The next day, after spending a few hours painting the barn, Bryan remembered that this was the day of his friend Laura’s return to Door County. She had been in Tibet for the past few months, only adding fuel to the intrigue for her burning in Bryan’s head. Her father had just written a book, and was having a book signing at their cottage. When Bryan arrived, he found as large a crowd around Laura as around her father. She had pictures from Tibet and was explaining each one with an anecdote from her trip. Bryan peered over the crowd for a while, and then decided just to ask her about it later.
At Matt’s cottage, the man affectionately known as Trout was there. Trout informed them of a band reunion happening in a rural wooded area. Some fungi were sprinkled on a pizza, and they hit the road.
When they arrived, the party was already blazing. The central feature of the clearing was a stage, from which the band played nearly non-stop until dawn. Just to the side was a bonfire, and twenty feet in any direction led one into forest dark and dense. Bryan felt himself reaching a frenzied state of joy as he danced and made conversation. He saw Amber there, the architect’s daughter.
“Hi. Amber, right?” Asked Bryan, though he of course knew the answer.
He spoke with her in a few words of broken German, and eventually was introduced to her roommates, Jessica and Rebecca. At one point, Bryan found himself fifteen feet from the ground in a branchless tree. Assuming he shimmied up, Bryan attempted to reverse the process. He slid/fell back down, and was dancing even before he hit the ground. Mike, Trout, and Richie felt it was time to leave. Matt and Bryan disagreed. The three left with the car leaving Bryan and Matt, quite happily, to fend for themselves. Bryan talked most the night with Jessica, dancing near her, enjoying the movements of her body around his own. Dawn dawned, as it does, and sunlight pierced the woods. Bryan asked Jessica in his most innocent and unassuming voice for her phone number. Having no paper, Bryan joyfully sang the digits into memory as he and Matt set off across the peninsula.
“So, where are we going?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“I don’t think we can walk back to Whitefish Bay at this point.”
“Yeah, that would be a long walk.”
“So instead we’re just going to walk… straight?”
“If we keep walking west, we should eventually come to Egg Harbor. Mike and Rich will be off work in a couple hours.”
They walked the rural roads, past farms and wineries, talking about various and random subjects. The conversation strayed between deep and profound to shallow and chauvinistic. After a few hours of walking, they found a good place alongside the road to rest and stare at the morning sky. Bryan had just finished a stream of consciousness rant when Matt spoke for the first time in a half hour.
“Jesus, you talk a lot.” Matt paused. “You’re just… you’re really annoying most of the time. It’s ok not to talk sometimes.”
Bryan looked thoughtful for a moment before attemping to tackle Matt.
“I think that’s a cherry orchard up ahead.” Said Bryan, dusting himself off.
“Nourishment.” Matt took off running.
Bryan caught up to Matt as he moved from tree to tree, choosing the reddest and ripest cherries. Bryan plucked a bushel, or possibly a peck, ever watchful for shotgun-toting orchard owners. He kept a stock of cherries in his pocket and they set out walking once again.
“Bryan, I wouldn’t have said those things if I knew you wouldn’t take it well.”
“Whatever, dude. My personality is such that I must keep my company entertained. Some people actually enjoy my relentless enthusiasm.” Bryan smiled.
“Well, you do know how to talk to females.” Matt conceded.
“I just have to get all my crappy conversation out on my friends first.” They laughed together and walked in silence for a while, munching their pirated cherries. They crested a large hill and saw Green Bay sparkling on the horizon.
“There’s our town.” Matt said, mouth full of cherries.
It took another half-hour of walking to reach Egg Harbor. A large clock above the local bank told them they still had a few hours before Matt and Rich would arrive at Shipwrecked, the restaurant at which they both worked.
“We could go to Carissa and Mary’s place.” Bryan suggested.
“Let’s get something to eat first.”
They stopped in a fifties theme diner and ordered some pancakes. They were ok. They then walked down the street to the house that beer built. Finding no answer at the front door, Matt and Bryan walked around to the back porch, and stepped inside. Matt lay down on a couch, and Bryan found a chair and rather laboriously climbed into a hammock suspended from two hooks in the ceiling. They slept.
Bryan woke up to Brashear looming just below him, eating a bowl of cereal.
“So, I went to bed at three last night, when did you guys show up?” He asked.
Bryan related their journey to Brashear, and asked where Carissa and Mary might be.
“Mary’s at work, and Carissa is down at the Sturgeon Bay Hospital. She flipped her car off the road last night.”
“Crap, is she ok?” Matt sat up.
“Yeah, she’s a bit roughed up, but she’ll be all right.”
They told Brashear to say hi to Mary, and stumbled out towards Shipwrecked to find Mike. Seeing the Jimmy parked in the lot, they went inside the kitchen door. Rich was standing just inside.
“Heh, didn’t think I’d see you guys anytime soon.”
“What’s up, Rich. Where’s Mike?” Matt asked.
