WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW
Chapter 1 – Rattled
I watched him from across the campgrounds. His family was going to be here for the entire summer, and they had arrived in time for the Memorial Day weekend. They had rented a cabin close to us, but I knew better than to bother with them. Any family that could take three months off and spend it in the mountains was definitely out of my league.
Not that I was looking to make friends; the only reason I was friends with Jessica was because she just kept talking to me. I was not sure if I had ever actually spoken a full sentence in her presence, but she never seemed to care. She was always in her own world, going off on some tangent or another. I didn't think she really cared who she was talking to, as long as someone was listening to her, and for some strange reason, she believed I was.
My father was a forest ranger, maintaining the Verde Glen Campgrounds, which were north of Payson, Arizona. Every summer, I would come up and stay with him in the cabin where he lived. It was a tiny one-bedroom log structure, with a loft that was "my room," but I had to admit, getting out of the desert sun and up into the mountains was always nice.
I had a hammock I had strung between two trees, and I climbed in and settled down to read the latest trashy novels I had picked up from the library's used book section for a quarter. It was the same ritual I had followed every summer since I was thirteen, and my friend, Jessica, had introduced me to the more questionable section of the library. Of course, I was smart enough not to check them out and leave behind any evidence of our little addiction. That was one conversation I really didn't want to have, and I figured what they didn't know wouldn't hurt me. I would buy a few books instead, clearing out the shelf before I left for my father's place, where I could read them in peace.
I'd made the drive on my own this year. My home in Phoenix was not that far, and since I was almost eighteen, my parents conceded and let me drive myself. Besides, I really wanted transportation around the tiny town that was nearby. I had developed an addiction to a certain soft drink that was not available within walking distances to the campground, and so I needed my wheels to be able to acquire my source of nectar from the gods.
I pulled my book up closer and pretended to read, as I watched the boy across the way unload the back of a very large SUV. His shirt was tight, and his muscles rippled. The tight jeans he was wearing didn't hurt his rear-end profile, either. I bit my lip, wondering what it would be like to touch him there. Since I was not a talkative girl myself, and I hung out with an overly talkative girl in Jessica, she and I were basically the only single girls in our high school. It seemed like everyone else was either seriously dating, engaged or pregnant. We were none of those things, and most the time, I was okay with that.
I had big plans for my future, and they didn't involve the horny boys at my school. I was smart, and I knew I wanted more than what getting involved with any of them would get me. This was my last summer as a high school student. Next summer, I would be enrolling in one of the many colleges I was sure would accept me. I would probably be busy doing interviews and looking for housing. This was my last summer to relax and just be a kid, before my big life plans came into play.
I glanced back at my dirty book and smiled at the words before me. They would keep me company, until I would graduate college, then as I settled into my career, I would look for a suitable man to settle down with. Until then, I could just keep myself entertained in other ways. I might have been a studious bookworm, but I actually did know how to have fun.
I saw the guy close the back of the car and head inside, and I decided to do the same, since the show was over. Pity. He was definitely something, and watching him was going to be fun this summer. I sighed, marking my place in my book, before I crawled out of my hammock, putting my naughty thoughts away for the night. Besides, I would have to rub down with the DEET to keep the bugs away, before I had my nightly s'mores, and said rubbing didn't need to get out of hand.
I popped open a couple of cans of stew, making a note that I would have to convince my dad to let me do some grocery shopping. I didn't think I could handle another summer of canned goods. My dad mostly used the microwave. How did I know this? Because there was a huge spider web covering the stove and vent, and the poor thing must have been starved, because even the flies knew there was no food over there. My dad was a consummate bachelor, and cooking obviously was not on his list of priorities.
I set the bowls out on the table and pulled some bread from the breadbox. My dad came in a few minutes later and kissed my head.
"Hey, honey, thanks for this. How was your day?" he asked smiling.
"Good, it's nice and quiet here. I like it."
"You know, if you ever want to be a forest ranger, I could put in a good word for you," my dad offered.
"I don't think I'm up for that. I'd probably get into trouble for reading on the job," I teased. "Besides, bears and wolves scare the crap out of me."
"I know, honey, but a man can dream. I'd love for you to settle down around here," he smiled. "I miss you so much during the school year."
I leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I know, Daddy. I miss you, too. Maybe someday, you'll get your wish," I grinned. My dad smiled back at me wistfully. Yeah, I really missed him, too, a lot.
