Going Camping

by Angie

This little vignette follows What’s Your Mama’s Name? and the other short stories in the Ezra’s Daughter series. Thanks to everyone who commented on Eve and asked for more. As my kids do other write-worthy things, I will pass them along via Ezra and Eve.

Ezra was going through Eve’s homework papers when he found the note from the leader of the Girl Scout troop that his daughter had joined at the first of the school year. Reading over the note, his stomach flip-flopped.

“Eve, could I speak to you for a moment?” He called up the stairs.

As the weary undercover agent sank into the big, leather recliner, he reread the note. The softly muffled thunder of his daughter’s descent from her bedroom caused him to draw a deep breath. ‘I can do this. Just explain it to her. She’ll understand.’ He was roused from the conversation he was having with himself by her light touch.

“Daddy? Did you want to talk to me?”

Looking into the brilliant green eyes of his little girl, his determination wavered. It was only a weekend, right? He could do that much. How hard could it be? Certainly not any worse than the fishing trips Chris had dragged him on when he first joined the team, right? He could survive a weekend camping trip with Eve.

“Daddy?” Eve’s voice intruded on his internal musing.

“Oh, sorry, I was lost in thought for a minute. I was just looking at this letter about the camping trip with your scout troop. Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

“I told Mrs. Jeffries that I couldn’t go because you had to work,” she answered evasively.

“Without even asking me first? Don’t you want to go?”

Eve studied the floor as she scrubbed at the carpet with her toes. Her long, dark, curly hair fell in a curtain around her face so that Ezra couldn’t see that she was chewing her lip as she pondered the question.

“Eve? Do you want to go camping with the troop?”

“Yes, but I know you’ve been working so much and I didn’t want you to have to spend the weekend out in the woods with us if you needed to rest!” she protested.

Drawing the dark haired imp into his arms, Ezra sighed softly into the top of her head.

“Don’t you know I’d rather spend time with you than anything else? If you want to go, we’ll go. I just need to call Mr. Larabee and let him know so that he doesn’t plan anything for me for that weekend. Okay?”

From her position curled up in her father’s lap, Eve giggled. She nuzzled against his chest as her arm stretched upward to press her hand to the side of his neck. Pulling her knees up closer to his ribs, she sighed contentedly.

After tucking Eve into bed for the night, Ezra picked up the phone and called Chris. When he got the answering machine at the ranch, he remembered that the team leader was taking Mary Travis out to supper and a movie. Instead of leaving a message, he decided to talk to him about it at work the next day.

+ + + + + + +

Parking the Jag next to JD’s Mustang, Ezra pulled his briefcase out of the passenger side seat and headed for the elevator. He was running through the list of reasons he had compiled the night before in the event that Chris protested his request for time off. Swiping his ID card to call the elevator, he nodded to himself as he played out the possible argument with the cranky blond team leader.

Chris Larabee looked up as Ezra knocked on the open door.

“May I have a minute of your time?” The southerner enquired. Seeing the hand that waved toward the empty chair, Ezra moved into the office and sat.

“I know that we have a case coming up and this is short notice, but I need the weekend after next off. Eve’s Girl Scout troop is going camping and I must accompany her.” As he mentally prepared for the protest that he expected, he didn’t hear the answer.

“Fine. Let me know if you need any equipment,” Chris replied.

“Now, Mr. Larabee, in all the time I have been here I have seldom requested time off for any personal reason …” Ezra began.

“I said fine,” the blond repeated.

“You did?” Came the questioning response.

“Yes. Fine. Go camping with Eve. If you need anything, let me know. The Waterman case fell through and we’re at the bottom of the rotation, so we probably won’t catch anything for a couple of weeks,” Chris explained.

“What happened with the Waterman case?” Ezra asked, surprised.

“Niko Waterman was found dead on his yacht this morning. I was going to let everyone know later this morning. Where are they going camping?”

The two men spent the next half hour discussing the campground and the gear that they would need. Chris agreed to provide a small, dome tent and some lanterns. The troop leader was providing cooking utensils.

By the time the camping trip rolled around, Ezra felt like he was ready. He had driven out to the ranch and picked up the tent and lanterns. He had purchased a pair of pool-type air mattresses to pad the ground and aired out the sleeping bags Buck and JD had lent him. Nathan had pressed a first aide kit into his hands. ‘Just in case.’ The medic had stated. Josiah offered him the use of the suburban. Ezra seriously considered turning the profiler down until he remembered that he had just had the Jag detailed. He gratefully accepted the loan of the battered old Chevy and entrusted Josiah with the spare keys to the Jag.

