She looked at me through the flames of the camp fire, a silly little grin on her face. I can see the flames dancing in her eyes, making them sparkle with a hint of the mischief she naturally has.
"I have to admit, you really can cook, I didn't believe mom when she told me." still grinning she told me.
"You've never had beef stew cooked while camping?"
"Nope, we usually do the hot dogs, or burgers, or something that don't require much prep when we're out here."
"Well, just because you're camping, don't mean you can't have something like a home cooked meal," as I smile at her.
Two months ago, I met her mom through a mutual friend, and we started casually dating, gradually getting closer. My three boys, and her three kids, one boy, two girls, all got along like they had known each other for their entire lives, quickly becoming like a real family. This was only our second camping trip as a "family", the first one was over Memorial day, and as tradition holds, it was a complete washout, complete with soaked tents, and sleeping bags that held more water than a swimming pool.
We had picked this weekend because it was supposed to be pretty decent, a little bit of rain on Saturday, when my boys and I arrived, and set up camp, but, the rest of the weekend looked nicer. Getting to the site, at about 2pm, we set about getting the three tents all set up, gathering firewood, and getting the fire started. I dug out the dutch oven, preheating the old cast iron to lightly brown the meat up. Raking some of the coals to the side, to keep the pan out of the direct fire, added the vegetables, and let it simmer for about 3 hours, occasionally, pulling it to a cooler part, to keep it from burning, just keeping it hot enough to be edible without turning the meat into charcoal. While the stew was cooking, I dug out the cornmeal, and decided to make some corn bread to go with it. If you've ever tried baking over an open flame, it's not easy, but, it can turn out so much better than in an oven at home.
After finally getting dinner all going good, we finished loading the tents up, inflating the air mattresses unrolling sleeping bags, and arranging who slept where. A camping trip for 8 for 3 days takes a good bit of everything, especially food, when all of the kids are teens or close to teens. Korina and her kids would be up later on in the afternoon, closer to dinner time since she had to work. Kaitlyn, her youngest wanted to come with us, but, had already talked with her friend about spending the day. Kala, was spending the day with her friend Jessie, and Kasey was over at Kurt's having a Halo marathon. Not withstanding the early rain, it was quiet and peaceful, not many in the campground, not believing the weather would break. My boys and I all just sat around talking, them kind of paying attention, when they'd look up from their Game Boy. About an hour or so before everyone was supposed to get there, I double checked the stew and cornbread, making sure it was not only done, but, not burnt. This was my chance to shine, to show the ones I cared about, to give them a special treat.
Korina, Kaitlyn, and Kasey all arrived shortly after about 7, all piled in her car, bringing the last cooler with the condiments and things that I didn't have room for. I asked Korina about Kala, and she told me that she would be up shortly, and Jessie was coming along. They had a tradition that each kid could bring one friend on a camping trip, and it was Kala's turn to bring someone. We unloaded her car, arranging the details that she brought since we hadn't expected Jessie, we had to add a few supplies. Soon Kala and Jessie arrived, and we started eating dinner. We always had enough food, and no one ever went away from the table hungry. During dinner, we also had the tradition that the kids, while camping could partake in some alcohol. Each had a wine cooler, and Jessie and Kala shared a bottle of inexpensive wine, since they were the oldest girls it was special for them. Normally, you would sit at the picnic table, but, there was so much food and things, and lack of tables, everything was put there, so we all sat in our camp chairs and ate around the fire. That was when I saw those gorgeous blue eyes staring at me.
At ten years old, she was already showing the signs of her future beauty. Her long runners legs, firm, but cute, little butt. At five foot tall, and weighing probably seventy pounds, she was all but tiny. Not even a glimmer of the woman that she was going to become showing yet. It wouldn't be for another three years before she even started her period, and four years before she reached a hundred pounds. Everyone talks about how much teen age boys eat, this little girl could out eat everyone at the table, and not gain an ounce. She had the proverbial heart of gold and a smile that you couldn't help but emulate.
Kala, her sister, was two years older, and every bit as beautiful. She looked so much like her mom did at that age. Only five foot tall, but had the showing of the curves on the way, complete with the little bubble on her back side. She had the same blue eyes as her sister, but, matched her mom's straight brown hair. She always had a little bit of a shy smile on her face, not really letting you know what she was thinking. While she shared her eyes with her sister, they didn't sparkle with the mischief, they just showed that she loved life in general.
Kasey, her first born, was fourteen, and every bit the video gamer. Shaggy brown hair dark brown eyes that matched his mom's. Skinnier than his youngest sister even, at about five foot six, but, it was really all muscle, not an ounce of fat on him.
Dustin, my oldest, was already showing signs of his future height, at eight, he was already as tall as Kala, and weighed about the same as she did. He was my gamer as well, if it was Pokemon, he played it.
