“Did you bring the marshmallows?” ten year old Deni called out, hauling yet another sleeping bag out of the back of the car and tossing it into the tent.
Alicia Stenson turned to look at her daughter with a teasing glint to her eyes. “Is it really camping if we don’t have roasted marshmallows?” she asked.
Deni laughed. “Right. Silly question,” she replied. “You wouldn’t forget the marshmallows,” and she walked over to her mother, hugging her fiercely. But as Deni pulled back, she looked at her mother worriedly. “What about the cookies?” she whispered, then glanced over her shoulder to her father who was examining the tent poles with a look of confusion.
Alicia Stenson smiled gently as she too looked over at her husband. “I hid them at the bottom of the cooler!”
Deni’s hand immediately covered her laugh. “That’s good,” she whispered back, leaning against her mother as they both watched her father try to put the tent together. “Should we go over and help him?”
Alicia chuckled. “Why? Because he’s putting the center pole into one of the side pockets?”
Deni shook her head, looking years older than her ten year old self. “He always gets those poles mixed up.”
A bark of thunder burst out of the sky and Alicia looked up at the storm clouds. “Maybe we should help him before we get drenched,” she suggested.
Deni looked worriedly up as well, then over at her father. “Yeah. He’s going to need our help.” They both walked over to the tent that was spread out on the ground with poles laying around like strewn pixie sticks along the sides of the fabric.
Mark groaned with relief as he turned to the two ladies he loved. “It’s about time you two came over and showed me how to do this,” he grumbled, pulling the center pole out again. “This one just doesn’t fit and I can’t figure out…”
“It doesn’t go there,” Deni explained patiently and took the center pole away from him, handing him one of the shorter side poles. In less than ten minutes, with all three of them helping, the tent went up and they were able to spread out their sleeping bags and duffle bags inside moments before the rain started coming down. Because her parents preferred to sleep close to each other, they took up half of the tent which allowed Deni to use the other half. She always brought extra pillows so that she not only had a sleeping area, but also a place where she could curl up and read at night while her parents stayed out by the campfire, talking and laughing. That part of their family expedition wasn’t anything that she wanted to witness. Parents kissing? Acting all lovey dovey? Gross!
The summer storm was passionately loud, but thankfully, fleeting, and was gone in no time, leaving a damp mess but also a freshness that only a summer storm could provide. They put three chairs around the fire pit, then set up the camp stove and picnic table. This was the best part, Deni thought. She always loved seeing the special foods that her mother or father had packed. Camping was a special time together, so they loosened the restrictions on what she was allowed to eat.
“Double stuffed Oreos?” she whispered with awe as she held up the blue package. Looking over at her mother, she sighed with happiness! “Oh mom! I love double stuffed Oreos!”
Her mother laughed and rolled her eyes. “I never would have known that,” she teased, ruffling Deni’s hair.
By the time the sun had gone down over the horizon, the three of them were well into their meal preparation. Deni was in charge of roasting the corn on the cob over the fire. Her father took charge of frying the chicken in the heavy Dutch oven pot…camping was the only time that her mother allowed them to have fried chicken, not wanting the greasy mess all over her kitchen at home…and Deni’s mother prepared a fruit salad.
“We’re having smores right after dinner, right?” she asked as she turned the sticks with the corn on the cob over the fire.
Her father turned to look at her with “the look” and Deni’s heart sank. She knew that look. Deni hated that look! It didn’t bode well for her smores.
“Honey, you know that we need to let the fire die down a bit so that we can roast the smores.”
Deni smothered a groan. Yes, she knew this. But that didn’t mean that she had to like it. “But…what about if we just hold our marshmallows a bit further from the flames?” she asked hopefully.
Both her of her parents laughed softly. And both of them shook their heads. “Honey, we go through this every year. The fire is too hot for the marshmallows. We need coals.”
Darn it! She hated fires! Why couldn’t they just start a fire, then douse it with water until…okay, she knew the answer to that. Besides, the fire was needed to roast the corn on the cob, which was maybe her second favorite thing to eat on camping trips. At home, her mother would just put the ears of corn into the microwave. But there really was nothing like roasted corn on the cob! There was just something about corn on the cob after the ears had been slowly roasting over the fire for a while.