Since he now had considerably more room in his vehicle, Ezra offered to transport a couple of the other girls and their parents. He was somewhat surprised to find out that aside from himself and Mrs. Jeffries, only Patty Lawson was going along. Mrs. Hernandez had asked him if Bella could ride with he and Eve.

Arriving at the campground, the three adults and six little girls began unloading equipment. Ezra and Eve worked together to set up the tent they were going to use. The ladies set up the larger tent and another dome tent. Sleeping bags and backpacks were laid out, designating sleeping places. Ezra caught his daughter by the arm as she headed for the large tent with her sleeping bag.

“Where are you going, sweetie?”

“All of us girls are sleeping in the big tent. Bella is going to tell a ghost story and Joelle brought a portable radio. Kim and Kaitlynn are going to show us how to make shadow figures on the tent wall. Susanna has never been camping before, so we all want to be together so she has a good time,” was the long-winded answer.

Smiling indulgently at his daughter, Ezra let her go and peeked into the tent to watch the girls lay out bedding. There was some initial jockeying around until the girls aligned themselves in a satisfactory arrangement.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with squeals and screams as the girls discovered bugs and spiders and the rest of the life forms that occupied the campground. Ezra volunteered to follow the girls on a trail walk rather than stay and help with the cooking of the afternoon meal.

The trail started out wide enough for several of the girls to walk side by side but it narrowed as it wound away from the campground until they were walking single file. Kaitlynn was in the lead as she had been here several times before. Little Susanna hung back from the others a little, staying close to the relative safety of their adult chaperone.

A squeal of delight had all of the girls squeezing together to see something on the ground up ahead on the trail. Ezra looked over the heads of the girls to see a small turtle crossing the path. Joelle started forward only to be pulled back by the other girls.

“You remember what Mrs. Jeffries said? We can’t touch any of the wildlife, they’re protected,” Kim chided.

After the turtle was safely across the path, the girls resumed their journey. A shrill whistle sound was the signal for them to return to camp. The two mothers had grilled hamburgers. When all the girls had gotten their plates, they carefully surveyed the logs around the campfire before sitting down and settling their food on their knees.

Ezra was pleased to see that there were carrot sticks, cheese cubes and sliced apples on the plate along with the hamburger and chips. He had been concerned that they were going to be eating junk food all weekend. Sliding onto the bench of the picnic table, he dug in to his meal.

The girls were chattering happily amongst themselves when a terrified scream rent the air. Bella jumped to her feet, flinging the remains of her meal onto the ground as she stared wide-eyed at the log on the other side of the campfire.

“Snake!” She screamed, causing the other five girls to jump to their feet.

The three adults dashed across the campsite. Surprisingly, the girls had not bolted, but remained frozen in place as the snake slowly meandered out from under the rotting log. Ezra, Mrs. Jeffries and Mrs. Lawson moved cautiously around to where they could see the snake. A cold chill swept over the southerner as he recognized the telltale markings of the big timber rattler. The snake’s tongue popped out and he zeroed in on the warmth of the campfire.

“Everyone remain calm,” Mrs. Jeffries called as she moved between the girls and the advancing snake. She had picked up a large stick to ‘redirect’ the snake. Ezra realized that she intended to let the reptile escape.

“Ma’am, do you realize that is a poisonous snake? To let it slither away unmolested will keep the girls and any future campers on this site in danger.”

“What do you have in mind, Mr. Standish? We don’t have anything to kill it with!” The scout leader said softly. Ezra realized that the woman was much more frightened than she was letting on.

“I have the means to kill it quickly and cleanly if you will take the girls and retreat to the other side of the campsite,” he announced calmly.

For the first time, Ramona Jeffries noticed the handle of the 38 sticking out of the handsome man’s belt. She had thought it strange that he wore a windbreaker even though it wasn’t cool even in the shade. Now she realized that it was to cover the weapon he was carrying. Steeling herself, she looked over her shoulder at the girls.

