Jess smoothed out the hanging folds of a beach towel before adding a second one to the makeshift clothesline. Even while doing the menial chore, a relaxed smile curved her lips and brightened her face. It had been a great day once she'd gotten the chance to cool off, and it was showing in her current mood.
Floating out there in the middle of the lake, watching the clouds pass by overhead and the pine trees reflecting in the water, she couldn't remember for a second why she'd protested this trip. To think, she'd almost passed this up to sit at a desk for nine hours answering phones and fulfilling requests from her bosses.
She'd never resented her life or the amount of time she'd reserved for work. The truth was she had little else to care about. For that reason alone, she'd gone year after year without really taking any time off, even when it was expected of her. She couldn't justify a vacation, not when she was single and didn't particularly have anywhere she wanted to go. It had always just seemed like a waste of time.
Jess had never been all that adventurous, and she wasn't ashamed to admit it. Without Maddie, she probably would have managed to spend the entire Summer without ever leaving the city or trying anything new, both of which this trip was fulfilling. Somehow, her friend had convinced her that going out of the state was apart of the campground's appeal, but she didn't really care either way. She would have been just as happy camping in Connecticut as she was in New Hampshire.
Even being around the men was proving to be a lot of fun, more than she ever expected anyway. From the start, Jess had made the choice to tolerate them for Maddie's sake, but she hadn't anticipated in genuinely liking them. Luke and Mark added a new dynamic to the vacation. She didn't want to just sit back and relax but actively participate in getting to know them.
If it had just been the girls as originally planned, they would have talked for a while and then settled into a comfortable silence as they hung out. The men added a sense of activity and conversation that the girls would have lacked after being busy all day long with last minute preparations, the drive, and setting up the tent.
In all of his serious, literature loving appearance, Mark had turned out to be quite hilarious. He and Luke had spent the last hour playing king of the dock like they were ten years old again. Every once in a while, the girls would jump in on the game and catch one of them off guard, but for the most part, they had floated in the water and yelled out catcalls whenever a man had gotten the better of his opponent.
Luke had a playful sense of humor, although his was toned down a bit compared to Mark's, who had no qualms at all about acting stupid. Even so, Luke was always up for trying new things, and he clearly wanted to make the most out of this trip. Jess could respect that, and his subtle, but witty humor brought out her own. They'd found themselves more than once over the past few hours sparring over jokes and half-wit debates.
All in all, it had been a fun afternoon, and Jess's limbs, though tired, were satisfyingly relaxed. She couldn't remember a time in months in which she had felt this way. She didn't have work on her brain, or any other little detail to nag at her while she was trying to enjoy herself. Her body had gotten a chance to stretch out in the water, and feel for once, the weight of her body drifting restlessly without a care.
Her greatest problem, she knew, had always been caring too much. Work was everything to her at this point in her life, and Maddie was right in the fact that Jess hadn't had a boyfriend in ages. She'd always figured that men came and went throughout a woman's life, so there was no point in actively seeking one out. She would find someone eventually, when the time was right.
Jess was too preoccupied with other things than to think about men and her lack of a sex life. She went out when she wanted to and stayed in when she didn't feel like doing anything else. She liked the way her life was going. She'd finally found a comfortable groove that had provided a level of stability, both financial and mental, to her life.
Who cared if she worked a little more often than most people did? She liked going to work in the morning, grabbing her first cup of coffee in the day, and sitting at her desk to go over the calls and paperwork that had come in after she'd left. She got there before most people showed up, so there was a calm, tranquil atmosphere to the large room that disappeared once work got busy. Those had always been her favorite moments of the day.
If she stayed later than anyone else, it was simply because she wanted to do as much as possible to prepare herself for the next day. It was only the responsible and practical thing to do. She didn't like leaving her work half-done; if she had to stay a little late to finish up, she didn't mind. It was just apart of her job, one she took pride in doing very well.
Still, she'd needed this vacation, like everyone else in the agency after the chaos that had been rampant in the past few months. As soon as she did get back, there wasn't going to be a spare moment of her time left, especially since the girl filling in for her was only a year out of college and was barely competent.
