Chapter 15: The Great Outdoors
The sudden lack of momentum jolted Nate from a sleep he didn’t even remember falling into. Groggily, he blinked and was met with a mop of blonde hair in front of his face. Somewhere on their journey through the trees, Alex must have woken up and Nate had fallen asleep with his head against the smaller man’s shoulder. He sat upright quickly but Alex was preoccupied with something outside of the window; his hands were cupped against the glass as he tried to see through the rain, which had become heavier at some point during Nate’s nap.
“What’re you looking at?” Nate croaked.
Without looking away from the window, Alex replied, “Simon thinks we’re here but there were no signs or anything.”
Unbuckling his seatbelt, Nate squinted out of his own window into the trees. Because that’s all there was to see. Trees. The car was parked in a small clearing of some sort in the middle of a forest. And, although it was obviously a man-made clearing, there were no picnic tables or signs of fire pits anywhere. There wasn’t even litter to show that humans had been there recently.
“We’re lost but he doesn’t want to admit it.”
Kyle’s statement didn’t surprise Nate in the slightest and he nodded silently. It was so like Si to act like a typical ‘man’ and refuse to admit defeat with something like this. He’d always been the same, even when they were small he would take charge and ignore instructions only to end up building shelves instead of a table. His stubbornness knew no bounds.
Nate sighed, “I’ll go and see what the prat’s doing.”
He opened the car door and stepped out into the rain, shielding himself as best he could with his thin jacket. It wasn’t pouring quite yet but there was a thick, wet mist in the air and a heavy sky overhead.
“Si! What’re you doing you knob?”
The elder twin turned away from a sign he’d been reading and stepped in front of it, his large body obscuring it from view. Totally aware of his brother’s attempt at concealment, Nate shoved him aside and read the worn out sign for himself. ‘Welcome to Baywood Forest,’ it read, ‘Enjoy our wide range of activities! ike Riding, Mo nta n C imbing and uch more!’ Some of the letters had been rubbed away by the weather but the thing that was most obscuring the writing was the fact that there was a large laminated ‘CLOSED’ sign hammered over the top of the sign. Nate slapped his brother on the back of his stupid head and pointed at the bold red letters.
“Great. Now, what?”
“We stay here anyway,” Simon nodded, his face serious.
“Stay where?” Nate gestured to the empty clearing, “There’s nothing here, genius!”
“We can go into the forest a bit and make a camp there! It’ll be fine.”
Nate groaned and ran his hand through his dripping hair, “Do we have to? We could just go and find a cheap bed and breakfast for the night.”
Using his best ‘older brother’ voice, Simon shook his head and folded his arms, “No, we came here to camp so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” He tore the closed sign off and tossed it into a bush before marching back to the car.
Kyle looked expectantly at Simon, eyes wide behind his glasses, “So? Is this it?”
“Yep!” Simon opened the boot of the car and began hauling the camping gear and bags out before Kyle could question him more.
Resigned to the fact that Simon wasn’t going to let anyone spoil his manly excursion, Nate grabbed his bag and followed his brother into the dense woodland. Thankfully the rain had stopped but the sky still looked dark and ominous and the ground was squelching underfoot, not something Nate was enjoying what with his knee only just getting back to normal. He stepped over a fallen branch only to stand in a patch of mud and almost did the splits. If it wasn’t for Alex grabbing his arm, the redhead would have been singing soprano for the rest of his life.
Nate took Alex’s hand to find his feet again, grimacing as he put his leg down and felt the twinge in his damaged knee, and found himself grinning from ear to ear when the young blonde didn’t let go afterwards. They walked hand in hand for almost an hour as Simon led them further and further into the forest. When spots of rain began to drip from the canopy, Kyle seemed to finally snap and suddenly dropped his backpack on the ground with a dull thump. He took off his glasses, wiping them with his t-shirt.
“I think we’ve walked far enough into the ‘Deliverance’ forest don’t you, Simon?”
As if he’d been woken from a dream, Simon looked around as though assessing the area and then nodded, “Okay, sure. Let’s set up camp here then.”
An audible groan echoed through the group as they each pulled off their heavy bags and found some fallen trees to sit on. Simon seemed to be in full outdoor mode and the others simply watched as he started to pull out the pieces for the tents. Poles, rods, huge pieces of waterproof fabric and some plastic ties littered the small clearing as Simon tried desperately to figure out which piece fitted to what. After about twenty minutes of grunting and scratching his chin, the older twin’s puppy dog eyes blinked up at Kyle who had been watching him from the comfort of his dry tree-seat.
“What?” Kyle asked, munching on a granola bar.
“Help?” Simon practically squeaked, hating himself for needing to ask.