After I cleaned up from dinner, I slathered my body in bug repellant and even greased up my hair and then put on a hat. They loved the taste of my scalp just as much as my legs. I grabbed my four-pack of Virgil's and my s'mores ingredients and made my way to the center fire pit. I double checked the rocks and cleared out the weeds. It had been dry, but there hadn't been a fire ban yet. I was hoping there wouldn't be one this summer. S'mores made over the stovetop was just not the same, and I would feel bad to ruin spidey's hard work. He might have been starving, but being homeless would suck, too.
Once I had that all cleared, I went to the woodpile for firewood. I stopped, hearing the rattling of a diamond back. I let out a sigh. I knew I needed to take care of it, before someone else got hurt. I hurried into the cabin and pulled out the snake stick, which was just a long stick with a hook on it, and quickly got back to work, looking for the thing.
I poked around the firewood with the snake stick, until I heard it again. I was about to get down and swipe under the left side of the stack, when I heard a voice. "Hey, whatcha doing?"
I jumped. "Sheesh!" I said annoyed not even looking at who had spoken to me. "You need to stay back. I need to move the rattler from the woodpile, before I can start the fire," I warned.
"Rattler?" the voice asked, a little shaky.
"Yeah, you know, rattlesnake, deadly poisons, so back off and let me work," I snapped, and I heard their steps quickly retreating, which was a smart move on their part.
I was finally able to swipe it out with the hook and held it away from me. I heard a few swear words from behind me, when I pulled it out flailing, but I didn't dare take my eyes off the angry creature to see who it was. I walked it a ways into the woods, not far from a dry creek bed, and kind of tossed it away from me and then headed back.
When I got back to the clearing, a few of the campers were looking nervously at the woodpile, so I took it upon myself to gather up some wood and start the fire, like I had planned. Once it was going good, there were enough people around to keep an eye on it, so I could get me a bucket of ice for my Virgil's. I came back and sat down, moving my drinks to my ice pail, ignoring the kids regaling whoever had joined us about my wild fight with the snake. Apparently, it was now ten feet long and a foot thick round. The thing was barely five feet long, if that, and even though it was dangerous, my father had taught me how to deal with them a long time ago. As long as you remembered to respect each other and not do anything stupid, it was not dramatic at all.
I kicked back on my favorite log and popped the lid on a Virgil's vanilla diet cream soda. The ice had chilled the amber liquid in the glass longneck bottles to the perfect temperature. These things were heaven in a bottle. I had happened upon them on accident, buying one on clearance, and then spent the rest of the year finding out who sold them. I knew the local Safeway would have them, and I planned on making a trip to the store tomorrow to replenish my supply. I took a deep swig of my drink and pulled out my book. I knew it wasn't good to read by firelight, but the dim lights in the cabin weren't much better. Besides, this way I would look like I was being sociable and helpful by keeping an eye on the fire.
I was nearly done with my trashy romance novel, when the voice from before spoke to me. I didn't bother looking up, as I didn't want to lose my place.
"What are you reading?" he asked.
"None of your business," I snapped. Nosy wanker.
"Can I have a drink? I'm over twenty-one," he said with smirk in his voice.
"No, get your own, these babies are mine," I said pulling my coveted bucket of Virgil's closer to me. Obviously, this guy didn't know me, or he'd have known I didn't share my Virgil's, with anyone.
He chuckled. "Suit yourself," he said, but I could feel he was still there watching me. I finally finished reading the last of my book and tossed it into the fire.
"What the…?" the voice said. He was just outside of the glow of the fire ring, so the light was blinding me from being able to see him. "What did you do that for?" he asked.
"I was done with it," I said and popped the lid off of my last drink, taking a long swig.
"Well, maybe I wanted to borrow it."
"There's a public library in town for that." This guy was getting on my nerves. The ice was mostly melted and perfect for putting out a fire, so once I was done with my drink, I looked around and could see someone standing back in the shadows, but everyone else had gone to bed. "You done?" I asked pointing to the fire.
"Yeah," the voice said, and I got to work burying the fire and pouring the water on the hot coals. I felt his eyes on me, but I ignored it. I dropped my bottles in the recycle bin and went inside for a shower. My dad came in after making his rounds of checking the campfires, making sure they were all put out properly.
"You did good on the fire out front. I also hear you wrangled a monster rattler?" he chuckled.