That build up of work wouldn't be fun to take care of, so she figured she'd try her best to make the happy liquid feeling in her body last as long as possible.
Jess finished putting up the last of the towels in which Maddie had entrusted her with so that her camping experienced friend could keep a close eye on the men as they attempted to light the fire. It was really just an excuse, she knew, for Maddie to keep Mark in her sights, but Jess didn't really care. This whole vacation was really for her friend anyway. It had been her idea. It was even her money paying for it.
Maddie Armstrong might be many things: flighty, just a little narcissistic, but she'd never been selfish. Brought up in such a large household, Jess wasn't exactly surprised that Maddie had turned out that way, just happy for it. She'd been an only child herself.
Her parents hadn't made a great living, but they'd been able to pay for her to go to college and help her buy furniture for her apartment before she could afford it. In the back of her mind, she knew that she could always rely on their financial support in times of need. She was certainly grateful, but that didn't mean that she still didn't expect it.
She was in her mid twenties now and decently financially secure with her small apartment on the outskirts of Hartford. She could pay her rent and buy clothes from time to time, mostly for work, but that didn't mean she could afford to go on vacations.
This camping trip had seemed like such a great idea because of that. The site itself was one of the most expensive there, but Maddie's family had eventually gotten a discount for renting it so long.
Jess had offered to pay for half of the trip, but Maddie with her kind heart and much larger income, would hear nothing of it and had footed the bill herself. She knew that she had no right to complain, even though she didn't particularly mind the situation now that she'd gotten over her initial hesitancy. Maddie was a social bee at heart, and Jess had always been content to ride on her coattails.
Making her way across the campsite, she grinned when she found Maddie and Mark arguing. It was a playful, meaningless argument that was more amusing that anything else, but it was still an argument. He would soon find out that Maddie didn't back down from any fight, not for anyone. She was always looking to come up on top after a satisfying debate.
"Just use the Firelog!" Maddie pressed, her patience dwindling.
"I don't need too. I can make a fire the old fashioned way."
Maddie stuffed the little brown imitator log in his face. "If you would just use this, then we'd have a fire in a second."
Mark was too busy organizing little branches into an Indian style tepee over the fire pit to look at the Firelog. "Half the fun of camping is doing it the authentic way. No cheap imitators to human ingenuity."
"Human ingenuity?" she spurted. "Who the hell cares? It's a time savor, not to mention it would work a whole lot better than whatever it is you're doing."
He looked at her finally, a half frown on his face. "I was a boy scout for four years when I was a kid. This will work."
Jess moved towards Luke who was lounging back against the picnic table, his legs sprawled apart comfortably. He was nursing a beer and watching the fighting couple like it was TV.
"How long have they been at this?" Jess asked as she took a seat next to him.
"About five or seven minutes, at least," he drawled before taking a sip of his beer.
Mark was now standing, his face close to Maddie's as the pair debated over an authentic or man-made camping experience. It was entertaining, but personally, she'd rather see more of the campgrounds then the two of them going at it for god knows how much longer. They were just arguing to argue, after all.
"You want to take a walk?" she asked Luke.
"Sure," he drank the rest of the beer in one large gulp. "Reality TV's better than this." Leaning over the table, he dropped the bottle into the bag Mark had designated as recycling.
Luke stood up and shook a few wet bangs from his eyes. He absently pushed them back over his head. "Where do you want to go?"
"I didn't get to see much of the campgrounds on the way in. I thought I'd take a look around."
"Sounds like a good idea." He looked over to their arguing friends. "Think they'll even notice we're gone?"
She shrugged and called over her shoulder. "Hey guys! We're going to check out the rest of this place." They didn't even so much as glance their way. Jess laughed. "I guess not."
They started their journey down the main road, which on their side of the campgrounds, experienced relatively low traffic. The further they got in, the more people and sites they came across. Their chatter had dwindled into a not so comfortable silence, and Jess was left listening to the crunch of gravel under her feet and a slight breeze that rustled the pine trees and brought goose bumps to her skin.
When he glanced over at her from time to time, she wondered if he was trying to find something to say, but she soon realized that his gaze kept drifting down further south than her face.
