by Todd Wells
a coffee that has a shot of Kahlua
David took off his gloves and rubbed his hands together, close to the heat of the fire. He looked across the flames at his wife, and wiped his nose. Molly was fishing in the bag for a marshmallow. Her hair flowed out of her lavender knit cap, framing her beautiful face. David waited until he thought she was looking at him, then wiped his nose again, more vigorously this time. They had met ten years ago, an anniversary they were celebrating with this camping trip, and though David now found her more attractive than ever, she still wasn't getting the hint.
David attacked the middle of his face with one last effort. He didn't want to disturb the ambience with verbal instructions, but he was out of options. Then, fate saved him in the form of a snowflake, which landed on the tip of Molly's nose. She smiled at the snowflake's tickle, and rubbed at her nose with the back of her glove, removing both the snowflake and the dried snot that had been the object of David's irritation. He relaxed.
Molly's eyes sparkled as she impaled a marshmallow on her stick. Front-lit by the fire, but softened with the day's fading light and a delicate snowfall, David was powerless not to begin undressing her with his eyes. A zipper. A button. He could almost hear the tearing of the velcro as he imagined opening the cuffs on her parka.
David's trance was broken by the flash of Molly's marshmallow bursting into flame. Watching her eyes close as she wrapped her mouth around the charred confection, he had to stop himself from telling her out loud that they're a lot better if you just brown them. That way they don't taste like ash, and they're gooey all the way through. The one you're eating right now is probably still cold on the inside, isn't it.
David refocused. Let it be the purple underwear tonight, he hoped, and not the beige briefs with the frayed elastic band. He was scarcely done working out the logistics of carrying her across the threshold of the tent when he heard the rustling.
‘Shh. What was that?’
‘Wrumpf?’ asked Molly, her mouth full of carbonized sugar.
It was hard to hear over the crackling fire, but David was sure something was approaching from the woods. He peered into the trees.
It was getting louder. What at first sounded like a squirrel, and then a raccoon, was now probably a moose. David struggled to remember how to handle moose attacks. When the woman staggered out of the trees and bumped into him, she knocked him down easily, as he was already preparing to play dead.
The woman collapsed. In the fading light, David could see she was fully dressed for hiking; coat, boots, moisture-wicking slacks with several pockets lining each thigh. She was probably just a couple years younger than Molly. The woman curled into a ball, shivering violently.
‘She's soaking wet.’ Molly had run over. The woman tried to respond but her jaw was rigid. ‘Let's get her into the tent.’
David nodded and scooped her up. He could feel the cold cut right through his own clothing. In the tent David lay the woman down. Molly started undoing the frozen laces on her boots and speculated.
‘She's hypothermic. Remember that stream we crossed? She probably slipped on that icy log and fell in. We need to get her out these wet clothes and into a sleeping bag.’
The woman had pulled her arms across her chest. David tugged gently to get at the zipper on the coat, but she was clenched too tightly.
‘Come on,’ urged Molly, as she tossed aside the second boot, ‘Take her coat off.’
David stammered. ‘Okay, sure, that's what I'm trying to do. But she's not helping. I mean, look…’
Molly elbowed David aside, pinned the woman on her back, and forced her arms from her chest.
‘Unzip the coat,’ Molly ordered. David did as he was told.
Molly went to work on the buttons on the woman's shirt. ‘One of us will need to strip down and crawl in with her. She's not going to warm up on her own.’
‘It should be you,’ answered David, a touch too gallantly, because even in the dark tent he could see Molly smile.
David started stammering again, but Molly cut him off. ‘Go outside and find some rocks to heat up in the fire. We can use them in the sleeping bag.’ Embarrassed, David gathered up the wet boots and jacket and crawled out of the tent.
As he looked for appropriate-sized rocks, David rationalized that Molly takes off women's clothing a couple times each day, while he only gets to do select items once every week or two. Of course she's better at it than he is.
