Drew McConnell scanned through the large crowd around him, trying to see past fluffy toques decorated with animal ears or pom poms and oversized helmets protecting sun-kissed faces with reverse racoon-eyed goggle tans. Everyone seemed to be carrying skis and snowboards, or bulky bags filled with gift-wrapped packages, or hot drinks and beaver tails, or little mini versions of themselves sporting tiny helmets or toques. Drew gave up on his search and turned on his phone’s camera.
“Alright, alright, alright! I am coming to you live on YouTube from the Ice Bridge. For those of you who are not from around these parts, the Ice Bridge is basically the heart of Glacier Village. You can see right through the bottom of this bridge, here, is Glacier Creek, which runs right down the middle of town.” Drew pointed his camera to his feet to show the lively creek flowing beneath the clear plexiglass walkway. “Along each side of the bridge, you can find all types of stores for your shopping pleasure. And, as you can see as I pull a little 360 in the middle here, it is busy, people! I’m just, oops, sorry, going to move off to the side of the Bridge now and… oops, sorry!” Drew wove his way through the crowd, his camera capturing the hum of people busily chatting and laughing with friends. “Anyway, I am here outside Bloom’s Equipment and Extras, also known to locals as the BEE, where you can purchase any number of excellent quality products made for the outdoors.”
“What am I doing here, you ask? I am waiting for the one and only Mr. Benjamin Black, now twenty-five minutes late and counting. For you new viewers, Ben Black just happens to be my best friend and the heir to Black Mountain, where, I am sure, we will be camping at some point in the next few days as part of the epic Alpine Survival Challenge. Ben asked me to come out and help him pick out some dope new gear for tonight and—”
Drew stopped short when two men with scruffy beards walked directly into his frame. “Huh? Oh, sorry man, I didn’t see you there. What? No, sorry, I don’t have any money on me. What? No! Are you crazy? What the…?” Drew paused to listen to the muffled voices off-camera. “I asked you if you’re crazy cuz you’re totally buggin’ out and—! Hey, back off, man. Back off!” Drew made a quick escape through the BEE’s front doors with his camera still recording.
“Sorry folks,” Drew whispered into the camera. “Those guys were cra-zy! Not allowed to film inside, so I gotta sign off. I will try to bring you some more live footage from the Survival Challenge tonight. Alright then, people. Thank you for tuning in!”
Ben entered the BEE just as Drew put his phone away.
“Sorry I’m late, Drew.”
“Oh hey, Benji. Everything okay? What happened? Did your dad find out?”
“Hi, can I help you guys find anything?” Cara Walker said with a warm smile.
“Oh hi, Cara! I didn’t know you worked here.” Drew grinned and straightened himself.
“Yeah, for a couple of weeks now. Are you guys looking for anything in particular?”
“We might just browse around a bit first,” replied Ben.
“No, no, no! We definitely need help. We could definitely use your guidance Cara, right Ben?”
Ben gave Drew a lopsided grin. “Yeah, no, you’re right, Drew. I have a huge list, so a little help would be awesome. Do you know where I can find all this stuff?” Ben tapped on his phone and handed it to Cara.
She studied the text on the large screen, walking deeper into the BEE while the boys followed. Drew flashed Ben a grateful smile and received a nudge in return.
Cara led the boys to the backpack section and slowly paced up and down the aisles, her face clouded with intense concentration.
“Ah, here they are! Avalanche airbags! Wow! These are pricey!” Cara said, her eyes widening.
“Whoa. I would have totally walked past these. I did not see those labels for some reason. This would have taken us so long to find without you, Cara. Thank you so much,” Drew gushed.
Cara’s cheeks flushed pink as the corners of her mouth pulled tight to form a shy smile. “Here, try this one on.” She slipped a padded strap up Ben’s arm and onto his shoulder while he weaved his other arm through the second strap. “Let’s buckle you in at the hips. Oops, I forgot to unbuckle it first. Sorry, let me just…” Cara wrapped her arms around Ben’s waist and reached behind him, turning her head to the side as she pictured the buckle in her mind to help her release it by touch. She miscalculated, tapping Ben’s bum accidentally and Ben jumped in response, making an awkward face at Drew. Cara’s cheeks turned a darker pink. She could feel eyes watching her as she tried to calm her nerves and not come off as an incompetent idiot. “Oh, sorry! Ack! Got it! Okay, this part sits on your hips and snaps together in front here. So if you pull on these little straps, you can make it snug. And these straps up here make this part sit right…” Cara could feel Ben’s breath on the top of her head as she fumbled with the chest straps, trying to push them together. A bead of nervous sweat rolled down her back.
