Tim crawled into the hot springs and nestled close to Grace. I noticed this older, skinny, pasty white, balding man with a gaunt face and weak body, glaring at her with infatuation. His eyes focused in on her vividly, but at first he didn’t speak or make eye contact. He sat there nude, stiffly intoxicated by her tangerine-sized breasts. Drool practically dribbled off his open lips, as he stalked her creepily, shifting abruptly once Tim glanced in his direction.
He mumbled a few words between his weird mannerisms and introduced himself to the group.
“Heya guys…I’m Kevin…overheard ya talkin’ if ya don’t mind me eavesdroppin’…so you’re lookin’ for work I presume…travelin’ I suppose,” he interlocked his hands and spoke with an eery twinkle in his eyes. He tried exuberantly hard not to peek at her breasts, but his eyes slipped multiple times beaming at her chest. Tim and I made eye contact, blinked and continued on with the conversation.
“Yes sir…always lookin’ fer work…Grace and I are juss bummin’ round til some trimmin’ jobs open up…but really any kind a work…don’t matter.”
I stared blankly at tags scrawled on one of the four timber supports surrounding the spring. A little wooden roof angled down overhead and the graffiti continued. But, my eyes focused on one piece in particular, a half moon with puffy cheeks, an ominous eye and a pipe pressed to its mouth. I followed the tendril of smoke and I remembered seeing the same artwork at the hop out in Milwaukee, WI. Rooster pointed it out.
“What about you over there? You lookin’ for work too, travelin’ I suppose.” He rubbed his chin gingerly with his forefinger.
“Not anymore…I start a job at Crater Lake in 12 days. Met these guys on 138 and figured I’d hang with them til they head north.”
“Wellllllll…you two are in luck then I tell you because I know some people in your line of work…if you know what I mean…I too dabble in the marijuana business. I find the plants to be absolutely exquisite, just invigorating…anywho…why don’t you give me your info and if one of my buddies hears of anything you’ll be the first person to get a call or text…you have a phone right?”
Kevin gazed straight at Grace directing his question to her, and only her, squeaking another quick peek at her erect nipples.
Tim and I smirked. We both knew his intentions with this subtle comment. Kevin stood up suddenly, his penis at eye level, and wiped off his hands with a towel. He reached into his fanny pack and immediately grabbed a pen and notepad, insistent on her name, email and phone number. His presumptuousness towards a girl half his age made him even more awkward.
Grace dazed at him with uncertainty and confusion, loosely gripping the pen and fumbling about on the pad. On it she scribbled only her first name and phone number. A look of fear engulfed her eye as she handed it to him. She held Tim’s hand tightly and they snuck to the overlook glimpsing at the gloomy dark clouds of smoke gushing from the nearby forest.
Kevin sat there biting his lower lip concealing a strange hypnotic smile of victory, as he folded the note, placing it in his wallet.
My fingers and feet wrinkled like prunes and I shortly exited the springs. The cool mountain air tickled my legs, arms and chest, standing my hairs on end. Without a towel, I drip-dried from the breeze, shivering and listening to a click of new people chat behind me. My attention shifted away from creepy Kevin. A group of locals sat Indian style on a wooden platform, passing joints around and a bowl, giggling, and laughing with cheesy grins.
I did not pay much attention or intervene, except to reiterate the same point.
“Nah man…I told ya already…I can’t smoke…I have a drug test in 12 days…you’ve asked me like 8 times now….hahaha,” I laughed.
“Oh sorry bro…I keep forgetting…drink a beer or somethin’…I got one here if ya need one,” mumbled a stoned Asian kid with long straight hair. He looked straight out of Final Fantasy.
I popped the tab to a brisk IPA microbrewed in Oregon. My tongue tingled from its bitter aftertaste as I sipped it casually, listening through the film of marijuana smoke.
Grace talked in a cheery tone to a younger girl sitting in the circle of stoners. She too sat there topless with a towel draped over her chest covering her bosom.
I overheard the words, “Oh yer 17…that’s cool,” and I swiftly removed myself from anything to do with standing in the presence a minor. Kevin and I swapped places. While I hastily slide back into the springs away from the underage girl, I looked back to see him plopped there buttnaked rapidly jumping into conversation with the girl. I wanted to grab his throat and strangle him. I wanted to say, “Hey Kev…come over here a second…” point down to the river and mule-kick him into the frosty violent beast below, freezing, drowning, and at least not preying on young, adolescent, underage girls. But, I sat there like a fool and did nothing. I calmed myself from punching him square in his geeky little face with his queerish sideburns and cueball head shining beneath a few strands of hair.
