Terra pulled back the curtains and grinned as morning sunlight streamed into the room. The day was bright and beautiful - the perfect start to her first summer vacation from college. As much as she enjoyed the classes that would lead her into her career as a veterinarian, balancing that with an active social life had left her in need of a break.
A groan emerged from the direction of her twin sister Ella's bed. "Too early," she muttered as she pulled the covers over her head.
Her brilliant green eyes flashing with mischief, Terra giggled and snatched the comforter away, prompting another groan. "Come on, Ella. I've been dreaming about going to the lake for weeks."
Her sister rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, then tugged on her nightgown, which had bunched up above her breasts as she slept. The twins regularly found those assets - inherited from their curvy mother - both a blessing and a curse.
Ella sighed. "I'm not really in the mood."
There was no need to ask why. The twins were rarely apart and shared an almost psychic connection. Ella had been through a rough patch in her social life of late.
Terra sat down on the corner of the bed and smoothed back a few errant strands of her sister's dark blonde hair. "You need to get out."
At the same time, one of the long vines of the philodendron hanging near Ella's bed reached out and brushed her cheek. A moment later, the end curled around Ella's wrist and tugged.
Terra broke out into a grin and entwined her fingers with her sister's. "Let's go."
Ella didn't protest this time, and stood up as the vine released her. Side-by-side, the two young women hurried across the hardwood floors, through the house and out the back door. Unconcerned that they were dressed in nothing more than clinging nightgowns and panties that left little of their charms to the imagination, they crossed the yard to the woods beyond.
Honeysuckle and pine mingled with a myriad of other pleasant scents as the twins' bare feet crunched the carpet of dried pine needles covering the trail. Shafts of light penetrated the dark green canopy, giving nourishment to colorful patches of flowers - some of which grew nowhere else.
All along the way, squirrels, rabbits, and birds abounded. Rather than fleeing from the presence of humans, the animals moved along with them. Birdsong from all quarters blended together in a perfect melody, heralding the twins' emergence into a clearing.
Quite in contrast with most people, the sight of their parents sitting nude on a small hillock of moss didn't shock or embarrass the two young women. Neither did they gawk at the sight of the woman sitting with them, though her appearance certainly invited such.
She looked no older than the twins, but the dryad with new-leaf green hair was actually their great-grandmother. Terra's earliest memories were of swimming in Xantina's crystal clear pool - often with the extended family. Family gatherings were always held in the nude, as the ultimate mother of their line found clothing to be silly and inconvenient. Since it was so common in their home life, the twins found shedding their clothes just as comfortable as the norms forced upon them in the world beyond the wood.
Daniel stood as the twins undressed and said, "Welcome home, girls. Sorry I wasn't here when you got in yesterday."
"It's okay, Dad. Mom told us you were in the middle of a committee meeting," Terra said as she hugged him. "Sorry we were too tired to wait up for you to get home."
She then turned to her great-grandmother and opened her arms for another embrace.
"I missed you, Xanterra," the dryad said as she pulled Terra close, using her real name which was only known amongst the family. "And you, Xanella," she added when Ella approached for her hug.
"Missed you too, Grandma," the twins said simultaneously - dropping the great.
Their mother Brooke said, "I got my hugs yesterday, but you can give me another if you'd like."
They did, wrapping their arms around her at the same time, and then sat down on the soft cushion of moss to join the impromptu family reunion.
It was only a half hour later when Daniel stood and held out a hand to his wife. "Unfortunately, we've both got to get to work."
"We have all summer to catch up," the dark-haired beauty said, and then kissed him.
Terra said, "We were going to get ready and go to the lake anyway, right Ella?"
Her sister's expression was dubious for a few moments, but then Xantina reached out to caress her great-granddaughter's cheek, as she had through the plant in the room earlier.
Ella's lips curled into a smile and she answered, "Yeah."
"The bad things pass and nice things come." The dryad glanced at Terra for a moment, giggled and added, "Go, but come swim with me soon."
