Even though I decided to delay the release date for the second book in the Adventures, INK series Long Way until November I made a promise to reveal who the book is about on September first.... Anyone object to a day early?
The first draft of Long Way is finished, it's currently about ten thousand words longer than Match Day.... and if you haven't read Match Day, this might be a bit of a spoiler.
I plan to spend September watching football and writing something new. Not football related. I'll rewrite and edit Long Way in October as soon as I have something new finished (hopefully).
So, anyway, without further delay....
“Take the Long Way Home,” Supertramp crooned out of the jukebox. Skip leaned back in his chair and watched as Rosie and Lucinda two-stepped their way around the little area in front of the bar. No one gave a shit that two middle-aged biker chicks were dancing. Least of all their husbands. Catcalls came from other patrons at the tavern. They’d seen it before. Yearly. For nearly thirty years now.
The same songs played on the same jukebox while they drank the same beer and told the same stories they’d told the first time they did this. Thirty years ago, he’d been fresh faced and green as hell when he’d stumbled into this bar. He wasn’t old enough to drink. He was free and on his own with an overpowering need to set the world on fire.
He’d dropped out of school his senior year when his folks had died. He left the compound not long after that. It was his. He could have kicked all those damned hippies out but he didn’t. They’d been family at one time. Right up until his mom got sick and his dad couldn’t go on without her.
He packed everything he owned and threw it in the beat up old Bug and drove as far as he could. He broke down in front of this dive.
And fell in with this bunch as if he’d been sent here.
Rosie and Lucinda were on spring break from Berkley. Sam and Colten were like him, just out of school with no plans for the future. Blake and Darren were up from Texas scouting colleges. And Jimmy and Norah were newlyweds on their honeymoon. They’d met as strangers that year back in ’87. All a bunch of hippies with nothing to protest. Except Skip, he’d done that his whole life. He just wanted to see what normal people did.
Over the years they added new people to their group, through marriage or just like-minded people with nothing better to do than tag along through the woods with a bunch of drunk kids wanting to set the world on fire.
They’d lost people, divorce and death were always part of life. Some just stopped coming, like Jimmy and Norah.
Skip hadn’t made it every year. He’d missed a few along the way but he kept in touch. The years when he couldn’t make it he’d host a get together down at the beach house. After his folks had passed the commune fell apart, and he’d been left there alone with a bunch of ghosts. Why the hell not. There were enough rooms in the place for everyone to have their own retreat.
The song ended and Seven Bridges Road came up next. Skip could count on that much. The songs never changed, on the juke, or with this crowd. Classic rock, all the way. There wouldn’t be a single Duran Duran song on there. Or Adam Ant or Boy George. He’d kill for some George Michael.
They’d lost George this past Christmas. The death had hit him hard. Harder than Bowie or Prince. Harder than any of the other losses of the past year. For reasons he couldn’t ever tell this crowd. Rosie and Lucinda danced as a joke. They never hooked up to Skip’s knowledge. None of the guys ever gave him reason to believe there was anything here but a yearly habit.
“Who are we missing?” Blake thumped a tub of beers down on the table and looked around the bar. His black hair had gone completely silver in the last year. He looked good, even if he was pushing fifty.
“Just Colten.” Lucinda swept a bottle from the tub and collapsed into her husband’s lap. “This was his party and he’s the one who can’t be assed to show up.”
They usually met up later in the spring. March was always too wet for hiking, and too cold. Back in the day it had always been March. Mostly because of college breaks. After they all grew up and got jobs and had kids they’d played with the schedule. Keeping up with each other as technology changed. They had their own Facebook group now. And Colten had written a few days back asking if they could meet up early this year. Skip had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he read the message. Something about it just seemed… like bad news.
“You’d think he would have said more about dragging us all up here on such short notice if he’d changed his mind.” Rose grabbed a beer, she didn’t sit in her husband’s lap. She sat across from him and didn’t meet his gaze. Another ending right there, Skip would be willing to lay money on it.
“He’ll be along. He’s always late. He has to come from Virginia now. That’s a long way.” Blake drained a beer and slammed the bottle down on the table. He kept looking at the door where Sam and Darren had disappeared. That seemed to be the beginning of something.
Sam had lost her husband a couple years back, and Darren… well, maybe the divorce would finally go through now that the kids were grown. Skip was sure they’d always been sneaking around. He just hadn’t cared until a few years ago. He hadn’t cared about a lot of things until Brian came into his life. One day he’d tell them about Brian.
Not this year. He checked his phone for messages. They’d be heading out in the morning and phone service was spotty on the trail. Brian hadn’t returned his messages today. Probably too busy sexing that hunk of a man he’d been mooning over for as long as Skip had known him.