“Right,” she sighed, then turned the ears of corn one more time. She wanted to pull the leaves of the corn back, just to peek and see if the corn was ready. Unfortunatley, that was another stupid rule about camping. No peeking at the corn. Pulling back the leaves would reveal the corn, blah blah blah.
But then she looked up from her place by the fire. Her father shuffled over to where her mother was standing by the picnic table, humming some song that only he understood. With one arm around her waist, Deni’s dad twirled her mother around the camping area, stopping occasionally to nuzzle her neck. For the next several moments, the two of them danced around in the dirt, laughing and hugging each other.
Deni smiled, a warmth invading her heart as she watched her parents who were obviously still in love after all these years.
Sebastian sipped his bourbon as his eyes skimmed over the glistening water of the pool to the structure on the other side. It wasn’t his pool house. He and his wife Meredith had agreed to attend this dinner party at some senator’s house. It was an adequately impressive house, he mused, considering everything. The pool was lit with candles floating along the surface of the water as well as by the moonlight.
The meal that their hosts had served earlier in the evening had been quite decent, although the chicken had been a bit dry. But now that dinner was over, Sebastian was ready to leave. This was yet another one of those tedious evenings that his wife demanded were essential for her career. She needed “to be seen”, she’d explained. Which was why he was here, watching the pool, thinking about how his wife had flirted merrily with all of the other guests.
“Sebastian!” his hostess called out from the doorway.
Turning, Sebastian looked over his shoulder at the elegantly dressed woman. As a senator’s wife, Cynthia Eldon knew how to throw a party, how to decorate her home so that the décor was elegant, but not overly pretentious. It was an art, he realized, to look wealthy without appearing to be too wealthy. As a public servant, senators had a very fine line to walk. They needed to appear elite, but not out of touch.
“What are you doing out here? The party is inside and everyone is looking for you!”
Sebastian stared at the woman with disinterest as he said, “In other words, Martin Kinsman needs to finance the new factory that he wants to build out in Iowa,” he replied dryly. Sebastian knew his place in this world. These people wanted to be connected to him not because of any personal interest. They wanted a connection to his bank and his personal knowledge of international finance.
Cynthia laughed and it sounded practiced instead of authentic.
“Well, when you put it that way, it sounds so crass!” she teased. Well…sort of teased. It was crass. This whole situation was crass and obnoxious. “It’s good for your business as well as his. So why don’t you come inside and talk to him so that we can move on to something more interesting? That poor man needs to expand because of…well, something about competition.”
Sebastian knew all too well why Kinsman needed to expand. In fact, Sebastian was the one who had told the man to build the factory in Iowa and explained how the newer, more modern equipment, would allow him to beat the lower labor costs from countries such as Vietnam. Keeping his production within the United States allowed him to continue to look adequately Republican, which was important for the man’s political ambitions.
Business and politics was all an elaborate a chess game, he thought. One that Sebastian knew how to play extraordinarily well.
At least, in business, he corrected silently.
Cynthia looked up at Sebastian hopefully, looping both of her arms around his, acting as if they were old friends and pals. When in fact, he’d just met the woman about an hour before dinner tonight. “What’s keeping you outside?” she teased.
“There’s a view I wanted to catch,” he told his hostess.
Cynthia knew very well what the view was, Sebastian thought with cold revulsion. Just in time, they both turned to see Harold Eldon, Cynthia’s husband, stepping out of the pool house. The whole scene might have seemed innocent, except that the senator reached down to pull up the zipper of his slacks. Oh, and there was Sebastian’s wife, the lovely Meredith, coming out behind the senator, fluffing her hair and wiping lipstick off of his cheek. Her lipstick, Sebastian surmised.
Cynthia sighed, shaking her head. “They think they are slick,” she muttered with disgust. Then she tugged on Sebastian’s arm. “Come on. Let’s just pretend that this little incident didn’t happen,” she urged.
Sebastian didn’t say a word, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, with her suggestion.