"We will," Terra promised as the dryad gracefully backed up and vanished into the pine boughs.
The sisters continued to chat with their parents as they dressed, and on the brief walk to the house, then split off to return to their room.
"Using Grandma to coax me out of bed was cheating," Ella said as they walked down the hallway.
Terra stuck her tongue out. "It wasn't my idea. It was Grandma's - and she's right."
"I know. Still cheating, though."
"Whatever." Terra rolled her eyes, prompting them both to laugh.
"I really did need that," Ella admitted as she stepped into the room she shared with her sister. "I haven't felt this good since ... you know. I'm actually looking forward to the lake."
"Good," Terra beamed, and then plopped down on her bed to text her boyfriend. Keith replied a minute later that he would meet them. It was a pleasant surprise, as he'd developed a bad habit of taking forever to answer her lately.
Once dressed in bikinis covered by shorts and t-shirts, the sisters headed for the car. Upon walking into the front room, Terra saw her brother letting in a friend who had been a fixture at the house for almost as long as she could remember.
She waved at him. "Hey, Nate."
"Hey, Terra," he responded with a wide smile on his face.
"Are you sure?" she asked, while leaning in close to her sister.
Ella chuckled and swept past. "Give it up, Terra. You're never going to fool him."
She knew it was true, as she'd tried many times before. Somehow, Nathan had always been able to tell the sisters apart, even though almost everyone mixed them up on occasion.
"Hey, we're going to Parker's Lake. Want to come?"
Their brother Dale shrugged. "May as well. Not enough people to get a game going today."
"Sure," Nathan agreed.
"We'll be on the porch. Hurry up," Terra said as she caught up to her sister at the front door.
The twins drank in the beautiful summer morning, taking a seat side-by-side on the wooden railing around the porch. The boys took only a minute or two to grab towels before coming out, and then everyone piled into the car for the short drive to the lake.
Parker's Lake was on private land, but had been a popular swimming hole for generations. It was closer than the public beach, allowing them to drive the hybrid in electric mode all the way there and back. The sisters preferred the lake due to its natural setting and smaller crowds.
"So, when did you get contacts?" Terra asked once they were underway.
"It was a graduation present," Nathan answered.
"You don't look as nerdy without the glasses," she said while glancing at him in the rearview mirror.
"Thanks." He chuckled and rolled the window up a little before scratching at his left ear, which his wind-blown, dark hair had apparently been tickling.
"Hardly see you at the house or on campus any more," Ella said.
"You know - work and keeping up with my classes."
"As if you have any trouble with that, Brainiac," Terra scoffed.
Dale crossed his arms and snorted. "Do you want me to ride on the roof so I'm not distracting you?"
Terra and Ella laughed, but it was Nathan who received a punch in the shoulder for joining them. They continued to talk as the car made near-silent progress toward their destination - the crunching of gravel beneath the tires just as loud as the electric engine.
Upon making a turn onto a narrower, unpaved road, Terra's brow furrowed and she exclaimed, "What?"
Everyone else saw it as well. A brand new gate had been erected across the road leading to the lake. Beaten down grass and tire tracks showed where people were driving around it and ignoring the No Trespassing sign.
"Well, so much for that idea," Ella said as the car rolled to a stop several feet away from the blue metal gate.
The sound of an engine revving caused them all to look back and see Keith's coupe pulling in behind. He jumped out as soon as he stopped and walked toward them. Terra rolled her window down the rest of the way and her boyfriend leaned in.
"Well, that's some bullshit," he said. "Screw it. Let's just head over to Pride's Park and hit the beach there."
A hungry smile spread across his face and he plucked at the neckline of Terra's shirt while asking, "You wearing that new bikini?"
Terra swatted his hand away. "Yes. I want to go talk to Mr. Parker."
"Screw the old man," Keith scoffed.
"He's been letting people come out here for years. I just want to know why."
"And then go to Pride's?"
"Yes, then we'll go."
"Meet you there, then?"