“Yep, that’s pretty snug, alright,” Ben said. “So how exactly does this balloon pack work?”
“Oh, um. I’m not sure. I haven’t… I just started… Let me go get some help,” Cara stammered, her face now a bright red. Before Ben or Drew could say a word, she darted away to the back of the store.
“Thanks a lot, bro,” Drew said.
“Sorry, man. I didn’t mean to be hard on her or anything like that.”
Minutes ticked by as Drew and Ben waited for Cara to return. “I don’t think she’s coming back.”
“I’m really sorry, Drew. I’ll figure out how this works later. Let’s just get the rest of the stuff.”
“You’d better figure out how that airbag works before you need it, brother,” Drew joked.
“Famous last words,” Ben replied.
Wade Pratt peered through the flower shop window and hoped the old lady inside wasn’t as slow as she looked. He strode up to the cash register, pulling out his wallet. “Do you have anything special?” he asked without looking up as he thumbed through a wad of $20 dollar bills.
“Certainly.” Louise Sterling stepped out from behind the counter and walked over to a colorful display of flowers stacked neatly in rows. “We have this lovely mixed bouquet with lilies. These colors are truly spectacular.” She held up a bunch of lavender and pink flowers.
Wade looked at the price tag. $79.99 for the bouquet. He frowned.
“There are also these gorgeous roses over here and these tulips have been very popular this winter,” Louise pointed out.
$87.49 and $64.79. Wade yawned and turned his head to look around the store.
“Are you looking for anything in particular? Or do you have someone in mind? A special occasion perhaps?”
Wade felt a pang in his heart as he thought about his girlfriend. The image of her from the night before was vivid — the lift at the center of her eyebrows while they furrowed, how her eyes got big, round and glossy with tears, the way her hands fidgeted out of nervousness. He could hear her sobs right now. His chest felt heavy with guilt, like one of his hundred-pound weights had been dropped on him. He knew exactly what he was feeling. Regret. I gotta be more chill, he thought. It can’t happen again.
He looked up from his feet and saw Louise’s smiling face, her eyebrows raised. Clearly, she expected a response. “I don’t know,” he said. “They’re for my girlfriend. Do you have something that makes girls, like, forgiving or something?”
“Hmm. Well, maybe your girlfriend would like a custom arrangement. What are her favorite flowers or colors?”
“I mean,” he said, letting out an exasperated sigh. Custom, he thought, code for rip-off. If Louise had blinked, she would have missed seeing Wade roll his eyes and give his head a quick shake in disgust. “I don’t know. Who cares. Just… Don’t you have anything cheaper?”
“Oh, well, of course. Over here are some of our sale items and everything in this section is always very affordable.”
Wade scanned the prices which ranged from $7.99 to $35.99. The dumb old bag was really annoying now. Hadn’t he asked her for sale items from the start? Weren’t his exact words “on sale” or “on special” or something like that? It didn’t matter, he knew what kind of person he was dealing with. She was a greedy scammer. He recognized them instantly.
“Never mind,” he said as he left without looking at Louise.
The candy aisle in the convenience store next door had a large selection of sweets and Wade considered his choices carefully for a full minute. Grabbing a bag of $5 chocolates, he headed to the check-out.
“Is that everything for you today?” the cashier asked.
Wade spotted a small display of protein powders and picked out a five-pound container. “Oh yeah, I’m running low on this.”
“That’ll be $138.62. Want a bag?”
“Sure,” Wade said, pulling out seven $20 bills from his wallet.
As he looked out of the window, across the Ice Bridge and into the BEE, his eyes narrowed. A wave of heat flooded into his face. With one hand clenched into a fist and the other clutching his bag, he stormed outside and over to the BEE’s display window. His hot breath fogging up the window just millimeters from his face, Wade stood motionless, apoplectic with rage, watching and waiting for the right time to act.
