"…And free my soul. I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away."
Jessica Palmenti grinned amusedly and looked out the window as she listened to her best friend belt along to the common tune. It was a song that was played on the radio at least once every two hours. Even she knew the words to it, though she wouldn't be caught dead singling along to it. She didn't even sing when she was alone, let alone with other people.
"Come on, Jess." Her best friend Maddie glanced over. "Sing along. Have fun. Do something other than just sit there."
She laughed. "What else am I going to do? We've been in this car for four hours. Honestly, it's not that great of a car to begin with. Why haven't you ever gotten a new one?"
The air conditioner barely worked, and it was ninety degrees out. Enough said.
"I like this one. It got me through college. And anyways, we're going to be there soon."
"Thank god. My legs are sticking to the seat." She lifted her legs up slightly to prove it, but the sweaty feel of her body only made her feel worse.
Jess had never liked to think of herself as a complainer, but she wasn't a fan of road trips. She'd lived most of her life in Connecticut, even in college. She'd never really spent a whole lot of time anywhere else, which was one of the reasons why Maddie had been able to convince her to come on this random camping trip.
She'd also needed a vacation. Badly. The office had just finished up a rather important deal, and everyone was looking forward to a few weeks of calm before another deal came their way. Jess was only a secretary, but the work that had piled up on her desk had been overwhelming.
It had been ten times worse for Maddie. She was apart of the creative team behind the advertisement, so she'd been one of the first people to admit that the agency was in chaos.
That was how she'd met Maddie; they both worked at an advertisement agency in Hartford. They'd spent months after Jess was hired just missing each other until one day she'd seen Maddie getting ready for a party in the bathroom. The zipper of her mini-skirt had been stuck, so Jess found a safety pin for her to use. To this day, Maddie Armstrong was the only woman Jess had ever met brave enough to say goodnight to the bosses in full on club clothes. Suffice to say, they became pretty good friends.
"You can go swimming as soon as we get the tent set up," Maddie conceded. "The lake is really nice, I promise."
Jess shifted uncomfortably in the faded blue car seat again and asked, "How many years have you been doing this?"
"Well, I haven't gone in a few years, but I used to go every summer with my family. We've reserved the same camping spot for the past fifteen years, which is the only way we would have ever gotten it. Believe me. It's one of the best spots there."
"What's so great about it?" Jessica asked absently while fixing the bun in her hair so that it was tighter and off her neck. The sweat trickling down her back was more than a little uncomfortable. Even with all of the windows open, they weren't cooling down all that much. She was almost tempted to take off her tank top and white khaki shorts and sit there in her underwear, but she figured if the seat was gross now, it would only get worse.
"It's pretty large. The site's big enough for a couple of tents, and it's really private. We were a pretty loud group when we were younger, so my parents thought the further we were away from everyone else the better."
"You're still a loud group." Jess laughed playfully when she remembered the last time Maddie's brothers had visited. They went out to a bar and spent half the night yelling out to women and joking around good-naturedly. Of course, Maddie had never been a quiet type of woman either, not like Jess was.
Maddie had always been extremely bold and loud, though not in an obnoxious way. It was just that when she was having fun, almost everyone knew about it. She laughed constantly, and she'd never had a problem attracting friends. She'd certainly never had a problem with men. They seemed to be just as captivated with her personality as women were.
Of course, it helped that she was completely beautiful. Maddie was blessed with a long, lean body and short curly hair that Jess would have killed for. With a short, curvy body and long boring brown hair, she left a lot to be desired. At least, in her mind anyway. She'd gotten used to the fact that she was plain, and most of the time she was okay with it. Still, she never missed the looks Maddie received whenever they went out together.
Instead of commenting on being loud, Maddie just shrugged with grin and continued, "Anyways, it's kind of far from the bathrooms, but it's a lake front site. My sister and her kids have been renting the campsite for the past few years, but they couldn't come this year so she told me I could use it."
"Lucky for us," Jess smiled quickly and went back to looking out the window.
Even though she was putting on a good front, she was having some serious second thoughts about this vacation. She'd never been camping before in her life. She couldn't even stand to have bugs in her apartment. How was she going to deal with a week of being bitten constantly? And communal showers? She hadn't used those since she was living in a dorm. She was only twenty-five, but she'd gotten used to her privacy, especially her nice and clean bathroom.