Terra nodded her agreement and then moved in for a kiss - though she lamented not taking off her seatbelt first when it bit into her right breast. She could sense her sister's silent groan, and couldn't miss her brother's far-from-silent gagging sound as her boyfriend walked back to his car.
Keith's engine roared again before he backed out, and then gravel flew as he spun the tires and took off, leaving behind a giant cloud of dust.
Terra snapped her gaze to the back seat and said, "No comments from the peanut gallery," just as her brother was about to say something.
She put the car into reverse and headed back down the road to the elderly man's house. When they pulled into the drive, they saw him sitting on the front porch in a well-weathered rocking chair, sipping coffee.
"Guessing you're here about the lake?" he asked as soon as they all got out.
Terra answered, "Mmm hmm. We just wanted to know why you blocked it off?"
The old man sighed and sat down his mug on a nearby handmade oak table. "Been some bad apples going down there, and I'm too old to go chasing them off. It's a right mess with all the broken bottles and such. Not that the gate's stopping them."
Terra frowned upon hearing that news. "Do you mind if we go look?"
"If I didn't think it was dangerous, I'd say you could go swim. Know you young'uns ain't up to no good. If you want to go down there, you go right ahead. Reckon you're gonna be just as sad as I was when I saw it, though."
"Thanks, Mr. Parker," Terra said, and then gestured for everyone to get back in the car.
Following the path beaten down through the tall grass by others, Terra drove around the gate, and then back onto the twin gravel lines of the road. They all saw it even before reaching the slope down to the lake. Sun-faded beer cases littered the area. Vegetation large and small lay on the ground - wilting in the sun - mowed over by vehicles. Blackened spots bore silent witness to where people had carelessly set fires far away from the fire pits built down near the lake. Trash seemed to cling to every tree and shrub for as far as the eye could see.
The shoreline of the lake was even worse. Bottles, broken glass, and beer cans were everywhere. Only a few small patches of plants clung to life here and there. The rest had been trampled or burned. The trash barrels and rocks for the fire pits were nowhere to be found - most likely resting at the bottom of the lake.
It was Ella who broke the silence as they stared in awestruck disappointment. "We've got to do something."
Terra nodded in agreement. "No way we can do this ourselves, though. It will take a year. We need help."
"Going to be a lot of people at Pride's Park," Ella suggested. "You have to go because Keith is on his way there anyway."
A grin tugged at the corners of Terra's lips. "Perfect. We'll go cool off, and find some people to help us with this mess, too. Green's the in-thing now, so it shouldn't be too hard."
"I'm in," Nathan offered.
Terra turned to face the boys behind her. "Thanks. What about you, Dale?"
"Yeah. Mom and Dad will probably get us some trash bags and stuff when we tell them."
Terra's eyes lit up. "Maybe Mom can convince the television station to do a story. Let's go. I'll send her a text on the way."
"I have an idea how we can entice some guys to come out and do the heavy lifting," Ella said with a sly smile.
Terra knew exactly what her sister was planning and chuckled. "Perfect."
Plan in place, they set off to make it a reality.
Terra and her sister finished setting up the refreshments on the folding table, and then gave each other a thumbs-up. All around them, people were picking up trash, already making a visible difference. The half-dozen girls they'd convinced to join them were all dressed in skimpy bikinis.
It was exploitive, but every girl knew what she was getting into, and it had encouraged twenty guys to lend their muscle to the clean up effort, with more likely on the way. The girls were all single and looking anyway, which gave them a captive audience with less competition. Terra and Ella's popularity meant that they were able to skim the cream of the single boy crop as well, providing benefits for everyone. There was a great deal of flirting and flexing going on as the garbage vanished into bags.
Ella grabbed a bag and strutted down to the lakeshore, attracting her fair share of attention as her bikini-clad bottom swayed and her breasts jiggled. The breeze even conspired to add to the effect, lifting her long blonde hair into a pennant that streamed off to the side. Terra was happy to see her sister getting back into the game after a few weeks of near seclusion following her most recent breakup.
