An Excerpt from my latest novel: All Us Big Little Barbarians
No one expects the unexpected. Well, I mean the totally unexpected. What I’m trying to say is, Ivan had gone missing.
I am also going to say this one wasn’t on me. Everything’s been going great between us. Ivan’s been accepted at the U of M in Duluth, major TBD. I’m holding off on that kind of decision until next year (more on that later). We had a plan to just enjoy our last summer before going out into the big bad world, and for now, not think too much further ahead than that. Also, I promised Ivan there would be no new obsession this summer, and no more journals. Apparently a mostly-empty journal is a source of agitation for me. Oh, and bonus: things have been pretty okay between Alex and me these days. Which is a good thing, because for the first time, I showed up at his door without an invitation. “Hi Kate-what are you doing here?” He held the door half-open, leaning out from behind it, but making no motion for me to come in.
I did say pretty good, not great.
“Alex? Who is it?” Nettie shoved Alex aside, none too gently. “Katie? Come on in.” Alex had deferred to she-who-must-be-obeyed and walked to the kitchen. Nettie pushed me along behind him and sat me down at the table. “Coffee?” She gave me a surveying look.
“Um, no-thanks. Actually, I was wondering if Ivan was here. I haven’t heard from him in a couple of days and he’s not returning my calls.”
“He’s been out on a job with me. He’s staying an extra day to finish up. I’ll tell him to call you tomorrow.” Alex stood and picked up his wallet and phone from the counter, then walked out the front door. I sat slack-jawed, staring out the window as he started his truck and took off down the driveway. After a moment I turned to Nettie, hoping my shocked expression was doing the talking for me.
Nettie held her hands up. “Don’t ask me. Two days ago the two of them left the house and all I got was a phone call saying they’d be gone for work for a few days. Last night he showed up, with no explanation.” She gave me another searching look. “And no Ivan.” She clearly was finished with me, and she kind of rolled me up and out of the chair and out the door, about as unceremoniously as Alex’s exit. “Sorry, Kate, I’ve got to get to the café. I can hardly count on my niece to be there for opening.” I knew better, but if I had a Spidey-sense, it would have been tingling just then. I headed into the woods. It’s about a ten-minute stroll to get to the firepit at the edge of their lake. I stopped there and looked for signs of recent occupation. I even held my hand over the grey ashes just to see if there was any heat left in them. Nothing. Interestingly, there were some remnants of food wrappers-the kind Nettie uses to wrap to-go burgers in. That was definitely something. I sat on one of the logs that surrounded the pit and took a look around. There were footprints, but unfortunately they went in both directions around the lake. If Ivan was hunkered down out there, I wouldn’t be able to find him. Deciding not to try to guess at why he would be hunkered down, I made another plan, and headed back to my truck.
It was a kind of cool June morning, and a wall of threatening thunderclouds was giving me the stink-eye. The seemed to me moving this way. I high tailed it to Timber Mart and gave Will a quick wave as I grabbed a package of hot dogs and a few other picnic supplies before heading back to Ivan’s. I returned to the fire pit, half-filled it with cordwood and doused it in lighter fluid before tossing a lit match at it. Woof! Now that’s how you start a fire. I did need to keep giving it an extra squirt now and then, as a measure of encouragement. Then I sat back and waited for it to turn to glowing coals.
I was hoping the smell of the fire would carry across the lake to wherever Ivan might be, and the aroma of sizzling wieners would have his forever-rumbling belly lead him home. Back to me. I had a little tidy around the clearing, picking up sticks and using a fallen pine branch to sweep up odds and ends. I’m not a neat-freak by nature but it helped me burn up some of my nervous energy.
After about an hour I settled the grill rack on the rocks surrounding the pit and laid out the hot dogs, nibbling on a bag of ripple chips to settle my stomach. I finished it. Of course I had bought an extra bag. I know me. And I was absolutely not going to open the cookies until Ivan got there. I pushed the grocery bag out of reach and rolled the hot dogs around the edge of the rack, not wanting them to cook too quickly.
As the first weenie popped, I thought I heard a noise-I couldn’t make out from where. I sat still and listened. The trees surrounding the clearing had filled in with new leaves, not yet battered by the summer weather. A light breeze was fluttering across the lake, and I wasn’t sure how far any of my smoke signals had been able to travel against it. Then I heard it-a definite twig snap, and not all that far away.
I had been leaning toward the fire pit and had jabbed the burst hot dog to take it off the grill when there was a flash of grey accompanied by the crashing of underbrush, and I was thrown off-balance by a small grey missile-a furry, damp missile. I shrieked and fell backward, instinctively curling into a ball, armadillo-like, after tumbling over the log. Taking a moment to get my bearings, I opened my eyes at the sound of munching, and smacking lips. Cripes. It was a puppy. Kind of.
“Kate! What the hell?” Ivan ran down the trail, from the same direction the pup had come, and stooped to pick me up. Dusting me off, he helped me sit down on the log as he check me over for bumps and bruises, of which there were a few.
“What the hell back at you! Where have you been and what the hell is that?” I pointed accusingly at the puppy, or whatever it was. The thing sat happily on Ivan’s feet, tongue lolling and looking up at him expectantly.
Ivan sat down next to me and scratched it behind the ears. “She’s my new girl.” He gave me a sidelong look and smiled. Crap. All was about to be forgiven.