"Tell me again why I just had to come?"
Maddie sighed and tweaked with the radio. "You had to come, because you haven't had a vacation in god knows how long."
"I took a day off a few weeks ago."
Her friend snorted. "You had a dentist appointment. That doesn't count. Besides, you would have just come back to work if it wasn't for the fact that you're teeth were so numb."
"I could have gone back to work if I wanted to," she stated.
"And what, slur on the phone whenever someone needed to call you? They'd just have sent you back home, and you know it."
Jess flicked Maddie's hand away so that she could choose the radio station for once. A little bit of classic rock now and then wouldn't hurt her. When Maddie frowned when the Eagle's came on the radio, Jess muttered, "Just five minutes."
Maddie shook her head and allowed it. "Look Jess, I'm really glad you're coming with me. I would never have gone if you weren't here. Do you think I want to spend a week in the woods by myself?"
"I know." Jess sighed. She wasn't usually this sarcastic or grumpy, but the car ride was beginning to drive her crazy. She was starting to feel bad for Maddie, but she couldn't help it. "I'm glad you invited me."
"Honestly though, I just want you to have some fun for once. You never go out; you never take a break from work. I think you need to take a week to relax and remember that you're 25, not 45. Who knows, maybe you'll meet a cute guy this week. It could happen. You haven't dated in the longest time."
Jess just laughed. "Mad, who am I going to meet? We're going to a campsite in New Hampshire. We live in Connecticut. Anyone we meet will live too far away to make it work."
"New Hampshire really isn't that far away. Besides, I'm sure there will be other people from Connecticut there. There isn't exactly that many great campsites in Connecticut. I'm sure someone else will have had the same idea as we did."
"As you did," Jess corrected. "Why are we even talking about this? Isn't this week about us girls? I know that I need a vacation, but can't we have fun with just the two of us? Wasn't that the plan?"
"Of course it is. I'm just saying, it wouldn't hurt if you dated every once in awhile. Isn't there that guy in the digital design department that has been asking you out for drinks? Why haven't you ever said yes?"
"Gary? He was just being nice. I help him with his designs sometimes. He asks me my opinion every once in a while, that's all. He's a nice guy. He was just showing he was grateful. Besides, I think he's starting to see someone now."
"Aw Jess, you can't look at life like that. He was interested in you. He wanted to go out on a date with you."
"Well, I guess it's too late now. There will be someone else."
Maddie just shook her head as though Jessica was a lost cause. Until she fell in love for real, she didn't think there was anything that could change her mind about men. The problem was getting Jess to give a guy a chance long enough to get to that point.
For the millionth time over past few hours, Jess let her gaze rest on the scenic view from the window. They had just past through a small run down town with only one gas station and a few random houses on the road. There was a small general store that looked to be the only well kept building on the road.
"Mad, how far away is the campsite?"
"Oh, it's only about five minutes away."
"There really isn't a whole lot here, is there?" she asked looking around once more.
"Don't worry, the campsite is kept up beautifully. If I remember correctly, it's usually packed too. They have weekly events that people living miles from here come to. It's a really busy place during the summer."
"Oh, good." Jess said, though her faith was limited.
Their car entered a forest and the winding road they were driving on only became narrower. Even so, Jess couldn't help but think how beautiful it was to be driving through the forest on a bright sunny day. The sun shone through the green leaves causing areas of sparkling light and others of shadows. She'd lived in the suburbs so long that she'd forgotten how nice nature could be.
It wasn't very long before they came upon a great arch built over the road from intertwined branches. Loon Lake Campgrounds was written on a sign.
Maddie looked over and smiled, "We're here," she dragged the words out in a singsong voice. "I can't wait to get everything set up. We can eat what we brought with us for dinner tonight, and tomorrow, we can go to that general store and get some food and beer. This will be fun, I promise! If you have never grilled a hot dog over a real campfire, then you are seriously in for a treat. It's all apart of the experience."
"Is gaining ten pounds from smores apart of the experience too?"
Maddie laughed. "Believe me, you'll be kept pretty active. There is a ton of stuff to do around here that will burn off those calories. There's swimming and boating, hiking and a rock climbing wall."
Jess leaned back in her seat as she looked around at the parking lot they were driving into. "I thought we were going to relax this week."