He’d left two days sooner than he’d planned when Doc had shown up on his doorstep looking like a lost puppy. The love in his eyes when Brian had shown up damn near floored Skip. He’d never had anyone look at him like that. Male or female. Not from lack of trying. That boy had his heart in his eyes for his boy. And Skip had grabbed his gear and gone instead of standing around making it all awkward. Now he wondered if he shouldn’t have stayed. Maybe played daddy for the first time in his life. Maybe asked Zack what his intentions were. See if he was after Brian’s money. Or the land. Money Brian had no idea existed, or that he was going to inherit everything Skip’s mother and grandparents had passed down to him. Neither of them knew there was anything to gain. And he was keeping it that way for the time being.
One day he’d tell the boys he was rolling in it. One day he’d tell his closest friends that he had a son. Norah’s son.
Not this day.
He’d play the good natured loner and watch his friends make fools of themselves and when they were on the other end of the trail he’d head up to his cabin and write another book.
His phone buzzed. Brian sent him a double thumbs up. Skip had forgotten what he’d asked… probably something like was the house still standing? Something stupid to go with the stupid comment he’d left them with. Just don’t burn down the house. Jeez, he was an idiot.
The kid had looked at him like he was trespassing on his territory. He’d jump to a conclusion that pissed Skip off. The same conclusion another man had once come to. It had ended their friendship. Well, there was the fact that he had no idea Brian was his until the boy was sixteen and Skip had stopped in to visit his old friends without letting them know he was coming. For three years they pretended he didn’t know. For three years he’d tried to see the boy. After Brian had found him down in San Diego and gone home, Jimmy had flown out and accused him of the unthinkable. Skip had decked him. If anyone could be accused of that it sure as hell wasn’t Skip.
Brian had come home from his sister’s botched wedding with a wedding ring and a broken heart. Because of Jimmy.
No one mentioned Jimmy and Norah anymore. Or invited them. Skip looked around at the people gathered at the table, the same feeling of dread clutching at his gut. Only the faces from the original group were there. Minus Jimmy, Norah, and Colten. Next year they would be short one more spouse. The year after that might not ever happen. But he thought that every year. This year though, felt like an ending. Not just the end of a chapter.
Like they were putting a period on an era.
The door opened and everyone at the table strained their necks hoping to welcome their missing friend. A tall, broad shouldered, Jarhead wearing fatigues and a scowl filled the doorway. He was far too young to be Colten. And far too hot.
Colten Mayes had been a short earth shoe wearing computer programmer from southern California. He’d gone on to make a fortune in Silicon Valley before moving to the east coast about ten years back.
The men turned back to their beers, the women leered at the young man. So did Skip. He tried not to be obvious about it. But damn. He bet he could bounce a quarter off that guy’s belly. If he were ten years younger he’d give it a try. He caught the guy’s eye, the stare was hard and unwelcoming. Make it twenty years younger.
The guy tipped his head in a curt military style nod and started for their corner of the bar. Skip’s heart skipped a couple of beats as the ice blue gaze met his. He seriously wondered if he was reacting to a hot ass Marine or if the hot ass Marine had taken his interest the wrong way.
Fear? It had been a long time since he felt anything resembling fear. A little more than ten years when he’d stared into a pair of clear green eyes and recognized his mortality.
The Marine carried a bag over his shoulder. He seemed to have purpose as he moved through the tables. Skip wasn’t the only one to notice they had attracted the attention of a stranger. Blake was on his feet acting as their defacto leader with his pasted on politian’s smile and an outstretched hand.
Skip was willing to bet the whole hundred acres up in Oregon that the first words out of Blake’s mouth would be “thank you for your service, Marine, welcome home.”
Yep, nailed it.
Skip didn’t stand with all the others. He nodded to the boy, because damn, he wasn’t too long out of diapers by the looks of him. Certainly not old enough to have served in the military. But that’s because Skip was feeling his age. And that boy was way too young for what his dick was thinking.
“Thank you, Mister Hamilton, sir.” The Marine grasped Blake’s hand and shook it. He looked at each of the people at the table and greeted them by name. Skip wasn’t the only one wondering why this kid knew their names. “Skip,” he said, leaving off the mister part as he met Skip’s gaze one more time. He nodded again and set the bag down on the table.
“Chad Mayes,” Skip said recognizing the boy in the man and the man in the son. The feeling of dread in his gut turned rock hard.
“Yes, sir.” He didn’t smile. There was sorrow in his eyes. “Dad asked me to give you this.” He pulled a package out of his bag and handed it to Blake with no explanation. Skip didn’t need one. He knew. “He wanted his closest friends to lay him to rest.”