"Hey, everybody! I want to tell you about a volunteer opportunity before we get started."
Willow Oakton gave a mental roll of the eyes before turning her attention to the speaker. Holly Stone was hosting the book club this month, and so she had the floor. Whenever Holly had a "volunteer opportunity" to discuss, it tended to result in everyone else volunteering while Holly supervised.
"What is it this time, Holly?" This was from Ivy Blackwood. She slid a knowing wink to Willow. "I'm not taking abandoned dogs for walks again. Ruined my shoes."
Willow covered her mouth to hide a grin and saw a few others doing the same. A few women gave Ivy looks of mild disapproval.
"Okay." Holly sat with back straight, knees together and legs angled to one side, hands in her lap. Her blonde hair was twisted up and back so that not a strand escaped, the style emphasizing her high cheek bones. Willow was reminded of a prim teacher ready to lecture her students. "So you know it's Earth Day in a couple of weeks, right?" There nods around the room. "My brother's friend is a park ranger and they're looking for people to help clean up the park."
"Sounds good so far," Ivy said, and there were approving murmurs from the other book club members.
"What's the catch?" Willow almost jumped in her seat; she hadn't meant to say it out loud, but she'd learned to be cautious of Holly and these types of plans. Willow's green eyes darted around the room and she saw a few people waiting on Holly to answer.
"There's no catch, Willow." Holly gave her a baleful look before continuing. "There will be eight park rangers and they'll divide everyone into four groups. They'll take us to different areas of the park where we'll pick up litter and things like that. It'll be a two-night camping trip—an outdoor slumber party!" Holly beamed at the end of her little speech.
That generated a buzz of excitement and curiosity. Holly went on to explain how in addition to giving basic tips on keeping the park clean, the rangers would instruct everyone on camping, from how to set up tents and fires, to how to cook and properly clean up the site when finished.
"I'll pass around a form later, so put your name down if you're interested," Holly said when the voices died down. "Now, let's get to the book!"
Willow pondered the volunteer effort while they moved on to discuss the book club selection. She hadn't been interested in it—it was some depressing family story that she'd had to force herself to finish—and so didn't mind letting everyone else talk about it. She chimed in when asked a direct question, to say that although the book was well-written, it had been a relentless downer and wasn't for her. She saw Holly sniff in disdain.
Should have been more tactful since she picked the book, I guess. Willow gave a mental shrug; she hadn't liked it and didn't feel like searching for those ambiguous comments that might lead a person to think she did.
After the book discussion, Holly passed around a paper and Willow joined some others in adding her name, cell phone and email address to the list. Camping wasn't her usual idea of a weekend trip, but it could be fun to do something new, she decided. She said her good-byes, grabbed her jacket and waited for Ivy by the door.
"God, am I glad that's over." Ivy shook her curly brown hair back from her face as she got in the car. "That book was the most boring thing I'd ever read."
Willow laughed. "I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought so."
"The Earth Day thing sounds fun, though. I used to go camping a lot when I was younger. Mom and Dad would pile us all in the camper and off we'd go." Ivy grinned at the memories.
"Not me." Willow shook her head. "My mom's idea of roughing it is a hotel with less than four stars, and my dad can't light a match, much less a campfire." They both chuckled. "Still," Willow continued, "I figure what the hell? It's just two nights, and it could be fun." She ran a hand through wavy dark-blonde hair. "I mean, I know I'm leery about going new places, but I can't avoid it forever. I need to try new things."
"Me, too, and if one of those new things is one of the park rangers—Yum!" Ivy flashed a grin.
"Ivy, you're incorrigible."
"No, I'm insatiable."
"Okay, you can stop right there." Willow shook her head with a smile.
"Oh, come on, Willow, you think so too."
"Don't you know who Holly's friend is?"
Ivy gave an exaggerated roll of her eyes. "Remember Clay Wilder?"
"Clay Wilder?" Willow frowned. The name was familiar but she was having a hard time matching a face to it. "I'm not sure."
"You must remember him." Ivy's voice was full of disbelief. "Come on, at the Fourth of July party Holly had last year? The guy in the blue trunks?"
