Hank felt herself breathing again, relaxed her hands on the wheel and gave a satisfied snort. ‘Camp Kontikitiki here I come.’ She imagined Frank showing the others the short, ‘I’ll miss you. I’ll write. Love Henrietta’ note left on the family message board, and realized with a gulp that ‘miss you’ was a complete exaggeration. She cranked the music as loud as it would go, opened the window and let the wind catch her hair.
She started singing, or rather baying loudly in time to Joni Mitchell’s familiar lyric, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to do”. She hadn’t felt this kind of delicious freedom since she’d gone on that road trip with Kurt last August. They had driven from Seattle down the coast-line all the way to Puerto Nuevo. Once they had settled into their villa near the beach, they romped and frolicked like teenagers out of the sight of watchful eyes. She rolled the two names together over her tongue. Hank and Kurt, Kurt and Hank. She mused to herself how much their names together sounded like a pair of cowboys. This is in fact how she felt with him. Like a cowboy riding high with puffed out chest, hair widening in the wind and soul crackling alive with song.
Leaving Kurt at the airport in Puerto Nuevo last year had been one of the most difficult dilemmas of Hank’s life. The others had assumed that since she was the eldest and single, she would be the natural one to drop everything and return home to care for their ailing father. Although Hank and her father had never been close, it had been a long and agonizing year watching him die as the life slowly drained out of his cancer ridden body. Only when she received the email from Kurt did she fully realize how much she had missed him and just how much the year had taken out of her. As the wind blew through her hair and the music blared she smiled. It felt great to be on the road again, leaving the past behind and anticipating the future with Kurt at Camp Kontikitiki.
Hank had left her two siblings, Frank and June at her father’s house in Toronto, packing up what remained of his life’s possessions and getting the house ready for sale. She smiled, recollecting Kurt’s recent email and it’s serendipitous implications. He had written her a detailed account of having been left a riding camp in his late uncle’s will. She was happy to report to him how beautiful Muskoka is in July. The email delighted her so much, that she found herself volunteering to help him get things back up and running. Startled by this new bold side of her she soon began to embrace it. She found herself eagerly anticipating the summer ahead.
Or did she?
The music was so loud she did not hear the flap flap of the shredded tire. The car suddenly verring to the right caught her attention. Quickly putting on her signals she safely pulled over on to the shoulder. Now What? Rockface on the right and a highway median on the left.
Hank sat there for a minute as the adrenaline that had shot to her arms and legs slowly subsided. She rifled through her purse for her cell phone. ‘No service’ flashed on the screen.
‘Great’ she thought. Hank opened her driver’s side door and exited the vehicle to survey the damage. It was only when she knelt down beside what was left of the tire, did she see what was coming out of the corner of her eye. A transport truck was bearing down on her, blasting its horn and swerving to avoid her.
The behemoth thundered by her missing her front fender by millimetres.
Hank barely had time to avoid the rig but briefly caught the name as it roared by. ‘Cedar Ridge Riding Camp” was written on the back of the vehicle. Hank was positive that she saw a young blond woman smirking at her out of the side mirror as the truck roared by. What the hell was going on?!
Could those really have been Missy’s eyes that met hers in that brief flash? Couldn’t be … not after all this time.
Missy was the one reason that Kurt did not return with Hank last year after their adventure in Puerto Nuevo. Kurt’s sister had been in trouble for many years. Their parents had died in a car accident when Missy was eight and that left only Kurt to look after her. She had been in and out of rehabilitation centres since she was a teenager and had spent two weeks in a Mexican jail last year for dealing drugs before Kurt could finally bail her out. As her big brother, he felt solely responsible for her. The one time that Hank met her, Missy made it clear that her brother belonged to her and no one else. Hank paid the tow truck driver for fixing her tire and she continued on her journey to Cedar Ridge Camp. She was apprehensive about meeting up with Kurt once more and trying to explain to him that his baby sister might have just tried to murder her.
It was completely dark by the time she drove through the camp gates. Where is he… Maybe it was that maturity Kurt had, forced too early by the family tragedy, that so attracted Hank, that made her want to bury her face in his neck, and feel his muscular yet tender arms wrap around her.
But she couldn’t deny it was also that lopsided smile, and curly blond hair that fell in a shock over his forehead, so that she was always wanting to brush it back out of his blue-grey eyes. Or the tuft of darker hair in the middle of his chest, between two well-formed pecs, or how nice it felt to run her hand gently down from there toward the button on his jeans… Hank took a deep breath, shook the memory of a sandy beach and c
rashing surf out of her mind, and concentrated on finding a parking space in the pitch blackness of a starless and moonless night.
