The forest was so beautiful she could weep. Lawrence’s weirdness and Madison’s Madison-ness aside, this place was perfect. It was everything she thought of when she thought of the beauty of the natural world. It was picturesque, idyllic. It was like some kind of ur-forest. A great primeval giant from which all other forests are descended. It was the Kingswood. It was Fangorn. It was… damn it, there had to be one more. It was Eden, maybe? But all things considered, there was a disappointing lack of fruit and serpents.
Kore frowned. I should have studied other religions in college. I default to Eden? Come on, there have to be big, huge forests in… I don’t know. Norse mythology. Sumerian. Wait, no, that’s the Middle East. There wouldn’t be any forests there. Maybe Shinto? Are there many forests in Japan? There’d definitely be some in China, but can you really get forests growing on an island?
Wait, was Eden even a forest? It’s the Garden of Eden, after all. But I’ve always imagined it as a kind of jungle. But apple trees don’t grow in jungles.
Ugh. Stupid Euro-centric culture and its near-complete ignoring of the history of other parts of the world.
“Hey, are you listening?” Kore turned and looked up to find Ted staring at her, the expression on his face indicating that he was clearly expecting a response to whatever he had just said.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I said, ‘What are you thinking about?’”
“Oh. Just the cultural failings of modern liberal education.”
Ted blinked at that, then rolled his eyes eyes and turned his attention back to the trail. “Huh. Interesting. I think I’m actually sorry I asked.”
Kore chuckled softly. “Sorry, sorry. I was thinking about how pretty the forest is, and then I started thinking about forests in literature, and then I–”
“Oh, now I know I’m sorry I asked.”
Kore frowned, pouted at him. Ted turned a bit red and looked away, and despite herself, Kore smiled. There was something so silly about how easily Ted could get embarrassed, how sensitive he could be in his own right. Not like Lawrence, who was all bluster and snark. Ted was endearing, almost cute. Like some kind of big puppy. A St. Bernard, maybe. Or a Bernese Mountain Dog. “Kidding! Kidding,” Ted said.
“Of course you were. Don’t worry about it. Ooh, look!”
The two of them stood on a small cliff, no more than twenty feet high, and the lake lay spread out before them, the sun shining off its surface in a thousand points of light. Across the like was another “cabin.” Not as excessively big as Lawrence’s, but still a mansion by any reasonable standard. Or executive home. Whatever. Unlike Lawrence’s mansion, though, this one was built on the water, with a little pier and a little boat and everything. Not a speed boat or anything, thankfully; the lake wasn’t big enough to justify that, and the family at least had the good sense to realize that. Lawrence would absolutely have a speed boat here. Or jetskis. Something ridiculous.
A woman stood on the pier, and a man and a small child (presumably a boy, but it was hard to tell at this distance) stood in the boat, both of them wearing bright orange life jackets over their tasteful and stylish active wear. The woman saw Kore and pointed across the lake at her. The man and the kid turned to look. Kore waved. The family waved back.
Aw, even that’s kind of perfect.
Ted stepped up alongside her and waved too. “Who are they?”
“No idea. But they seem friendly.” The man picked up his child and handed him or her to the woman, then climbed up after. They walked down the pier, back towards the mansion, the kid cradled in the woman’s arms and waving all the while.
Ted raised his hand to his eyes and gazed across the lake. “Man, that house might actually be bigger than Lawrence’s ‘cabin.’ How many people do you think there are around here?”
Kore sniffed. “Can’t be that many, right? What’s the sense of being rich and powerful and moving out to the middle of nowhere if you’re going to be surrounded by other rich and powerful people with the same idea?”
Kore frowned. “Is that a joke?”
“Uh, hey, the one-percent believe in solidarity too, you know.” Ted crossed his arms and furrowed his eyebrows, regarding Kore with a look of cool irritation. “They have to! You think one person can oppress entire populations all by himself? Uh, no, Kore. It takes teamwork, obviously. Industry and entrepreneurship and pulling oneself up by one’s boot straps. Nobody makes their fortune completely on their own.” Ted paused for a moment. “Except for those who do, without any help from those who came before them, obviously.”
