Chapter 119

“Okay people, grab a tube, a cooler for those who want them, a few friends, and hit the water,” Angela yelled to the crowd. “We’re on the buddy system, so no one floats alone. Leave your crap in the bus. It’ll be waiting at the campsite when we finish today.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Nick said, slinging off his duffel bag and tossing it into the rapidly accumulating pile by the bus. In its place he scooped up a bright yellow tube and a Styrofoam cooler. A cursory inspection showed it to be filled with ice, beer, box-wine bladders sans their boxes, and Jell-O shots. There also may have been a bottle of water or two, if there was room. Nick let out a low whistle. “Wow, they really do things right on these trips.”

Vince glanced over Nick’s shoulder. “Is that all for one person?”

“It is now,” Nick said, slipping the lid back on.

Alice grabbed a tube and a cooler as well, with Alex and Sasha following suit. Vince tried to stick with just the tube, however he was informed in no uncertain terms that he was getting a cooler too. They assured him that even if he didn’t drink the contents, someone would.

The group trekked down the worn dirt path, some admiring the forest around them, while other’s eyes were focused on the co-eds already splashing around in the river. They reached the edge of the water, running into Thomas, Stella, and Violet, who were already setting down their tubes. Thomas and Vince noted that each was carrying a cooler and exchanged knowing glances. It seemed those chosen to be mules for extra booze could recognize others of their kind. The crew from Nick’s car, as well as Sasha, placed their tubes delicately in the river and hooked the floating drink repositories to them using attached lines of rope. Then came the stripping.

It was a quick affair, one person from each group piling all the clothes into a cloth sack while another bagged the shoes. It was a matter of efficiency and quickness as most hurried to get water covering up these newly-exposed parts of their body. Some were less self-conscious than others than, with Nick and Stella both moving slowly in disrobing down to their swimsuits, giving ample show to anyone who cared to watch. As Alice settled into her own tube, she was glad she had gone with the pink suit over the green one. Bursting was all well and good for show, but for a long day of relaxation she didn’t feel like worrying about things slipping out the whole time.

The group finished bagging the clothes and cast off from the shore, joining the slow-moving convoy of fellow students drifting down the river. They were in their own clusters, with little more than a few tens of feet between each grouping.

“Now this is the life,” Alex said, plucking out a beer and cracking it open.

“A man after my own heart,” Nick said, pulling out a beer of his own.

The others, with the exceptions of Vince and Thomas, joined in as the current began pulling them forward.

*          *          *

“Here at last, I see,” Angela said, handing tubes to Shane, Michael, and Chad.

“We took the scenic route,” Shane said.

“Did you now?” Angela looked over at Chad, who shook his head.

“He tried to hijack the car and steer us in a different direction,” Chad said. If it had been an interesting experience, one would never have guessed it from his tone.

“Ah, and what stopped him?” Angela asked.

“Me.” Chad took the tube and glanced down at the coolers. He reached into one and procured a lone bottle of water, then began heading toward the river. Michael, on the other hand, scooped up a cooler for himself, as well as the one Chad had poorly pilfered, and quickly began stepping after the blond leader.

“So, tried to run, huh?”

“I somehow find it difficult to believe you’re genuinely surprised,” Shane sighed, accepting a tube.

“I’m not surprised. More disappointed, really,” Angela said. She reached down and grabbed a cooler and held it out to her little brother. He stared at her, making no motion to accept it.

“So sorry to disappoint,” Shane said, turning away to follow his friends.

“Ahem.” Angela cleared her throat.

“Must we do this?”

“You’re going to enjoy yourself,” she declared.

“And the only way to achieve such a lofty goal is with the use of under-age drinking?” Shane asked.

“For you, probably. Otherwise you’ll spend the day moping in your tube, stuck on the fact that you were forced to be here rather than just enjoying how awesome this is,” Angela said.

“So your solution is to force me to do even more things I don’t want to?”

“In for a dime, in for a dollar,” Angela said, beaming a shameless smile.

Shane considered resisting, then surveyed his surroundings. It was still morning, and while the trees cast plenty of shadows, there was no denying the sun was out in full strength. Beating Angela would be hard enough if he had an environmental advantage. Without it, he was as good as wrecked.

Shane trudged back over and snapped the cooler out of Angela’s hands.

“Good boy, now catch up with your friends. We’re strict about the buddy system here,” Angela said.

“Then where’s yours?”

“Up ahead, minding the flock,” Angela said. “I insisted on waiting behind to make sure my dear little brother arrived safely.”

Shane’s eyes narrowed. “You know I’m going to beat you one day.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But unless you think that day is today I’d recommend getting your hustle on.”

Shane hesitated a moment longer, then took a brisk pace down the path after Michael and Chad.

Angela gave him a few minutes’ head start, then grabbed a tube and cooler for herself and began heading down. She began humming to herself, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful day before her. She briefly wondered if today would be the day Shane earnestly tried to kill her. She doubted it; he was a strong kid, he could take a little more.

She’d be on guard, though, just in case.