“I’ll be gone for one week,” Julia told me as I watched her pack. She was leaving for Granite Falls in the morning with her friends. She’d visited several of the closer waterfalls, but none of them had been inhabited by anyone answering to the name of the Oracle of the Falls.
Julia had left her research books lying around her room. There were a lot on Granite Falls. It seemed our best hope.
“Are you going to look for the hermit?”
Julia turned to look at me. “How did you know about the hermit?”
I pointed at the book and she picked it up. Secrets of Granite Falls: A Guide to the Hidden Wonders. She slipped it into her bag.
“They say that people have spoken about a hermit living deep in the woods for over a hundred years,” I said. “Do you think that’s our Oracle?”
“It could be,” Julia agreed. “They also say that no one has seen the hermit in over a hundred years. It might be like big foot.”
I could tell she didn’t want me to get my hopes up, but I also knew that she had gotten hers up. She was pretty sure this Hermit was our Oracle of the Falls.
“Seven days,” she repeated. I nodded. I would find a way to mark the days so I knew when she would be back. “And if my sisters come in here when I’m gone, you have my permission to scare them.”
I grinned. But I knew I would miss her.
Julia scrambled out of the car, eager to stretch her legs after the three-hour drive. The air here was fantastic, full of pine and fresh. Then again, by now the car smelt more like stale fast food. Breana was already halfway to the cabin, keys in hand.
“Dibs on the toilet!” She cried out. Julia followed her friend in at a more leisurely pace she could hear Marq and Ben arguing.
“It’s like barely noon,” Marq said.
“Yeah, so? Help me find logs for the fire.”
She pushed the cabin door open. It was quite small, a kitchen and living space and then stairs upstairs. She could hear Bre behind the one door in the place. She wandered upstairs and set her bag down on the nearest mattress. This was going to be fun, she thought.
“Marq and Ben are playing cavemen. Want to go for a walk?” Bre said behind her. Julia dug out her notebook and nodded.
“Are there any waterfalls near here?”
Bre laughed. “Yeah, it’s not called Granite Falls for nothing.” She grabbed Juila’s hand and pulled her outside. “I’ll show you my favorite.”
They walked hand in hand through the woods as Bre showed Julia the area. “That’s where I saw a bear one year,” she pointed to a picnic table.
“There are bears here?” Julia hadn’t remembered reading about that in the guidebooks.
“No, there used to be like, hundreds of years back. But they’re gone now. This was some joker in a bear costume. Scared me half to death.”
At last, they rounded the corner to the waterfall. It was gorgeous, but tiny, a trickle into the still pool below. She looked around. Nothing felt unique about the place.
“What’s it called?” Julia pulled out her notebook and turned to her list.
“The waterfall?” She shrugged. “Something about salt? There are hundred of falls here.”
“I think, why?” She peered over Julia’s shoulder. “Is that a list of waterfalls?” She asked as Julia put a mark next to Salt Creek. “Why?”
“For inspiration. Mrs. Pancake suggested I write about different things this summer for practice. She wants me to submit something into that writing magazine.” Julia lied. Well, it was all true, it just wasn’t why she was marking off waterfalls.
“I thought you were supposed to just go with the flow to be inspired. That,” she pointed at the notebook, “looks like work.”
Julia shrugged. “I like being organized. Although,” she looked at the list. “It might have helped if I wrote where the falls were.”
“There’s a map of the area at the ranger stand. We need to get some wood there anyway since the boys are going to run through everything at the cabin tonight.”
They arrived back home, pulling the wagon they’d borrowed from the Forest Ranger. It was stacked perilously high with wood. The girls were greeted by a scene of domestic harmony. Ben and Marq had built up a comfortable fire and were attempting to roast hotdogs on sticks.
As Julia pulled up, one of the dogs fell into the fire. “Not again,” Marq moaned.
“How many have you wasted that way?” Bre asked. Julia stowed the wagon off to the side.
“Don’t worry, we made plenty the normal way first.” Ben nodded to the plate of hot dogs already on the picnic table. “Help yourself. These are just the bunless ones.”
“Why do they always put more hotdogs in the package than buns?” Julia asked snagging two. She sat down by the fire and took a bite.
“What do you supposed are really in hot dogs?” Bre asked examining hers closely as she took the chair next to Julia.
“Don’t ask,” Marq said in mock horror. “You’ll ruin our enjoyment of overly processed meat.” He was attempting to burn another hotdog in the fire.
“We brought stuff for s’more right?” Ben asked after they’d eaten. He dug through the cooler, “Woah,” he held up a six pack. “Who scored?”
“Kyle gave them to me,” Marq shrugged. “Trying to get on my good side, I guess.”
“Are they any good?” Bre asked as Ben handed them out. Julia took it hesitantly. They were underage and if the ranger lady stopped by, they would get in trouble.
“Don’t worry,” Bre said, popping the tab. “No one will bother us unless we get too loud and the nearest campground is ten minutes from here.”
