Dark Bowers, Ch. 2

Before the story proper begins, I’d like to announce that I’ve (finally) added an index of completed stories to the blog. No more pawing helplessly at the search engine or going through the archives month by month! The link’s at the top of each page. Enjoy!

Theodore

Ted stood outside of Lawrence’s “cabin” and tried to look at the gigantic thing objectively. He’d been expecting a log cabin, he guessed, and maybe that was a mistake on his part. A prejudice, or an assumption. He’d figured that they were basically going to be camping, that the cabin would be some squat little thing with just a few rooms. A kitchen, a living room, two or three bedrooms. No running water, no electricity. Just a fireplace and nature.

Maybe a generator or something. Maybe.

It would have been exciting. Ted had only been camping (really camping, with the tents and the forest and the stars and no sounds of fighting or cars or gunshots drifting in through an apartment window) once. His dad had taken him and his older brother when he was just a kid not even in high school. He’d loved it. It felt so peaceful in a way that city life never had. Looking back on it, his dad was his usual goddamn worthless drunken self, and his brother was an abusive prick like he always was (t least, like he always before Ted got taller and heavier and stronger than him.) But damn if looking up and seeing the stars and hearing all the bugs and animals chirping away in the woods hadn’t been magical.

This wasn’t magical. This was just some kind of a miniature ski lodge. And that was pretty awesome in its own right, but he’d done the ski lodge thing already this year, back in January after the bowl game. He’d done the ski and the snowboard trips, the Vegas trips, the “fuck it, let’s get wasted!” trips, and damn it, he was just kind of bored of it all. He’d thought they’d be hiking and swimming in a lake and cooking over a fire. But Lawrence’s “cabin” had a microwave in the downstairs den and another one in the kitchen. There was a separate chest freezer in the attached garage and they’d stuffed it full of steaks. There was a gas cooktop on its own island in the kitchen. Instead of a range hood, the goddamn thing had some kind of telescoping fan thing that popped out of the island and popped back in when you were done cooking. It was like a celebrity’s mansion.

Somewhere behind him, Lawrence said, “Penny for your thoughts, Teddy Bear.”

Ted looked over his shoulder. Lawrence was standing there on one foot, the other one pulled behind him in a hamstring stretch for God only knew whatever reason. He was wearing a blue athletic-wear polo and grey golf shorts, and he looked more like he was warming up for a quick nine at the country club than like he was waiting for three of his best friends from high school to pull up to his place with a car full of beer. Three cute girls at that. At least they were in the photos he’d seen. Ted hadn’t actually seen any of them in a year or more at this point. Should I have dressed up? But no, he was comfortable in his jeans and his v-neck. Lawrence was just being Lawrence.

Ted turned his attention back to the miniature mansion before him. “I was just admiring your ‘cabin,’ man. I think the damn thing’s bigger than every house and apartment I’ve ever lived in put together.”

Lawrence grinned and started doing lunges. “It’s fucking great, isn’t it?”

Ted nodded. “It’s something. You said cabin, and I was thinking Lincoln Logs, not Overlook Hotel.”

“What are Lincoln Logs?”

Ted opened his mouth to answer when the phrase Hand-me-down bullshit that a kid who grew up with his own computer and a sports car on his 16th birthday would go his whole life never knowing existed forced its way into his mind. He just shook his head and smiled. “Nothing, man. Don’t worry abou–”

Ted stopped mid-sentence as Lawrence dropped to all fours, kicked his legs out behind him, and then jumped back up to his feet. And then he repeated it. “Man, why the hell are you doing burpees?”

“To get fucking pumped up, that’s why! Get psyched! Get my blood moving, you know?”

The look Ted gave him said no, he did not know.

Lawrence got to his feet and dusted himself off. “This is my ritual, man. I psych myself up before presentations. Bump up your testosterone a little bit, you know? Your body releases hormones and chemicals and pheromones and shit when you workout, and people can pick up on that. Their body senses it and reacts accordingly without them even realizing it. It says to everybody, ‘Hey. I am a fucking alpha male.’”

What Ted thought was, You’re 5’8”, I’m 6’5”. I weigh 230 pounds, you weigh 160, and you think you’re the alpha male? What he said was, “That’s real interesting.”

“No, man. That’s science.”

Ted rolled his eyes. Thankfully, Lawrence was back to doing calisthenics. “So what presentation are you psyching yourself up for? You planning on selling the house to one of the girls?”

Push-ups now. Push-ups and silence, silence except for the exaggerated sound of Lawrence’s breathing. “You seen any pictures of Madison recently?” he said finally.

Ah. There it is. “A couple, I guess.”

“She was posting them all the time when she was in Europe. Night clubs. Art galleries. Museums. Girl’s gorgeous. Had some work done. Nose, lips, tits. All tasteful, though. Fucking gorgeous.”

Ted stared at Lawrence in silence for a moment. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Lawrence didn’t look at Ted. “That’s impossible.”

Ted shrugged. “I guess I wasn’t looking as close as you were.”

“Then you’re either blind or gay, brother.”

Lawrence’s tone of voice had been joking. Ted had seen the look on his face, and it’d been good-natured and a little thoughtless, like Lawrence’s face always was. There was nothing malevolent there, none of the stupid piggishness, the sense of superiority that had turned into jealousy and eventually anger that Ted’s brother and father had worn almost every day of their lives.

That’s not Lawrence. He’s just got no censor. It’d made him the class clown back in the day and it had led to more than a few confrontations between Lawrence and people who didn’t appreciate his sense of humor.

