The Great Outdoors Ch. 01byandy_charles©
Tales From Sechs City -- welcome to Sechs City, a wealthy, middle-class costal area of Western America in the state of California. A gorgeous, quiet largely uneventful place, people move to the city to follow their dreams, to live their day-to-day lives. It's almost too perfect to be true...
Time seemed to be working against Liz Seymour. Every time she glanced up at the clock on the wall of her office she could have sworn that the minute hand was ticking at least three seconds slower than usual. There were eight minutes to go -- eight long, slow, painfully boring minutes -- before freedom.
It didn't help matters that today had been an unusually slow Friday afternoon for Sechs Solicitors. Liz had managed to get all of her work as a PA done well before lunch time, and now all she could really do was send one or two emails to various clients for her boss, who had taken the opportunity to leave work early and play nine holes at Sechs City's golf club, Rabbit Meadows. Liz had smiled politely as he had left, all the while thinking bitterly, 'Bastard, bastard, bastard!'
The afternoon sunshine flooded through the large wide window of the third floor office, and Liz saw grains of dust dancing in the bright yellowness of it. This did nothing to help her boredom and growing frustration. Now there were seven minutes left. Why did she have to be such a dutiful assistant? Why oh why couldn't she have had the guts to get up and go when she should of, when her boss had left?
She sighed and, for the hundredth time that hour, opened her email inbox on her flat screen computer. The usual same old same old: business correspondences; memos from current clients; requests for more information from possible candidates. Add to that the spam that was sent by the thousands on a daily basis and you had yourself a pretty unspectacular inbox.
Except, of course, for the emails from Artie. These were saved in their very own special little folder, and Liz often opened this when she felt depressed or work was dragging her down. There was often a new addition daily, sometimes even two. Throughout the folder you could make a kind of history of their relationship, from his first slightly hesitant email two days after they had first met, through to the slightly naughtier memories of their first nights together, and to the surprise request to meet him in their favourite restaurant, Alesandros, which led to him getting down on one knee and proposing in the sweetest, most wonderful way any girl could ask for.
From then on the emails took a distinct wedding-planning feel before they started being headed as 'For the attention of Mrs Seymour' and, finally, through to today's message:
'Happy First Anniversary Mrs Seymour! Here's to the next year...and the one after that...and the one after that! See you tonight! XXXX'
A year. They had been married a whole year. Sometimes it was hard to take in properly. It seemed like only yesterday that Liz had been sitting in the back seat of a gorgeous classic Aston Martin in her beautiful cream wedding dress, her long wavy brown hair tied in an intricate bow, her father sitting next to her and squeezing her hand tightly, the proudest smile she had ever seen on his lips. The nerves had never kicked in until that very moment, just before they arrived at the church. Thank god she'd stayed in that car instead of jumping out of it as she had fantasised about then. Marrying Artie had been a decision she had never regretted.
Padded footsteps behind her, the faint whiff of a familiar perfume of lavender and the feel of a pair of hands with bright red fingernails squeezing her shoulders playfully told Liz instantly that Inga wanted to chat. She looked up from her computer and smiled as her friend and co-worker sat down on the desk beside her, long slender legs crossed, her feet in smart black stiletto heels.
"So you all packed?" Inga asked, smiling. There was always a sense of mischief in that smile and those pretty features that was sure to be acted on sooner rather than later. Liz had learnt that very early on in their friendship.
"Yes," Liz replied, sitting back in her office chair. "Just one or two little things left -- lotion, toiletries -- but apart from that, I'm all ready. Are you?"
She knew what the answer was going to be; half of her wondered why she'd asked the question at all. "Nope. But don't worry, I'll sort it out tonight with a bottle of white wine. Just what every girl wants to do on a Friday evening."
"Oh? Paul not coming round?"
Inga sighed. "No, he's got some serious studying to do. It's partly my fault really. I've been distracting him a little too much recently. I told him that we'll be seeing so much of each other the next few days that tonight he should take the opportunity to do some actual work."
There was something that Inga wasn't telling Liz. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow, silently encouraging her to continue.
"Actually," her friend eventually said, a little slower, "I've been meaning to talk to you about that. I don't think it's going to last."
