Anita Mechler: The Ladder: Part 3

[This is a continuation of Part 1 and 2 of this story.]

By the time Justine arrived back at the campsite, the fire had mostly died down to embers and everyone seemed too drunk and drowsy to comment on her absence. Some members of the group had excused themselves to sleep in their tents and she could hear someone snoring loudly.

“Like a bear,” said Frederika wryly, clutching a plastic cup of some indistinguishable brown liquid. Justine jumped at the sound of her voice, not expecting anyone to address her, even indirectly.

“Huh,” said Justine. “Do you know if there’s any food left?”

They both looked around and saw some abandoned s’mores supplies at the end of the picnic table. Justine tried not lunge at them and stuff them down her throat. However, she couldn’t help groaning quietly in appreciation once the graham crackers registered with her mouth. She didn’t realize how hungry she had actually become. Frederika only raised an eyebrow and handed Justine her cup of liquid without being asked.

There was an intimacy between them that felt familiar to Justine and it layered around them like a blanket, even though they were sitting at opposite corners of the table from each other. Justine decided to move in closer to Frederika to feel some of that warmth. In a cold shock, she realized how much being around Frederika felt like her sister, Meredith. Meredith had long dark, curly hair that hung toward her waist, unlike Frederika’s stylish flapper bob, but they both possessed the same green hazel eyes that sparked with curiosity, concern, and mischievousness, an sense of knowing just what is wrong with the world and being merely amused by it.

Justine shivered and crumbled the plastic that once housed the graham crackers and shoved them into the empty box. She stood up so abruptly that she scratched the top of her thigh on the splintery tabletop.

“Ow! Um. I must be off to bed now.”

“Are you alright?”, said Frederika. After a pause and nod from Justine she said, “Not sure how you’re going to sleep with all that racket.” She tilted her in the direction of Steve’s tent.

“Oh. I have earplugs. I have a hard time sleeping in the city with all of the drunk loud people and ambulances let alone the deafening quiet of the great outdoors.”

“Damn. I should have thought of that.”

“Here,” Justine said reaching into her jeans pocket. “I always bring an extra pair.”

“Thanks,” said Fredericka, looking up at Justine. They both felt the warmth radiate from their tired smiles. Justine pulled away quickly and looked down.

“Well, good night.”


The next morning, Justine was awakened by the smell of frying bacon and coffee and the low murmurs of the other campers who were awake around the campfire. She lay in her sleeping bag slightly sweaty in her cocoon. She considered faking sleep until everyone went away on whatever they had planned for the day. Something told her to join the rest of them, if only to get to talk to Frederika. She wiggled her swimsuit on under her hiking clothes and hoped she’d get a chance to sneak away without anyone noticing.

“Morning!”, someone said cheerfully. Some of the group looked up from their morning activities to smile at her.

She made her way over to the spout at the entrance to the campsite to brush her teeth and get a drink of ice cold water and saw Justine standing nearby finishing up her morning routine.

“Hi,” they both said almost simultaneously and laughed softly.

“So, I was thinking…” Justine hesitated. “Okay, you have to promise not to tell the others.”

“Sure”, Frederika’s eyes looked concerned and intrigued.

“I found this swimming hole and admittedly, I’m afraid to go swimming in it alone. Anyway, it’s probably not safe for me to go alone. And I also thought that, maybe, you’d like to come to it with me.”

“Well… I’m not sure what I’d tell Franklin so that he won’t worry about where I am. Plus, I’d need to find my swimsuit.”

Justine heart immediately lifted by the fact that Fredericka hadn’t said no to her invitation and that she was intending to not tell anyone, even her fiance.

“Okay, why don’t you go to the bathrooms and wait for me there. I’ll tell Franklin you’re having some kind of ‘female troubles’. That should keep him from asking too many questions. We’ll have to wait until the rest of them go on their cave exploring expedition. Although, I will say that I’m equally intrigued by both of these plans. Let’s do it. It sounds like fun!”

Justine made her way to the camp bathrooms, which were thankfully empty. She leaned against the wall and thought about her sister Meredith, surrounded by her beautifully lush dark hair, falling further and further into the deep blue river, drowning just before her 9th birthday.


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