Fake Love (For Now), стр. 1

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More Must Reads by Penny Wylder

Fake Love (For Now)

Penny Wylder

Copyright © 2021 Penny Wylder

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or businesses, organizations, or locales, is completely coincidental.

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Drunk people are funny.

Granted, they’re funnier when they’re your own friends rather than your parents and their friends. But there’s a certain kind of charm in watching older people let loose and giggle over s’mores.

At least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself.

I could have said no and stayed home. When they asked me, the idea of being alone in the house with nothing to do but binge television and maybe do a face mask was absolutely a nightmare. So I agreed to this trip to the wilderness.

But now I’m sitting here next to a fire with a bunch of sixty-year-olds who are drunk off their asses and sitting on my couch at home, binging television sounds much better to me. Nothing like regret to kick you in the rear.

At least it’s beautiful here. Blue Mountain is fucking gorgeous, and since we are just slipping into autumn, it’s even more stunning. On the hike this afternoon, the foliage was in that tenuous place between green and yellow, and it felt like the world was holding its breath.

The hike itself had been fun enough. I ended up at the back of the group with the hiking guide, who seemed equally content to hike in silence. But that didn’t keep me from looking at him. His name is Hudson, and without a doubt, he is the most attractive man I’ve ever seen. Blond and bearded and stoic, he basically exudes masculinity and sex. If you could bottle a person, every man in the world would be waiting for days to get the essence of Hudson.

Even comparing him to the scenery around us, he was better. And frankly, sneaking glances at him throughout the whole hike has been the best part of the day. Plus, being around him made my lie to my parents more plausible. He just has to…you know, not notice me.

Which isn’t going to happen. Not when I’ve been staring at him like he’s Michelangelo’s David in the flesh. I wanted to be subtle, but I gave that up after a while. He definitely knows that I’ve been staring. And…fine. Just one more person that will think I’m a sad loser, and I’ll never see them again after this weekend.

A cheer goes up across the fire pit as my parents attempt to roast a s’more and fail spectacularly. It makes me smile all the same. It’s their fortieth wedding anniversary this weekend, and they deserve to have a good time. And they’ve been more than good to me these past few months, despite me being…me. And like this.

But all of this revelry is a little much, so when everyone seems occupied with their s’mores and their drinks, I slip away. The layout of Blue Mountain isn’t hard to follow, so it’s easy to slip away from the fire pit on the bank of the river and through the large open field of trees toward the main lodge. It’s a huge building with a dining room and kitchen, some guest rooms on the upper floors, and a wrap-around porch that’s to die for. It’s the kind of porch that you imagine yourself sitting on when you’re older, drinking sweet tea and scolding squirrels.

There are so many details here. Little touches in the corners where you wouldn’t notice them if you weren’t looking. Carvings of trees and forest animals, pressed leaves painted to the walls, the fact that the wood of the lodge perfectly matches the trees in the woods.

But I walk past the lodge, hearing low voices from the open door, and keep walking. There’s another huge green area with picnic tables and low lanterns hung in the trees. It’s magical.

Past the ropes course, which is a little eerie in the dim evening light. It looks a little like something haunted and abandoned. I wonder if they do anything with it for Halloween. Seems like it would be the perfect set-up for it. But beyond that and the archery range is my destination: The stables.

My parents didn’t sign up for any trail rides—there are too many people in their group and not enough horses, but the stable is open. It’s much quieter here, which suits me just fine. And nine times out of ten I like animals more than I like people. The minute that I step inside the doors I feel so much more settled that it’s almost crazy. A weight lifts off my chest and I can finally breathe.

“Hi there,” I say to the horse nearest me. It whickers softly, and I stroke its nose. “How are you?”

It bumps its nose into my hand and tosses its head lightly. “Can I brush you?” I ask. “Would you like that?”

The tools are all hanging on the wall, everything in its place, and I grab a brush and slowly step into the stall with the horse. Given its size, I’m going to guess that it’s male. But he’s gentle, and he whickers again when I start to brush him.

“This is a lot more fun for me,” I tell him.

I’ve always loved talking to animals. They listen. It’s never not amazed me that animals have such emotional facility. They make you feel grounded. Like you belong