"What?" asked Liz, a little shocked. "Why?"
"I don't know. I guess...I guess I've been having those feelings again, you know? When it gets kind of stale? I'm too comfortable. I don't like it."
"But you two are so good together," protested Liz. "Artie and I thought it was going really well! You seemed so happy."
Inga started to fiddle with a strand of her long chestnut brown hair, which was slightly shorter than Liz's. "I was. I am. But I don't think I will be for much longer. I gotta listen to my feelings. You understand, right?"
Oh yes. Liz knew all about Inga's 'feelings'. It was typical of her friend to do this when a relationship started to get serious. She and Paul had been going out for a good five months now. Liz was actually not that surprised that they were having this conversation; she was more saddened.
"Well, I understand," she said, sitting upright. "But will Paul?"
Inga shrugged and jumped off Liz's desk. "He'll have to. But look, I'm not going to ruin the big trip for you and Husband Dearest, okay? I'll wait until we're back home before breaking the bad news. Just don't tell Artie, okay? This is just between us girls."
Liz sighed. "Okay, sure."
"Great," said Inga, smiling again. "So what you got planned for tonight? A nice long bout of Anniversary Sex?"
Liz had been Inga's friend long enough not to be shocked by her openness, but she still blushed a little. "Actually, if you must know, we're going to Alessandro's for a meal."
"Ah! The scene of the crime where you were taken away from all those gorgeous guys we used to flirt with in clubs! Well, enjoy. Think of me when you're stuffing your face with fine food or delicious wine or Husband Dearest's cock..."
"I'll try not to," replied Liz quickly, blushing again and glancing over at the clock. Two minutes. Surely she could escape now without feeling too guilty?
As Inga blew her a kiss and started to walk back towards her own desk, Liz asked her, "Inga? You sure about this? You and Paul, I mean."
"Always," Inga replied, a sad sort of smile on her face.
The afternoon sun was beating down on Sechs City as Liz left the tall office block and started to make her way through the busy streets towards the Subway. As she walked her spirits lifted higher and higher. She was bursting with happiness. If she was in a musical this would be the place to burst into song.
The weather was forecast to be as good as this, if not better, over the weekend at least. Perfect camping weather. It brought back memories of childhood; the last time Liz had gone camping was when she had been twelve years old with her family. The weather had been just like this all week long, and it had been the best holiday she would have right up until her honeymoon with Artie in Jamaica.
It was still hard to believe that those wonderful beaches, that gloriously warm sea, had only been a year ago. Time went by so quickly. Well, it did usually. Today had been like a slow torture just waiting for this glorious feeling of freedom and excited anticipation all rolled into one.
Liz knew that she was very lucky with the whole holiday, let alone the weather. The nearest place for camping was Pleasant Peaks National Park, just outside of Sechs City. This was where having contacts in the right areas helped. After a couple of years of trying to make it as a doctor, Paul Taylor, who Artie had known from childhood and was still one of his closest friends, had decided to follow his love of the outdoors to become a Park Ranger. He was close to passing the final exams too, and was guaranteed a position at Pleasant Peaks, Liz was sure of it. He was a very intelligent, capable and warm human being; anyone who had been a friend of Artie's for as long as Paul had would have to be like that.
As Liz walked down the concrete steps with the masses, down into the dim and rather stuffy atmosphere of the Sechs City Subway, thinking of Paul made her remember the conversation she and Inga had had. It really was a shame that Inga felt the relationship had to end. Liz knew it was bound to cause problems. Though Paul was one of her closest friends, Inga had the distinct honour of being her first proper friend in Sechs City. The two women had started on the same day and bonded over a lunch of fresh salad at a diner nearby. They were both a similar age -- Liz twenty-seven, Inga twenty-six, and both shared the same interests in rock music and bad chick films.
Inga knew Sechs City better than her own back hand, and so had taken it upon herself to show Liz around that very first week. Liz was really a country girl; her parents still lived on the small farm that she and her elder brother had grown up on. The city was relatively new and nerve-racking. But Inga had quelled those nerves and taught her all the best places to go to eat, to drink, to dance and, of course, to date. At the time Inga was far more interested than Liz was in the last of these, but a few weeks later, in a crowded sports bar, Liz had had the rather good fortune to bump into Paul and spill his drink down his top.
