A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com. This one is in response to “25 Ways To…” Well, if you really want to know, go read it for yourself. It sounds better when Chuck says it.
I used characters from the Tenderfoot world and told untold backstory. Err, you know what I mean. In this flash fic, Jeffrey, Jules’ dad, is by no means the most tortured protagonist ever, but he did receive a nice working-over courtesy of Nick.
Karolina drew close. On the Penrith train platform, she stopped mid-stride to argue with our guest Jeffrey, both of them oblivious to the other passengers. She must have told him the good news. After a minute, they proceeded to the Jaguar. Jeffrey was unable to hide his dismay as Karolina slipped into the passenger seat next to me. I couldn’t help winking. She ignored me.
Things improved upon arrival at Mount Helvellyn. Jeffrey made a peacock display of himself, offering to carry more than half his load of camping gear up the mountain. It was easy to slough most of mine onto him. He blinked a bit as he shouldered it, but he trusted me. We’d see how long that lasted. No doubt he believed the evening held a shag in the Great Outdoors.
It was a pleasant climb. We took our time, following a path that meandered up the emerald green mountainside. There were no trees to speak of, just stone and closely cropped grass. The higher we rose, the better the view to the valley below.
I listened to their small talk. Jeffrey pretended they were alone as he flirted shamelessly. From the quickening of Karolina’s heart to the way she gazed at him, Jeffrey had to be the One. Bedevil me, it would be a long upward march.
After lunch, we splashed in the cold water of a mountain stream. No time like the present to disabuse Jeffrey of how this works. One slippery rock later, I hid my delight under the surface of the water where I landed while dear Jeffrey nursed an accidental kick to the groin. It took Karolina several minutes to determine the chain of events when her back was turned. While one eyebrow rose, my sweet girl acquiesced quickly. We continued. Across the afternoon, we worked our way up to a suitable camp site. Karolina inserted herself between us the entire time.
It would be a long evening.
Jeffrey went off in the wrong direction looking for fresh water. When he returned two hours later, a bit worse for the wear, I was happy to show him the stream one hundred meters in the opposite direction. The campfire was set up by then. After dinner, Karolina went to fetch thick socks against the chill. I surreptitiously slid into her spot under pretext of moving away from the smoke. Not one to miss an opportunity, I stared. Eventually his eyes shifted to meet mine.
“Jeffrey, are you a betting man?”
“How much did you wager on tonight?”
His dirty brow furrowed in disbelief. A leaf was stuck in his hair. It shone luminously green in the reflection of the fire. “Why would I wager on her?”
“I wager this camping trip is not meeting your expectations.”
“Is that so?” His eyes blazed. It would be so easy to push him over.
“Karolina is not like other girls. You need to earn her.”
Jeffrey jumped to his feet and backed away. “You’re crazy, Nicholas!”
“No, I’m serious. If you want to date her, you need my approval.” I, the uncle’s nephew’s brother’s brother. I loved that joke.
A moment passed as he assessed his options. His eyes flickered over the fire toward the tent, resolve hardening around them. He was soft. Did Jeffrey have what it took?
“You get one shot. If you screw it up, that’s it. Or, you can pack your bags now.”
We were still in the silence. Karolina was kind enough to remain in the tent.
“I’m not going anywhere.” He sat down. The fire crackled as the plume of smoke reached to the dark sky.
“It’s settled then.”
Jeffrey held out his hand. I grasped it around the cuts and bruises, applying slightly too much pressure. We shook.
As I stepped away, I said, “You might want to tell her about that kid you killed in high school.”
Flies could have landed in his open mouth.
“How do you know about that? We were just kids playing hockey,” Jeffrey said when he recovered. Remorse flitted across his face.
“It’s one of many things I know about you.” I gestured to the collar of his not-so-white tennis shirt. He might be American but he dressed like the other Oxford twats.
I left him then. Karolina exited the tent, speed in her step. As we passed, I touched her shoulder. I whispered, “I’ll be back in half an hour.” The darkness welcomed me. She paid reparations to Jeffrey with kisses before I looked away.
The next afternoon, we descended the mountain. When we came to the bottom, I made my move. I blocked Jeffrey’s way with one foot. Abruptly, he halted, stumbling a bit as he fought for control on the rocky slope.
“One last thing.”
“What now, Nick?” He used this nickname since I returned to the fire last night. It was mildly irritating. He stood tall as he held my gaze. The swollen bump on his forehead didn’t look as bad as the cut along his hairline crusted over with blood. He refused to give up. He might work out after all.
“I’d like to see you do a handstand. Over there,” I gestured.
To my surprise, he dropped everything: the bedrolls, the wadded up leaky tent, the camping gear. It all fell to the ground so easily. Without hesitation, he skittered down the last paces of rock, jogging to the flat spot in the meadow. Karolina grabbed my arm as she watched. In less than a three-count, Jeffrey swung forward onto his hands. The effort to stay balanced cost him. He stayed upright for a true heartbeat before collapsing, finishing laid out on the grass. This time I let him rest. He’d proved himself.
Karolina ran to his side.
Let him have his prize. Not bad for a third date. It gave me something to look forward to – the fourth. How to decide between river rafting or skydiving?