DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.
The end of a long drive
Marc was at the end of a long drive over twisting mountain roads on a cold rainy night. His original plan had been to work a half-day and be on his way in time to arrive at the State Park before dark. The substitute teacher scheduled to take his class for the afternoon called and canceled right before lunch. Marc had no choice but to stay. His reason for leaving was personal, not urgent.
The Ranger was about to close the gate when Marc pulled up. Jeff, the Ranger, knew Marc and recognized his rig. Marc stopped with his 5th wheel far enough inside to let Jeff close and lock the gate.
Jeff locked the gate and walked up to the driver's side door of Marc's F-250 4x4 V-8 Diesel pickup.
"Hey, there Ace," Jeff said to the mini Schnauzer in the truck's passenger seat. "Are you keeping this fellow in check."
Ace tugged against his harness and yipped at the Ranger. Jeff was an old friend.
"You cut it a might close, Marc," the Ranger remarked to the late-arriving schoolteacher. "Did the weather slow you down?"
Marc snorted and said, "The weather didn't help. My sub canceled at the last minute, and my principal voluntold me to stay."
"I hope the sub had a good excuse," Jeff commented. "Do you need any help setting up?"
"I'm in Site 3," Marc replied. "Can back straight in, and I have the rear floodlights. Thanks anyway."
Jeff nodded and backed up a step. "You have most of the RV area to yourself this weekend. There's only one other rig, and she's at the bottom of the loop."
"Just as well," Marc said, putting the truck in drive. "I could use some peace and quiet."
"With snow on the forecast," Jeff pointed out, "you should have plenty peace and quiet for the next few days."
I wasn't expecting to have to deal with snow on Spring Break, Marc thought as he drove up the hill and made the right turn toward the RV camping area. When Easter comes this early in the year, I guess it's a possibility. As long as the snow melts away before I leave next weekend, I'm fine with it. I sure am glad the rain stopped, though. Getting soaked while setting up when it's this cold out would not be a good start to my vacation.
With an ease born of long practice, Marc backed his 5th-Wheel camper into the campsite at the top of the hill. Site 3 was in the uppermost corner of the campground with no neighboring sites to the left or right, and the nearest across the road was nearly out of sight. It was the site Marc always requested when he visited New River.
Unhitching and setting up the camper didn't take Marc long, either. Once unhitched, he activated the auto-leveling system, and while the 5th-Wheel leveled itself, Marc unloaded the necessary cables and hoses from their designated storage areas. Site 3 had full hookups meaning Marc would have fresh water, electrical power, and the ability to dump his wastewater for the duration of his stay.
In short order, Marc had the camper set up, hooked up, and ready to live in for the next ten days. Ace, who had been patiently waiting in the truck while his human readied their home-away-from-home, yapped and wagged his short tail when Marc attached the leash to his harness and helped him out of the truck.
"I know you must be ready for a potty walk, little buddy," Marc kidded his furry friend.
Ace raised up and put his front paws against Marc's leg and then fell back on all fours and started sniffing around. Marc laughed, turned on the LED light sewn into his orange knit cap, and let Ace lead him from the campsite down the camp road toward the bottom of the loop.
The New River RV campground was divided into two loops. Site 3 was on the upper loop. A short walk brought Marc and Ace to the intersection with the road to the lower loop. A left would take them up and around toward their campsite. A right would lead them down to the bottom of the lower loop. Ace led Marc to the right. Near the bottom of the loop, Marc could see the orange glow of a campfire.
"Our neighbor must be braving the cold tonight, Ace," Marc told the dog. "Maybe we'll get a chance to say hello."
As they walked, Ace often stopped to sniff the messages left by other animals and occasionally left a pee-mail message of his own. They were just past Site 9 on their right and the bathhouse on their left when Marc first saw more than the top of the Class C rig belonging to their only fellow camper. As he and Ace progressed, Marc noted the Class C was set up in Site 13. The site was not the farthest from his as one could be but close.
