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Chapter 15: Scene 53: A trip to Paradise


       "More eating, less talking." Dan presses us to hurry all through breakfast. "We leave in fifteen minutes. Stack your trays and, John, pick up the box with our sack lunches from the table next to the kitchen door."

       After we pile the last-minute rafting junk into the back, I stand by the front door of the van. I'm hoping Dan'll let me sit next to him so I can see everything. After he shoves the big side door open, he looks at me and points me to the door to the front seat. Corrie sits with Jerry, the other staff guy, in the seat right behind me.

       A couple of hours after we leave Eagle Crest, Dan drives a steady fifty-five up a two-lane road along a river. I've never seen so many tall trees. Fir trees and bushes every shade from almost-yellow to green so dark it's nearly black. Most of the year at the ranch , growing things are yellow and brown and tan, only green in the spring and early summer. When I think about home, I know getting there is the only thing that matters. I lose interest in trees and slump down.

       We turn left at a sign: Willamette National Forest, Paradise Campground . At last. I've finally reached paradise. Always wondered where it was. Dan eases the van into a parking area marked: Unload Boats Here. He turns around and shushes the guys. "Listen up, from here on, Corrie's in charge."

       Randy jumps out first and smirks as the rest of the guys climb down. What's he up to? Neil climbs down last and Dan looks like he's going to drag him out if he doesn't get to it.

       Corrie's the manager of the camp and busy with that, so we don't see her too much at Eagle Crest. Me, I think it's kind of nice having a good-looking female in charge. This is the first time I get to look her over good. She's skinny, but, boy, does she have muscles. She lifts up a big box as easy as I can.

        "First," she says, "we're going to unload the raft, the paddles and the life jackets. We'll leave the lunches and the dry clothes in the van. Jerry will drive down to the take-out place and meet us with the food." She points in the van. "We'll need that big box, too." The guys push up and grab for stuff. Randy snatches a paddle away from Sam and acts like he's gonna swing it at him.

ThinkLink: How do you use humor to cover up your nervousness?

       Corrie steps right up to them and backs Randy off. "It's not too late to send you down in the van with Jerry," she warns him. Randy perks up then and swings the paddle around again. So that's it. He doesn't want to go anywhere near the river. I bet he's more afraid of water and boats than Neil is.

       "Randy, come over here with me and hand out the life jackets." Corrie makes it an order. What's she doing giving him another chance? Maybe she's figured him out, too.

       I reach into the back of the van and grab hold of a bundle of gray rubber. It doesn't budge. Neil snarls at Sam from inside the van. "Grab the other corner and lift, dummy." The three of us pull on it, but it still doesn't move. Corrie brings the rest of the guys over and we push and pull until it's far enough out we can lift it down to the ground. She unfastens the straps around it and unfolds the mound. Sure enough, it's a raft, dark gray with a red band around the sides and a black bottom. Only, it's flat as a tire with a nail in it.

       Corrie reaches for a yellow bucket and pulls a silver canister out of it. She undoes the cap on the back section of the raft and screws a nozzle into it. Air from the can puffs the raft up. Pretty slick. She helps us lift the pipe frame down off the van roof and down into the center of the raft. She fills each section around the raft and two seats she calls thwarts .

       "Now the clothes," she says. "Cal, bring that box over here and I'll pass out things you'll need. The water here's from snow melt and it's icy cold. No jeans or cotton shirts allowed." She takes a duffel bag around the other side of the bus. We strip off our stuff and start to put on the grab-bag things, wool pants and old plaid wool shirts. Neil pokes me in the side and snorts. "Look at what we got, and get a load of what they got." Dan's pulling on shiny red rain pants and Corrie comes around the corner of the van wearing a black nylon swimsuit. I gulp and some of the guys whistle, but she acts like she doesn't hear us. She's busy putting on a wet-suit and zipping it up. Then she steps into floppy old tennis shoes.

       She scowls. "All right, you guys, stop laughing. If I need to go in the water after any of you, I'm ready. Besides, I get cold fast. Not much fat layer." Then she grins at us. "You rafters look pretty good. Line up and we'll fasten you into your life vests." Dan drops a pile of thick vests in front of us. They're faded orange and have black straps all over them. After we pull them on, Corrie clips our vests down the front and cinches up the straps on each side.

       "You look stupid as you are," Randy sneers at me.

       I think about how Tony handled him and I'm ready to snarl right back at him. Then I remember how much trouble Randy got me into before. He could torpedo me again, especially if he figures out how I wrecked his plans.

       Corrie gives us a look. "Enough horsing around."

       Randy snorts. "Yeah, Cowboy, no horsing around." I choke down another comeback. If they'd just lay off those lame cowboy jokes.

       Now Corrie's losing patience. "Are you guys ready to go?"

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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