“Kim, very slowly walk toward the cars, don’t run. Kaitlynn and Joelle, follow her. Bella, you and Eve take Susanna around the other way and go to Mrs. Lawson. Don’t anyone run, just stay calm. Mr. Standish, are you coming closer and what do you want me to do?” Ramona asked without taking her eyes off of the snake.

“Just back away. I don’t want anyone too close,” Ezra said calmly as he eased the gun from his belt. His eyes swept the campsite, locating each of the girls. He could see that Kim and Joelle were crying. Eve was staring at the snake with her fist pressed tightly against her lips. Her free hand held Susanna’s hand in a vise-like grip.

As soon as the two women had reached the girls, Ezra thumbed the hammer of the gun back and sighted carefully on the head of the snake. Drawing a deep breath, he squeezed the trigger. The sound of the gun was followed by a few screams from the girls. Taking up the stick Mrs. Jefferies had leaned against the log, he nudged the snake before working the stick under it and picking it up. He carried it away from the tents and flipped it into the woods.

After tucking the gun back into the hip holster, Ezra wiped the sweat from his forehead and turned back toward the campfire. When he neared the cluster of girls, Eve flung herself into his arms. He caught her and pulled her up onto his hip as his hands soothed up and down her back. She lifted her face from his shoulder after a minute, her green eyes were wide.

“That was scary!” She declared.

“Yes it was but you were all very calm, and that was the best thing you could have done,” he told her, including all of them in his statement. “Well, what do we do now that we’ve had our excitement for the day?”

The girls were hesitant to approach the campfire and tended to stay pretty close to the adults for the next couple of hours. Mrs. Lawson suggested that they work on a craft project. She pulled a plastic tote from the trunk of the scout leader’s car and began to lay out art supplies. While the girls were working on their individual projects, Mrs. Jeffries and Ezra carefully checked the logs around the campfire and the perimeter of the camp for any more unwelcome surprises.

A long walk in the woods allowed the girls to gather leaves and rocks for their collections. By dusk, all of the girls were tired. Mrs. Jeffries suggested that they lie down and rest while the adults cooked supper. The girls reluctantly headed for the tent. Within minutes of lying down, all six were fast asleep.

Patty Lawson was busy preparing vegetables for the pot of beef stew Ramona was starting. She raised her eyebrows in surprise as Ezra pulled a portion of the raw carrots and potatoes to his side of the table and began cutting them into small, neat pieces.

“So, how have you been dealing with all of this?” She launched into conversation, remembering that the man had been thrust suddenly into parenthood.

“I have come to the conclusion that I am blessed. Eve is a delightful child, so much like her mother. My friends have been a Godsend, picking me up when I stumble. How are you doing?” Ezra enquired, knowing that the young divorcee was struggling to raise two children alone. He didn’t know if she had nearly the support that he had.

“I’m okay actually. Gary is sending the child support and he took out a loan and paid off the house so I don’t have that to pay every month. He loves the kids, he just didn’t love me anymore,” she said with a wistful sigh.

“Patty, are the veggies ready to go in yet?” Ramona called from where she was stirring the cast iron pot resting on the grate over the low fire. Ezra gathered up the chopped up vegetables into a bowl and took them to the pump to rinse them before they went into the pot.

The three adults sat watching the sun as it slipped behind the tree line. The stew was done and they were just waiting for the girls to waken. The zing of the tent zipper revealed a tousle headed girl rolling her fists against her eyes. Kaitlynn glanced around the campsite before stepping out and heading for the latrine. One by one, the girls slipped out of the tent and joined the adults near the fire. Eve crawled into Ezra’s lap and snuggled against his chest for a few minutes.

Susanna’s tummy rumbled loudly and the other girls giggled.

“I guess that means that we should eat,” Ramona offered. Within minutes, all of them were caressing a warm bowl of beef stew. The sun continued its descent and the shadows slowly faded as darkness took over the campsite. A few lightning bugs glowed, enticing the girls into trying to coax them to land on their hands.

Ezra smiled as Eve and Bella rushed over to show him the lightning bug they had caught. As soon as Bella’s hands opened, the bug’s wings fluttered and it flew away, flashing as it rose into the darkness. A bag of marshmallows brought all six girls back to the fire. Long metal rods were passed out so each of them could toast the fluffy, white marshmallows. Patty quickly broke up graham crackers and chocolate bars so the melting, sweet balls could be made into s’mores.