Considering the selection available, Terra could hardly blame her. There were some seriously good-looking guys walking around shirtless and glistening with fresh, clean sweat.
One was conspicuously absent, though.
She picked up her cell from the table and leaned over it to hide the glare of the sun. After checking for messages or calls she missed, she brought up Keith's number to make a call.
"Hey," he answered.
"Aren't you a little late?" she asked in a playful sing-song.
"Yeah. I forgot I had practice today. I was going to call in a bit."
The playfulness vanished from her voice in a heartbeat. "So, you're not coming?"
"No. I mean - yeah. I'll come after practice."
"When will that be?"
"Don't know for sure. Getting a hell of a workout today. I'll meet you there when I get out. I may be tired, though."
Terra pushed her irritation aside. "Okay. Love you."
"You too. Bye."
She hung up the phone to see her sister staring her down with one hand on her hip while she gestured with a trash bag in the other. Terra shook her head, smiled, and picked up a bag.
Terra waved goodbye as the last two cars started back up the gravel path, and then offered a knowing glance to her sister. The girl in the first car and the guy in the second had spent most of the morning together, and the looks they had given each other before leaving strongly hinted that they were looking for somewhere private to spend an hour or two.
The twins then took in their handiwork. From the vantage point leading down to the lake, the difference was profound. Not a single piece of trash remained in sight.
"Not bad for six hours," Ella remarked.
Terra nodded as her eyes swept over the area. "Still a lot to do though."
"Enough people promised to come out again to get it done."
Terra glanced up the empty road and muttered, "Yeah. Promises."
"So call him and give him a piece of your mind. And let him know that he's not getting a piece of anything else for a few days."
That made Terra chuckle as her brother and Nathan walked up.
"Truck's tied down. We're going to head back to the house and separate everything," Nathan said.
Though they'd made an effort to bag together anything that could be composted or was recyclable, a lot more was going to end up in the landfill than Terra would have liked. It was more or less unavoidable, unless they wanted to keep the smelly bags somewhere at the house long enough to finish sorting.
"Thanks, you two. We'll see you back at the house."
Terra and her sister pulled on shorts and t-shirts while the truck drove away, but paused before getting in the car when they heard the engine of an ATV approaching. The truck's horn tooted just before they saw Mr. Parker slowly riding their way.
The old man had a smile on his face when he pulled up. "You girls did a right fine job here."
"Thanks, Mr. Parker," Terra said.
"Still a lot to do, though," Ella said. "Nathan's going to bring his scuba gear tomorrow to help get the stuff in the water."
Mr. Parker sighed as he looked out over the sparkling lake. "Does my heart good. I met my dearly departed Ellen right down there all those years ago."
"We love this place too," Terra said as her eyes misted up.
The old man wiped his brow - and his eyes. "Whew. Reckon I'd best get in out of the sun. You're welcome any time, and I do appreciate you cleaning up this mess. You tell the family I said hello, now."
The sisters followed the ATV out past the gate, and then turned toward home after a final wave. Dale and Nathan had already unloaded the bags near the compost pile, and were driving the truck over toward the recycling bins. Terra pulled up next to them and hopped out to help. Between Nathan and the three siblings, all the recyclables were unloaded in only a few minutes.
"Do you want us to follow you to the landfill?" Terra asked.
Nathan shrugged and shook his head. "Nah. I can do it and then go drop the truck off."
Dale offered, "I'll go with you. Not like I'll be able to get in the shower for a couple of hours anyway."
Both sisters stuck their tongues out at him and then headed into the house. A tone sounded from within Terra's pocket, and she glanced at the display for only a moment before putting her cell away. She was mad at Keith for not showing up, and in no mood to see what his excuse was. The momentary distraction was enough for Ella to dart ahead and lay claim on the master bathroom.
Taking it in stride, Terra turned down the hall to the bathroom she shared with her siblings to take a shower. She made it back to the bedroom before her sister, and finally decided to check the message from Keith.
"Sorry. Fell asleep when I got home. Still at the lake?" the message said.