“Maybe if you tried looking at the instructions you might get somewhere,” Nate interjected sarcastically.
Simon got to his feet, “Well maybe the guy who sold me the tents didn’t have the instructions anymore!”
Nate rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, “Prick.”
“Now either you lot help me or we’re sleeping in the mud tonight.”
The other three men decided tents were the lesser of two evils and began helping Simon construct them, albeit clumsily and definitely not how the instructions would have wanted them built. Kyle almost put Simon’s eye out with one of the tent pegs, whilst Alex stumbled backwards and ended up with his arse in a soggy puddle. His jeans were soaked and he had to change into the spare ones he’d brought, thankful that he had decided to pack another pair.
After almost two hours of fumbling and cussing and general ridiculousness the tents were finally upright. They weren’t necessarily going to remain that way but for the time being the were in tent-like shapes at least. The four men stood back and admired their handiwork, pride rising in each of them despite their doubts at first.
“Okay, now who wants food?”
Simon rubbed his hands together and started pulling out various packages of food from his backpack. It was almost five in the evening and all that hard work had made them ravenous. He lined up sausages, corn on the cob, tins of beans and a few bags of popcorn as well as a frying pan (one obviously from his own kitchen and not a camping shop) and a smaller cooking pot.
“Who wants to build the fire?” Simon asked as he started opening the food.
Nate and Alex volunteered and headed into the forest to find some wood. The sky was starting to take on an orange glow as the sun lowered and it made the whole place seem somewhat magical, like fairies or leprechauns would suddenly skip past them in the undergrowth. The glow was also making Nate’s hair look like fire atop his head and Alex couldn’t help but smile as the taller man’s freckles became more and more pronounced in the warm light.
“What?” Nate asked as he picked up some dry sticks.
Alex’s blue eyes widened like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t have and he blinked innocently at his love.
“Why were you staring and smiling?”
Alex crouched down beside Nate and gathered some of the wood, “You look pretty in this light.”
Nate almost dropped the pile of sticks and his red brows knitted together, “Handsome you mean, right? In a very manly way?”
“Oh, sure sure,” Alex nodded, smiling, “A very pretty man.”
Carefully, Nate reached above Alex’s head and plucked a dead leaf from his hair before letting it fall to the damp earth. He rested a hand underneath the blonde’s chin and pulled him closer, kissing the scar along his jaw before placing one on his lips too. When he pulled away Alex was blushing all the way to his ears and Nate couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Mhmm,” Alex nodded, trying to get his breathing back under control.
“Really?” the pair got back to their feet and started back towards the campsite, “Because we could go back to the car and head home, I don’t mind.”
Alex poked Nate with a stick, careful not to hit his bruised ribs, and laughed, “And miss out on this manly adventure? No way!”
When they got back to the clearing, Simon was sitting on the damp ground with a tin of beans in each hand like he was sacrificing them to some invisible forest god. Kyle was almost doubled over laughing and couldn’t even respond between guffaws when Nate asked what was going on. In the end it was Simon who responded, albeit with a sullen look on his face.
“I forgot to bring a tin opener.”
Nate bit his lip to stop laughter spilling forth and was thankful when Alex spoke up.
“Don’t you have a swiss army knife or something to open them?”
Kyle stopped laughing long enough to wipe his streaming eyes and reply to Alex’s comment, “He bought one specially for this trip.”
“And?” Nate looked at his brother, “Why don’t you use that?”
Simon glanced slowly from Kyle to Nate and back again, “Because I left it at home.”
Another burst of laughter erupted from Kyle and Simon lobbed a can of beans his way, missing by mere inches. That stopped the laughter in its tracks and Kyle was suddenly on his feet, striding towards Simon. He snatched the other can from his hand and threw it into the surrounding woods before kicking the taller man in the shin as he sat crossed legged on the ground.
“You nearly hit me! Twat!”
Instead of retaliating, Simon hooked his arms around Kyle’s waist and pulled him down so that he was sitting on his lap, legs wrapped around Simon’s waist. It was hard to stay so mad at him when they were face to face like that and Kyle quickly caved and kissed the taller man on the end of his sharp nose.
“We’ll make the fire,” Nate said as he quickly averted his eyes from his smooching brother, “Please tell me you brought matches, Si.”
Simon waved his hand in the direction of his backpack, his lips were firmly suctioned to Kyle’s and he wasn’t going to pass up a make-out session if he could help it. Rolling his emerald eyes, Nate retrieved the matches and he and Alex built up the fire, quite successfully if they did say so themselves. Fifteen minutes later sausages were sizzling in the frying pan and the four campers were gathered around the warmth as the sun finally set. It had been an odd sort of day but one that felt like Alex had grown closer to Nate in some ways; they’d held hands more than ever before and the younger man hadn’t pulled away when Nate had initiated the kiss. The redhead was feeling very happy with himself and thought that the moment, sitting there in the warmth of the fire with the stars above, would have been perfect if not for his aching ribs and knee.
