Fall With Me
But I’d had to get used to guys staring, which Sean was doing, rather blatantly. By the time Dad had dumped his napkin into the trash can, Sean was striding over, blond curls peeking out from under his San Francisco Giants ball cap.
Yes, he could’ve been an Abercrombie and Fitch model. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his beige cargo shorts and grinned. “Hey,” he said. “I realize how incredibly random this is going to sound, but could I borrow your notes from Logic? I lost my notebook somewhere between here and campus and we’ve got that big test tomorrow.”
At the time, it had seemed cute, charming, even, and certainly wasn’t what I was expecting the first words out of his mouth to be. After I told him he’d apparently mistaken me for one of his classmates—There’s no way I would forget your face—he asked if he could sit down, then he asked if he could take me out to dinner at La Folie that evening.
I raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have a logic test to study for?”
But we did end up going out that night, and when he called a few days later, I agreed to meet him down in Palo Alto. My parents were thrilled; I’d never had a serious relationship and, since I was fast approaching twenty-two, I think they were starting to wonder if I’d ever date anyone.
For a while, Sean was as charming as he’d been that first day. But then little red flags began to unfurl, then wave frantically. He didn’t like it when I walked ahead of him, which I did sometimes because I’m a fast walker naturally, and, though he was tall, he shambled along like he was in no particular rush to get anywhere, ever. Or he’d get upset if I said I was going to do something and didn’t—something minor, say, like go for a run when I got done with class.
“But you said you were going to,” he’d argue, as though I’d personally offended him. “You told me that’s what you were going to do.”
My parents loved him, though, because none of that was on display when he was around them. To the outside world we probably seemed like the ideal couple, and people were constantly telling us what a lovely pair we made and how they couldn’t wait for the wedding. Nothing made me want to run screaming from the room faster than the idea of getting married to Sean Wentworth.
Breaking up with him after my parents’ car accident seemed like the natural thing to do. Everything else in my life was completely shattered; might as well let this go, too. It took almost a week. He refused to accept that I wanted to end the relationship, then he got angry, then he cried, then he made threats, and finally, it was over.
Except it’s not, I think, as I take my bag into the bathroom and pluck my toothbrush from the holder. I drop that, my hairbrush, a stick of deodorant, and some shower gel into the gym bag and try to forget about that orchid. It’d been over a month since I’d heard or received anything from Sean and I thought maybe we really had finally come to the end. Apparently not. Luckily, though, I’m headed down to the ranch for the summer, and for as worldly and cultured as Sean likes to think he is, he’s really not one for being out in the great outdoors.
I drive down to the ranch, the sun dipping below the horizon to my right. I park in front of the cabin like I’ve had for the past four years now. It was a cute little one-bedroom cottage that I’ve come to think of as my summer home. I step inside with my duffel bag containing several pairs of jeans, my Sea Horse Ranch t-shirts, and a few pairs of shorts and tank tops. Lorrie’s been in ahead of me and opened the windows, but the cabin still feels a little stuffy. It’s familiar though, the knotty pine panel walls, the wide floorboards with the braided rugs. The cabin is basically a large room that makes up the kitchen, living room, and dining area, and then a small hallway that leads to the bathroom and the bedroom. Everything looks exactly how I remember it. I sit down on the couch for a minute and lean my head back against the cushions. At least I have this, I think. While it might not sound like the most exciting summer job for a college student, it’s exactly what I need right now. Though the rotation of campers changes each year, everything else here is pretty much the same. And so many things in my own life have changed, so many things have not worked out the way I imagined they would, but there is still this, and other than Bill and Lorrie announcing that they’re selling the ranch and shutting down operations, I don’t see how anything could possibly make this summer anything but normal.
And for that, I am grateful.
I join Bill and Lorrie at their house for dinner, and we sit out on the back deck overlooking the barn and the paddocks.
“How is your mom?” Lorrie asks as she scoops quinoa salad onto my plate. “I’m going to try to get up there in the next week or so. I feel terrible I haven’t been better at visiting.”
“We know you’re busy,” I say. “And she’s doing the best she can. I’m going to try to see her every Sunday, if that’s okay with you guys.”
“Of course it is,” Bill says. “Take whatever time you need. I mean, you’re certainly an integral part of the ranch around here, but family first.”
“Speaking of family,” Lorrie says, “Allison has decided to work here this summer. We’re hoping you can kind of take her under your wing. She’s familiar with a lot of the stuff, obviously, but I’m sure she’ll have plenty of questions.”
I force a smile. “Great,” I say. “I’d be happy to help.”
Allison is their daughter, the baby of the family, who, in my mind, will forever be eight and throwing a tantrum about something. The past few summers she worked up in the city at some retail job in Union Square, and I wonder what must have happened to make her resign herself to work here. She’s not exactly the outdoors-y type, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen her so perhaps things have changed.
I get my answer bright and early the next morning. During the summer, I get up at six every day except for Sundays. I go down to the barn and feed the horses, turn them out, then muck out the stalls before going to the lodge to help with breakfast. I don’t mind getting up early, when it’s still semi-dark out and the birds are the only things awake. I like that special time—early in the morning and twilight—when the sun could be about to rise or set. I fill an oversized travel mug with strong, hot coffee and sip it as I go about my work. I’m just finishing up the last stall when I hear someone walking down the barn aisle.
