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Campfire Stories

True romance

By Bronson FleetPublished 2 years ago 9 min read
Campfire Stories
Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

"We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin."

The men groaned.

"John, that's romance man. Why the hell is it that when we're trying to talk dirty you always gotta be so romantic?"

"You asked me about my best lay, Tommy. I'm just trying to set the scene a little."

Tommy was the leader of their company. Not by official rank but by the natural human itch that demands someone lead while the rest follow.

"That's marriage shit, man," Pin said as he set aside his M1 Garand and leaned closer to the fire. "None of us is married."

Pin's real name was Charles. They called him Pin because one night in Basic the men were playing hot potato with a hand grenade and he accidentally pulled the...well. Luckily he chucked it quickly enough that all of them had remained intact.

"We weren't married yet," John said in his own defense.

"Well you were about to be, right?"

John sulked.

"I got mine, Tommy," Willie said excitedly.

Pin cut him off. "Wait your turn young buck. Let the men go first."

Pin was Willie's older brother. It was an authority Pin rarely failed to exercise.

"Go on then," Tommy decreed.

"So there was this girl I was sweet on, right? Fine as sand on the beach. The only problem was nobody in town had the guts to go after her cause the sheriff was her daddy." Pin puffed out his chest, a string of hollow points gleaming in the fire light. "'Cept me that is."

The truth is Pin didn't have the guts either. He'd been scared shitless the night she'd approached him at the local watering hole.

"I saw her at the bar one night. She gave me the eye. You know, the..." Pin flashed a doe eyed glance towards the men of the circle. "I knew right then it was on. I walked over to her and sat down. Before long we were in the parking lot, in the back of my car doing...what comes so naturally."

"In the back of a car?" John said with disgust.

"Hey! I ain't done yet!" Pin chided. "We didn't interupt your story!"

They had interrupted his story, but John wasn't one to make a fuss.

"As I was saying, we were doing our thing, having fun, but play with the devil and you will get burned. Little did I know, he was already stoking his fires, cause sometime during our rendevous a fight broke out in the bar. A bunch of timber boys mixin' it up with those college yokels. Who the hell do you think gets called?"

"Not the reverend," said Tommy with a laugh.

"Not the reverend indeed. Her daddy shows up, lights flashin', with four deputies at his side. Of course, where I was, I knew nothin' about a fight. I thought they were there for me! I jump up, naked as the day I was born, hop outta the car, and start running for the tree line!"

That part of the story, unbelievably, is all true.

"The sherrif sees me as I run past, looks at his daughter in the back of my car, and, Lord strike me dead if I'm lying, starts shootin'. The other four deputies take the hint and pull their pistols too. Now I've got five of 'em trying to put a bullet in me, and they would've gotten me too if the sheriff's daughter, just as naked as me, hadn't jumped out in front of them."

This part of the story, very believably, was not true, but the thought did cross the sheriff's mind.

Pin finished with a seated bow to the ranccous laughter of Tommy and Willie. Even John cracked a smile.

When they were finished laughing, Tommy asked, "So, what happened then?"

"Well, nothing really. I hid in those woods half the night as the sheriff looked for me. Had a poison ivy rash you wouldn't believe for the next two weeks, and got drafted the week after. I didn't see her again."

The men were silent a moment. The thick jungle around them seemed to close in just a little as they thought about Pin's story.

"Can I go now?" Willie asked the group. They all jumped as if being awoken from a deep sleep.

"Go on little brother. Show us something."

"Okay ya...So I, uh, I was at a bar too, right. And it was me, Derrick, and Big Tim."

This struck Pin as false. His brother had just turned 18 a few weeks before he had followed him into the war, and he looked less than 15.

"A bar?" Pin interrupted. "What bar let you pediatric toothpicks in?"

"Uh, one over in Hanford."

"Johnny's Tavern? The Office? Miller's? What bar over in Hanford?"

"Miller's! That's the one!"Willie said as if he had just remembered. "Anyway's, we were at Miller's, and who walks in? Jenny West's mom. You remember Jenny right?"

Pin nodded, his eye brows raised.

"Ya, I think Jenny mighta had a thing for me back in the day," Willie continued with a smirk, "But when she used to get dropped off at school all I could look at was the woman driving her. And damn, there she was."

"What luck," Tommy said with a smile. Tommy, Pin, and John shared a look between them, but let Willie continue.

"So she walks into the place, and then around behind the bar for her shift. All night as she's pouring drinks and popping beers she's eyeing me. I'm thinking the whole time that the jig is up, and she knows we're not old enough to be there. I mean, why else would a woman like that be staring at me? A few hours later though she walks out from behind the bar and toward the back room. I'm watching her go, staring, like I used to when she dropped off Jenny, but just before she walks through the door she turns and fingers me over to her. So, I down my beer, tell the boys I'll be right back, and follow after her."

"What happened then, Willie?" Pin asked.

"No lie, I get back there, and walk into the big freezer where all the beer is, and there she is, sitting on one of the kegs, no shirt on."

"Oh shit!" Tommy yelled with a laugh.

"Oh shit is right," Willie agreed. "Here's the best part though. You know what she said to me?"

