"Sorry," he said, letting the harness loosen, "I'm sorry. I don't like that guy," he said quietly. Nobody else in the group was bugging Nick the way Ben was, and he wasn't quite sure what it was about the guy - he just knew there was something about him that he absolutely didn't like. At least a part of it, he knew, was because of the way he looked at Amanda like he was hungry or something.
Brian was pulling on his own life vest and had his chin tucked into his neck, trying to look down at his own chest over the bulk of the preserver. "I always feel like a penguin in these things," he said, tugging on the strings of his harness.
"A penguin?" Amanda laughed, "Why on earth do life preservers make you feel like a penguin?"
"Because," Brian finished adjusting the harness, then dropped his hands tight to his sides and wobbled back and forth, like a penguin waddling. Amanda laughed as he did that, and bobbled his head like a bird. Nick was staring back toward Ben as he did this, but everyone else in the entire group by the short was now staring at Brian as he started quacking.
"I'm pretty sure penguins don't quack," Amanda laughed.
"Why is that asshole watching us?" Nick growled. Brian sobered up and followed Nick's gaze toward Ben.
Amanda answered, "I think everyone is watching us, thanks to Brian."
"Dude, let it go," Brian said, "You put a lot of work into this trip, don't let some guy spoil the fun. C'mon." He shoved a wooden oar into Nick's hand and grinned.
Nick sighed, "You're right." The three of them pulled on bright orange helmets like everyone else. "There's just something about that guy, I dunno. I don't like him."
"But he's not worth ruining this," Brian said holding up the oar he had in his hand as evidence.
Nick laughed, "You're right."
"I always am," Brian smiled.
Pat held her oar over her head as she climbed up onto a large rock in front of the group. "Okay everyone!" she shouted, her voice projecting quite far, even without a megaphone or anything. "FOCUS! Especially you, newbies!" She paused and waited for everyone to look at her. "So here's how the white water rafting this is gonna work. We are officially a team now. THERE IS NO I IN TEAM!" she bellowed this last part and Nick blinked in surprise at the decibels her voice reached. "So what does that mean?" she asked, "It means we have to all work together to make this trip work out! We're going to be paddling downstream to the gorge, where we will be camping for two nights. Then we will finish our rafting ride from the bottom of the water fall in the gorge."
"We're going to that gorge?" Amanda looked surprised, and glanced at Nick, who smirked.
"As you are aware," Pat continued, "There is hiking and other activities planned for you once we are in the gorge. However!" her voice was sharp at this word. "You must live through the white water before you can see the gorge. Here are the rules. You will NOT live to see the gorge if you are horsing around or pulling shenanigans. You will NOT live to see the gorge if you are not helping to paddle. In other words, you will NOT live to see the gorge if you piss me off."
Nick's eyes widened and Brian coughed, "Gestapo." Amanda glanced over her shoulder at the two boys. Apparently the fresh mountain air had revived their hyper active sides. Brian covered his mouth, turning red, trying to stifle his laughter, as Nick's eyes watered, but his face remained amazingly straight other than the way his nostrils were quivering as he tried to keep steady breaths.
Ben caught her eye while she was looking back, and Amanda quickly turned forward.
"While we are on the raft," Pat continued, "You will be paddling at all times! This is how you will be using your oars!" She demonstrated, waving her oar through the air beside her like a viking. "Now you all try."
There was a general shuffling of feet and skin scraping life preservers as they all rearranged themselves and mimicked the rowing motion that Pat was doing. Nick's paddle hit the back of Brian's leg - whether by accident or not, no one would have been able to tell - and Brian blithely hit Nick back with his own oar as they stopped rowing and straightened up. Nick squinted his eyes at Brian, who was looking forward instead of at his friend.
"Very good," Pat shouted, "You don't look like you're a bunch of losers like the last group I brought down to the gorge. Now - this is very important. At least one of you will get thrown from the raft at some point or another," she explained.
"I hope it's Ben," Nick hissed to Brian, who laughed.
"If you fall out, do not panic. Grab onto a rock and we will row to you and pull you back into the raft. It is extremely important that you do not panic, as panicking will only make you more likely to flounder and get pulled under the water, or hit yourself on a rock. Keep yourself facing with the current, so that you can latch onto a rock." Pat looked around at them all, "Okay, I think we're set. Let's move out, people!"
The herd moved toward the rafts and Nick carefully steered away from the raft Ben was closest to, but Amanda knew he wouldn't want to be in the same raft as them anyway, so she wasn't surprised when he didn't even attempt to follow them.
"Are you guys starting to feel kinda nervous about this?" Brian asked, leaning forward to Nick and Amanda. Amanda was in the front, followed by Nick and then Brian behind him on the right side of the raft they'd gotten into. Pat was in the stern of their raft, and a family - father, mother and thirteen year old boy - was on the left.
Nick laughed, "Oh trust me Brian, the raft is the least of your worries for this week." He reached back and patted Brian's shoulder. "Seriously."
Brian's eyes widened, "What the hell else do you have planned?" he panicked.
The raft was leaving the shore, though, and Nick only laughed in response as the current of the river picked it up and the wind blew into their faces, taking away sound.
It took a grand total of about fifteen seconds before the water had caught the front of the boat just right and poured about five gallons of freezing-cold river water all over their laps. Amanda let out a scream closed her eyes as a second splash hit them. “Oh-h-hh my God!” she wailed.
Nick was laughing manically behind her. She flapped her paddle. “ROW!” cried Pat.
The water was insanely loud as they were carried away on a swift current and the river dipped between two tall walls of rock. Amanda couldn’t believe how loud the water could be. As they slipped over rocks and water caps, she felt herself bouncing up and down in the boat, the water that had gotten inside splashing around her new waterproof sneakers (she very much now understood why Nick had insisted she get those instead of regular hiking shoes).
Brian felt his stomach doing flips inside him, like he was on a wacky roller coaster ride or something.
When the water calmed down a couple minutes later, Amanda opened her eyes again and, gasping for air, leaned back into Nick, who laughed as he looked down at her. “You okay?” he asked.
“That was so scary,” she said.
Nick bent down and kissed her forehead softly, then said, “You better paddle or Pat’s gonna kill you.”
Amanda sat up and started rowing. A funny feeling took over her, though, as they glided along past the trees and rocks and banking. She’d been terrified. No, beyond terrified, but when she’d looked up at Nick… the feeling had melted. She’d felt safe. She smiled, thinking of that warm feeling he’d given her, just by being there, behind her. Her forehead tingled a little where he’d kissed her, and she gripped her paddle more tightly, braver now because Nick was there.