She looked down finally and noticed that her damp tank top wasn't as modest as it should have been. Her nipples were slight peaks pushing against the Tankini she'd worn swimming earlier and had hastily covered.
Her face flushed, and she squirmed slightly, her fingers grabbing the bottom of her shirt to push it out from her body. She wanted to cover herself with her arms so badly, but that would have been a dead give away that she was embarrassed. That was, if he couldn't tell already. She compromised and settled on hugging her arms across her stomach.
"Are you cold?" he asked her, finally breaking through to the quiet.
"A little," she conceded. "It feels good, though. Today was so hot."
"Sweltering," he agreed with a nod of his head.
She studied him for a moment, noting how little she really knew about this man that was making her feel so intrigued, attracted, and more than a little insecure. It wasn't just his looks. She'd known plenty of guys who were good looking and mostly out of her league. She hadn't cared a bit about any of them.
Maybe, it wasn't about what he looked like, or how charming he was. It was that moment when he'd stood in the doorway seeing her for the first time that kept replaying in her head. No, it wasn't about how he looked but how he had looked at her.
No one had ever stared at her like that before, that stunned and fascinated expression that had been on his face. None of her previous boyfriends had ever sucked in their breaths when they were with her, not even during sex, which she thought was just a little bit pathetic.
It was even with how he treated her now that they had met and spent some time together. He was so casual and subtle, but she knew he watched her, waiting for her reaction to things or whether or not she was having fun. He could have agreed to spend the weekend with them in the heat of the moment like Mark had, but he'd looked to her first to see if she was okay with it. He'd wanted to know if she was comfortable with the situation. That had meant a lot to her.
They'd been camping for barely five hours now, and every one of those hours had concerned him in some way in her thoughts and in her actions. It was unnerving how much he was affecting her considering how little she actually knew about him.
She decided to follow Maddie's advice and get to know him better, if only to make her feel less awkward about the whole thing. "So, what do you do in the city?" she asked it casually while simultaneously ripping a pine from a nearby tree to occupy her hands with.
He watched her hands break apart the twig as if noting the action and the corresponding feeling behind it before answering, "I'm a publicist for the soccer team there."
"The Manhattan Cougars?"
He smiled in surprise. "You know them?"
"Sure, I've been to a few games. Actually, my dad has season tickets. He's a pretty big fan."
Luke touched her arm for a brief moment as they moved over on the road for a car to pass. A happy couple in the minivan sent them a wave. He returned it, and she wondered how anyone so nice could survive in New York City. Too many sharks lived there looking to make money fast.
"Your dad has good taste," he responded and moved over slightly to give her more room.
"Well, he likes to think so anyway. He was always sad I didn't get more into soccer. He had big hopes for me."
"Oh, did you play?"
She leaned her head to the side as though she'd rather avoid the subject, or just the traumatizing childhood memory it always elicited. "For a few years. God, I was horrible. I never really got the hang of it, though it was a lot of fun for a little while. It's been years since I've thought about that."
"I'm sure you weren't as bad as you say."
"I'm really not being modest. I wish I were."
"Well, I'd still like to see it for myself. I'm sure we'd be able to find a soccer ball around here somewhere. How about a game sometime, you and me?"
She just laughed. "If you really want to, although you can pretty much expect to win without much effort."
"Now, those are odds I think I can handle." He joked. "Still, it'd be something fun to do."
"Okay, you're on. Maybe, I'll have gotten better in all those years I didn't play. You never know."
They started walking past the main beach area that was the focal point and center for the campgrounds. It was officially night time, but people were still swimming and hanging out. A marina was situated right next to it with multicolored canoes, sailboats, and kayaks resting on the beach.
"I'll have to show Mark this marina," Luke murmured.
"I'm sure we'll get to it tomorrow. Maddie knows this campground like the back of her hand. Do you know her family's been coming here for about fifteen years? I always thought that was crazy, but she said she'd always enjoyed it. Well, that's one of the things she'd said to get me here, anyway."
"Were you not looking forward to coming?" he asked.