"Blue—oh." Willow swallowed in a dry throat. "Oh, um. Yeah, I remember. Clay."
How could she have forgotten him? He'd been about six feet of near perfection to Willow's eyes. They'd met when Willow had tripped and knocked them both into the pool. She'd never been so embarrassed. He'd been fine, laughing about the whole thing once he'd realized it was an accident and joking that it saved him the trouble of deciding whether to go back in the water.
"I knew you would." Ivy turned onto Willow's street. "He's a hard one—ha ha—to forget."
"Mmmm." With any luck, Willow thought, Clay had forgotten all about her.
"Here you go. The flowers look great, Willow. Wish I had your touch with that. It just all says 'Spring is here! Be happy!'" Ivy looked at the trail of colorful flowers that led up to Willow's door. There were nasturtiums, petunias and hyacinths creating a bright line up to the porch. More grew in plant boxes that hung on the porch railing, and a pretty green wreath hung on the door.
"Thanks. It's fun. I can help you set some up at your place if you want, just give me a call."
"No, I have too much compassion for the flowers to subject them to me." Ivy winked. "I'll just borrow from you when I need help."
"No problem. Thanks for the ride." Willow stepped out and closed the door, then waved as Ivy pulled away.
Clay Wilder listened with forced patience as his best friend's sister, Holly, chattered on about recruiting volunteers for the Earth Day clean up.
"Okay, Holly. Yes, sounds great. Give me a final list when you can and I'll get you a list of supplies everyone should bring. Right. Say hi to your parents and Ash for me. Bye." He put down the phone and rubbed at his face.
Clay turned at the sound of his name. "What?"
Adam Fossey came into the office. "What do you want for lunch?"
"A bottle of Excedrin." Clay leaned his elbows on his desk and rubbed at his temples. "My God, that woman can go on forever without taking a breath."
"Some guys would consider that an asset."
"It would be, if she didn't talk at the same time." Clay was quiet for a moment, then looked up with a grin that made Adam suspicious. "And she's been gathering volunteers for Earth Day."
"Why do you say that like it's a bad thing?" Still wary, Adam put his hat down and went over to get some coffee.
"Because you'll be hiking with women in Prada shoes, wondering where they can get a good glass of wine." He flashed a grin at his friend.
Adam groaned. "Oh, come on, man. Tell me you're kidding."
"I am, mostly. I'm exaggerating. Holly never struck me as the camping type, but I could be wrong. And she and the others are volunteering, and we'll give them lots of information. They'll know what they're getting into." Clay felt slightly cheered by his reasoning.
"I don't know." Adam sat down and frowned at his coffee. "A lot of those do-gooder types like to think they're getting 'in touch with the earth, ' you know? The reality check doesn't usually go well."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves. A lot people back out of these things at the last minute, and I really don't think anyone worried about ruining their shoes would sign up in the first place." Clay sighed and got up for his own coffee, hoping the caffeine would chase the headache away. "I'll send out a list of supplies. That will weed out anyone who isn't serious."
"True, true." Adam ran a hand over close-cropped brown hair.
"So how is it out there? All of the campers okay so far?" Clay sat down and sipped at the coffee, wincing at the strong taste.
"Oh yeah." Adam shrugged and covered a yawn. "Not many out there, and they all seem to be old hands. People who really like to camp, you know? And they're smart about it."
"That's a relief." Clay concentrated on his coffee and hoped that Holly's friends were half as smart as the campers they had in the park now.
Willow studied the list that Holly had emailed. Nothing too exotic, she thought, or expensive. All reasonable supplies for a short camping trip. Some things she probably had around the house, others she'd have to acquire, but that was all right. She was now glad that she'd picked up the hiking boots last year; she hadn't used them much, but at least she wouldn't have to lay out for a new pair.
"Okay, let's see." Willow pulled out a piece of paper. "Sleeping bag ... I can borrow my brother's. And didn't he buy a tent last year? Insect repellent I'll have to buy, and suntan lotion, too. I have a water bottle..." She muttered to herself as she compared the list on the screen to her mental list of things she had on hand.
It took three rings before she heard the phone.
"Hi, Willow. It's Ivy."
"Oh, hey. How are you?"
.... There is more of this story ...