I enjoy Francesca’s panic. As far as she’s concerned, we’re slap bang in the middle of a real-life horror movie. She moves quickly through the woods, and I can see her raw anxiety each time she turns around to check that I am still behind her. We’re just going around in circles. At some point, I will take control and guide us out the woods and straight to our car, but not yet.
She is breathless from both exercise and fear as she says, “oh God, Jane, what are we going to do?” I show a bit of pity and suggest that we stop and rest for a bit. She stops moving, and I’m actually glad because my lungs are starting burn even though I am in pretty good shape.
“We can’t stop. If we stop whatever got Peter and Bob will get us,” she says.
“Not if we’re quiet.” I’m making this shit up as I go along, but she seems to believe me as she stays still and starts to whisper.
“Maybe we should go back to the camp. The guys might have left a cell phone with some battery life?”
Francesca’s phone is dead, and she thinks mine is too.
“Which way is camp?” I ask. I know she doesn’t know.
“Shit, who knows,” she says.
If we were in a horror film, Francesca would be the one to survive. The monster, or bear, or madman, or whatever would kill everyone else, but she would persevere and triumph. The final shot would be Francesca, slightly dishevelled, but, of course, still stunningly beautiful as she flags down a car. I, however, would have been dramatically killed in an early scene. Collateral damage, that’s me.
Yesterday we arrived at camp just as the sun was setting. I put our tent up practically single-handedly, and the boys pitched nearby. We got out the disposable barbeques, cracked open our first beers and started to cook. Nothing fancy, just burgers and sausages. Peter smiled at me as I handed him a burger which made me feel insanely happy. I hoped that Francesca and Bob would hit it off. To be honest, I knew that Bob would like Francesca, who didn’t, but Francesca was pretty fussy when it came to men. I guess she could afford to be.
After dinner, we opened more beers and started to plan out our weekend hike. Peter and I laughed when we both pulled out the same guidebook.
“Great minds think alike,” I said.
“I’ve had this for ages,” said Pete. I was pleased to see that his Pacific Crest Trail book, like my copy, was well-thumbed with notes in the margins.
“Have you done this section before?” I asked.
“It’s beautiful. You’re in for a treat. I used to hike this with my Dad when I was young.”
“Cool. One day I’m gonna do the whole trail.”
I imagined Peter and me hiking the PCT together, but I said nothing. I was really hoping that this weekend was going to take Peter from friend to boyfriend territory, but I didn’t want to come on too strong.
Francesca grabbed my book, “where’s the restaurant guide?” I felt uneasy when Peter laughed much more heartily than the weak joke deserved, but I quickly shrugged off the worry. If Peter and I were going to get together, then it was important that he got on with Francesca.
The rest of the night passed pleasantly, and Peter and I lingered outside after the others had gone to bed.
“Jane, can I ask you something?” asked Peter in a low, confidential voice
“Of course.” It might sound like a cliche, but my heart did beat faster.
“Is Francesca seeing anyone?”
For a second, I had a crazy hope that he was asking on behalf of Bob. In my heart, however, I knew that this was the same scene that I had lived again and again since I was 14 years old. I made my excuses, went to my tent, burrowed into my sleeping bag and pretended to sleep.
I heard the guys go for a swim at 6 am. They left a note under a rock with a cute little map of how to find them. I scrunched it up, woke Francesca and said, “Peter and Bob have disappeared. They’ve been gone for hours.”