Eve licked the melted goo from her fingers as she rested back against her dad. Joelle sat on his other leg and was staring into the fire hypnotically. She had finished her treat and washed her hands before seeking a place to sit that wasn’t on a log. Mr. Standish had been sitting in a folding lawn chair and so she asked if she could sit on his lap.

As the moon and stars began to light the sky, the girls were all ensconced on a lap. In the background, frogs and crickets sang. A light breeze stirred the air and Ramona stretched in her chair.

“How about a sing along?” She suggested. The girls quickly perked up as they called out their favorite song titles.

After a half hour of singing, the girls were overcome by bouts of yawning. Kim had one arm draped over Patty’s shoulder and was dozing lightly. Eve snuggled into the warmth of her dad’s windbreaker and pressed the tip of her cold nose to the warmth of his neck. He pressed his lips to the top of her head as he tightened his arm around her.

“How about one last song?” The southerner suggested. “I heard this one a long time ago when I was fortunate enough to have gone to summer camp,” he explained. Raising a soft tenor voice, he sang to the tune of ‘Taps.’

“The day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the trees,
From the hills,
From the sky.
All is well,
Safely rest.
God is nigh.”

With a collective sigh, the girls began to slide off of warm laps and headed for the tent. Using one of the battery-powered lanterns, they changed into pajamas and crawled into sleeping bags. Patty stuck her head in to tell her daughter good night. Ezra peered through the screen window and blew a kiss to Eve.

The adults made one final check of the campsite before banking the fire for the night and crawling into their own tents. Ezra lay awake for a long time, listening to the soft shuffles and sighs from the girl’s tent. Just before sleep claimed the southerner, he heard the bigger tent zipper open. Sitting up in his sleeping bag, he listened. A moment later, a light touch sounded on the nylon of his tent. The zipper was drawn up and Eve stuck her head in.

“Can I sleep in here?” She whispered.

A dimpled smile lit Ezra’s face as he motioned her into the tent. Eve dropped her sleeping bag next to his and crawled inside. Within minutes, both were sound asleep.

Ezra was awakened by soft giggles coming from the large tent. He glanced down at the head of dark, curly hair that rested on his shoulder. Eve had her arm thrown over her eyes as she lay using his arm for a pillow. He listened, as the other girls started moving around in the other tent. The sound finally penetrated Eve’s slumber and she began to waken. She turned on her side and snuggled against her father for a minute.

“Good morning,” he said softly.

“Good morning,” Eve answered before yawning.

“Sleep well?” He enquired.

“Un-huh, I dreamt about my mom,” she whispered.

They both lay in silence for a couple of minutes before Eve turned over and began to wiggle out of her sleeping bag. She put on her slippers and unzipped the tent door. Stepping outside, she inhaled deeply. Ezra stepped out behind her and smiled broadly. There was fog hanging low over the ground and it obscured their view of the hillside.

Two of the girls headed for the latrine. Mrs. Jeffries and Mrs. Lawson were busy frying sausage and making eggs for breakfast over the fire. Suddenly, a pair of high-pitched screams rent the air. Ezra set his coffee cup on the picnic table and headed for the girls at a dead run. He rounded the corner of the latrine and skidded to a halt. The girls were standing, staring wide-eyed at a spider sitting in the middle of a web that filled most of the door opening.

As he stood, waiting for his heartbeat to return to normal, he caressed the shoulders of the two frightened children. Kim turned her eyes up to look at Ezra.

“I hate spiders!” she said with an emphatic shudder. Behind her, Mrs. Jeffries let go an audible expression of disgust.

Ezra retrieved a stick and lifted the spider from the doorway and carried it quickly to the woods. As he returned to the campsite, the girls applauded loudly. After everyone had settled down, breakfast was served.

They spent the morning on a hike to the nearby lake where the girls swam. By the time they returned to camp, the girls were more than ready for lunch. Hotdogs and veggie sticks were a quick meal. After a short rest, they took a walk through the woods again. The girls were trying to identify the various trees and leaves that they encountered.

“I wish Uncle Vin was here,” Eve announced, “he knows all the trees and stuff.”

“Isn’t he the one with the ugly Jeep?” Bella asked.

“It isn’t ugly! It has that ‘lived in’ look!” Eve defended hotly.