Not quite ready to talk to him, she sent a single word text back. "No."
"Sorry. How about I take you out?" his next message read.
Terra bit her lower lip and considered it. The closest they'd come to a date recently was hanging out with friends for a few hours and then going back to his place to have sex. Maybe this was just the reminder he needed to not take the relationship for granted.
"Wherever you want to go."
Despite it being the place he'd taken her on their first dinner date, he'd later admitted that it was far from his favorite place to eat. Suggesting it was a test to see how serious he was about making amends.
"Sure," he immediately replied.
She quickly tapped out, "Pick me up at eight. Don't be late."
He was ten minutes early - and bearing flowers. It turned out to be only the beginning of a wonderful evening. He was attentive and sweet all through dinner, reminding her very much of their first time there.
She more or less expected him to hint at coming back to his place afterwards, but he surprised her. By the time they shared a goodbye kiss in front of the house, her anger had all but evaporated away.
Terra smiled as Keith pulled into the drive on his motorcycle the next morning - right on time.
His prompt arrival was yet another sign that he was trying to make up for the previous day's mistake, and that suited her right down to the ground.
"You might try looking a little less smug," Ella suggested as she loaded jugs of juice and recycled paper cups into the back seat of the car.
"Shush," Terra admonished under her breath, and then hurried over to his bike.
Watching over her shoulder, she waited until her sister was ready, and then signaled for Keith to lead the mini caravan to the lake. With the powerful motorcycle rumbling between her legs and her arms wrapped around his waist, all was right in the world once more.
That changed as soon as they pulled up to the lake.
Keith put down his foot as he rolled to a stop. "Thought you said you had it all picked up?"
Terra scowled at the fresh mess of cardboard, bottles, and cans strewn around the edge of the lake. "We did. Some jerks must have been out here last night."
"Somebody had some fun," Keith chuckled while pointing at a pair of panties lying discarded in the weeds next to a used condom.
"You've got to be kidding me," Ella remarked as she walked down next to join her sister.
Keith gave an empty can by his foot a light kick. "Kind of fighting a losing battle here, I think."
"Oh no we're not," Terra said with a note of ominous finality.
Nathan sighed when he walked down to see the mess. "Want me to help pick this up first?"
Terra shook her head. "No, go ahead and get your stuff and start in the lake. Dale and Keith can work on this while Ella and I set up the refreshments. Everybody else will be here in half an hour."
"Dibs on that side," Keith said, pointing in the opposite direction of the condom.
"Gross," Dale muttered as he walked back toward the truck for bags and trash sticks.
Keith let out a snorting laugh a few minutes later when Nathan walked down to the water in his gear, carrying an underwater light, burlap sack, and his flippers.
"Hey, it's Scuba Steve."
Terra pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him. "Be nice."
"Okay. Okay," Keith grumbled, then returned to spearing cans with his trash stick.
Terra turned to her friend. "Go ahead, Nate. I really appreciate it. I was wondering how we were going to deal with the glass in the water."
"I need the practice. I'll see what I can do. If I'm right about something, it may not be that big of a deal," Nathan said as he walked down to the shore.
"Hope you're right," she said as Nathan sat down at the edge of the water to put on his flippers.
The results of a single night's revelry didn't take long to pick up, and it was made easier because whoever had left the mess had refrained from breaking bottles for entertainment. By the time the other volunteers began to arrive, they were once again ready for the painstaking work of raking and searching out bits of broken glass.
The work provided plenty of opportunity for creative bending and stretching, just like the day before. The bikini-clad girls and shirtless guys were taking full advantage of it to show off for members of the opposite sex. Terra smiled, thinking that on top of everything else, she'd likely played matchmaker for several couples.
Nathan surfaced and slipped his regulator out of his mouth some time later. Terra walked down to the edge of the water.
"What's it look like?" she asked.
"I was right, and we're lucky. There's so much clay in the soil that the silt just slides down into deeper water, and it took most of the broken glass with it. The clay is what makes it so slippery."
