Alcohol was not an option.
Tom had seen the cans of Budweiser, rows upon rows of cases lying in the back of the trunk of their minivan, and instantly the old longing was back. And it almost got him, too.
When he was an alcoholic he used to imagine that the bottles of whiskey and vodka and whatever the hell else he could get his hands could speak to him. As in, an actual living, breathing thing. So, when he opened the trunk and saw them sitting there, he at first saw a factory's worth of mini little talking beer cans, sitting up and grinning at him, with the little white logo boxes as their mouths.
Hey, old friend, it seemed to say to him. Long time, no see. How about we take a rest and see how things have been?
He shut the trunk and turned to his friend standing beside him, grinning his ridiculous grin. "No, Andrew."
Andrew only smiled wider, his eyes squinting from effort. "Come on, buddy, it's camping in the woods! There's no such thing as living it out in the wild without booze."
"Living in the woods means living off the woods. And beer is definitely not natural. And besides, you know I quit the stuff."
Andrew patted him on the shoulder. "I know, I know. Thel 'Oh, I was a drunkard but now I'm all better now' act. Those AA meetings are bull and you know it Tom. And we're just celebrating a bit, is all. It's summer, it's time for celebration. What harm could a couple of guys in the woods with a case of beer do?"
Tom sighed. His friend had seen him relapse twice already, and it was natural for him to doubt his willpower. Besides, Tom was his main drinking buddy and it wouldn't do to get drunk by yourself and no one to party with. "A lot of harm, in fact. I read in the news that a couple years ago a guy just like us, some guy going for a trip in the woods, tried to start a forest fire. A forest fire!" He watched Andrew's reaction, which was of course a typical Andrew like reaction – a snicker and a chuckle. "That's not funny. They found him dead. Burned to a crisp. He was only identified by his dental records."
"Let me guess. He was drunk?"
Tom nodded. "The papers said he was intoxicated when he started the fire."
"Okay, so I'll keep you under control. Make sure you don't do anything stupid."
"Control? What control? I'm the one who's always dragging you out of your messes. You're the one who got me drinking in the first place!"
Andrew looked genuinely sorry at that. "Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm sorry."
Tom felt a pang. It was rare for Andrew to let down his 'funny guy' act. "No, I guess I kind of like getting drunk. Don't worry about it."
"So you'll let me bring all this booze?"
His laughter could be heard across the street. "Alright, alright, fine. I'll take it out. Killjoy."
He hated it when Andrew called him that. They were quite the pair, the party boy and the serious business guy. It was a strange combination. Tom often wondered why Andrew had approached him all those years ago and made him his friend; he was obviously not the most lively person at the office parties. He had, however, managed to chip away at his cold demeanor, slowly and deliberately, over the years. It was a bit of a scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours friendship now that he thought of it, Andrew helping him loosen up and Tom teaching him how to live prosperously, like getting a job.
He shot Andrew a withering look. "Now you're making me feel like a nutsack. Fine, keep the bottles. Those cans bring back some bad memories." He suddenly recalled a time when he had hit the bottles harder than usual, and he came home reeking of alcohol and vomit, his wife waiting for him in an armchair by the door, tears streaming down her eyes. No sir, not good memories at all.
Andrew was eyeing him. "You've never actually, well, you know…" He motioned with his hands. "Hit your kid, right?"
"Of course not! Whatever you think I am, I would never hit Sam," He lied.
"How about your wife?"
He looked away at that remark. Andrew saw what he had done. "Jesus, Tom. That's terrible." He clapped him on the back. "Forget it. Let me get the bottles out."
He moved towards that van's trunk, but Tom grabbed him before he could. "I would sell my soul to take back what I did. I've come close. Real close," He said. He considered telling Andrew what he was going to tell him, but he decided against it. "Real close," he repeated. ""Let's just leave it at that."
His friend nodded. "And the bottles?"