After supper that night, there was a soft rumble of thunder. The girls retreated to their big tent to tell scary stories. The adults sat around the fire drinking coffee until it began to rain. They then retreated to the ladies tent to play cards for a while. The girls got into a pillow fight, their screams of delight ringing over the soft rain that soaked the campsite.

Finally, the girls began to tire and started settling down for the night. The adults finally broke up their game and Ezra headed for his sleeping bag. As the night wore on, the storm worsened. The wind picked up and the rain came down in sheets. Bright flashes of lightening lit up the sky.

Ezra peered across the narrow gap between the two tents, worry creasing his brow. A bright flash of lightening illuminated the campsite again and he heard the girls shriek. He unzipped the tent and dashed through the downpour to get to the other tent. Kneeling down, he was immediately set upon by his daughter. Eve wrapped her arms and legs around her father and buried her face in his neck.

It took the southerner a while to settle the girls down. He sat in the middle of the tent with his legs stretched out in front of him. The girls rested their heads on his legs, Eve and Bella at his hips and the other girls spread down his legs. From his deepest memory, he began to recite poetry to them. He graduated to what Shakespeare he remembered. As the last, distant rolls of thunder echoed over the campsite, the girls were all asleep.

Patty stuck her head out of the tent opening and looked around the camp. Puddles of water stood in every depression in the ground. The clothing and towels they had hung on their makeshift clothesline was still dripping. Overhead, the sky was a solid bowl of palest azure, not a cloud to be seen. Glancing at the large tent, the woman sighed in relief, it was still standing and none the worse for wear. When she peered beyond the big tent, her heart leapt into her throat. The small dome tent was collapsed!

“Ramona! Hurry up! Ezra’s tent is down!” She called in a worried hiss.

The two women pulled on their sneakers and raced out of their tent. As she passed the large tent, the scout leader peeked inside. What she saw made her smile and grab the other woman by the arm. There, inside the tent, Ezra Standish lay, surrounded by all six of the girls. His head rested on a duffle bag and he had Eve’s sleeping bag spread over him. Eve and Kim were sharing her larger sleeping bag and using him for a pillow. Kaitlynn and Susanna were on the other side, using his leg for a pillow along with Bella. Joelle had the southerner’s foot under her neck and was snoring toward the ceiling of the tent.

While the ATF agent and the girls slept, the women started breakfast. Patty had taken on the daunting task of slowly unzipping the tent so she could snap a few pictures. She then set up the coffee pot and placed it over the fire. Within minutes, the smell of freshly brewing coffee wakened Ezra.

At first, he was a little disoriented. His tent was red, the tent he was sleeping in was blue. Both of his legs were devoid of feeling due to the little heads that rested on them. His arm was also hopelessly pinned beneath Eve’s head. The angle of his neck resting on the duffle bag was such that he knew he was going to be sore when he was finally freed of his burden.

Slowly, carefully, he extricated himself from under the girls. Joelle gave him a hard look before turning over and burying her face in her sleeping bag again. Rolling onto his hands and knees, Ezra looked out of the now tied back tent door. From his vantage point, he could see the women moving around the campsite. The smell of coffee was like a siren’s song, luring him to his feet and out of the tent.

Ramona could not resist giggling at the man, as he slowly stood upright outside of the tent. His hair stuck up from his head in every direction and the legs of his sweat pants were covered with mud spatters. Along one side of his face was the imprint of the strap of the bag he had been using for a pillow. His green eyes sparkled though, as he stretched his arms skyward and yawned.

While the women finished preparing breakfast, Ezra righted his tent and pulled out his own duffle bag. He was thankful that his clothes were not wet. Changing into clean clothes, he poured himself a cup of coffee and sank into the folding chair that was draped with a dry towel.

The girls finished breakfast and then made short work of breaking up the camp. Everything was rolled carefully and stored in the back of the suburban. They took one last walk up the trail before getting into their vehicles to return to Denver.

After dropping the other girls and equipment off, Ezra headed for the Larabee ranch. He had to set up the tent and let it dry in the sun so it wouldn’t mold before he could pack it away again. Chris and the others were surprised to see the Standish family. Vin and JD offered to set the tent up while Eve thrilled everyone with the long tale of their exciting weekend.

“And Mrs. Lawson has pictures of my daddy sleeping in the tent with us! She said he looked like a sultan with his little harem. She’s going to make me a copy of the pictures when she gets home!” Eve declared proudly.

“I can’t wait to see that,” Chris assured her.