Jess wondered whether or not he'd look bad on her for preferring to work rather than take a week off for a vacation. She decided to just tell him the truth.
"Well, I wasn't exactly excited about taking a week off from work. I always get backed up, which will be a huge pain in the ass. Plus, I've never been camping before. I've never even slept outside before, so I didn't know if I would like it."
"So, how are you liking it? Camping, I mean. What are your first impressions?"
"I'm having fun so far, especially once we got settled in. The rest of it is still up in the air. Maddie says there are a lot of things going on here, so I'll have plenty to distract myself with."
Jess led the way onto the Marina dock, letting him follow her whimsical drift. She plopped onto the edge of the pier and waited for him to do the same. He sat down more carefully, making sure his feet weren't going to get a dunking. The ripple of water against the pier and the semi-distant screams of children were like music in the background of their conversation.
"What exactly do you do? Maddie said you guys work for an advertising agency in Hartford? That must be pretty cool."
"Well, I'm really just a secretary. It's not very exciting at all. Maddie is the one who is apart of the innovation team. I'm the dispensable one."
"Please," he accentuated. "I'd go insane without my secretary. Well, joint secretary. I share her with another publicist in my department. Still, I wouldn't get anything done without her. She's a life saver."
"To tell you the truth, I like my job." She confided in him. "I'm not as creative as Maddie is, but my job is more stable and doesn't have the varying levels of stress that hers does. I come in and do my job as best and as efficient as I can. I see my friends at lunch, who are mostly people that I work with, and I go home feeling good about my day. I don't really know if there is anything better that I can ask for."
"It sounds like you have it made."
"It's just comfortable. Maybe, I'll find something someday that I'm more interested in doing, and I'll go for it. But, I'm good for now."
"That's what's most important, right? Being happy."
"Yea," she smiled, a soft dimple giving way. "I think so."
A breeze rustled across the water, and she wrapped her arms around her body, finally feeling the cold which had felt so good only moments before. She shivered in her wet clothes, and she was suddenly anxious to get back and change into something dry.
"Come on, let's head back to the site and see what our friends are up to."
"Alright." After a few moments, he laughed. "Maybe, we'll end up moving sites after all."
Jess shared his humor. "I seriously doubt that that argument was anything less than extended flirting."
"You're probably right."
She shook her head and led the way back to the camp site.
"I don't understand why you won't use it!"
"I told you why!" he growled back at her.
Maddie and Mark were now standing in the woods, not even close to the fire pit they were arguing about. He'd gone into the trees surrounding the site to look for small pieces of kindling and branches that would make the fire burn and spread faster. She'd followed him, not letting their argument dwindle into bygones.
"You're being unreasonable!" Her face was flushed pink and was shade softer than that of her auburn hair, making her look red all over.
"And you're acting like a child."
With a sharp gasp, she stood back. This wasn't the flirting they'd started the argument with anymore. She'd just wanted to help him with the fire. She'd had no idea he was going to try and be so manly. She didn't really care if he used the Firelog or not, but it was the principle of the matter that had gotten to her. He wasn't even interested in listening to her.
She had a great deal of camping experience, but she couldn't use her wisdom to make him listen to her. He was supposed to be helping her out, after all. She didn't know how everything had gotten so turned around.
"I'm not one of your students." She responded indignantly. To have him even treat her like one was insulting. She'd never been attracted to pushy men before, so she didn't know why she was now, but that didn't mean he could get away with ignoring her sound advice.
"Then stop acting like it."
"Know what? Fine. I don't care anymore," she raised her hands up in a sign of defeat. "I was just trying to help, but obviously you have to have everything your way. See that tent over there?" she pointed to the dark green tent the men had set up for their own use. "I'm taking it down. Go back to your own campsite. This was obviously a mistake."
She stomped away from him, and his expression was anything but upset. His mouth curved into a smile. He even chuckled.
"Maddie." He called after her when she started to rip out the foundation spikes holding the tent up.
She turned around abruptly. "What?"
His mouth was on hers before she even had a chance to register what was happening. He'd walked up to her while she'd been turned away from him, so the sudden shock of his body plastered to hers was a turn on as much as it unnerved her. She hadn't expected this of him, this sudden boldness.
