It was three minutes past one in the morning when I heard Blake come back into the house. I was in the basement, listening to my Judy Collins record, careful to keep the volume low enough so as not to wake Mom and Dad. After more than an hour of tossing and turning, I’d come downstairs. It was a scorching hot day and we didn’t have air conditioning in our house in those days. It was at least cooler in the basement and I hoped between that and Judy Collins I could put my mind somewhat at ease, and thinking about the eight am shift I had at the grocery tomorrow wasn’t helping matters.
I went to meet him at the top of the stairs. Met with the heat, I had to take a breath. The back of my neck almost immediately began to pool with sweat. Summer was the one time I really appreciated having short hair.
He saw me. Earlier that night, he’d been engaged in a bitter and violent shouting match with our parents. While I’d been holed up in my room for its duration, I’d heard the gist of it. My brother was unmotivated, and ruining his life, only the actual words exchanged had been much less kind. The front door had slammed and when I’d gone downstairs to get water, I tried to ask Mom and Dad what had happened. They’d told me not to worry about it and retired to their room.
“You’re still awake,” he said in a hushed tone.
“I can’t sleep.”
He took a deep breath.
“Are you going to bed?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he responded. “Why?”
“Want to come down with me?”
He nodded and followed me down the stairs. I’d kept the light on but dimmed, and it was at least somewhat cozy. I’d forgotten I left the record on, and it spun now, waiting to be flipped. Once I did, the music continued.
Blake sat on the sofa and exhaled deeply. He looked to be, although I could have just imagined it, on the verge of tears. I wanted to ask where he’d gone. Mom and Dad, earlier, had mentioned a girl named Sasha that he’d snuck out a few times to see. I figured that’s where he’d been, but still, I was too nervous to ask.
The entire summer that he’d been back from college, things had been off. We’d been close when we were younger, but ever since he started college three years ago we’d drifted. I’d been excited about him coming back for the summer, but things had been different. He’d come home for the summer with the promise to find a job, but it was August already so it didn’t seem like that was going to happen.
He’d spend all day out with friends it seemed, and when he was home, it was impossible to get a word out of him. So I’d asked if I’d done anything to upset him.
He shook his head. “It’s not you, Kat,” he said. “It could never be you.”
“Then I want to help,” I said. It was the first time I had seen him be so vulnerable. It made sense to me now. He was hurting.
He said nothing to this. So I asked if he’d been with Sasha. He stared at me for a moment before I’d told him I’d heard most of his argument with Mom and Dad.
He then told me that he had been. “I really like her,” he admitted.
I nodded, unsure of what to say. I was starting to feel tired now. I wanted to go back down and lie in my bed, but I also wanted to continue talking to Blake. But I didn’t know what to say.
“I can’t go back another year,” he said. “To college.”
“You only have one year left.”
“I know,” he said. “And then what?”
I didn’t know what to say. “Where would you go?” I finally asked.
He paused for a long time before he spoke. “I want you to meet Sasha,” he said. “Tomorrow.” In my overtired state, I didn’t think to ask where. The clock told us that it was almost one-thirty. I’d have to be up by seven so at most I’d get five hours of sleep.
“I work until three.”
“Come after,” he said. “I’ll be there.”
“It’s the Fairy Ridge campground,” he said. “Five miles up.”
“Write it down,” I said. If I waited any longer, I was going to fall asleep right there. “I need to go to sleep.”
“Good night,” Blake said.
In my bed, just as I’d crawled under the covers, I heard footsteps and a paper slip under my door. I stood up and grabbed the note. “Fairy Ridge campground,” it said in his handwriting, along with directions for how to get there from the grocery. I put it on my bedside and fell asleep, figuring I’d think about whether I would go or not in the morning.
I barely woke up in time for my shift. In my rush on the way out I told Mom that Suellen and I were thinking of meeting up to go to the movies after. If I decided not to go visit Blake I could come home and tell her the plans fell through. Mom told me to be careful without looking up from her paper.
At work, the day dragged on. I went back and forth about whether or not to go. On one hand, five miles was a bit far away to bike and I didn’t feel the greatest since I hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep. On top of that, I didn’t exactly know what I was walking into. On the other hand, Blake had been so distant this entire summer and this was an invitation into a part of his life. If I was bored I could always leave, but I’d probably be no more bored than I was bound to be sitting around at home. Besides, it was still blistering hot, and the headwind would cool me if I was on my bike. And on top of that, I was curious to meet this girl my brother said he liked so much.
At three, I punched out and changed from my uniform with my mind made up.
The ride itself turned out to not be too strenuous, and was actually somewhat relaxing. Town faded away after the first two miles, and I felt like I was far away. Just me, the road, and rock formations. Everyone was always saying what a beautiful state Utah was, and I supposed it was, but one of these days I did want to get out of the desert. A lot of things were racing through my head now that I hadn’t thought about last night, like when exactly Blake had gone back and what this Sasha girl was doing at a campground five miles out of town.
By the time I got there, I was sweating profusely and I needed water. I drank what was left in my canteen, but there wasn’t much and it didn’t satisfy me in the slightest. I took a minute to get my bearings. I was in a large parking lot and there was no one around. How did he expect me to find them?
“Are you Kathryn?”
Just then, I heard a male voice I did not recognize. I turned. Tall, dark hair, blue eyes. He made me uncomfortable.
“And you are?” I asked, instinctively backing away.
“Jay,” said the man said. “I know your brother.”
I realized in the back of my mind that this otherwise would have been very suspect, but I figured Blake probably told him I was coming and maybe even gave some approximation of what I looked like. “He invited me,” I said.
“That he did,” Jay responded. “It’s this way.”
Not wanting to bring it with, I told Jay I wanted to lock up my bike. So he waited, rather impatiently, while I did. I remember thinking even then that it was odd. Once I was done, I followed behind him, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the way he was looking at me. He tried to talk to me and ask me questions, all the while looking at me like I was meat, so I gave him half responses until we arrived at the campsite.
Blake was there, by the fire pit, breaking large branches into smaller pieces and leaving it for kindling. A few feet away, a brunette with long bangs watched him with a look of wonder on her face. Sitting a few feet away was a girl my age with sandy hair. She was Debbie. Beside her was an older, gorgeous honey blonde with a perfect face. She was Helen. They were looking at a magazine and laughing. They each gave me a slight wave and smile.
“Sasha,” Jay said in the direction of the brunette watching Blake.
She looked up. So this was Sasha. She seemed nice enough. But my presence wasn’t acknowledged.
“Where are Claire and Alex?”
“They went for a hike, I think.”
“Well, go find them.” Then he turned back to me and smiled. “We have company."
I pursed my lips. Jay clearly thought he was being charming and I didn’t know how to tell him that he wasn’t. Just then Blake acknowledged me. “You came,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, managing a smile. He was happier then I’d see him be in a long time. Blake then sat down, resolving to take a break from the kindling. Not knowing what else to do, I sat next to him. Jay joined us and for a moment we all sat there, saying nothing.