"Learned from the best," I nodded and grinned, before I headed for bed.
The next morning, I checked my bag, making sure I had what I needed to go shopping. I was looking forward to having something to eat that didn't have an underlying metallic taste to it. My dad had moved the crates to the front porch for me to use at the store. He didn't like plastic grocery bags, something about them being the devil or whatever. Needless to say, there was a lot of rubbish to be picked up around the camp, and he didn't want to add to it. So with the crates loaded, I headed into town to do my shopping.
I had loaded one of the crates full of my sodas. I pretty much bought them out, and I told the guy stocking that I would be needing more next week, so he had better order them now. He looked at me as if I was nuts, but I would have his if I had to go without my soda. Someone would think I had a drinking problem, but it was just non-alcoholic, sugar-free and caffeine-free soda. I was really just addicted to the flavor.
I noticed the hot guy watching me curiously from across the camp as I unloaded, and I might have bent over just a bit in my short shorts, just to be a brat. I grabbed my coveted drinks and took them inside, not wanting to risk someone snagging one. Okay, I might have been a little obsessive about the soda, but it was freaking good!
The rest of the day played out much the same as the day before. Once I put the groceries away and iced down a bucket of my drinks, I spent the day in the hammock, swinging gently while reading and drinking my precious gold soda, as I read the next trashy book. Sometimes, it was hard not to laugh at them, but other times, they just made me feel lonely.
I was getting to a really steamy part of the book I was reading, when I could feel his eyes on me, and I wondered what he needed. Everyone knew the forest ranger lived here, and I wondered if he needed a map of the trails or something. I tried to ignore him for a while longer, but he just kept looking at me. I finally got tired of his staring and looked up at him. "Can I help you with something?" I asked, trying not to sound too unfriendly.
He smiled at me and shook his head no. What the hell? I just nodded in response and went back to reading. I quickly deduced that the guy was just weird and not worth losing my place. I had to stay focused, or I wouldn't be done with it in time for the burning this evening. I never left the evidence around, proving that I was less than perfect in my parent's eyes. Again, what they didn't know wouldn't hurt me.
A dark-haired girl came out and yanked him away from his staring, dragging him past the cabins and down a path. I didn't know who she was, but my guess was a sister, because had it been a girlfriend, you would have thought sneaking off would have made him smile. It didn't, though, and he didn't seem happy to go with her. While they were gone, another car came up to their cabin. Two older, fancy-dressed people got out and headed straight inside. The woman came back out on the porch, turning in all directions, looking around disappointed. She looked like she was about to head back inside, when I got her attention.
"They went that way," I said pointing toward the trail the guy and girl had disappeared down.
"Excuse me?" the woman said, as the man joined her on the porch.
I looked up at them. "The couple staying in that cabin went that way," I said pointing again.
"Couple?" the woman asked.
"Remember, he said he was going to see if he could pull Alice away for a while," the man with her smiled.
"Do you think she came with him? I truly hope so; I don't want him to be dragging one of his cheap little tramps on our vacation," the woman complained, and I chuckled to myself, as the pair started down the path.
I went back to my book, losing myself in the tawdry smut-filled world that was way more interesting than my own.
I was completely engrossed in a particularly steamy passage, when a little while later, I heard the crazy chatter of the dark-haired girl, along with the older woman who was giggling.
"…And then she said 'get your own' to him! You should've seen his face, Mom. I don't think Edward has ever been turned down, and this girl was doing it left and right!"
I looked up to see the guy scowling. I wondered if he was Edward.
"Well, Son, it was bound to happen. Not everyone is crippled by the Cullen charm. How does it feel to be ignored?" the man asked patting Edward's back with a smirk. So they were brother and sister. I kind of liked that he hadn't brought a girlfriend. Not that it mattered. But at least now I could ogle him freely without feeling guilty. He might have been a man whore, but he was a pretty one after all.
"She wasn't ignoring me. I swear she was checking me out earlier!" Edward said defeated.
"Maybe I can check her out. Maybe she'd like my charm instead?" the girl winked, and the boy scowled, making me chuckle. I didn't swing that way, but it might be fun to mess with him a bit. And who knew, she might make a cool friend. Probably not, though she seemed to know how to keep him in line. I kept my eyes focused on my book, hoping that they thought I was laughing at something I had read.
I think it worked.