The young trio dissipated back through the hilly trail for a long drive back to Portland. When I glanced back, Kevin finally covered himself with a towel, just moments before the three left. His presence really irked me. For his sake, he’s lucky Tim stepped out for a gander in the river. If Tim saw what he did I only imagined a series of awful scenarios transpiring. I imagined him pulverizing Kevin with his club-like fists, pummeling away at his stomach like a punching bag or slitting his throat and watching him plummet into the river. Tim was an outlaw who lived by his own governance, autonomous rule. I did not know his limits and although he scared me slightly, he lived by a rigorous code and it did not include paedophilia.
When Tim finally shuffled back to the springs the breath of the mountain lay a squalling chill more fervent with the falling of the night sky. He strode confidently in the red clayey mud, squishing it between his toes, stretching his arms as he stood there free.
“You n Grace ready to head back to the van? Gettin’ kinda chilly out and the sun gone down…maybe setup camp soon,” said Tim.
“Yeah man I’m down.”
“Me too babe.”
Of course Kevin chimed into the conversation.
“You all are welcome at my camp…I’m thinkin’ I might skip out on payin’ tonight since you can’t camp in the parking lot anymore…what about you guys…where abouts are you campin’…have you decided yet?”
We all muttered, “NO,” in monotone, uninterested voices!
“Look for me,” cried Kevin.
We whisked away back to the parking lot. Tim sprinted clear up and down the narrow trail, his arms out from his side like an airplane. He danced off bark and dead logs. He ducked, hopped and pranced around, shuffling his feet about as quick as a road runner. He skid, slid, and slipped, circling around us like a psychotic clown. Ever so often he went all nutty for a sudden burst, unleashing his repented energy within, in an all out explosion of goofiness.
My vision followed the ebb and flow of his movement all the way back to the van. He felt free, happy and wild about life, treating it all as one smooth fluid motion to anywhere. In his frantic footsteps I saw art. I saw a unique person with many talents and skills freeing him to roam where he pleased.
He snapped back into a normal walk when we entered the parking lot. Grace jiggled the side door handle and all three of us scattered inside sheepishly sitting on our rumps. I fled to the corner by the gas jug while the two of them cuddled each other on the bed. Tim scuffled through the plastic bins until he pulled out a case, in it he whipped out a small banjo.
He strummed the only chords he knew and softly sang a chant, slowly progressing to a howl, of his travels on the road. I slouched back along the floor, the music resonating in my ears, tunes of travel, words of art, setting in the mood. He smiled full of heart. Grace’s eyes glowed with love. Minutes turned to hours as the two switched back-and-forth, both with tender words and simple chords.
Spastic footsteps scrambled towards the van. The music stopped and we all peered out at the silhouette of a young dreaded man.
“Eya doods…uh…random question…ya see…I locked the keys in the van and…well doods…I need a flashlight…the lady’s all pissed at me n shit.”
Tim reached over and finagled through the bookshelf pulling out his flashlight.
“Here ya go…”
He scampered off all glassy-eyed and high, shining the light sporadically through the dark night sky.
Before I blinked he moseyed back in a flash with gifts of weed, and tobacco. Back came the music blasting in the van. Tim raged on the banjo. Grace’s voice smoothly whispered to the rhythm of the chords. Young dreadie beat boxed, “ppppfff…pff..chee…pff…pffchee…” continuing to the music. I just lay back enjoying my new friends, the laughter, and the cheery atmosphere.
Soon the music mellowed. Our new friend wandered back to his van in his own euphoric trance of sharpened senses. Everyone sat still in perfect silence, too lazy to move, but too free not to, and my feeling of loneliness escaped me.
Tim joked around talking in a low, quirky voice, mocking Kevin. I held back tears of laughter until I exploded, banging my fists against the van and shooing him away as he stalked me in a creepy voice.
“Why Brian, what hard little nipples you have..haa…haa…I can see you workout…haa…haa…you don’t mind if I have a peek…haa…haa…,” squealed Tim as he impersonated Kevin from earlier at the hot springs.
He slithered across the bed getting closer and closer to me until he started to pant heavily near my ear and stroke my leg with his fingers.
“This isn’t too close…is it…haa…haa,” moaned Tim holding back bouts of cackles between his words.
“Hahaha…dude…I think you’ve taken this way too damn far…that dude skeeves me out…I just hope we don’t run into him when we head over to the campsite,” I said prying his hands off my leg and nudging him back to his good old southern roots.
“Yeah dohn we all…let’s head outta here before it gets any later,” laughed Tim as he pointed at Grace and off we squealed down the dark, narrow back roads, squinting reading signs around every bend and curve.