Maddie just gave her a sideways glance. "When do I ever relax?" she chuckled. "Don't worry. They have groups and tours, so you won't have to keep me company if you don't want to."
"No, I'm sure I'll want to do some of that stuff with you…as long as I get to sit and rest every once in a while."
Maddie pulled into a parking space. "This coming from the workaholic? Do you even know how to relax?"
"Oh shut up!" she elbowed her friend. "Of course, I know how to relax. Unlike you, I intend on relaxing quite a bit over this trip. If I'm being forced to take a week off of from work, and have to deal with a pile up on my desk when I get back, then I'm sure as hell going to try my best to enjoy it."
"Good! We'll have fun." Maddie grabbed her keys from the ignition. "I'm going to go inside and check in. Why don't you go to that window over there and get some wood for our campfire. It's where they sell it."
"Sure," Jess replied, relishing the chance to get out of the car for only a few minutes.
"Cool, I'll see you in a bit then."
Jess watched her friend enter the small building after a man in is late thirty's held the door open for her. It was actually pretty funny when she thought about it. No matter where they went, Maddie always got attention from men. It was ridiculous. Even when they were both sweating loads, she still could turn a guy's head. Jess seriously doubted that he was just being polite.
Grabbing her purse, she peeled herself from the sticky seat and straightened her blue tank top. The first thing she did after shutting the rickety car door closed was drop her neglected purse on top of the car and stretched her arms up over her head. She moaned appreciatively as the knots in her back popped and her neck loosened up. She only moaned louder when she twisted her head around slightly, thinking how good it felt to actually be able to turn her head in different directions.
When she finally opened her eyes, it was to see a man around her age…maybe a little bit older, staring at her. He was standing in the doorway that Maddie had just gone through; only he had it opened as though he'd been passing through when he'd spotted her.
With a blush, Jess lowered her arms and grabbed her purse. Walking towards the window where they were selling the campfire wood, she resisted the temptation to look behind her and see if he was still there.
After waiting in the line for a few moments, she allowed herself to turn around and look for him. To her surprise, she found him standing a comfortable distance behind her, and she realized that he was probably one of the best looking guys she'd seen in years. His dark black hair was slightly floppy in the front as if it wasn't used to not being pushed back, and he was a good deal taller than her, probably at least 6'2. On top of that, she could see that his shoulders were wide like the swimmers she used to have crushes on in high school.
That was when she noticed he was staring back at her. Jess flipped back around when he gave her a smile, more like a mischievous grin, that told her he knew exactly what she'd been thinking. It was one of the sexiest grins she had ever seen.
Jess felt her face heat up again. Didn't he know that it was rude to stare? If she'd been Maddie she would have either turned around and told him so, or she'd flirt with him and make the situation worth it. Jessica would never have done either, and yet she was tempted to say something to him. He was clearly waiting for a response of some kind.
"So, do you have any idea how much wood I should buy?" she asked casually.
"It probably depends on how long you're staying." Oh god, he had a sexy voice too. It wasn't too deep or raspy, just smooth and perfect.
"We're staying a week. My friend and I."
He shot that great grin again. "I am too. Actually, I'm not really sure how much wood to get either. I was just going to wait and see what the guy would recommend."
"That's probably a good idea." She nodded her thanks and turned back around.
"So, I assume you don't camp that often?" she heard the voice behind her, almost close to her ear.
She looked back, finding him slightly closer than he'd been before. She shivered when she noticed. "Actually, I've never been camping before. This whole thing was my friend's idea."
"Yea, I can blame that one on my friend too. I haven't been camping since I was sixteen, and that hadn't exactly been a great experience."
A smile that started on one dimple began to spread on her face as she got more comfortable around him. "Why, what happened?"
"My buddy decided to light a cigarette in our tent when his parents were asleep."
"Oh, that doesn't sound good."
The man's voice brightened when he noted her interest, his posture becoming more inviting. "You see, the problem was that my friend wasn't exactly all that savvy when it came to smoking. I think he bummed it off some guy he met around the campgrounds. He couldn't get the lighter to work and when he did, he dropped his cigarette and managed to set my sleeping bag on fire. We, of course, were stupid and ran to the lake to grab a bucket full of water. By the time we got back, the tent was on fire and everyone camping around us was surrounding our tent."
She laughed hard. "His parents must have been furious."