The rest, as they say, was history. Liz spent the next two months switching between Inga for fun nights out and Paul for more serious, romantic evenings. He'd charmed her very socks off. Soon, of course, more would follow, and Liz couldn't help a small smile and shifting a little in the pale seat she had somehow managed to grab on the subway train as it moved through the three stations she needed to pass before home.
She only wished that Inga could be so lucky. She'd seen her friend go through various relationships, some no longer than a week, and a hell of a lot of one night stands. And, of course, Liz heard all about them in rather more graphic detail than she had been used to from her friends back home. It wasn't that Liz was naïve; she just knew what she liked, thank you very much.
But what was wrong with Paul? It was a dangerous relationship to begin, Liz supposed. It would certainly make parties a little difficult. Artie would naturally invite Paul, Liz would bring Inga. Would it be too uncomfortable? Paul was pretty easy going most of the time, and he'd certainly had no problem with finding a date. Would it make things awkward?
Liz tried to push the thoughts to the back of her mind. She had to concentrate on tonight, and what a brilliant evening it was going to be, and then the weekend and the camping and being close to Artie. It was going to be fantastic.
She arrived at her apartment block and, feeling energetic with all the positive energy flowing through her body, quickly made her way up the four flights of stairs to her floor and her and Artie's home. She didn't need to unlock the front door to enter; her parents had arrived earlier in the day and were going to be looking after the place while she and Artie were away.
When Liz entered the first thing she saw was her father dressed casually in a short sleeve shirt and plain shorts sitting on the sofa, a half-empty bottle of cold beer in one hand, the TV remote in the other. He was watching baseball highlights and chuckling at something one of the pitchers had just done.
"Hey there, butterfly," he greeted her warmly with the pet name he'd given her since she was seven. "How was work?"
"Long. Dull. Pointless," she replied, kissing him on the forehead. "You and Mom find everything okay? Got the parking forms?"
"Of course we did. It wouldn't have mattered if we hadn't anyway. Artie came home about half an hour after we arrived."
Liz's heart leapt. Artie had been in New York City for three days working on a deal for the bank he worked for. He had been one of the lucky few whose skin had been saved from the current crisis simply because of his talents as a deal negotiator. His boss had always told Liz at Christmas parties that Artie could have been as good a hostage negotiator as he was in business.
"Great. Mom in the kitchen?"
"You know she is," her father replied. "Liz? I hope he's not taking that cell phone attachment thing with him, Artie I mean. He's leaving it here, right?"
"That's what we agreed," said Liz, picking up the two boring looking pieces of mail for her that was on the small dining table behind the sofa. "The both of us: no work calls, no work talk, no work period. Just relaxation all the way."
"Good. 'Cos I gotta tell ya, he was fixed onto that thing almost the second he walked through the door. It's not his fault; it just kept ringing and ringing. He tried his best to ignore it, but in the end it was driving me crazy so I told him to go ahead and answer it."
He was talking to the television now. Liz smiled. Nothing much had changed with her father. He was still the same person he had been when she was a little girl.
The same could definitely be said for her mother too. There she was, her back to the open door in the small kitchen, her apron tied around her smart flowery dress, peeling a large potato in the sink. Liz felt for a moment like she had travelled back in time, as if she was a schoolgirl coming back home for the day to delicious smells of pies baking and jams bubbling.
"Hey, Mom," she greeted, resting herself against the doorframe.
Her mother looked up and beamed at her. "Back from the rat races?"
"Nothing quite as thrilling as that," Liz said, smiling. "Didn't take you long to get settled, did it?"
"I'm quite glad I did," replied her mother. "When was the last time you used this potato peeler? It was buried so far down the drawer I felt like I was looking for buried treasure."
Liz shrugged. "We do try to cook something every week, Mom, but we've just been so busy lately. And when Artie's away I don't really feel like fixing something up just for myself."
"Don't tell me you live off take-aways all the time?"
"No, Mom. Hardly ever, actually. It's more like Microwave meals."
Her mother shook her head. "Some of those are even worse, you know. The calories and the salt..."