His lips brushed against hers with intent and possession. It wasn't until a moan escaped from her throat that he pulled back slightly.
"I'm not using those logs."
Her eyes were dazed as she stared back at him blankly. "Okay," her voice was dreamlike as she conceded defeat. She'd gotten what she'd really wanted anyway.
Grabbing the back of his head, she pulled him back to her, letting her body soften and sink into his as the kiss progressed. It deepened as he swept his tongue into her mouth, making them both grip each other tightly. She didn't want it to end, not now that her was in her arms kissing her like he'd never seen anyone more beautiful.
A cough sounded in the background, and they both ignored it until another one came only a few seconds later. Maddie pulled away first. "What?" annoyance evident in her voice.
"Oh, we were just wondering if you guys wanted some privacy," Jess joked. "Because, you were putting on quite a show."
Mark blushed slightly under their scrutiny, and he let her go reluctantly. Maddie just shrugged with a grin. "We're glad to entertain."
Luke walked over to the picnic table to grab another beer. "Don't mind me. I just thought I would get something from the concession stand during the intermission. You can keep going on if you want, I don't mind."
Jess hit his arm playfully. "Sorry, I think you'll just have to wait until you get home to fulfill your porn addiction."
"Oh man," he whined. "And here I thought I was going to get a free show."
"Very funny," Mark said, before stealing the beer from Luke's hand. "You're a pig. You know that?"
Maddie put her arm around his shoulder. "We set ourselves up for that one. You're just going to have to concede to the humor of the situation."
Jess laughed as she grabbed a bottle of water for herself. She took a long sip, before speaking, "Don't you guys think you should have been getting the fire lit? It's getting dark."
Maddie looked towards the lake, noticing the dimness to the sky above them. "Where have you guys been all this time?"
"We just went for a walk."
"Yea? Did you find the showers and stuff?"
Jess shook her head as she gulped down more water. "No, I think we went in the other direction. Are they separate from the bathrooms?"
"They are a little bit farther away, which is why I didn't show them to you earlier. Why don't we go check it out? I could use a shower."
Jess looked down at her uncomfortably damp clothes and shivered from the cold settling in with the night. "Sounds good. Let's leave the guys to get dinner started."
After grabbing their toiletries and a change of clothes from their tent, the girls headed out towards the showers, which were grouped with a bigger cluster of bathrooms than the ones closer to their site.
"So, what was that?" Jess asked her friend as they neared the showers. There wasn't a line, thankfully, which Maddie told her often happened at certain times of the day. It seemed like hitting the showers at dinnertime was a good idea, after all.
"Of course, with Mark."
"That," Maddie sighed happily "Was a wonderful thing called sexual tension."
Jess snorted. "If you say so."
Scrunching up her nose a little at the conditions of the showers, she hung up her towel and settled her stuff down in a stall next to Maddie. "I can't believe you are so willing to hook up with a stranger. We're only going to be here for a week. Is it even worth it?"
"What's wrong with it?" Her friend's voice said over the sputter of water as she turned on the shower. "We're just having fun."
"I don't know. I guess I would have a hard time saying goodbye. You know you are going to go in your separate directions when this is all over with."
"That's the point, though," Maddie responded. "That's why flings are always so hot, especially over vacation. You only have a short amount of time to be together, so everything means so much more. It's like you can't get enough, and then when you say goodbye, you are at least left with the knowledge that you didn't take any of it for granted."
"That's kind of warped," Jess murmured.
"You know, you could use a little passion in your life. What about Luke? You know you want him. Why don't you just let it happen?"
Jess just shook her head. She didn't know what she wanted anymore or what she'd do if presented the opportunity. Would she have the strength to turn him down? She wasn't so sure.
Author's Note: Ah! Finally. It feels so good to have this chapter done. I know it took forever. I'm so sorry. Life has been really crazy for me right now. School has been brutal, and I've been working a lot too. I never have time to write, anymore. Hopefully, things will get a lot quieter over the summer. I have finals next week, so wish me luck! I'm sure I'll be posting a lot more often from now on!