AN: The goal of this short story project is to show how each lead character joined the cult in order to compliment/draw context to the story of Eagle Rock as a whole. In that regard, this story is complete. However, Claire's eventual defection has as much, if not more to do with the story as a whole. So I may continue this or I may complete it in another's story. The girls, for now are done, but there are two boys to explore as well. Either way, enjoy!
“I don’t have my bags,” I finally said.
He leaned in close and asked me to repeat myself. His presence was warm and comforting and I didn’t want to leave it.
“I don’t have my bags,” I said again.
“I have them, don’t worry,” he said. He put his arm around me and looked right into my eyes. “It’s okay.”
I looked back at him for a long time, thinking about what to say. Somehow Alex snapping at me didn’t matter. That was a symptom, not a cause of my unhappiness.
His eyes were so very blue, they were almost unreal. God, he was so handsome.
“You’re beautiful,” he said. Then he kissed me.
I never wanted it to end. And for a while, it seemed like it wouldn’t. I didn’t allow myself to think. I couldn’t. And from when he led me to his tent and he made love to me, and I started to reconsider my plans to leave. There were a lot of questions that I had. Who were the girls? Did they meet Jay like I had? Did he sleep with all of them too? Somehow I knew he did, which bothered me, as it seemed obvious in hindsight. But in that moment, none of it mattered. There, that night, he and I were the only two people in the world. I felt wanted and loved.
I woke up sometime later in the night to find that I was alone, my soaked shirt crumpled in one corner of the tent. But my bags were there too. I changed into my white cotton dress and put on my cream jumper over it. Not exactly pyjamas but it would do for now. I heard voices that sounded like Alex and Jay’s. I could barely make out what they were saying. Their voices weren’t raised, but it was still tense.
“I’m all you have,” I heard him say. “Unless you want to go back to Montana.”
“I don’t,” she said.
More words were exchanged that I didn’t hear.
Before I could move or do anything further, Jay re-entered the tent. He smiled and kissed me. “Hi,” he said. “I hope we didn’t wake you.”
I shook my head. I was still on air, but I started to realize how little sense what just happened made. Millie and I used to make fun of girls who did things like this. I doubted she would believe me if I ever had a chance to tell her what happened.
He sat next to me, eyeing my dress and sweater. “I love the dress.”
“You know, Alex doesn’t seem to like me,” I said. Really? That’s what I could think of to say?
“She does,” he said. “She will.” He took my hand then, and looked me straight in the eye.
I’d definitely never felt anything like this with anyone before. “How did you meet everyone else?”
“Just like you, they’re smart girls who wanted more out of life,” he said. “They were open to the truth of what life can be when we all open our eyes.”
“And what is that?”
“Living in the present moment,” he said. “Not being tied to someone else’s vision of how to live our lives.”
“I’ve never been camping, you know,” I said. “I always wanted to.”
He smiled. “I hope you decide to stay with us. We’ll look after you, if that’s what you want.”
I did. It was an opportunity not to go right back to Mum and Dad, to spend more time with Jay. And maybe, like Helen had said, Alex would warm to me once she got to know. Had men landed on the moon only hours ago? It felt like another lifetime. “I think so,” I responded.
He smiled again, and I could have stared at his face forever. Then, he laid down, and gestured for me to lay beside him. I did.
“So,” he said. “Where’s your favorite place in Liverpool?”
I thought about. “There’s a coffee house my friend Millie and I would go to after school. And there’s the shops on Penny Lane. You know, like in the song.”
“My mum and dad never even asked if I wanted to move.”
“That must have been hard.”
I nodded. “I miss it every day.”
He said nothing, but somehow, something in his eye told me that he understood.
We talked, just like that, until we both fell asleep.
The next morning, as we packed up the van, Jay made Alex and I sit together in the very back. Helen sat with him up front, Debbie and Sasha in the middle row.
I was so far away from him, much further than I had been the night before. He’d only be able to hear me if I explicitly got his attention. As we drove away from the campsite and out onto the freeway, I felt Alex’s eyes on me and found my answer. Jay was deep in conversation with Helen. To him, for all intents and purposes, I wasn’t there. Debbie and Sasha were in the midst of a conversation too, so it seemed the only potential conversation partner I could have for the time being was Alex.
I heard her voice then. “Listen, I’m sorry,” she said. I continued to look at her. “But you have to understand that Jay will always come back to me.” I wasn’t entirely certain what she meant by that, and I didn’t feel like asking, as her tone was vaguely threatening.
“I don’t want to start a row,” was all I said. She looked at me blankly, and I realized she didn’t know what I meant. “I don’t want to fight you.”
“I was nothing before Jay,” she said. She was distant now, gazing in his direction, and I even saw her smile. “We all were.” Then, she looked towards me, and I wondered if, for a brief moment, she really did want to become friends. She had told me I was pretty, after all. It seemed for a moment like she was on the verge of tears, and I realized I felt sorry for her. I had no idea that I was just as vulnerable myself, that I’d taken my first step down the same path that she had tread. “He has so much love to give.” Yes, she was crying now. I didn’t know what to make of that. But then she smiled, and I realized that she must have meant well after all.
I smiled in return. Then, Debbie and Sasha both turned around. “Claire, do you know how to play I Spy?” Sasha asked.
And so we began the game, and this time, I was fully included, a part of them, a part of something. I was confident now. Wherever my future lay, it was with them. Des Moines came and went, a blip on the horizon that had been so significant the day before. Now, nothing else mattered.