"Okay, Mom," said Liz, annoyed now. Immediately she felt guilty. Her mother hadn't reacted to the slight outburst, but she knew that this was a woman who hid her emotions deep down inside. Artie often said that Liz had inherited this characteristic. She thought he was just kidding her around.
"I'm sorry, Mom," she said softly, walking into the kitchen and embracing her with a tight hug. ""It was just a really boring day at work and...well, I heard some pretty bad news so..."
"What bad news?" asked her mother, interrupting her.
"Don't worry, nothing to do with me. It was Inga, that's all."
"Oh, well, she seems to get into so many scrapes I sometimes think she's immune to them. What she needs is a good man, like you have. That's what Inga needs."
'That's what I thought she had,' thought Liz sadly, but she didn't say this to her mother. It would have started a whole different conversation that she didn't really want to get into now. "Artie around?" she asked instead.
"He said he was going to your bedroom to finish packing," replied her mother as she started to peel the white potato again. "Not sure what else he could need -- his suitcase was already fit to bulging when he arrived!"
Liz smiled and walked out of the kitchen, down the small hallway and into the master bedroom. There, sure enough, with his shirt unbuttoned showing off his smooth bare chest, and smart grey trousers, was Artie, folding some t-shirts and laying them neatly on top of their large double bed. He looked up as she entered and grinned widely, holding his arms out to catch her as she ran towards him. He squeezed her tightly as she breathed in the tangy musk of aftershave on his skin and the faint trace of shampoo in his short blonde hair that told her he'd just got out of the shower.
"Well, this is a warm welcome," he said as he kissed the top of her head and her brown hair.
"Shut up and kiss me," she demanded cheekily.
He willingly obliged and kissed her fully on the mouth. Even now his lips on hers still sent tingles down her spine, and his tongue on hers still sent tingles down even further.
They broke apart and gazed into each other's eyes -- his warm sparkles, her wide chestnuts.
"Happy Anniversary," he said softly.
"Right back at you," Liz replied, placing her head back on his warm chest and closing her eyes contentedly. "How was the Big Apple?"
"Insane. Noisy. But spectacular, too. I'll take you someday."
"It's a date. Just not this weekend. I've kinda been looking forward to it."
Artie chuckled. "I should hope so too. It was your suggestion after all."
Liz lifted her head up and looked into his eyes again. "You say that like it's a bad thing," she teased. "What's the matter? Not the outdoors type?"
"What can I say? I'm frightened of fresh air."
Liz laughed, kissed him hard right in the middle of the chest and sat herself down on the bed, glancing over to the window where the bright afternoon sunshine was slowly starting to fade into a soft evening glow.
"Your folks brought everything you requested, by the way," Artie said pointedly as he started to button up his shirt. It was a smart white one with faint blue lines running down it.
Liz's parents had brought with them every last piece of camping equipment that they owned for Liz and Artie to use. There were two heavy looking brown bags full of the stuff resting along the doors of their wardrobe.
"Oh god, I completely forgot to thank them. Today's just been so crappy..."
"Rough day at work?"
"More like unbelievably-boringly-slower-than-death day, but yeah."
Artie finished the last button on his shirt and took his beautiful wife's hand, stroking it lightly with his thumb. It was exactly the way he had held it a year ago today in front of that altar. He knew she would probably be thinking the same thing too, but he wondered if she had ever thought that he might be remembering these things. Over the years he had proven, he hoped, to be a really romantic, sentimental person, and it made him grin like a madman thinking of how he still had a whole lifetime to try and outdo himself at every possible occasion. Tonight would be no different.
"So why don't you get that gorgeous butt of yours in the shower, and get even more pretty while I talk to your folks and then we'll head off to the restaurant?"
Now it was Liz's turn to smile widely. "Sounds like a plan!" she said. "Oh, and in case you didn't know, my dad's watching baseball, so..."
"I know, I know," Artie assured her. "Don't mention the Yankees. I got it."
Liz smiled and stood up. "I love you," she whispered, kissing him on the lips again.
"And I love you too. Now get into that shower quick or else you'll clear out the whole of Alesandros with that horrible smell."
"What horrible smell exactly?"