Oddly, he was suddenly there, meeting her on the lawn, with a flashlight that cast a pool of white-yellow light on the green grass. It was too dark to see his face, but she knew immediately — maybe by the harmony between them that made her wonder if perhaps they were soul-mates — that he was very nervous and trying not to show it.
“Hi,” she said, trying not to get nervous herself, or at least hide it. “Is everything okay?”
“Um…” Kurt took a deep breath. “Well… confession time.”
“Kurt, I’ve just left Mickey. The letter you sent, spun my usually solid world into a synaptic frenzy. All of the things, that I thought I valued, that I thought I couldn’t live without suddenly seemed plastic, as though the shimmer slipped from my landscape. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I realized getting into bed beside Mickey, night after night un-accompanied by even the remotest possibility of passion, that I had to make some drastic changes. Not even a week went by and I found myself plotting escape from my own family. I threw some belongings into a few suitcases, cashed in some RRSP’s and got in the car to come to you. I’ve never felt myself so pulled towards the possibility of what could be. And now, here we are. The very sight of you, like something I couldn’t imagine having such craving for. Only, there’s someone standing between us that we have to talk about. And, it would only be too easy if it was just the matter of Mickey, one un-interested, passionless, spouse. Kurt, it’s Missy. We have to talk about Missy. Something terrible almost happened to me on my way here and I think she may have been directly responsible.”
Kurt’s eyes narrowed and his brows slid closer together. She watched his shoulders creep closer to his ears and he shifted his weight onto his right foot.
Kurt looked like he was going to faint. His normally tanned face was milky white. His eyes were dull.
“What?” Hank gasped. Hank covered her mouth with one hand and reached for Kurt’s hand with the other. How could this be? She was sure it was Missy in the rig.
“She’s dead. A man was here about an hour ago. He said he was from the OPP and that Missy had committed suicide. They want me to go to identify her body.” Kurt was speaking barely above a whisper.
“Well did the police officer show you a badge?”
“No. I didn’t ask….”
“They should give you a ride… or an escort… not just leave you alone like this and ask you to get out there. Kurt… this is really weird,” Hank said. Why, in the last twelve hours, had her life become so… eventful? I need a dose of boring, she thought. It’s like I’m in a story that’s just moving too fast, because it has to wrap by some cosmic but externally-imposed deadline… why? Why? Thinking the word “dead” gave her a chill.
“What… you’re suggesting he wasn’t a real cop?”
“Sweetheart, where did he say she was?” she asked, deftly dodging the question. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“Hon, this is Sticks Ontarioville. There’s probably ten cops assigned between here and North Bay. They have things to do. He said they found her…” He choked up for a bit, and she wrapped her arm around his muscular back. “They found her… hanging. From the rafters. In… the old Blackhaven Arms Lodge.”
Hank took a deep breath. Omigod, that place… Missy had promised never to go back there, after she’d come away from a three-month stay… different. She’d never said exactly what the very secretive group of people did there, but Hank had got the impression that it was something arcane, and something… well, not on the side of the angels. Then a year later, there’d been a bunch of arrests, and a cache of guns and explosives found, as well as drugs. Now the old lodge on the rocky edge of Mist Lake in Muskoka was falling to ruin, abandoned. Or at least that’s what everyone thought.
And then, the slow seeping realization churned inside her skull. The heat of fear rose in her chest as she eased her hand away from Kurt’s back, and forced an uneasy glance into his eyes. He was staring at her. She held back a gasp, and forced a sweet smile. His eyes flicked downward, and she knew for a certainty, what she felt was not her imagination. She drew in her breath too quickly. Kurt raised his eyes hard as though he was smelling the air, sucking in the panic she was feeling.
In her heart she’d known all along. And even while her head screamed doubt, her resolve was metal. She stepped away from the space they were sharing and found the words to calm her mind. “ Sweetie, you look so sad.” Did he look confused? Had she tricked him? “ Let’s get some drinks and talk this through. We can figure out what to do.” She hated the sound of that, the ringing falseness of it. Kurt was staring at her in that stiff malodorous stance, still trying to sniff out her true meaning. She held her smile firm and wistfully looked around, searching her mind for another diversion. “ What a gorgeous place. I can’t wait to see the bedroom.” That worked. “Are there margarita’s is there?” She saw the smile crack his attention and a small relief drift into his eyes. He said, “ Even better, straight tequila, Herradura, your favourite.”
Hank shivered. She felt the bile rising into her throat with the recollection of her lost night, the hazy waking up so groggy she thought she would never wake up again,
“I’ll just get my bag out of the trunk.” He responded fast. “I’ll help you.” “No, – I’m- OK.” He walked purposefully close along side her as she moved to her car. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and clicked it on. It’s light flashed against her face, NO SERVICE. Kurt was at her neck.” I’m afraid that won’t work out here.”