David found a rock that looked promising. He was about to place it in the fire pit when he heard another noise. It was coming from the same direction as before, but David didn't have nearly as much time to prepare. The next person to come barreling out of the trees was bigger and the impact knocked David flat, with the interloper landing on top of him. Two things were clear right away: this hiker was also soaking wet, and this hiker was a man. Despite the shivering, David could tell he was solid. In the light of the fire David could see the man's neatly trimmed beard accentuating his rugged good looks.
David got to his feet. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
The male hiker tried to answer, but with his frozen jaw all he could manage was, ‘G-g-g-g...’
‘You're good?’ prompted David. The man's head began moving vigorously in response, but his shivering made it impossible for him to keep his head on a straight up-down or side-to-side axis, and David couldn't tell what the answer was.
‘Is that a yes? You're okay?’
The man tried to speak again, this time more forcefully, but the result was no better. ‘Guh-h-h-h-h-h,’ he moaned, after which he curled up into a tighter ball and tried rolling himself towards the fire.
David's mind raced. ‘Hey, Molly,’ he called, ‘Hang on a minute.’
‘What is it?’ came Molly's muffled response from inside the tent.
‘I might, umm, need your help.’
‘Now?’ came the incredulous response.
‘It's just that, well, yeah.’
The tent rustled, the flap opened, and out stepped Molly wearing nothing but a pair of hiking boots.
‘She's in the bag, and I was just about to...’ Molly looked down, then back at David. ‘Another one?’
David nodded. ‘They're wearing the same kind of hiking pants, so I think they're together.’
‘U-h-h-h-h-h,’ the man groaned, either in agreement, or disagreement.
‘Alright,’ said Molly, assessing the situation, ‘I'll help you get him inside, and then I'll get in the bag with the girl while you take care of him.’
David had already been assessing the situation. ‘Can I talk to you over here for a second?’ he asked, gesturing towards the far side of the fire.
‘What in the world for?’ asked an exasperated Molly, rubbing her arms around herself for warmth. David guided her around the fire pit.
He lowered his voice. ‘I think that maybe it might be, umm,’ David glanced at the shivering man balled-up in the snow. ‘Maybe I should, you know, get in with the other one.’
Molly's brow furrowed. ‘Are you serious?’
They both looked at the male hiker. He was twitching violently, his low body-fat index providing little insulation.
Molly cocked her head as the understanding settled. ‘Oh, come on, don't be such a baby.’
‘I'm not being a baby,’ David protested, ‘it's just that,’ he looked at the man again, the chattering of his perfectly straight teeth cutting through the cold night air. ‘It's just that, maybe it would be better if I didn't get in with him.’
Molly nodded. She held her arms out to her sides, giving her husband an unobstructed view. ‘So you'd prefer that I get in with him instead? If that's what you want.’ The firelight danced across Molly's taut, goose-pimpled skin.
‘Maybe I could just heat him up by the fire,’ suggested David.
‘g-u-h-h,’ said the man, softer this time, his ample muscles running out of stored energy to warm themselves.
‘Decide,’ ordered Molly, ‘which one you want to get naked in a sleeping bag with, and I will get in with the other one.’
David looked at Molly. He looked at the hypothermic man. His internal conflict raged. ‘I, I, I guess...’
By early the next afternoon they were back in the car. David gazed out the window. He paid no attention to the postcard-perfect, snow-dappled trees rolling by. Molly stared straight ahead, both hands on the steering wheel. Periodically she stole a glance in David's direction, before quickly looking back to the road.
‘Would you like to put on some music?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he barely whispered.
Several minutes later Molly tried again. ‘I guess it was lucky all that stuff happened because, what was his name? Steven? If he hadn't been there, I don't think you could have pushed the car out of the snow on your own.’
Still staring out the window, David corrected her. ‘Simon. His name was Simon.’
Five more miles passed in silence before David finally said, ‘Maybe for next year's vacation we should go someplace warm.’
Molly didn't hesitate. ‘Agreed.’