He rubbed at the knee as Simon poked at the sausages with a twig and, being the older twin and therefore noticing everything about his younger brother, he gestured towards Nate’s aching limb.
“That bothering you? Take some painkillers.”
Nate shrugged, “Nah, I’m fine.” He didn’t want to make a fuss, especially as it seemed Alex was nodding off to sleep beside him, leaning on him more and more with every heavy breath.
“Oh, really?” Simon took the twig from the sausages and jabbed it straight into Nate’s throbbing knee.
The younger Laird bolted to his feet, knocking an almost unconscious Alex sideways and almost sending the sausages into orbit. Thankfully Simon saved the pork as Nate snatched the twig from his brother and swiped at him with it.
Simon feigned offence, “Language, young man!” He dipped his hand into his bag and pulled out a bottle of painkillers before throwing them at Nate, “Take some before I chop the leg off and use this pan to cauterise it.”
Nate did just that and was thankful when the pills started to take effect, easing his aching joints. Once the sausages were well and truly charcoaled (Kyle was worried they’d get food poisoning and had forced Simon to burn them to a crisp), they were devoured in seconds, along with the corn they’d each cooked over the open fire, and then silence overtook the camp.
The sun had set and the fire was the only light source, giving them each a strange, almost ghost-like appearance. Sitting on their coats on the ground so that they were as close to the fire as possible, the twins’ hair echoed the fire itself and Alex thought they’d never looked so alike as they did in the light of the fire. He found himself staring between the two as Simon flicked on a torch beneath his chin.
Nate groaned and shook his head, “Oh, Jesus, not this again.”
“What?” Simon looked offended.
“Every opportunity you get to tell a bloody story, you take it!”
Alex smiled and Kyle yawned loudly as Simon ignored his brother.
“I’ll tell you the story of the zombie bear,” he paused as Kyle lay down, resting his head on Simon’s lap, “A terrifying tale of an evil creature that roamed these very woods.”
“Do you have to?” Nate and Alex were sitting on Nate’s raincoat, leaning against a log, and Alex’s eyelids kept drooping as he rested his head on Nate’s shoulder.
Simon continued, “It was ten years ago this very night. A young couple were out camping and were sitting in their tent. As they were about to start having rampant sex-”
“Fuck’s sake, Si,” Nate threw a stone at his brother but Simon dodged it, laughing.
“As I was saying, they were about to embark on a sexy adventure when they heard a strange noise. The bloke, being such a hot manly man who happened to have no shirt on, went out into the woods to see what it was. He returned minutes later bloody, with three huge claw marks down his chest-”
Kyle looked up at Simon from his position on his lap, “Did Wolverine get him?”
“Not Wolverine, no,” the eldest Laird twin grimaced, showing his teeth, “A great bear had clawed the guy’s heart clean out of his chest!”
Alex chuckled but hid it as a cough as Simon returned to the story.
“He died in his girlfriend’s arms and she was left alone in the dark with a monster bear out there somewhere. It came later that night, tearing the tent up to get at her but the girl had left a trap. She sealed the bear inside the tent and set it on fire!”
Nate let out a fake cheer.
“I’m not finished yet.”
“Oh, sorry. Please continue your drivel.”
“Anyway,” Simon stared seriously into the flickering flames, “The girl watched the bear burn and at some point fell asleep, only to awaken to something looming over her. You see, the bear had died in the fire but,” Simon raised a finger in the air dramatically, “It was now a ZOMBIE BEAR! Out for revenge for it’s fiery death! And some say it still roams these woods today, searching for its next victim.”
A pregnant pause of silence.
Nate cleared his throat, “Wow. That was… shit.”
“Hey, be fair,” Kyle took off his glasses and rubbed them on his grubby shirt, “I thought it was stupid, not shit.”
As the others mocked Simon’s tale, he pouted and pulled various faces of disgust at his brother. That’s when Nate noticed Alex softly snoring on his shoulder, his soft blonde hair over his face as he leaned uncomfortably against the taller man. It was a signal that they should probably all sleep and so Nate gently nudged Alex awake, gaining a confused and then embarrassed expression from the lad.
“We’re going to head to bed,” Nate said as he half dragged Alex towards their tent.
Simon looked down at Kyle who was almost asleep and nodded, “Yeah, let’s get some shut eye. Oh, and Nate, don’t let the zombie bear get you!”
Instead of a ‘goodnight’, Simon received a middle finger as they each ducked into their tents, ready to face their first night in the great outdoors.