Dylan, my middle, much like his brother, is a gamer, loving all things Pokemon, as well as starting to enjoy reading the Anime. Just an inch or so shorter than Dustin, it was plain to see, that my kids would out grow me before it was all done.
Dalton, my youngest, was my little pixy of a son, I say pixie, because, he was the smallest of the bunch, it wouldn't be until he reached almost 13 that he started to really grow. Skinny, some would say tiny in all regards, even though his appetite was as healthy as all of ours.
Korina, the matriarch of our group, at five foot four, with the perfect curves in all the right places. She looked like a cross between her daughters. The inner beauty of her youngest, with the similar build to her older daughter. Nice full D cup breasts that did show the signs of having had three kids, but, still nice and firm. Beautiful brown eyes, that would change color with her mood, honey when happy, almost black when upset.
Me, average guy, average height, only five foot eight, not skinny, but, not fat. Blonde hair, with blue eyes. Pretty average, but, someone saw something in me that they liked, so I accepted it. Camping and hiking are some of my hobbies, as well as like the other guys in the family, playing video games.
Before we had planned the trip, I had mentioned that I would cook the first dinner, and it would be ready when they all got there. Being begged constantly about what I was cooking, I just kept my mouth quiet, and got the things without them even noticing. I hadn't cooked anything at the house yet, other than helping a little bit with some of Korina's meals, this was going to be my first time cooking for all of the family, my kids having grown up with me either in the kitchen, or at the grill. When we camp, we buy supplies that we can actually put into the fire to dispose without causing toxic fumes, real paper plates and cups, things of that nature, the utensils, usually plastic, are thrown away.
After dinner, we're all sitting around the fire, just talking about the day, and what all happened in town while we were setting up. We relaxed a while, when she came over and sat in my lap, just cuddling in close. Nothing sexual, just wanting some kind of closeness, besides, she was in shorts and tank top and it was getting a little chilly outside. She had cuddled up on me a few times in the past, no one even thought about it, just a little bit of bonding between her and I. Her real dad was all but an absentee, he was around, but, not really hands on.
"I so love this, just being close and feeling safe." she tells me quietly, not wanting anyone else to hear. Which wasn't hard with the laughing and talking of every one else.
"I love having you right where you are, all of you mean a lot to me, and Kala and Kasey wouldn't be caught dead cuddling up with me like you are." I whisper back to her.
"Kala might, Kasey, no way in hell, not in a billion years." she laughed
"Maybe it's because you're younger, or maybe you know something I don't, it just feels right having you close to me."
"I know, I'm not much of a cuddler, but, with you, it's easy to be."
All of a sudden, everyone around the fire gets quiet, just looking at the two of us. None of them saying a word, just looking. "What?" I ask once I notice the quiet.
"Nothing, we just noticed that you two were kind of off in your own little world for a while, like we didn't even exist." Korina mentions, with just a hint of jealousy in her voice.
"We were just sitting here talking about how nice all of this is." meaning the entire experience of being close with the family. "It's nice for all of us to be able to have the time together and not have to worry about work or school." she sits up, and turns a little wiggling a little bit, "Good God, you have a bony little butt." I laugh.
"She always has, we need to find a way to fatten her up, put a little padding back there." Korina laughs, breaking what ever little tension was there.
"I like you sitting in my lap, but, next time, grab a pillow or something, damn girl." I laugh at her.
"Ok." she laughs, grinding a little more, knowing it hurts.
I grab her sides, tickling her, making her squirm more, which only serves to make her laugh, and hurt my thigh even more. Which makes her squirm even more. Her and I had the type of relationship that we would pick on each other almost constantly, but, never with any malice, just in good fun. She knew what bugged me, and I knew what bugged her, but we never used that against each other in a personal attack, only in fun.
A couple of hours, and more than a few drinks later, for all of us, we all decided it was time for some sleep, the sun would be up, and makes an effective alarm clock. Since we had only brought the two tents, figuring kids in one, parents in the other, not knowing that Jessie was coming along. The older two girls decided to sleep in the cab of my truck, while the boys and Kaitlyn slept in the "kids" tent.
We woke to the smell of smoke, the type of smoke from a fire that was either just starting, or going out. Wondering what was going on, we got dressed, and climbed out of the tent, to the sight of three boys sitting in chairs, while Kaitlyn was working on getting the camp fire going again, using only the last few embers of last night's bonfire. Within about 20 minutes, we had the boys all organized and had them getting old, dry pine needles and some smaller sticks for kindling. Ever the Girl Scout Kaitlyn soon had us a nice warm fire going, without using a single match. It took the adults to get the boys moving because, for whatever reason, they were refusing to listen to her direction to get off their asses and help. Her words not mine. Shortly after the fire was going good, the older two girls decided to climb out of the truck, and all but stood on top of the fire, trying to break the slight chill.