Over the fire in the fire pit, Marc saw a tripod with an old-fashioned coffee pot hanging from it. The door to the camper swung open as he and Ace approached. A woman wearing cowboy boots, jeans, and bundled in a cardigan, scarf, and wool hat stepped down the stairs. Marc couldn't tell the colors in the glow of the campfire and the light shining through the small window in the door did little to aid his discernment.
Ace yipped when he spotted the woman and, judging by the sudden turning of her head in their direction, Marc deduced Ace's yip had startled her.
"We didn't mean to surprise you," Marc called out to the woman. "No need to worry. We're harmless. I'm Marc, and this is Ace. We just moved into Site 3 at the top of the hill."
A lady in a motorhome
Marc was standing at the end of the driveway leading into the woman's campsite. Camper etiquette demanded he remain there until she either invited him to come closer or made it clear she preferred he move on. Ace started into the site but stopped when he reached the end of his leash. He looked over his shoulder at Marc and tugged in the direction of the warm fire.
The woman removed the scarf from in front of her face and smiled. "It appears you four-legged friend would like to join me here by the fire. He may do so and bring his two-legged friend with him if his two-legged friend is so inclined."
Marc laughed and said, "Warming up by the fire would be nice." He gave Ace the go-ahead nod. The two of them approached the fire ring.
"I only have one extra chair," the woman said. "One of you will need to make do with the ground."
Ace didn't wait for Marc to decide. He moved close to the fire ring and found the driest bit of ground to lie down on.
The woman smiled. "Marc, I guess that means you get to sit in the chair."
Marc attached Ace's leash to the chair the woman indicated.
"If you'll excuse me a moment," the woman said before turning back toward her camper. "I should go in and get an extra mug. May I assume you will accept the hospitality of a cup of decaffeinated coffee sweetened with hot chocolate?"
"You may safely assume I would, indeed, accept a cup of such hospitality," Marc replied with a smile.
"I thought you might," the woman said as she reached for the door latch. "I always like to have something to warm me up on the inside while the fire warms me on the outside on a cold night such as this."
She opened the door and climbed the stairs. Only a moment passed before she was back carrying an insulated mug emblazoned with a gold shield on one side and a thin blue line flag on the other.
"Here you are," the woman said, handing the mug to Marc. "It belonged to my late husband. I hope you don't mind."
Marc examined the mug and then said, "I take it your husband was a cop."
The woman frowned. "I suppose it is natural to assume my husband was the police officer in the family. No, Marc, the badge on the cup is a likeness of my own. I was a cop for 30 years. My husband was a dentist."
"I meant no offense," Marc assured the woman. "May I ask what happened to your husband?"
"My husband died playing golf," the woman said. "More precisely, he and his partner died when the golf cart they were riding in was hit by lightning one Friday afternoon. The two of them were on the seventeenth green with one hole left to play and decided to ignore the storm warning."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Marc said even as he wondered if she was pulling his leg. He started to say that her husband's death must have been quite a shock but stopped before the words left his mouth.
As if the woman read his mind, she snorted, shook her head, and said, "Yes, Marc, his death was quite a shock. Don't feel bad. I've heard so many people say it without stopping to think that it doesn't phase me anymore."
"How long ago did he die?" Marc asked.
The woman sighed and said, "Three years ago, this past July. I was a year short of retiring from the police force. With a lot of help and support from my brother and sister officers, I was able to get through and finish the last year. Since then, I've been camping my way around the country."
Marc was about to ask the woman where she was from when she pulled on an oven mitt and reached for the coffee pot hanging over the fire. She lifted the pot carefully from the hook it was suspended by and held it toward Marc.
"You should let me hold your cup while I pour," the woman suggested. "This could scald you if any spills."
Marc handed over the mug with the badge. The woman filled it and handed it back. When Marc took it, his fingers touched hers for a moment, and she smiled.
"Let it cool some, or you'll burn your tongue," the woman cautioned as she filled her own mug.
"It won't take long for this to cool," Marc said, holding up his mug. "The temperature is dropping while we sit here. Jeff told me there might be snow overnight."