“Oh. I know, but I was just remembering, the guy who fixed my tire told me he thought there was a leak somewhere. He told me to call him and make an appointment to have that checked out.” “ I can check that for you later. No worries.” He took the phone from her hand and plunked it into his chest pocket. The panic rose into her throat and Hank calmed herself with the mantra she’d learned at meditation camp. ‘Ohmmmm’ Her heart was pounding into her ears and she yelled a resounding ‘STOP’ into her head to overwhelm it. She found the key to the car in her other pocket and pressed the unlock button.. ‘RELAX. Breathe. Calm….ohmmmm. OK’ she thought and opened the trunk.
In it lay two bags, one small packed neatly with the essentials she required for her summer as Camp Director of Kontikitiki, the other filled with old clothes and nic nacs she’d cleared from her old life with Mickey, empty closets, ‘making room for the new’. This was stuff she planned to give away through the summer to those pre teen camp girls who adored vintage 90’s clothing and junk. She pointed to the larger bag and let Kurt reach in it to lift it out. Smile. She used a seductive tone. “How long do we have alone?” “ He glowed back. “2 days. And nights.” His chest was expanding, he was feeling a surge of elation, and she could smell that familiar body attraction. She gulped back the desire and said in her most motherly tone. “Plenty of time to deal with Missy before your camp staff arrives.” She watched his response through down-turned eyes, saw the hesitation in his step, then the rebalance, the surety as they walked along the darkened path to his cabin “Poor Missy.” she said. He grunted in agreement. Eight more steps she thought, and in 4, 3 , 2, 1. “Oh, I brought a CD for you, I’ve been listening to it the entire way up here. I know you are going to love it.” She said this loudly as she turned on her heel and dashed back to the car. She could feel he had not turned fast enough, he was still holding the bag, and she was lightening, her heart thumping, seconds lengthening. Into the driver’s seat. Turning the ignition, Shifting gear to reverse. Backing up. Shifting into first. Spinning tires. Accelerating, the fog lights grazing his legs as he stood and watched, moved his arms to loose her bag from his grip. She turning on the lights. Him waving his arm, taking a step. Her shifting into second speeding past. Him fading. Her looking in the rear view mirror to read his face, now invisible in the darkness, imagining the growl that grew there, the red glow in his stare, now blotted out by the forest dark and only the superfluous glow of the flashlight creating that eery yellowing pool of light again. She imagined him kicking her bag and running to his own truck, racing to catch up to her, crashing into the side of her car, in his anger trying to push her into a ditch, stop her from leaving. She sped up, reached the camp gates, moved onto the gravel road, and with no hesitation, turned right. She was breathing heavily still, electric breath, charged with the power of self determination.
The moments seethed and settled down a bit, and she was almost to the highway. No lights behind her. She had made good time. She came to the intersection and stopped, opened her window to figure out the distance she had out-run him, strained her ears and heard nothing but the creeking of cricket legs. She searched the empty roads. South would take her home. North would take her to Kontikitiki.
She breathed a bit deeper, and felt around on the passenger seat until she found the edge of the envelope which held the other note she had written that morning, the more complicated note, full of meaning and intention, Not the kind of note you can leave on a family board. This note was pages long, heart pouring out, tear stained, as she struggled to explain her reasoning for the real purpose of her stop at Kurt’s riding camp.
There was more to this relationship with Kurt than her desire to be moved senseless within his perfectly formed muscles. The sex was good, the best she had known yet. But Kurt was no cowboy. And she was nothing more than a philanderer. She had looked that word up, and it was the name you give someone who has casual sex with people without telling her spouse. Poor, faithful unsuspecting Mickey had never deserved Hank’s
deceit. And their year apart, when Hank took care of her fading father and incapable brother turning her more angry and resentful, than ever hadn’t relieved the guilt she felt over her infidelity. It was all in the note, all 11 pages both sides full single spaced of it. She had written it all down, for all of them maybe, but really just for herself. She had discovered she was never going to find satisfaction from giving herself away to other people, no matter what position they held in her life.
She had finally reconciled in herself, she was a woman who wanted to live big, whatever that meant, and had been too afraid to get it, whatever that meant. She didn’t know what she wanted, something like romance and adventure, or something like freedom to succeed or fail on her own merits. She had discovered her confusion and reconciled herself to it all at once, at meditation camp, and it really did come down to her own choice. Like they all said it did. And she had time.
Hank still held the corner of the stuffed envelope, the body of it sagging from the weight of paper within and the dampening air without. She flicked her wrist and tossed it out her opened window, spun her tires on the gravel and turned onto the highway. That familiar Dylan tune was forming in her head and she sang out loud along with it. “Yah! How does it feel?… to be on your own!…..no direction home!…. like a rolling stone…..and her hair caught up by the wind, kept time….