They all took a sip and grimaced. Julia ate the last of her hotdog chewing quickly to rid it of the taste.
Breana spat hers right back out. “Blech, he drinks that?”
Ben just shook his head. “Your mom’s man has got no taste,” he said. He took another swallow carefully and rolled it around thinking. He swallowed, “It’s a bit like horsepiss crossed with skunk.”
Marq just shrugged. Julia knew he wasn’t a fan of his mom’s current boyfriend. They made terrible teenagers, didn’t they, she thought a little amused.
Real teenagers would be drinking cheap vodka or something that tasted terrible but got you drunk fast. They would never be able to drink enough of this. It was brave of Ben to have had that second sip. He stuffed a marshmallow into his mouth and shook his head. She watched as they all carefully set their cans aside. She set her own can beneath her chair.
“Well, then, my sisters to the rescue.” He disappeared inside and returned with a smaller cooler. He pulled out a bottle. “Hard Apple Cider,” then pulled out another, “Hard Pear Cider.” Marq and Bre went for the pear. Julia tried the apple.
“Um,” Marq twisted the top. “Ouch.” he looked down at the bottle. “It’s not twist off.” They all looked around helplessly for a way to open their drinks. “Does anyone have a lighter?”
“You can open a bottle with a lighter?” Julia asked.
“I’ve seen people do it?” Everyone shook their heads. The only ‘lighter’ Julia could see was the box of matches they’d used to start this fire.
Ben looked down at his drink. “Well, this is awkward.”
Zero for two, Julia thought and tried not to giggle. Worst teenagers ever.
“Maybe there’s a bottle opener inside.” Bre jumped up. She handed Julia her bottle and dashed into the cabin. She came back triumphant and they took turns opening their bottles and chasing after the tops. Cautious, after their last experience, they took a sip.
It was a bit like apple juice, Julia decided. Only lighter and less sweet.
“Much better,” Bre said taking a larger gulp.
Julia had to agree. The taste lingered on her tongue. They passed around the bag of marshmallows and took turns using the two sticks to roast them. The warmth from the fire and the cider built inside her.
“Where did you two go? It didn’t take you all afternoon just to get wood.” Marq asked.
“We weren’t the ones getting hard ons by the fire,” Bre shot back. Marq paused and then blushed bright red as her joke sunk in.
“I didn’t mean, I meant firewood!” Marq protested.
Bre just giggled louder. “Yup, Fire Wood.”
“Tree parts!?” By then it was too late and everyone was in tears. Bre was practically on the floor.
“She took me to a waterfall,” Julia broke into to save Marq from further embarrassment.
Bre nodded. “Julia has a whole notebook of waterfalls. She’s doing homework.” She got up and grabbed another cider, offering one around. Julia shook her head, she still had half hers, but the boys accepted. Ben polishing his off quickly as he reached for his second.
“Homework?” Marq asked. “In June?”
“Don’t you have like three months before you have to start thinking about school again?”
“It’s not real homework,” Julia protested. Trying to figure out how to save herself from her own lie. “It’s just writing and stuff. Mrs. Pancakes wants me to enter something into her magazine this fall.”
“That’s awesome,” Marq encouraged. “What’s it going to be about?”
“Waterfalls, I’m guessing,” Bre said. “There’s like twenty-five falls on her list.”
Julia shrugged. Now she was going to have to write something about waterfalls, wasn’t she? “I’m just looking for inspiration, right now.”
Ben held up his marshmallow, eyes shining. “Behold, perfection.” They oohed and awed over the perfectly toasted marshmallow. Lightly browned on all sides. At least Julia assumed it was since it was across the fire and the light was in the way. He popped it into his mouth.
He popped it into his mouth. “Oomph,” he said waving his hand in front of his mouth. Before cooling it back down with cider. “Damn, that’s hot.”
“Let that be a lesson to you, friends,” Marq said with mock solemnity. “Never eat a marshmallow without first turning it into a s’more. His own s’more was loaded with twice the chocolate. And he bit into it gustily, dripping chocolate everywhere. He swore and they all laughed.
Julia leaned back in her chair and the breeze around them stirred and kept the insects mostly away. She accepted a cider from Bre and felt the warmth also blossom inside her. It made her sleepy. Her friends’ faces flickered across the fire. She didn’t bother trying to keep up with their conversation. She did, however, wish that James could be here. Not as he was now, but if he’d grown up with her. He would fit in perfectly.
She pulled her attention back when there was a commotion around the fire. Bre had moved to the other side and was sitting on the cooler Ben had brought and looking semi-stern. “We have all week,” she said. “If we drink them all now, we’ll be forced to drink Marq’s stuff tomorrow.”
Ben looked thoughtful and reluctantly nodded. He fished out the can from under his seat and tasted it again, wincing. “It’s not as bad?”
“Drink all that shit, you want.” Bre grabbed the cooler. “But the good stuff goes inside for tomorrow.” She turned to Julia. “Shall we head in?” Julia scrambled to her feet and headed inside.