"You have no idea. We had to sleep outside that night, and we left early the next day. We never went camping together again."
"Well, hopefully whoever you came with is a bit more savvy when it comes to camping."
"I hope he is too."
Jess couldn't help but noticed how the man said he and not she when he mentioned his friend. Oh, she noticed that little fact right away. "Hopefully, my first camping trip will go a little better."
"Oh, I'm sure it will be." Maddie came up behind them with a man at her side. She shot Jess an excited look, which told her that she thought this vacation was going to be a whole lot more interesting than either of them had expected it would be.
"Hey, did you get everything we need?"
"Yep, everything's taken care of. Still waiting in line for wood?"
Jess nodded. "The line is taking pretty long."
The tall man standing beside Maddie spoke, "Why don't you guys go on ahead to your site and get things ready. We'll get the wood and be up there to help you out soon."
"What?" Jess turned to give him her full attention, more confused than ever. He was attractive in an intellectual way, but she wasn't all that sure why Maddie seemed to be all over him.
"Sounds like a plan!" her friend happily responded. "Jess, Mark is going to help us set up our camp. You remember me telling you how awful I always was trying to set up those tents."
"Um," Jess looked around at the two expectant male faces. "Yea. I think you were saying something along those lines." Of course, she hadn't.
"Great! Let's get to the campsite then."
Jess just shook her head and followed her friend towards the car. She turned around to see the guy Maddie met talking with the guy she'd been standing in line with. They seemed to be close friends, and it hit her suddenly that they must have had come together.
"I guess I'll be seeing you later, Jess." The sexy voice rang through her system once again as he called out to her. She just gave him a smile and a little wave. Climbing back into the sweltering car, she gave a long drawn out sigh.
"So, I see you met Luke." Maddie gave her a smug grin while putting her seat belt on. "Gorgeous, isn't he? Mark isn't so bad either."
So, his name was Luke. She absently thought that the strong name suited the man she had met. Instantly, she chided herself for being so ridiculous. He was just a man, one random man that she might end up seeing once in a while during the week. Hadn't she already told Maddie earlier that she had no intention of getting together with anyone over this little vacation?
Of course, that was before she actually saw whom she was going to be tempted to change her mind by. Jess decided not to warrant her comment with an answer. If she even showed the littlest interest in him, Maddie would be on her back all week to do something about it.
She decided to ask Maddie a question instead. "Since when can you not set up a tent? You went camping every summer for ten years."
"Okay, so I lied a little. What harm will it do? Besides, this way it'll get some guys over to our site. I think you should be thanking me."
"Why should I be thanking you?"
Maddie rolled her eyes. "You know, you really frustrate me sometimes, Jess. That guy was so interested, you'd have had to be blind to miss it."
"I didn't say I missed it."
"Then, what's the problem? He's attractive, clearly charming. He had you laughing and joking. You never warm up to guys that fast."
"There's no problem. I just told you that I wasn't interested in hooking up with anyone over vacation. I know you will," she shot her friend a mocking sideways glance. There were just some things about Maddie that was so different from her, like her ability to hook up with guys without getting her heart attached. Jess had never had that ability. "But, that doesn't mean that I have to."
Maddie just laughed, not in the least bit offended by Jess's comment, which may or may not have been an insult. Maddie knew better than to take it personally. She was a firm believer of getting everything out in the open anyway.
"If Mark stays half as interesting and charming as he was before, then I'd have no problem seeing what happens between us. He's so good looking, don't you think? He's really intelligent, too! He's going back to school soon to get his PHD. He wants to be a college professor. He teaches high school now. Can you imagine? He has a Masters in English, and yet he's still teaching. He could get such a better paid job, but he really likes to teach. I can respect that."
Jess just raised her eyebrow. "You got that much information out of him within the ten minutes you were inside?"
"Well, we kind of hit it off. I noticed him right away as soon as I got inside. He was looking at some of the pamphlets. He saw me and asked me what was fun to do around here."
"What did you tell him?"
"Oh, you know," Maddie laughed. "I told him everything was fun. Anyways, I was telling him some of the stuff that my family had done in the past, and he mentioned that his kids would love some of this stuff. Of course, I instantly started to back away, because even I have standards. I do not flirt with married men."
"What if he was just a single dad?"