Tom thought about it. He thought about the good times he had with Andrew, and then he thought about the bad times afterwards with his wife Lauren. He remembered that time, the time he almost lost it, and the look on Lauren's face when he tried to get near to her. He relived it all, the glint of steel in her hands and the blank rage that had muddled his thoughts.
"Take them out."
Andrew, in the act of unloading the beer cans, glanced at him and sighed. "Alright, buddy. No more alcohol for you, ever."
"Ever," Tom agreed. "This time, I'm quitting. For good. For the sake of my family."
"That's the gayest thing I've ever heard in my life."
Tom laughed. "Give me a second, and we can get out of here." He turned round and walked up his driveway, to his house, and to his wife who he knew was watching him from behind the window blinds.
He opened the door and Lauren was there, standing there. She had her hands on her hips, and she was looking at him directly in the eyes.
"You tried to bring beer."
"Even though I told you not to."
"Even though I begged you."
"Yes." He felt like a kid caught with his hands in the cookie jar, and he suddenly felt the blind anger rear up in him. He quickly smothered it in his memories of guilt.
"And you were stupid enough to try loading it right in front of our house."
The anger rose again. He struggled to push it down, and his hands tightened into fists. Lauren noticed it, but she didn't say anything. Her shoulder length black hair shivered slightly, and she made as if to move, but she stayed her ground. "Lauren, I promised you I wouldn't drink on the trip. And I kept that promise. Andrew brought all of that." He gestured outside to the beer Andrew was unloading.
He stopped, and so did the anger. "What?"
"I asked him to bring it, to see what you would do." She was smiling now, and the tension had drained out of her slim body.
"What?" Was all he could say.
She moved towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressed herself against him. "I'm proud of you," She said.
Tom put his hands on her waist and moved her away. "So, you were testing me to see if I would drink again?"
"I just wanted to make sure you were serious when you made that promise. For Sam, remember?"
He felt slightly angry that she didn't trust his word completely, but the anger that usually came with his drunken rages was absent. It was a clean sort of anger, he thought. "Well, I guess those AA meetings helped out after all."
She pouted playfully. "Are you angry with me, Tommy?"
"A bit, yes," he admitted. "But I guess you were just worried about me, and you cared that I might relapse again. So I guess I'm not really mad at all." He pulled her close against him and kissed her. And it was no quick peck on the cheek. He tried to put his feelings into the kiss, that he was ashamed of himself and that he needed forgiveness, and that he loved Lauren and Sam very much. It seemed to work, to, because when their lips parted Lauren was crying. But she was also smiling, so he said something he hadn't said in a while.
"You know I love you, right?"
She looked at him, tears running down her fair cheeks. Her blue eyes were dazzling him. "Of course I know that, you big dope."
"Good." He kissed her again. He felt the passion rise in him, and her, her chest rising and falling, and her leg slowly finding its way around his hip. He could see that Lauren was really getting excited, the way she was rubbing her arms all over his neck and trying to pull him down against her. He was getting turned on too. And just when he thought they were going to throw off their clothes and do it right there, on the floor with the front door open, Sam walked around the corner.
"Mom, has dad left yet - Gah!"
He quickly popped himself away from Lauren, and her likewise. He felt a blush rise to his face, and her also.
"Dad, that's disgusting," Was all his 9 year old could say. "Gross."
Lauren laughed, a little breathlessly, and patted Sam on the rump. "Are you ready to say goodbye to daddy, Sammy?"
"Yeah." He quickly hugged Tom around the waist with his head pushed against his stomach. "Bye dad. Don't drink anymore. It makes you stupid." Then he left the room, as quickly as he entered.
Tom looked at his wife, and her tangled hair and her uneven blouse. Then he started to laugh.
"We have such a strange kid," she said, giggling.
A bang on the door sent them jumping. "Tom, get your ass out of there and stop wasting my vacation time!"
