Sarah Mueller is a student at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. When not writing, she enjoys taking care of her chickens and avoiding major sporting events.
Hardly Worth Mentioning
The night is dark except for the soft cigarette glow between my fingers. Somehow it’s even hotter back here behind the main cabin. But it’s the last place anyone would look for stray smokers, so here I am.
Even back here—far away from the campfire—I can’t escape their damn singing. And that fucking acoustic guitar. But it’s working in my favor tonight, keeping people away from here.
I flick off some stray ash. Some of it lands on my knuckles. It burns but goes out quickly. It smells like smoke and swamp water that’s stood still for too long.
The screen door thumps open, and I hear soft footsteps approaching. A minute later Travis appears around the corner, dappled in moonlight. He looks good tonight, which I hate. But not quite as much as I hate the fact I even noticed.
“I see you started without me,” he mutters, fishing through his pockets before pulling out a pack. He uses an actual Zippo lighter, not the cheap disposable ones like everyone else.
What a prick.
He sniffs the air and then smirks. “Menthols? Really?”
“I like the taste.”
Footsteps approach and we both freeze. They keep walking and I give silent thanks, though it occurs to me if we got caught Travis would have more to lose, being senior counselor and all. As a lowly lifeguard, my standards are far more lax.
There’s a long silence. Cicadas buzz in the distance.
“Thanks for meeting me,” he offers.
We don’t hug or touch. Not anymore. But it wasn’t so long ago that I was running my fingers through that messy hair, feeling its infinite softness. I used to be intoxicated with his smell—a fine line between sweat, deodorant, and laundry detergent. Now it’s still intoxicating, but smothering me.
His eyes dart to my neckline suddenly by breastbone is searing hot. I realize I’m still wearing it, that fucking guitar pick dangling from that stupid, frayed cord that I found oh so endearing when he held it out to me a week ago.
I make a mental note to throw it in the lake.
There’s a soft rustling in the woods to our right, and my head swivels towards the sound. I hold the cigarette down by my leg, out of view. Is it someone else trying to skip out on campfire time? I won’t tell if they don’t.
There. About fifty feet away, in that half-assed shrubbery surrounding the actual woods. Against a tree. Two people. Shrouded in darkness except for a few stray beams of moonlight that managed to get through the canopy above.
They don’t see us. I stub my cigarette out on the NO SMOKING sign and reach for another. They’re all gone, of course. I’ve been smoking like a chimney these last few days.
“You out?” Travis asks, holding out the pack. I hesitate for just a minute before taking one. Next he offers me a light. I suck in deeply—sometimes Camels don’t light right away and I’m not about to look like an amateur. My eyes flick back to the woods.
They’re kissing now. Lovers. Of course.
What a perfectly ironic way to top off the evening. I settle back to watch this unexpected but not entirely unpleasant distraction.
Travis, oblivious, takes a deep breath, like he’s about to say something admirable. “Look. I know you’re mad.”
“I’m not mad.”
“Really? Because you seemed pretty mad.”
“I’m not mad.”
“It’s okay if you are. I know we didn’t really go over any sort of…guidelines.”
Now it’s my turn to smirk, but there’s no humor in it. “Guidelines? Jesus Christ, Travis. We aren’t applying for a loan.”
He laughs, a little too hard. “Right. But I know this is your first time doing this sort of thing, so…”
I raise my eyebrows. “What makes you think that?”
“Oh come on.”
I keep staring at him until finally he shrugs in defeat. I study his profile carefully for the telltale jealous ticking in his jaw. Ah, there it is. I settle back against the rough wooden siding and take another drag. Things in the woods are really heating up. The bra just came off.
“Well either way I’m sorry that you had to hear about it from someone else.”
I watch as he kisses down her neck.
“No apology needed.”
I bet her skin tastes like salt.
“Don’t be like this.”
“Passive aggressive. You know I hate that shit,” Travis snaps.
Their movements are becoming frantic now. Soft moans drift towards us in the muggy air, mingling with distant campfire songs. Or maybe that’s just my imagination.
“I’m not being passive aggressive. I’m just being honest. You can be with whoever you want. Besides she’s…what’s her name again?”
“You mean Miranda?”
“Yeah. I’m sure Miranda is great.”
“She really is, actually.” At this statement, I turn and squint at him. Either he doesn’t get the hint or he doesn’t care, because he keeps talking. “I know you probably don’t know her very well. She spends a lot of time across camp—”
Wait a minute. I squint into the darkness.
“—but you’ve probably seen her around.”
“Brown hair? Glasses?” I ask slowly.
Travis smiles to himself. “Yeah.”
“Huh.” I take a deep breath and it comes easier now. What a lovely evening this is turning out to be. “Yep. I’ve seen her around.”
The most recent time being now. In the woods. Fifty feet away.
“She’s pretty active at the camp,” he continues. “You know she was leading the basketball scrimmages until her knee got fucked up and she had to quit.”
Well her knees seem to be functioning just fine now.
“Are you sure she doesn’t she have a boyfriend?” I ask.
Now he looks sheepish. “Well, I mean, she did.”
“Mmm. Can’t imagine he’s too happy with her. Or you.”
“He probably doesn’t know yet,” he says, unconcerned. “She was going to wait to tell him.”
I watch the thrusting that’s going on and say, “Yeah. He probably doesn’t know yet.”
“Either way, it’s for the better. I heard he’s fucking crazy.”
“She clearly has fantastic taste in men.”
Travis looks at me sharply, but lets it slide. “Look. The real reason I wanted to meet is because even though I know we never talked exclusivity—”
“Here’s the thing…”
Something flashes in the darkness, drawing my gaze in further. Wait. Is that a knife? A strange high-pitched ringing fills my ears.
“This was fun. Like, really fun. And I think you’re a really great girl.”
It’s definitely a knife. Why does he have a fucking knife?
“And that’s why I really think—”
Oh Travis, her boyfriend definitely knows.
“—even though this has been fun—”
She doesn’t see it, but I can’t tear my eyes away. It glints silver in the moonlight. I should do something.
“—that we shouldn’t do this anymore.”
I should really do something. My mouth is too dry and my tongue too heavy. I can’t talk.
“I hope you don’t think I’m too much of an asshole.”
It’s too late. It’s finished. In a matter of seconds. He grabs her, and she shrieks—just once—as the knife goes in. I imagine there being some sort of squish, like you hear in the movies. Then she just sort of collapses like a marionette whose strings have just been cut. I blink and suddenly he’s gone, escaped into the woods.
Travis has gone silent. He turns to look at the woods. “Did you hear that?”
I should say something. I remain as silent as the woods.
“I want to be with Miranda,” he finally finishes.
I blink at him, coming back to reality. My tongue finally dislodges from the roof of my mouth. I’ve never been so thirsty in my life. “You do?”
“And just Miranda. And she wants to be with me.”
“Huh,” is all I say.
“So…” he raises his eyebrows at me. “What do you say?”
I stub out my final cigarette. My hand is shaking. I gesture to the woods. “I say go be with her.”
“Wait, is she over there?” He’s walking before the question is even finished. God, he’s excited to see her. I look at the joy spreading across his face and push some nausea down.
“She was.” Why can I only say two words at a time?
“You should’ve said something! Wait here. Maybe I can introduce you two. It won’t be that weird, I promise. Just wait—Miranda?”
His footsteps recede towards the woods. I turn away, numb. I should wait, but my feet don’t listen. I scoop up Travis’ pack and toss it in the nearest trash as I head back to the fire. After all, cigarettes can kill.