Terra grinned, remembering countless occasions where the slick bottom had resulted in hilarious falls - and a few of her own that were only funny in retrospect.
"I can probably get everything up here pretty quick so nobody gets cut, and then grab what I can from down deeper before my air runs out," Nathan finished.
"Great." Terra wiped her brow. "We may all need to take a dip before long."
Several people agreed with that assessment. It was an especially hot and humid day, and the proximity of the cool water only made it seem more so.
"I'll get back at it then," Nathan said.
Keith walked up and grabbed Terra's bottom, prompting her to swat his hand away and admonish him to behave - though the way she said it was meant not to be too discouraging.
She completely missed the look her boyfriend and Nathan exchanged before the latter slipped back beneath the surface of the water.
Terra's eyebrows lifted a little when she saw her sister direct a splash at John. She'd wondered why Ella had asked him and a couple of his friends to come, as they weren't part of the twins' usual circle, but that splash spoke louder than words. It was a game in their family, which was an expression of affection, started by their dryad great-grandmother. When John responded in kind, Ella's smile was radiant.
After the surprise wore off, Terra gave him a quick, appraising glance and had to admit that he was good looking. She'd never seen him with his shirt off before, and he'd been hiding nice muscle tone. If she was right about her sister's intentions - and she was sure she was - he would be the first guy who didn't play sports that either of them had dated.
Most everyone else was in the water as well, enjoying the fruits of their labor. There was likely still glass in the surrounding area, but they had done a good enough job on the 'beach' for everyone to feel confident taking off their shoes. Keith waved for her to return to the water, and she held up a finger before walking over to her brother.
John's two friends had hit it off with Nathan and Dale, and they'd been as thick as thieves. All four had pulled back on their shirts, so she asked, "Are you heading home?"
Dale answered, "Yeah. Going to get a game going. Guess it will just be the four of us, though."
He nodded toward where John and Ella were engaged in a splash war. He knew as well as his sister did what that portended.
"I know where to find some good rocks for the fire pits, and I already have some trash barrels. I'll come out tomorrow and help finish up," Nathan offered.
"Thanks Nate. You've been a big help getting the truck and everything."
"No problem," he responded, wearing a wide grin.
Keith walked up and slipped a dripping arm behind Terra's back. Nathan immediately snapped his gaze to Dale and asked, "Ready?"
The four headed to the truck, and as soon as they were out of earshot, Keith asked, "What's with that dude?"
Terra turned toward him and asked, "Hmm? Who?"
"That Nathan guy. He's always hanging around."
Terra laughed in surprise. "Oh my god. Are you jealous?"
"No. Just wondered."
"He's just a friend. He's like another brother." She rolled her eyes and chuckled.
Keith shrugged and then slid a hand down to cup her bottom. "So, you want to get back in the water?"
This time, she didn't protest his touch. After the date the previous evening and seeing him shirtless all day, she was beginning to feel frisky as well. Between the time packing to come home from summer break and what had happened since, it had been almost a week since they'd been to bed together.
"It looks like a lot of people are thinking about leaving. Why don't we dry off so we don't get the bike seat wet?" she suggested.
"Feel like watching a movie?"
"Sure. What's playing? I haven't been paying attention."
"Actually, I was thinking about watching something at your place."
His grin as she stood up on her tiptoes to kiss him was all the answer she needed.
Terra woke up a couple of hours later than usual because she'd been at Keith's apartment until the wee hours of the morning. A note on top of the alarm clock revealed that Ella had left some time earlier for a second date with John. Considering she'd replaced the O in his name with a heart, Terra assumed things were going well. A second note from her brother lay nearby and said that he and Nathan had gone to take the trash barrels and rocks for the fire pits out to the lake.
She took her time dressing and eating breakfast, expecting that Keith would be asleep until at least noon. After several days of abstinence, she'd been rather enthusiastic in making up for lost time, and he'd already fallen asleep by the time she emerged from the bathroom.
The sound of tires crunching on gravel drew her to the window, and she was surprised to see her brother and Nathan climbing out of a white Civic.