Kore smirked. “Oh, obviously.” Her eyes narrowed to slits and her face contorted in fake anger. “Wait a minute. ‘Oppress entire populations all by himself?’ Why not herself?”
“It was meant to be neutral.”
“In academic circles, the female pronoun is the neutral one, not the male.”
“Well, this isn’t an academic circle, and if you want to split hairs, ‘it’ is the neutral pronoun. But that sounds weird.”
“Then you could have said, ‘Him or herself.’”
“Oh, come on. You can’t be serious. That’s way too long and awkward.”
She folded her arms across her chest and pouted. “It seems to me that if you believed in equality, you’d live with the inconvenience.”
Ted folded his arms and pouted back. “Seems to me if men and women were truly equal, you wouldn’t make thirty-three percent less than us for the same work.”
Kore didn’t even hesitate. She balled her right hand into a fist and swung at Ted’s shoulder. Not hard enough to hurt him, of course. The point was to express displeasure, not to do damage. “You ass!”
Ted’s eyes went wide for a moment, but then he broke into a grin. “Violence isn’t the answer, Kor-kor.”
“Bite me, Teddy Bear.”
Ted swung his head forward and snapped his teeth together only a few inches away from Kore’s face. She shrieked and took off down the trail, Ted laughing and walking leisurely behind her. The path wound lazily down to the lake, twenty feet becoming a hundred, bushes and trees blocking springing up to block line of sight. But before long, Kore stood on the shore of the lake, the sun warm against her face, the sound of birds calling to each other filling the air. The water was still and clear, and when she bent over and reached down to run her fingers through it, it was cool to the touch. “Perfect.” She kicked off her shoes and let her backpack drop to the ground.
Twigs and leaves crunched underfoot as Ted caught up. “Uh, what are you doing?”
“Going for a swim. Duh.”
Ted went silent as Kore shrugged off her sweatshirt and started unbuckling her belt. “Are you going to… Oh.” She turned to face him, her legs pale against her orange bikini, her stomach and arms a little less so.
“Come on,” Kore said grinning. “The water’s nice.” Before Ted could reply, she turned, ran and jumped into the lake.
“I didn’t bring a swimsuit!”
“Well, why not?”
“Because you said we were going for a hike, not a swim!”
“Yeah, a hike down to the lake!” Kore dove under the surface for a few seconds and then popped back up, her rainbow hair turned a few shades darker by the water. “What have you even got in your backpack? I brought towels.”
Ted pulled a can of beer out of his bag.
“Hey, I thought we were going to be relaxing. Working on my tan and drinking a beer sounds relaxing. Doing laps with you? Not so much.”
Kore snorted. “What, are you afraid of getting beaten by a girl?”
Ted sat down on the ground, took off his shirt, and wadded it up into a makeshift pillow. “Nope. Just relaxing.”
“Just lazy is more like it.”
“Hey, you want to race, we’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll kick your ass.”
“Uh, I was captain of the swim team back in high school, buddy.”
“Yeah, and I was a Division I college athlete, champ.”
They traded barbs back and forth for a few minutes before Kore decided to swim to the other shore and back. When she returned, Ted was lying on his stomach, his head resting on his forearms. A smile crept across Kore’s face, and she walked up to him as quietly as possible. “Hey, Ted,” she whispered. “You still awake?”
“Oh,” Kore replied, her disappointment heavy in the air.
“What’s up, Kore?”
She looked out over the lake, taking in the setting once more. Kore had spent most of her last semester holding a sign and marching on city streets instead of in a classroom. It’d been nothing but shouting and arguing and debating. There’d been bouts of paranoia where you couldn’t help but wonder if the twitchy guy next to you was excited, had a chip on his shoulder, or was an agent provocateur meant to give the cops a reason to bust out the tear gas. It’d been stressful. She’d skipped her own graduation so she could go to a protest. But this was perfect. It was peaceful.
Maybe that was the nice thing about being as rich as the Steinmans. Maybe that was what your money really bought you. Peace.
“This is nice, isn’t it?”
Kore looked down at Ted and nudged him in the ribs with her toes. “You’re not even looking.”
He took a deep breath, exhaled. “I don’t need to.”
Word Count this Post: 1,632
Total Word Count: 9,903/50,000