"Jeff?" the woman asked. "Isn't he one of the Rangers? Know him well, do you?"
Marc nodded and took a sip of his hot chocolate coffee concoction before answering. "I come up here four or five times a year. It's only a four-hour drive most of the time. Today's trip took longer because of the rain, the fog, and a late start putting me on the road during rush hour."
"Where else do you camp?" the woman asked after taking a swallow of her drink.
"During the fall, winter, and early spring I usually make a few trips down to Carolina Beach State Park," Marc informed her. "They have a few full hookup sites, but you have to reserve well ahead of time if you want one. If you're okay boondocking, you can get a dry site with only a few week's notice most of the year."
"I can boondock for a while as long as there's a dump station and I can fill my water tank," the woman said. "There's a generator on the back bumper and solar panels on the roof. Maybe I'll head down towards this Carolina Beach when I leave here."
"How long will you be staying here at New River?" Marc asked.
An invitation to dinner
The woman shrugged. "I reserved this site for two weeks. Most places I've been I've stayed for that long. You could say I'm seeing the country for two weeks at a time. With the internet and my satellite WiFi, I can go anywhere and still take care of what I need to take care of." She laughed and added, "Not that there's much for me to take care of. I sold the house and my husband's share of the practice, shoved all the money into Treasuries, and left nothing behind. All I own is with me in the camper."
"There must be a feeling of freedom living such a life," Marc commented after another taste of his beverage. He gestured toward the coffee pot with his mug. "This coffee/hot chocolate mix is delicious."
"Thank you," the woman said. "Do you think Ace would like some water?"
Upon hearing his name, Ace's ears perked up, and he lifted his head.
"I take that as a yes," the woman said. She set her mug down on the small folding table next to her chair. "Be right back."
The woman returned with a bowl of water. She squatted next to Ace and said, "Here you go, boy. By the way, my name's Veronica, but call me Ronni." She looked over her shoulder at Marc. "It dawned on me when I went inside that I hadn't even told you my name."
Marc uttered a light laugh. "I'm pleased to meet you, Ronni. Veronica is a pretty name."
Ronni picked up a fireplace poker Marc had not noticed sitting on the ground next to the fire pit and began poking at the logs inside the ring.
"There are some who think so," Ronni replied. She cast a coy glance at Marc. "I'm glad you're one of them."
She put the poker back in its place and took her seat. "It's time for me to decide whether to put another log on the fire or call it a night and go inside."
Marc stood up and untied Ace's leash from the chair. "It is getting late, and Ace is probably wondering if I've forgotten about his supper. Neither of us has eaten yet."
Ronni picked up the poker and stirred the coals in the fire pit. "Goodness! You just reminded me I haven't had my dinner either."
Ace yipped at Marc. "Okay, buddy. I'll invite her," Marc said to the dog. He turned to Ronni. "Ace says we'd be very pleased to have you come to dinner. I have been told I'm a passable cook."
Ronni looked at the door to her camper. "I don't know. We just met. I don't want to impose."
Marc shook his head. "It would be no imposition at all. In fact, I insist you come. I wouldn't be able to enjoy my supper, knowing you were down here dining alone."
Ronni sighed and smiled. "Well, if only to save you from beating up on yourself, I accept, on one condition. You have to let me bring the grape juice." Her brows narrowed, and she added, "You do like grape juice, don't you?"
It was the inflection Ronni put on the word juice that alerted Marc to the true nature of the beverage the woman was offering to bring.
"Yes, I enjoy a nice glass of grape juice every now and then."
The subterfuge was necessary due to alcoholic beverages being proscribed in state parks in North Carolina.
"Would you prefer red or white grape juice?" Ronni asked with a conspiratorial smile.
"Tonight's menu includes chicken parmesan," Marc told her. "A red juice would be called for."
"I have just the thing," Ronni assured the schoolteacher. "Getting it and locking up won't take but a moment."
© 2021 DW Davis