Friday, September 14, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #4

Fascinating, Max thought to himself as he absent-mindedly dripped his paddle into the water. You could actually see the difference in her muscles when he wasn’t helping. Not that you could tell by her breathing or pace – she just kept driving her paddle through the crystal clear water. Up, down, up, down, like clockwork. There was just something deeply, deeply attractive about a fit woman, he reflected.

Caitlin was in the front seat of the two person kayak, wearing a white tank top that complimented her dark tan. That it also allowed her to display her nicely defined shoulders and arms currently had Max praising whoever invented the design. At that moment he had settled on referring to him as “Sir Tanka Topopoulos.”

Max, ensconced in the back seat, had removed his t-shirt shortly after they had pushed off. He knew he was in good shape, he simply did not see much point in showing it off. He was just hoping that the late morning sun would even out the remains of his farmer tan.

Also, Max mused as he decided to help for a couple of strokes, while he didn’t mind the dark curly hair occupying the top of his head, he was less thrilled with the ones residing on his chest. As for the ones that had recently begun appearing on his back, he was pretty sure there was a special place set aside for them in hell.

“It is absolutely brilliant out here,” Greg announced from the kayak he was sharing with Cindy. They were a few feet ahead of Caitlin and Max because Cindy tended to remember the way to their picnic destination best. There really were not very many branches to worry about, but both guys were hopeless with directions and this was Caitlin’s first time on the river.

“It really, really is,” Caitlin said happily. She stopped paddling for the first time since they had set out and drank in the scenery as Max hurried to pick up the slack. On their left was a tree lined bank fronting a huge expanse of farm land. In the distance to their right the hills rose rapidly to become dramatic, jagged mountain peaks. The sky overhead remained cloudless and a peerless shade of blue.

“I just love that Mossy has these around for anyone to use,” Cindy sighed as she stretched her arms above her head to loosen the knots in her shoulders. “It’s just a bit further Caitlin, once we settle in for lunch you’ll never want to leave!”

A few minutes later they rounded a bend in the slow moving river and Max spotted the small tree lined beach that he had told his friends back home was “the best picnic spot on Earth.”

As they neared the bank everyone jumped into the knee-deep water and those in front (Caitlin and Greg) pulled and those in back pushed the kayaks up onto the beach. Once they were secure Cindy began pulling the food out of their boat and Max bent to deal with the water bottles and wine in theirs.

“Can you give me a hand with these?” he called to Caitlin, who had her back to him as she soaked in the location.

“Oh, sorry of course I – oh!” She had turned and started towards him before stopping abruptly. Max looked up to see her gaze flick to his bare chest, then back to his face. He saw something briefly in her eyes but it vanished before he could tell what it was. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable.

“Yeah I don’t know how he does it either,” Greg lamented while running his hand over his beer gut. “If I had known carrying around a feather duster could get me a body like that, I might ‘ave pitched in ‘round the house a lot more before we went gallivantin’ ‘round the world.”

“No,” Cindy told him straight-faced, “you wouldn’t have.”

“Hey!” Max said defensively as he struggled to regain his mental balance. “I go for a run twice a week and we’ve kayaked every weekend since you two jokers rucked up. And to be fair, apple picking has slimmed you down quite a bit.”

“Yeah, Apple Picking: The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About, I can see it on the best sellers list now,” Greg laughed, then narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Max. “You never told me you were running.”

“Didn’t see a need to announce it. I just go to the beach and back after lunch.”

“Can we discuss fitness regimes while we eat?” Cindy asked as she tossed Max his dark red lunch bag. “I’m a bit pear shaped over here.”

Everyone found her suggestion agreeable and before long they were sitting in the sand eating their packed lunches and sipping wine from plastic cups. Max had managed to resist the urge to put his shirt back on, but not by much.

“Alright, I have to ask,” Caitlin said after the food had disappeared. “What the hell does ‘pear shaped’ mean?”

“The quasi-Brit doesn’t know?” Greg gasped, faking shock as well as he faked everything else. Which was not very well at all. “It means starved. I’ll have your honorary Brit passports back now.”

“I knew what it meant,” Max told him with a small smile. “I met so many Brits, Aussies and Kiwis during the six months I was in Europe, I almost came home sounding like I had never left the Commonwealth.”

“Aye and you guys have all the good slang,” Caitlin chipped in. “What do Canadians have? Oot and aboot? Hoser? Blah! Give me dodgy and brilliant any day.”

“So you picked it up from fellow nomads as well then?” Cindy asked.

“Some, but mostly I got it back home before I even left since my boyfriend…” and she paused to finish off her cup of wine.

Max froze with his cup halfway to his lips. His heart took the express elevator to his stomach while his head filled with confusion, sorrow, hurt and a touch of anger. The whole world seemed to be closing in around him. An eternity after she had stopped, Caitlin finished her drink and continued.

“… was Australian. Lord was it a struggle to understand him when we first met!”

Relief flooded Max’s every nerve ending. Time resumed its normal pace and his heart regained its natural position, albeit beating much faster than seemed necessary. He glanced at the others to see if they had noticed his reaction, but no one seemed to.

Jesus Christ, he thought, dull with shock at the strength of his response. What the hell was that?

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