shrugged, looking at Justin a bit defensively, and replied to him. "Yea we are pretty strong."

Adam had to ask as he continued. "I hope you'll excuse my interest in the subject, but . . . just how strong are you two?"

Nancy answered with a shrug. "I would say that we are at least as strong as Justin, possibly stronger but not by much."

Justin responded. "That is pretty hard to believe."

"Want to test it?" Brigit jumped in, the earlier belligerence was back again.

"If you want." Justin replied lazily.

Adam grinned. "I would love to see you and Justin arm wrestle.

The four of them shifted over to a grassy bank and got out of the water. Soon Justin and Brigit were stretched out on the grass covered ground and facing off in an arm wrestling contest. Justin easily won the first round, flipping Brigit over onto her side. Brigit groaned and struck the ground in frustration.

Adam pondered the situation a moment then remarked to Brigit. "There is no way you can beat Justin this way. You're half his size. Justin has a huge weight advantage over you. We need some way to equalize your stability."

With a little thought, they rearranged the contest so that they each had something solid to hold onto. After several seconds of straining, Brigit won, but just barely. Adam had pulled out his camera and got a picture of them just before the contest ended. Justin stood there a few moments rubbing his strained muscles as he looked Brigit over in surprise and respect.

Continued in Part 2

'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.