She walked outside and asked, "Did you get rid of the Beetle?"
Nathan patted the hood of the car as he walked around it. "Nah. I still have it. Found this at a government auction - dirt cheap. It's natural gas."
"Cool. Isn't that a pain, though?"
"That's why I still have the Beetle. I can only really fill this one up at the house with the rig there. Use it any time I can though. It's cheaper, and burns cleaner."
Terra wholeheartedly approved of that choice, though his diesel Beetle got excellent mileage anyway.
"Guess we've rubbed off on you a little, huh?"
He laughed. "Yeah. Just wish I could afford an electric."
"What are you up to? Going down to the basement to fight goblins?" she teased, referring to the role-playing game that the two - and sometimes her father - played.
Dale shook his head. "Scout meeting to plan for the weekend camp out."
"I'm going to go ride the coasters," Nathan said.
Terra's eyes lit up. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate the victory of cleaning up the lake. "That sounds like fun. I haven't been since last summer."
"Want to come along?"
"Let me call Keith," she answered as she reached for her phone - completely missing his smile fading when she said it.
Nathan climbed the steps to the porch with her brother and said, "Okay. I'm running in to the bathroom."
Terra tried his cell, and it rang a few times before going to voicemail. Thinking that he might not have woken up in time to pick up the phone, she tried again. On the fourth ring, he finally answered.
Her voice full of coquettish suggestion, she said, "Wake up. You'd think you were all worn out or something."
He chuckled. "Yeah."
"Want to go ride some roller coasters?"
"I don't really feel like it."
Her mouth already open to tell him to come pick her up, she gave a toss of her hair and said, "Huh?"
"Uhm ... I don't know whether I'm just tired or coming down with something, but I feel like hell right now."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm just run down and achy. It may be nothing."
"Do you want me to come over?"
"No. If you want to go to the park, go ahead. I'll be okay."
"Yeah. Go ahead. You'd just be sitting around here while I'm in bed."
"Okay. I'll call you later and see how you're doing. If you get any worse, call me, or go to the doctor."
"Okay. I'm going to lay back down."
"Love you. Bye."
"You too. Bye."
Nathan walked back outside as she ended the call, so she said, "Well, Keith's sick."
"Sorry. Guess you don't want to go, huh?"
"Nah. He said to go ahead. So if you don't mind driving, I'm game."
His smile returned in full force. "Wait for you in the car?"
"Sure. Let me grab my purse and stuff."
Since she already had sunscreen in her purse, it only took a minute or two to gather what she needed and meet Nathan in the car. As he pulled out, she noticed a book tucked between his seat and the center console.
"What's this?" she asked as she pulled it out, intrigued by the cover.
"It's the monster book for the game."
Terra opened the cover and flipped a couple of pages. "The pictures are really neat."
"Makes them easier to describe when you're fighting them."
She looked at the text below the picture of a bear and said, "All this stuff about d4 and turns and whatever makes my head hurt, though. It looks more like homework than a game."
He laughed. "The Dungeon Master takes care of most of that, but the more you know, the easier it is for everyone."
"Guess it must be fun. It's like all you and Dale do."
"It's a blast. You could always come down and roll up a character. Try it out."
"A cheerleader playing D&D?" she laughed.
"It could just be you, me, and Dale. Nobody else would have to know. It could be your dirty little secret."
"Yeah, I don't know about that," she said as she continued to flip through the pages.
She stopped and frowned when she reached an entry for dryads. "Why are dryads in the monster book?"
He broke out into laughter, but then cleared his throat when he saw her scowling at him. "Sorry, but that's exactly what Dale said the first time he saw it. Everything is in there. Humans even have an entry. It's just stats for everything you can encounter in the game."
"Oh, okay," she said, feeling a little less offended.
"We don't even use that any more. Dale came up with a cooler version of dryads that we use. Just a second." He pulled out his smart phone, tapped a couple of times, and handed her the phone.
