Part 23: Ride To The River
We almost didn’t make it back to the store in time. Even though it had only taken me a couple of minutes to change into trunks and a tank top, and Summer seemed to take even less than that to get herself ready, Danny was getting impatient and had moved his truck about ten feet closer to the road. Summer, dressed in cutoff jeans and a bikini top like the rest of the girls, flagged him down, and like him I tried not to stare too much. Her top had little smiley faces and peace symbols on it, while her cutoff jeans were frayed with a designer patch stitched on the back pocket that read, ‘Have A Nice Day.’ Her whole attire made her look more like a shiny happy girl from the seventies than a modern age woman who had just cursed her father not more than an hour ago. She climbed up in the back of the truck, and I imagine the boys were trying not to drool, and the girls were wishing they were her. As for myself, I would have loved to been back there with her, but riding up front with our new friend Danny afforded me to check out Summer’s new admirer. By all indications, she shouldn’t have been interested, and in her defense she probably wasn’t, because this guy was about as far from nerdy as possible. This was the kind of guy who picked on the Ernest P. Worrels of the world. He wore a jersey from one of the local colleges, sleeves torn off at the shoulder to show off his biceps and build. His bleach blond hair was cropped short and he wore a baseball cap that announced, ‘size does matter.’ I could think of a hundred insults to go along with that, but I managed to refrain from saying any of them out loud. He had a five o’ clock shadow growing on his face, and it made him look a little off, because the color of his stubble was much darker than his bleached head.
He didn’t have much to say to me at first. Instead he pulled the truck out onto the dirt road and threw up dust behind him as we raced away from the country store.
“You look like a tourist,” he said with a snicker, noting my Hawaiian swim trucks.
“I didn’t have any jeans or shorts I wanted to cut up,” I explained.
He gave a little snort and glanced in the rear view mirror, which normally would afford him a good view of whatever was in the truck bed. However, for this trip, he was out of luck because an overweight kid had perched his butt right against the glass, blocking his vision.
I smirked at Danny’s disappointment and looked in my side view mirror,which I adjusted so I could catch a glimpse of Summer’s beautiful freckled face. She was laughing and having a good time with the kids back there, trying to get a sing along started, though none of them knew the songs she wanted to sing.
“So, how far is it to the river?” I asked the driver.
“It starts about two miles down the road here, “ he replied. “The tube trip itself goes about six miles before you get to the pick-up spot.”
“River? I thought it was a creek.”
“Well they call it that, but it’s really a river. Don’t worry though. It’s a lazy stretch, no big rapids or anything.”
“I wasn’t worried,” I assured him.
“Sure you weren’t.”
I looked in the side view mirror once more and saw Summer was now in the midst of a high school cheer with a couple of the girls. I smiled to myself, thinking she was the most amazing woman I ever laid eyes on.
Danny looked over at me. “So, you two really together?”
“Yep,“ I lied.
He looked out his window. “I’d do anything for a girl like that.”
I grinned. “Would you jump out the truck?”
He turned his head to me so fast I thought it would fly off his shoulders. “What?!”
“Just playing, dude.”
“Yeah, playing. Right.” He gave a halfhearted laugh and I realized I wasn’t doing as well at making friends as Summer was in the back.
When we got to the launch spot at the river I noticed there were a few others already waiting. There was a little outbuilding with a padlock on it and a bench in front of it. The waiting tubers were lounging there, but once the truck pulled up they were anxious and ready to go. We came to a stop and everyone began piling out the back of the truck, lining up with the others. Summer waited for me and slipped her arm through mine.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “This is going to be awesome, floating down the river on a lazy day with you.” She gave me a smile and it reassured me that this might not turn out so badly after all.
Danny walked by us, flashing his best winning smile. She smiled back, but returned her attention to me, which he seemed to think of as incredulous. I could imagine him thinking ‘How could she want to be with him when she could be with me?’ He walked into the small crowd, obviously disappointed, but he unlocked the outbuilding and opened it to reveal it was filled to capacity with inner tubes. Good thing, for with the number of people, there hadn’t been enough to go around in the truck. Those who hadn’t grabbed one from the ride over lined up to get their tubes. Summer and I got in line, too. I noticed Danny was using this opportunity to collect money from everyone. It was only five bucks a person, I guess to cover the cost of transportation to and from the site, and the use of the tubes. I had brought just enough money, having crammed two ten dollar bills in my trunks before we left Orchard House.
After a few minutes, we were at the head of the line, paying our fee, and getting our tubes. He handed us both one and told us to enjoy ourselves, but stick with the rest of the group in the river. “We don’t wait too long for stragglers,” he explained.
Summer was looking beyond him into the interior of the outbuilding. “Can we have the big one?” she asked, pointing to an inner tube that looked like it might have come off either a tractor trailer or an airplane.
“Sorry darling, one person per tube.”
She frowned. “Well, what’s so fun about tubing if you can’t ride together?” she asked.
“Sorry, rules are rules,” he grinned. It was easy to see he loved having the power to keep us apart. Unfortunately for him and his ego, her power was greater.
“Well, I guess we won’t go, then., “ she said.
“I can’t take you back,” he argued. “I have to go downstream to the pick-up spot and wait. You don’t have a choice, you got to go, or walk back to the store two miles up the road.”
Maybe it was the fact he mentioned choices that set the fire in her eyes. “Fine, refund us our money; we’ll have just as much fun walking down a country road.”
He shook his head exasperated and got the tube from the building, rolling it out to us. “Fine. Ride your tube together. If you get stuck coming down the narrow parts of the river, it’s on you.”
“We won’t get stuck,” she reassured him.
“I’m not coming looking for you.”
“Good. We might want to be alone anyway,” she argued back. It was fun to watch her in an argument with this guy. I could tell he was used to getting his way with the girls but this time it wasn’t happening and it was burning him up.
“Okay, listen up everyone,” he called out to the crowd, deciding he just wanted to ignore us now. “The trip is six miles downriver. There are a few small rapids, but nothing to be scared of. Most of your trip will be a nice lazy drift. Please don’t go up on the bank, until you reach the pick-up spot. Some of the property along the river is private, so we want to be respectful of the owners.” I couldn’t imagine him respectful, so I guess this was a rehearsed speech he gave to every group that went down the river. He turned to look at Summer and I. “Please keep up with the rest of the group. Stragglers can get left behind when it’s time to leave the pick-up spot.” Turning back to address the rest of the group, he smiled and tried his best not to look fake. “Okay, there’s the river, have fun!”
Everyone took their tubes and went down to the river. It wasn’t too civilized. Most of the kids took off running, throwing their tubes in ahead of them, and jumping off the bank to land on or inside them. Summer and I, having the biggest tube, were the last ones in, and as we both tried to climb on the tire, it threatened to capsize. I had to hold it place and let Summer climb up first. I stood knee deep in the river, hoping there weren’t any snakes twisting around my ankles. With a little jump, I managed to climb up on the tube, and it rocked back and forth as if it were going to flip over.
“We need to balance it out,“ Summer said, as she moved over to one side and I took the other. Settling down, we both lay back on the tube, and glancing over to the receding bank, I saw Danny was shaking his head back and forth. I guess he figured we weren’t going to make it. I didn’t care if we made it or not. I was with a beautiful girl floating down the river without a care in the world…
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.