Lauren glanced at Tom and shrugged. "You better get going, Grizzly Adams. Bring me back a souvenir."
He winked and kissed her cheek. "I'll keep that in mind." And with that, he walked out the door.
Hours later they began to leave behind the suburban concrete paradise of civilization. Well groomed lawns and modernized homes soon gave way to Mother Nature, and the majority of the buildings they encountered started to take on a more overgrown appearance. Homes took on an unkempt appearance, and Tom briefly thought of Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. They were, of course, nowhere near the prairies, and vines did not cover the walls, but all the same, he felt more and more attuned to the world as the road they travelled on went from paved to ridden with potholes to plain dirt.
And the scenery! He forgot how beautiful the Canadian woods were. Evergreens and firs slowly began to take control of the landscape. Occasionally he and Andrew would catch sight of some furry wood animal before it would dart into the darkness of the trees and out of sight. The musty artificial smell of Tom's Toyota was replaced by a lingering fragrance that reminded him of his fishing days as a child with his father. He could barely feel the heat of the sun, the view was so compelling.
"Tom, you with me?"
He broke out of his thoughts and turned to Andrew, who was staring at him, cock eyed. His hands were on the wheel, and yet in typical fashion he was focusing most of his attention on Tom.
"Keep your eyes on the road, Andrew."
He shrugged. "There's no one around us, Tommy. Just me, you and the woods. Beautiful, isn't it?" he added.
"I was just thinking the same thing."
"You know, Tom, sometimes I wonder. About the world, I mean."
"What about it?"
He gestured around them. "Look around you! Amazing, right?"
Tom nodded. "Yeah, mother nature is a pretty damn good artist."
Andrew shook his head. "That was the gayest thing you have said all week. But what I mean is, you know, I kind of like…this," he said, again gesturing around them, "More than anything. The city, even."
"I never knew you were an environmentalist."
"I'm not. All I'm saying is that, how can people build their smokestacks and their industries and their factories – which, I might add, pay their workers a third of the actual effort they put in – when they know that they're killing all of the woods?"
"Because mankind is God's biggest mess up, Andrew. That's why."
He laughed at that. "I guess. I just find it hard to believe. And it's not like I don't cause any of it either. I'm probably the worst, when it comes to pollution and all that shit." Tom glanced at his friend, and he saw how crestfallen he was. "I know for a fact that even though we'll have a man vs. wild thing going on for the week, as soon as I get home I'm going to run straight to the TV and plop my ass straight down, crack open some beers and a bag of Lays and eat my heart out for the rest of the week."
Tom knew that, too. Andrew wasn't the most fit of men, and he had quite a beer belly protruding over the steering wheel. He looked at himself and thanked god that he married Lauren (for the thousandth time), for she was a bit of a health fanatic. "Join a sport, then. Lauren forced me to join a tennis team when I met her. Hell, get Norah to join. It's more bearable if you have someone to do it with."
Andrew was silent for a long moment. They passed through the prairie – like land and entered the full bore of the woods, and soon trees began to overshadow their progress, though neither of them noticed it. Andrew stared straight ahead, and Tom could see that his hands, normally so relaxed, were balled into fists over the steering wheel.
"Well, you know, Norah, she left me."
"I said she left me, as in divorced me, took half of my shit and then took the kids to Vancouver. As in left. Me."
There was an even longer silence between them. Though it was mid – summer, and the full brunt of the heat was on them, the temperature in the car dropped by about five degrees. Tom suddenly felt very awkward and out of place. He never really was one for moments such as these.
"I… Jesus, Andrew."
Another long silence.
Finally he said it, the words you always say in these situations, although you never feel any better afterwards and the person being spoken to probably feels even worse. "I'm sorry."
He looked at Andrew, who was still stubbornly refusing to look at him. A small sheen had covered his eyes. He wished he could call the trip off and just hide up in his house.
"It was the beer." A statement, not a question.
"Lauren almost left me too, you know."