Rich pointed them the right way; Matt talked Mike into letting them borrow his car, picking them up after work. Mike begrudgingly agreed.
“We should visit Carissa in the hospital.” Bryan suggested.
“Yeah, let’s get some of these wildflowers for her.”
They pulled along the side of the road and picked five different kinds of flowers. When they arrived at the hospital, they asked the receptionist if a ‘Carissa’ had been admitted last night. They explained that she was a young, very pretty girl who had been in a car accident. The receptionist informed them that she needed a last name if she was to help them. They decided to wander the hospital until they found the room. A little while later, they found it. There was one other male visitor.
“Hey, guys.” Carissa said weakly.
“Hey. How do you feel?”
“Like absolute crap.”
She was bruised and swollen, with small cuts on her face and neck. She spoke slowly, and was probably on a decent amount of painkillers. She introduced them to her brother, and her parents who had entered while they were talking. Her mom took their flowers and put them into water with some other bouquets. Bryan told a few hospital food jokes, and they decided to leave Carissa with her parents.
Matt and Bryan then killed some time in downtown Sturgeon Bay, where some sort of fish festival was happening. They walked across a large drawbridge, stopping near the middle, where the bridge would bend upwards before them. Bryan saw high masts moving towards the bridge through the canal. Lights flashed and bells sounded alarmingly. A man in a small booth on the other side came out to give them the proverbial “Hey you kids!”
They stepped back behind the designated ‘Safe line,’ and watched the boat sail underneath them. They climbed a low roof on the other side of the canal, and hopped over a large fence. There was an abandoned building that they climbed around, peeking inside broken windows. They scrambled over another fence and approached a derelict-looking tanker. It was a vessel of phenomenal size, questionable seaworthiness, and of definite interest to Matt and Bryan. They climbed some temporary stairs attached to the tanker, and took a pull at the large metal door, to no avail. They peered through the sea-washed window into a brightly lit engine room.
They then walked along the waterline past a marina. They approached a spot where a tall fence met with the water. The fence was in ill repair, quite rusted, with a few chains holding it together. Matt deftly swung around the fence and leapt to the other side. He stood there, casting a questioning look back at Bryan.
“Alright, alright, give me a second.” Bryan scaled along the fence, murky water below him. He came to a point where his dryness depended only on a corroded post and his ability to leap at the vital moment. He swung his body around the fencepost angled out above the water, catching dry land by his toes. The aforementioned post had taken its share of abuse, and clattered nosily off concrete into the water. “You boys going to pay for that?” A female voice came from around a corner. “I’m just kidding, Darlin’s. You boys getting into trouble, I hope?”
“Of course.” Matt and Bryan said simultaneously. The climbed back onto the drawbridge and headed back to the hospital. They stopped at a confectionary and bought some fudge. It was delicious.
At five o’clock, they drove back towards Egg Harbor to pick up Matt and Rich from Shipwreckt. That night was spent at a raging fire at the Hroski house. Steve and Dean were there, with their respective girlfriends. Bryan had a glancing thought of some long dead Hroski selling his soul to ensure his progeny beautiful lovers. It couldn’t be coincidence.
The next day Bryan was returning from laying some flagstone for a neighbor, when he found Mike, Matt, and Rich playing ping-pong in the Bunkhouse. Sitting on his steps was Jessica, laughing. Bryan had thought along the lines of this being the coolest thing that could have been done with that moment, and thanked no one in particular, that is to say, he thanked everyone for their current juxtaposition.
Jessica was tall and on the skinny side, with short blond hair, and eyes which could warm the coldest heart. Her effect on those possessing already semi-warm hearts was a certain joy that snuck wordlessly into one’s head.
Jessica and Bryan left the guys in the bunkhouse, and headed towards Whitefish Dunes state park. Jessica told Bryan that she had been shopping in Sturgeon Bay and took a shot at finding his ‘little red barn with a rooster on it.’ The sun set while they wandered a path through the woods. Lake Michigan opened up before them. The trees ended in a broken waterline of mossy boulders and small pools. Every while a wave would break over the flat rock and refill the shimmering pools. The moon was low on the horizon, giving it a peach hue and unreal size. It wasn’t quite full, with a barely perceptible crescent of darkness, one shade lighter than the pure black background. They found a dry spot on what was undoubtedly the northern tip of Whitefish bay, with playful water quietly splashing in three directions around them.
They spoke of personal histories, and grand plans for life. Jessica grew up in rural Wisconsin, holding a quiet, humble wisdom acquired from her farm upbringing. She attended a Wisconsin State college. A full, complete kind of silence came to them for what seemed like an eternity of content.
“You’re strange. Ageless, like an elf.” She spoke.
“That’s… the best thing I will ever hear.” Bryan laughed. He leaned back and spoke to the sky, “All right, I’m done. Beam me up.”
They walked back into the dark woods, running playfully for a while, sneaking up on each other. They took the beach back towards the Bunkhouse. They shared a few minutes just looking into each others eyes before saying goodnight under the yellow lamplight.