I don’t have to turn to know who that voice belongs to. Yet, I do turn, and there she is, all five feet two of her. She’s got a great body, even though she’s short, a fact that she’s well aware of and—based on what she’s wearing—clearly uses to her advantage. She has always been someone who’s gotten what she wants.
“Hi, Allison,” I say. I dump another pitchforkful of manure into the wheelbarrow. She takes a step back so the errant bits of shavings don’t mar her impeccable outfit: a peach-colored romper with gold sandals that lace up her tanned calves.
“Mom and Dad probably told you already,” she says. “But I’m a junior counselor this year. Second in command only to you.”
“Excellent,” I say. “Glad to see you came dressed to work.”
She laughs. “Well, I’m actually heading over to the lodge right now to help get things set up for the arrivals. But I wanted to come find you and say hi and give you the good news. I really think it’s going to be a lot of fun, us both being counselors.”
I stop shoveling shit for a second and look at her. I am seven inches taller than she is and it’s hard not to see her as a kid, an annoying little sister, even though she’s seventeen. She’s got silver hoops in her ears and pale pink blush on her cheeks.
“Did your parents happen to go over with you exactly what it means to be a counselor?” I ask. “Did they give you any of the details?”
“Well . . . sort of. I think they thought you’d go over most of it. Since you’ve been here so long, and everything.”
“One of the main jobs is the upkeep of the horses. So that means getting down here by six o’clock in the morning and helping muck out stalls, feed, and scrub water buckets. Brandon isn’t coming back this year, either, so there’s another new counselor onboard, too.”
“Yeah, Karen or something. Well, maybe she’ll be more of a morning person and she’ll want to get up early and do the horse chores and I can take the late morning shift.”
I go back to mucking out the stall so I can roll my eyes without detection. “Yeah, I’m sure she’ll be totally open for that,” I say. “She’ll be here around ten, so maybe that’s something you can talk to her about.”
“Awesome!” Allison says, completely missing—or ignoring—the sarcasm in my voice. “I’ll be sure it’s one of the first things we go over.” She skips off. I watch, feeling a thread of tension slip its way in between my shoulder blades.
Shake it off, I tell myself. This is nothing to get upset over.
Okay, so maybe it’s not what I was expecting. But she’s their daughter, and it’s a minor change in the grand scheme of things, really. And I honestly doubt she’ll last more than a week if she has to get up early to do chores.
I can handle this.
Chapter 3: Griffin
Being shut up in this tiny space is something like being in one of those sensory deprivation tanks. I start seeing things in the darkness, little bursts of color, like tiny fireworks. I wonder if it’s because I’ve been closed up in here or it’s just a lingering effect of the LSD.
There’s a gentle rocking motion. It’s enough to lull you back to sleep, but that’s impossible right now; I’ve been swimming the depths of unconsciousness for so long that my muscles feel as though they’ve got electric currents running through them. I never was one who was good at staying still.
So I get up. I touch the walls, which are glossy wood. I knock into a pole that’s hanging horizontally along one of the walls and I realize I am in a walk-in closet. Above me, I can hear the two guys talking, though I can’t understand what they’re saying. I go over and stand under where it sounds like they are and I hit the ceiling a few times with my fist.
“Hey fellas!” I shout. “I’d like to come out of the closet now.”
It’s a pathetic joke, but I smile anyway. I’ve always been good at cracking myself up and, occasionally, other people, too.
To my surprise, the door opens. It’s Snaggletooth, who stands there, holding the door handle, letting a shaft of pale yellow light into the room. He stares at me, eyes narrowed.
“Have I accrued enough good behavior points to warrant a trip on deck?” I ask.
“You’re going to do something for us,” he says. He pushes the door open the rest of the way.
“Okay.” I smile as I walk past him. “That was a joke about coming out of the closet, though. I’m not gay.”
He shoves me. “We’re not fucking fags!” he shouts. “That’s not what you’re going to do for us. Jesus.”
I’m in a bedroom. There’s a queen-sized bed flanked by two mahogany side tables. There is a mirror on the ceiling.
“Nice touch,” I say, looking up at it.
We go up on deck. The other guy is up there, pacing, drinking a can of PBR.
“Stay classy,” I say, nodding at the beer. Actually, I wouldn’t mind one of those right now myself. It does feel nice to be out, though. I walk over and take a piss off the side of the boat. The boat, it turns out, is not the seventy-foot pirate vessel I’d imagined, but rather, a mere forty-foot cruiser, similar to the one my old man had before he upgraded. “My dad had a boat like this. It was bigger.”
“Then your dad shouldn’t have any trouble paying your ransom,” says Bandana.
I shrug and look out toward the horizon. Nothing but blue sky, blue water. Sun straight overhead. “He’s kind of an asshole, if you want to know the truth. If you’re so eager for money, it probably would’ve been better to choose a man whose paternal leanings ran a bit deeper.”
“Your father doesn’t seem to want to take this matter as seriously as he should,” Snaggletooth says. “He seems, in fact, to think it’s a hoax. A ruse. A prank that maybe you are in on. So you’re going to call him and tell him otherwise.”
There’s only the two of them, as far as I can tell, Snaggletooth and Bandana. I try to piece together how this might’ve all gone down, but it’s just one big blank, like that part of my memory was erased entirely.
“And it’s not just the money,” Snaggletooth continues. “That’s part of it. But my boss wants something else from your dad, too. A confession, of sorts.”