- Text Size +
Both guys were gasping and shivering by the time the raft struck shore in a big parking lot. The school bus Amanda had seen at the place they'd departed from was parked in a clearing, but otherwise there wasn't much to be seen. A couple guys - dressed in shorts and polo shirts emblazoned with the company logo - ran across the parking lot carrying blankets, which they gave to Nick and Brian quickly as they disembarked.

Pat ushered the team onto the school bus, Nick supporting Brian with his arm, wrapping his blanket around both of them so that Brian was under two. Amanda trotted to keep up with them as Nick rushed to get Brian onto the bus. His face was pink from the cold air.

When they'd clustered into the long seat affixed across the back of the bus, Amanda crouched down in front of the two boys, who were sitting side-by-side on the seat. Nick looked at Amanda for the first time since the whole ordeal had started. She recognized concern in his eyes. He turned back to Brian. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," Brian gasped out, "Cold, but I'm okay." He smiled sadly, "I panicked, though. Pat must be pissed."

"I think Pat's fine," Amanda injected.

Brian smiled, "Ah." He looked at Nick, "And once again you've added to the list of things I can never repay you for."

"Yeah, that was amazing," Amanda breathed. "You were like coast guard or something."

Nick's cheeks were pink, but Amanda couldn't tell if it was from the cold air or the compliment. "Ah well..." he smiled. Amanda couldn't help but notice the way his hair sort of hung in wet strands across his forehead. The water had turned his lips a slightly bluish hue.

A shiver ran down Brian's spine and his whole body shook with it. Nick yanked his blanket off completely and wrapped it around Brian. His eyes locked with Amanda's, and again concern flickered across his face. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked.

Brian nodded.

"Should we bring you to a doctor?"

Brian shook his head. "I'll be fine, I just need to warm up."

The bus was just starting to move, and Amanda got up from her crouch and sat down next to Nick. "We drove the bikes here," she said slowly.

Nick shrugged, "We'll leave them at the thing and take a cab." He reached into his pocket for his cell phone. "Oh, right. Um. Can I borrow your phone Brian? I um. Lost mine."

"Pocket," Brian muttered.

Nick reached into Brian's pocket and pulled out a soaking wet cell phone. "Or... maybe yours, Amanda?"

She reached into her pocket and handed hers to him. They had the same phone, Nick and Amanda. Nick quickly dialed 4-1-1 and located a cab company, requesting one meet them at the Lost Paddle outfitters store. "We'll come back for the bikes tomorrow or something," Nick said. Amanda nodded.

Without thinking, Nick slid the cell phone into his pocket.

"We're gonna get you back to the lodge, Bri," Nick said, "And we'll get those wood stoves going for ya there, okay?"

Brian nodded sleepily, "That would be splendifferous," he answered.

Pat had been all apologies when they reached the outfitters store, offering them a 10% discount off their next Lost Paddles Adventure trip. Nick accepted the coupon, fairly certain there would never be a time when he'd want to use it. They said goodbye to her, which Nick actually found sorta sad because she'd grown on him the way crazy people like that do, and loaded into the cab.

"Can ya turn the heater up back here?" Nick asked, tapping on the glass and handing the cabbie a piece of paper with the address for the lodge on it. Within minutes, the back of the cab was warm and toasty and Brian had stopped shivering.

"Oh that heater feels amazing," he said, his accent thick.

Nick smiled, relaxing now that Brian was coming back to normal.

By the time the cab pulled up to the lodge, Nick and Brian were goofing around in the backseat. "Seventy-five, twenty," the cabbie called the fair.

"Damn," muttered Nick, reaching into his pocket for his wallet. "Aw crap."

"What?" Amanda asked.

Nick looked at Brian, "Guess what else I lost?"

Brian pulled his own wallet out of his pocket and handed the cabbie a hundred dollar bill. "Thanks for the heater," he called as they climbed out of the car without waiting for change. The driver pulled off before Brian could change his mind.

"I can't believe I lost my fucking wallet," Nick bitched as the three of them walked into the lodge. Brian was still draped in the two blankets, giving him a boxer-entering-the-ring kind of look.

Amanda immediately set to getting the wood stoves going as Nick climbed up the ladder to the loft he and Brian were sharing to dig out the photo copies he'd made of his credit cards and driver's license. Brian sank into the sofa with a long sigh.

"You feeling okay?" Amanda asked him as he first of the two wood stoves started glowing amber.

Brian nodded, "Yeah, better now." His hair was still wet.

"You should change," Amanda said, "Your clothes are wet and so are those blankets." She stood up, "Go change, and I'll find you fresh blankets, okay?"

Brian struggled to his feet and, reluctantly leaving the blankets behind, followed Nick up to the loft. Amanda sighed and balled up the blankets Brian had discarded before tossing them into the corner of the room and grabbing the keys to the bus off a hook by the door.

Nick was dialing the 1-800 numbers for each of his credit cards in turn on Amanda's cell phone, reporting the cards lost. Each time Nick hit the number 1, the name "ERIC" flashed across the screen as it pulled up Amanda's speed dial.

Brian came up the ladder and started rummaging through the duffle bag he'd brought up there the first night they'd been at the lodge. He finally settled for a pair of American Eagle sweatpants and a t-shirt with a picture of Spam on it. He yanked them on while Nick complained to someone who was either not speaking English or was hard of hearing about his cards.

"I'm re-por-thing them lost or sto-len," Nick said, breaking the bigger words into syllables. "I lost my wal-let in a ri-ver in Col-o-rad-oooo," he dragged out the last letter. "Holy crap is this woman an idiot," Nick muttered as he got put on hold.

Brian smiled. "Thanks for saving me," he said.

"No problem, Spam-man," Nick answered.

Brian climbed down the ladder, leaving Nick alone with the incoherent creditors of America.

That night, they ate Spaghettio's - the only thing left on the bus - which they heated by putting the cans, unopened, on the wood stoves. It had actually worked pretty effectively, considering. It had been Nick's idea. "Saves on dishes," he'd pointed out, which Brian thought was an excellent idea as he'd been the one to do all the dishes since they'd started the trip.

After they ate, Brian retired up to the loft, leaving Nick and Amanda in the living area alone. Nick half contemplated offering to play pool with her, but Amanda had stood up just before the words came out, and smiled. "Well I'm going to bed," she'd announced.

Nick looked up at her. "In the 'girls' loft," he said, trying to sound innocent. Amanda knew what he was asking. She hesitated. Without an immediate response, Nick shrugged, "No worries," he said.

Amanda held out her hand to him, palm up.

He looked up at her.

"C'mon," she said.