Ted didn’t always appreciate Lawrence’s sense of humor. He got it, but he didn’t always appreciate it. “Blow me, man.”

Lawrence didn’t pay him any mind, though. He’d already moved onto the next exercise in his routine.

The girls arrived about half an hour later. Ted and Lawrence were sitting on the porch and watching the road, bottles of beer resting in their hands, the glass so cold that beads of sweat were spilling over onto their fingers. Lawrence’s early absurdity was forgotten as they cracked the second beer, and a sense of rightness filled Ted. Damn, now this is what I want to be doing. This is how I want to spend my summer. Just relaxing. Just enjoying myself with my friends. I’ll go back to being a free agent in August.

The sound of Madison’s SUV echoed up the road ahead of the car itself. The cabin was on a hill, so the top of the SUV was visible before everything else, like a ship’s mast poking over the horizon, the luggage rack piled high with the girls’ things. Goddamn, was I the only one who thought we’d be roughing it?

The girls got out of the car, each of them wearing a different expression on their faces. Anna’s eyes darted about, as if she was taking in each feature of the cabin one at a time and filing them away for future reference. Madison looked up, smiled as if she was pleased, and then turned her attention to the boys. Kore seemed to be absolutely shocked and perhaps even a little afraid or disgusted by the size of the damn building. “Ladies,” Lawrence called out. “Welcome! To Casa Steinman!”

Madison grinned at that. “You nerd,” she said, and she leaned in and kissed Lawrence on the cheek and Ted could see the hints emotions warring on his face: confusion, irritation, elation.

“Jesus, Lor,” Kore said. “You said we were going to a cabin. This place is a freaking mansion!”

Ted elbowed Lawrence in the ribs, accepted a hug and a kiss on the cheek from Madison. “See?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m real sorry that you were expecting a shack and you got the Taj Mahal.”

“The Taj Mahal’s a mausoleum,” Anna said. “I don’t think this place is a tomb.” She turned slowly, taking in the trees, the road, the lake shimmering off in the distance. “Although maybe it’s built on an ancient Indian burial ground. Or maybe it’s haunted by the ghosts of the people who have died here!”

“No one’s died here.”

“Are you sure? Is there a party in the main dining hall that never stops? If I go into the wrong room, will I see a guy in a dog costume blowing an old man?”

Ted laughed, a single sharp bark. “Oh, shut up,” Lawrence hissed at him.

“Aw, don’t feel bad, Larry,” Anna said as she hugged Lawrence. “I’m sure me and the elevator full of blood are going to get along great.”

“Oh, whatever. See if I invite my four oldest and best friends to my family’s awesome cabin for a week of relaxation again.”

“This is so not a cabin.”

“You’re pushing me, Kore.”

“Pushing you towards a better understanding of words and their meanings.”

Lawrence threw up in his hands in exaggeration. “That’s it. I quit. I’m going to go into my giant cemetery or whatever, I’m going to go to the jacuzzi…”

“You’ve got a jacuzzi?” Madison asked, her eyes going wide with excitement.

“…and I’m going to sit there and weep, for I have no friends.”

They laughed and rolled their eyes and playfully sucked up to Lawrence and stroked his ego. No, no, come on, give us a tour of the house, show us the jacuzzi, show us the rooms, are we having barbecue for dinner, I heard there was steak, seriously, where’s the jacuzzi?

Ted unpacked the girl’s luggage while Lawrence gave them a whirlwind tour of the house. There was no need for him to accompany them; he’d already heard the tour once already, after all, and Lawrence was nothing if not a creature of meticulousness and habit. Having settled on a presentation he’d found acceptable, Lawrence would likely use the same speech until he was forced to change it. In fact, as Ted carried the last of the luggage into the living room, he could hear Lawrence’s well-rehearsed lines carrying over from the kitchen. “…five burners. Gas, of course. Stainless steel all throughout. Plenty of room in the fridge and the freezer, and there’s a second freezer downstairs full of steaks and ground beef and chicken for us to barbecue.”

“This is quite the set-up you’ve got here, Lawrence,” Madison said. “Very impressive.”

“Why, thank you.”

Ted tuned them out and stepped through the cabin, taking stock of all the details as he walked. Hardwood floors. Wood paneling on all the walls. Carpet runners in the hallways. A projector in the living room. The infamous kitchen. There were two bedrooms downstairs, two more upstairs. A downstairs bath, an upstairs bath, and a third private one in the master bedroom.

And, of course, the jacuzzi sitting on the back patio, a patio which overlooked a lake, an endless forest, and a few other “cabins.”

Ted took a deep breath and let it out. So Lawrence was a bit much. The guy was still his friend. Hell, one of his best friends. He meant well. And if nothing else, this place was beautiful. So maybe it wasn’t camping. Didn’t he mean he couldn’t spend every night out here on the porch, the lights off and a beer in his hand and the stars circling overhead.

Ted went back inside to here Lawrence wrapping up the tour. “Now, then. Let’s talk sleeping arrangements. There are a four bedrooms, two upstairs, two down. The master is downstairs. I’ll be sleeping in that, of course, but everything else is up for grabs. Someone’s going to have to share…” Ted rolled his eyes. Lawrence let the word linger on his tongue, and it hung in the air like some kind of lewd suggestion.

“Or sleep on the living room couch. Which is easily bigger than a twin,” Anna said. Lawrence frowned at that.

“I don’t mind sharing with one of you guys,” Kore offered. Lawrence frowned at that, too.

“Let’s take a look at the rooms first. We’ll figure out something fair.”

And with that, the five of them began to get settled. 

 

Word Count this Post: 2,135

Total Word Count: 5,611/50,000

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