The picture at the top was surely drawn with her great-grandmother as the model. Dale had done a good job capturing her and hiding her nudity behind strategically placed leaves. She read the text below and couldn't help but smile. Dale hadn't really come up with anything, but rather described what he knew to be the truth.
"That's much better," she said, handing him back his phone.
"I like his version a lot better. I usually have him run the dryads whenever one is in the story. He plays them perfectly, and we even have half-dryads as a player character race now."
You have a couple as players too, she thought with amusement.
"He's come up with a really interesting way for them to talk. It's sort of naive, but wise at the same time. Pretty cool."
"You're giving him a bit too much credit for creativity," she teased, and then flipped through a couple more pages before putting the book back where she'd found it.
He glanced her way and chuckled. "Well, the invitation to come down and play is always good. So, glad to be away from Professor Reynolds?"
"Oh my god, yes," Terra groaned. "If I ever have trouble falling asleep, I just play back recordings of him."
"You're lucky you didn't have Weinstein. He could put Reynolds to sleep."
She shuddered at the thought and started mocking her boring professor, much to Nathan's amusement. The miles rolled by unnoticed as the pair chatted and laughed. Soon enough, they pulled into the packed parking lot of the amusement park for a day of fun.
Though she was soaked to the skin, Terra was laughing when she emerged from the log flume into the brilliant sunlight. She blew a drop of water off her nose and broke out into laughter again when she saw Nathan wringing out the tail of his shirt onto the brick walkway.
"I haven't gotten this wet in all the times I've been on that put together," she remarked.
"Must have been a perfect storm of wind and the water level or something," he guessed. "It's not designed to completely drown you that way."
Such a nerd, she thought, and then reached for her phone when she saw Nathan check his. It had survived the dousing, but she was shocked when she noticed the time. A few taps called Keith so she could see how he was doing.
The call went directly to voicemail.
"It didn't ruin your phone, did it?" he asked when she pulled the phone away from her ear to stare at it incredulously.
"No. Keith knew I was going to call him, but it just went to voicemail."
"Maybe he's already got somebody on call-waiting or something. Give it a few and try again, I guess. Want something to drink?"
She plucked at her shirt, which was clinging to her rather indecently. "You wouldn't think so after this dousing, but yeah."
He pointed behind him. "I scoped out a place that had it earlier."
They walked to the concession stand and got into line, but a familiar sensation caused her to look off to the side. Sure enough, she saw her sister at the same time Ella saw her.
As soon as her sister and John reached her, Ella asked her date, "Could you get me a drink?"
"Sure. What do you want?"
"Iced tea," Terra, Ella, and Nathan all said in a perfect chorus.
John laughed and stepped in behind Nathan to give him a friendly thump on the shoulder. Ella grabbed her sister's hand and pulled her off to the side.
"Guess what?" Ella whispered as soon as they were a few steps away. When her sister lifted her eyebrows in silent acknowledgment, Ella said, "He's passing all the tests."
"Are you doing that again?"
"I'm tired of wasting time on jerks who are going to annoy me or cheat on me. Should have done it with Caleb." She sneered the name of her last boyfriend with unconcealed contempt. "So, where's Keith?"
The connotations of her bringing up Keith in almost the same breath were hardly lost on Terra, as she knew how her sister felt about him.
"He thinks he's coming down with something."
Ella didn't look convinced. She looked over her sister's shoulder and moaned. "Doesn't he have a great butt?"
Terra didn't look, but she had noticed that herself at the lake the day before. "Guess you're serious, huh?"
"Mmm hmm. He's so funny, and the way he looks at me..." She shivered. "I swear it makes me melt."
The twins clasped hands and smiled at each other. They then turned when Ella gave the slightest twitch of her eyes, indicating that Nathan and John were on their way back.
The girls took their drinks and offered thanks, then Ella said, "Guess I'll see you back at the house." She took John's hand and led him back in the direction they'd come from.
"What do you want to ride next?" Nathan asked, and then took a sip of his soda.
"Let's see if we can find some shade for a few minutes."