"See that's another thing, I don't want to flirt with him while his kids are there. They probably just want to spend the week with their dad. Why would they want some random woman hanging around? Besides, I'm too young to deal with all of that emotional baggage."
Jess couldn't imagine how Maddie had managed to think about all that in a split second. Maddie's mind always ran over time, which was one of the reasons she was so great at her job. Jess might be a lowly secretary, but Maddie's opinions and thoughts actually mattered to the company. She didn't have as much education as the rest of the team, but she made it up with ingenuity.
Jess knew it was time to get her back on track. "So, that's when he told you he was a teacher?"
"Oh yea, right. So, we started talking, and he told me that this was the first time he and his friend had been there, and that it had been highly recommended to them. I asked him if he went camping a lot, and he said that he went all the time. That's when it hit me that we should get them to help us set up, because there is nothing better to get a guy interested than an attractively helpless female."
Jess snorted from her best friend's reasoning. Maddie had always been just a little flamboyant when it came to dating. "We aren't exactly helpless."
"Oh, I know that, and you know that," she shot her a grin as they pulled into their campsite. "But he doesn't know that."
"It's times like these that I have no problem understanding why you have so many men fawning over you. You just play games with them."
"Believe me, they enjoy it more than I do. Come on, let's get our stuff out."
Jess grabbed her purse from the car and got her first good look at the campsite. "Holy shit," was all she managed to mutter.
Maddie poked her head from the side of the car where she was digging stuff out from the trunk, "I know. It's gorgeous."
"Uh, huh." She hadn't been lying when she said the site was huge. It was at least double, if not triple the size of many of the sites they'd past. Most of them hadn't been all that spectacular. They were squares of space with a campfire pit and a few trees along the sides to give the campers privacy. Their site had the privacy that all of the other's lacked.
Surrounding the site, trees grew in abundance sheltering their camp from any peeping views. The campfire had a grill lying on top of it so that people could cook on it if they wanted to, and a wooded bench and table stood to a side. It occurred to her that this must be the penthouse of campgrounds, and she was suddenly grateful that Maddie's family had rented it out so long. There was no way that they would have gotten a space like this one any other way.
Hands down, the best part of the site was the view. They had beachfront property on one of the most beautifully crystal blue lakes she had ever seen. There was enough of a beach for them to lay towels down and tan or to make sand castles. Looking at that pretty sand she almost wished she was five again and had thought to bring a shovel and bucket. If she'd had kids, she'd have loved to bring them here. Out a little closer to the other campsites was a large dock where people could swim to and hang out on. Their campsite had a smaller dock that they shared with a few of the campsites further away from the main campgrounds.
She could already see the other dock was full of people, so she was grateful to have another, more private dock. It was nice not to have to deal with crowds when you were vacationing.
"I take it this is Loon Lake?"
"You betcha. It's called that, because you can see loons all the time. The sound they make is a little weird, but you'll get used to it really quick."
"Is it okay to go swimming when they are around?"
"Yea, you don't have to worry about them. They pretty much keep their distance."
"Oh, good." Jess nodded speculatively as she studied the water.
"Come over here and help me drag this cooler to the bench. We can grab something to eat while we wait for the guys to show up."
Jess went back to the car to help unpack the loads of things that Maddie had insisted they needed for their trip. Thankfully, she'd already had the majority of everything they would need or else this vacation would have ended up being just as expensive as if they went somewhere nicer. Still, Jess couldn't help but appreciate Maddie's judgment for once. This place was drop dead beautiful. She was actually starting to think that this might be an awesome vacation, after all.
Author's Note: I'm so excited to be able to present my next story to you guys! I've been thinking about writing it for a long time now, so I'm happy to finally post it. I might end up posting a chapter of Misguided Dreamers soon too, so keep an eye out for it you like Young Adult romances. Anyways, both this story and Misguided Dreamers is more lighthearted and fun to write than Facing Backwards was, so I hope I will be able to get updates to you guys more often. It's officially Winter Break for me now, so I'm going to try and write a lot at home…which I'm not always successful at. Still, I figure that if I'm working on something my parents won't nag me about not having a job lol. Anyways, I really hope you guys enjoyed the chapter! Send me a review and let me know what you guys think of it! I love reviews! Oh, and the song at the very beginning of the story has had so many remakes that I didn't bother to cite where it came from, but I was thinking of Uncle Kracker's version…which I obvious don't own for copyright purposes.