"Tell us," John said, getting in on the fun.

"She said, and I quote, 'Can you tap this for me?"

For the last line Willie put on his best Marilyn Monroe impression.

All four of the men began laughing, the weight of their flak jackets seemingly gone for the slimmest of moments.

"Now that's a good story!" Tommy exclaimed as they all calmed down. "See John, who needs romance when you've got smut like that?"

John shook his head.

"I didn't know you had it in you little brother," Pin said and clapped his brother on the shoulder. "Now that I think about it though, it couldn't have been Miller's, that place closed down about two years ago."

Willie's laughter died a little. "It must've been Johnny's then. Who can remember I was pretty tuned up."

Pin chuckles, "Couldn't have been there neither, since I made that one up."

It was at this point that Willie's smile disappeared completely. He had fallen into a trap, and he'd learned from being in the jungle that the best thing to do was to stay still rather than thrash around and push the spikes in deeper.

Wille sniffed and swatted a mosquito at the back of his neck. "Maybe I dreamt it."

"That's a dream you gotta clean yourself up after," Tommy said and the laughter erupted again but this time, without Willie.

When the men had stopped laughing and had wiped the humidity induced sweat from their foreheads Pin reached over to his little brother and placed a hand on his leg. "Don't worry Willie, you'll get there. We'll go to the bar together...when we get home."

The word home reverberated in the minds of the men of the circle. The jungle closed in a little more.

"Tommy, you're up," John said. "And remember, no romance."

Tommy gave John a weak smile as he fiddled with a 9mm round. "No, no romance. Let's see. There's been a few, but I'd say the best was...homecoming night, senior year. I'd been dating a girl since the previous summer. Her name was Heather. Heather Lynn."

Tommy leaned back against his duffel bag and put his hands behind his head.

"We beat the hell out of Buford that night. My best friend, Cooley, threw four touchdowns and I'd caught two of 'em. I felt good, ya know? Real good. Like the planets were cirlcing me instead of the sun. Seems foolish now but that's how I felt. Well Heather and I snuck out of the dance that night and went up to the field. I'd brought a blanket and we just sat there and talked for hours. Then we made love for the first time. Her's and mine both."

Tommy went silent a moment. The men did not interupt.

"It was different after that. I mean, after that, there was this space between us that I was too small or too stupid to try and fill. I broke up with her when football ended and we drifted apart. Haven't talked to her in over three years, but I still think about that night."

The only sound for a long time was the that of the mosquitos buzzing in the men's ears.

Finally, when the press of the silence and the jungle was too much, Pin spoke. "I hate to say it Tommy, but that wasn't so hot."

Tommy rolled over and buried his face in his duffel. His voice was muffled when he spoke. "So what if it wasn't? Maybe I'm not in the mood. John, hurry up and tell yours so we can all get some sleep."

John nodded as the other men settled in for his story.

"We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin," John resumed where he'd left off. "Kari was there, sitting next to me, smiling. She's always smiling. Most times that's the best part of my day is walking through the door and seeing that smile. It's like Bengay."

"It's like what?" Willie asked, laughing.

"Bengay," John returned and looked around at the group. "You guys know. It's that cream you put on sore muscles."

"We know what it is," Willie said his laughter growing. "But you said it's like her smile? What the hell does that mean?"

John flushed red, "I mean it makes me feel good when I'm...You know what? I ain't no poet. I'm done."

"Willie!" Pin said sternly, his face hard. "Let the man speak."

Willie's smile disappeared and he looked down at his lap. Under his breath he said, "Just thought it was funny, that's all."

"Go on, John," Pin said.

John looked at Pin, then at Willie, then continued. "So this road we were on. It was barely even a road, more like a game trail. And the snow was falling heavy. Her and I both being from the city all our lives, we were getting scared. The car sliding everywhere, barely being able to see, but there was nothing I could do. It was either stop the car there for the night or keep pushing on. So, we kept going. Finally, just when I thought our little car was about to give out, we come off that narrow road and out into a meadow surrounded by trees, and there at the center was our cabin. The fear disappeared instantly. It was like driving out of the valley of death and into some sort of promiseland. We parked and got our bags inside, and in a few minutes I'd started a fire in the wood stove. She put a kettle on that wood stove to heat some water and whisky. We sat there and drank. Nothing but the sound of the snow falling outside and her soft breath. I'd never felt so warm in all my life."

John looked at the fire burning between the four men and smiled a small secret smile.

"She told me she loved me that night. It was the first time she'd ever told me that. I'd said it before, to other girls, but when I said it back to her it was the first time in all my life that I really meant it."

John stopped speaking. Willie and Pin raised their eyebrows. Tommy's head turned on his duffel bag.

"And..." Pin finally said. "What about the lay? How was it?"

John chuckled, his eye straight ahead looking into the flames. "No, that's all you get. The rest is hers and mine."

Tommy sniffed. "Well, that wasn't all that bad. The romance, I mean."

"No," John said from somewhere else. "It wasn't bad at all."

The silence that spread between the men after that soon turned to sleep, the forest held at bay by dreams of whisky and snow.

Short Story

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Bronson Fleet

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