"I know. You came home drunk once, and you smacked your kid up a bit. Then she came down and started screaming at you, so you beat her ass a bit too."
The plainness of the words and the ferocity of which Andrew spoke it cut through Tom. At first he felt only shock, but that soon gave way to anger. He had no right to say that – sure, he was hurt, but he had no right to bring up Tom's past (which was definitely in the past now, buried up high) to try to make himself feel better. He felt the rage that usually came with a bottle rise in him once more, but he tried to push it down nonetheless. "How did you know that?"
"The whole neighborhood heard, Tom. You weren't exactly whispering, then. And you have big hands, when you want them to be."
The rage reared up and he thought he felt his stomach acid boiling. The temperature in the car dropped another few notches, and he suddenly envisioned what it would feel like if he slammed Andrew's head into the dashboard.
"Andrew, come on. That's not necessary."
Tears were now leaking from his face. "Yeah, I know. Sorry. I'm being an asshole. But I am, Tom! It's what I am!" He finally looked away from the road, and though Tom usually dreaded Andrew's driving inattention, he welcomed it this time. "If it weren't for me, you would never have started drinking! If it weren't for me, you would never have become an alcoholic too! It's my fault, and I dragged you down into this. Wasted money on rehab, broken marriages, mistrustful kids, me. All me."
And with that, he started to cry. Great wracking sobs shook forth from his body and his eyes shrunk to proportions that Tom thought not possible. He had never heard Andrew cry, and it hurt him more than he would never say. And he was right, it was all true. All of it, and finally years of secretive blame and resentment broke through the walls of his mind, and he knew. That was all, he just knew.
He awkwardly put a hand on Andrew's shaking shoulder, feeling like a jackass. Then he leaned forward and pulled him into a hug. It was a very uncomfortable position, what with the seatbelt buckling him in, but Andrew seemed to welcome it. His driving started to grow erratic, and finally Tom saw how dark it had gotten, under the cover of the evergreen trees.
With no warning at all, a great white figure sprung out of the cover of the woods and landed neatly directly in the path of the car. Tom saw it before Andrew did, and tried to reach for the steering wheel, but the seatbelt that was supposed to protect him held him fast.
He yelled. "Holy shit, Andrew, look ou-"
Andrew looked up and his eyes widened in shock He swung his arms over the steering wheel in a wide, exaggerated motion. At the same time the car smashed into the figure. A split second before impact Tom thought 'Deer!', but of course there was no such thing as a white deer. Then he learned he was wrong, for a deafening crack issued forth from somewhere below and in front of them, and a tangled mass of what seemed to be limbs – it all happened too fast for Tom to discern – was shot into the air, almost six feet above the ground. White fur and what seemed to be blood splattered across the windshield, effectively blanketing Andrew's vision. Tom screamed and a moment later Andrew followed suit. He unbuckled his seatbelt as the car rolled over what were probably pieces of the white deer, or something, who knew. Unbuckling your seatbelt during a crash is probably the most stupid and dangerous thing to do under any situation, but Tom was panicking and he really had no idea what he was doing or saying.
The car was still moving forward, at about 60 km/h. It was more than enough force to upturn the vehicle, and that was exactly what happened. A single depression in the dirt road was all that it took. The car had been fishtailing immediately after the collision with the deer and it was now at about a 30 degree angle to the parallel of the road. The wheels were scraping audibly over the dirt road, and its wheels sunk into the pothole, no more than an inch or two deep, about the size of a deer's hoof. The car spun around on an axis and the next thing Tom knew the ground was coming toward him at an alarming pace out the side of his window. He looked around just in time to see Andrew put his hands up in front of his face before metal met ground. His face whiplashed forward with the weight and force of about four thousand pounds of pure, good old artificial car behind it. His head hit the window. An infinitesimal amount of pain, what he felt like his brains being plastered all over the glass, and a white burst of lightning, searing and deadly, in his head. Then black.