“Where do you think she went?” Drew asked, craning his neck around a display case filled with compasses.
Ben sighed. “I should’ve known not to ask any technical questions right off the bat. I’m really sorry. Next time, I’m not saying a word.” He rarely saw Drew act so awkwardly around a girl and didn’t like letting his friend down.
“Naw, man, it’s okay. She’s a bit timid, I think. Ugh. I don’t know. There’s something about her and she doesn’t even…” Drew drifted off, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.
“Hey, check this out.” Ben tried to distract his best friend with a little yellow device he picked up.
“That there is an ACR ResQLink. A personal locator beacon,” said a balding man wearing a tag with the name “Jim” and the word “Manager” below. “An excellent idea if you’re out in the back country or even hiking in the local mountains. It’s only one-way, but it works on a different frequency than satellite phones, so it can send out signals where satellite phones won’t work.”
“One-way?” Ben asked.
“Satellite phones enable two-way communication, like a regular phone. You can let rescuers know where you are, what your condition is, what you might need, whatever. You can even send and receive texts. This personal locator beacon just sends a signal. You can’t communicate beyond that,” Jim explained.
“Can’t hurt. Weighs nothing. Thanks,” Ben said as he smiled and added one in his basket. It wasn’t on his list, but he didn’t want to disappoint Jim.
“Hope we won’t need that for the Challenge.” Drew winked. “At least you’re still in it, right? Your dad didn’t ground you?”
“That would be against Jefferson’s agenda,” Ben said in a deep voice imitating his father’s intonation.
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing must damage the image and reputation of Jefferson Black,” Ben continued.
“So, he’s okay with Wesley? The rifle? Being seen with it in the village?” Drew looked shocked.
“Wes is the golden child who can do no wrong. And grounding us would be like pleading guilty before the trial and that is most definitely not part of Jefferson’s playbook.”
“Honestly, Benji, I don’t really get it. Your dad seems like such a cool guy. He’s always super nice to me, I mean, letting me drive the red Lambo last summer? Come on! And he’s always on the front page of the Glacier Times, getting recognition from the mayor, getting awards from the town council, hanging out with celebrities.”
“Yeah, you’re right Drew. Jefferson’s a great guy,” Ben said.
“Hey, do you have this on your list?” Drew said, picking up an ice axe to inspect it. “You might need it to protect yourself from those sketchy guys outside. Did you see them? They’ve got that ‘I’ll murder you for that sandwich’ vibe.”
“I don’t think we’ll need that.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. You can balloon them into submission with your new backpack.”
Ben laughed. “No, I mean for the Challenge. Do you think we’re going to have to do anything extreme?”
“You never know, brother. Better to be safe than sorry, right?”
“I don’t know. Don’t need the extra bulk and weight. Think I’ll pass. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
The front door of the BEE swung open violently and smashed against the stopper. Wade Pratt charged in. Four heads turned to look at him, but he stormed past them all. A muscle in his jaw twitched as he searched the BEE, his eyes bulging. He could feel his pulse pounding in his temples, his chest heaving from rapid breaths and his fingernails digging into the palms of his hands. He had tried to chill, to take deep breaths, to count to ten. He was trying to wait for a good time to have a discreet chat, but the rage inside him had started bubbling and he couldn’t stop it from bursting out.
“What the hell were you doing?” Wade grabbed Cara’s arm, jolting her around to face him and startling her coworker Roya Kossari. “Why were you down in his crotch, putting your hands all over him?”
“Hey,” Roya said, stepping between Wade and Cara.
“Get out of my face! I’m talking to my girl,” Wade said, positioning his nose inches away from Roya’s. His face was a deep shade of red and thick veins popped out from his neck. He still had a firm hold of Cara, his fingertips were white where they gripped her arm.
Wade’s eyes shifted down to Roya’s nametag. “Mind your own business, Roya. Wouldn’t want you getting hurt by accident, now would we, Roya. Nice name. Super easy to remember and Google.”
Roya’s eyes widened and she ran away.
“I’m just doing my job, Wade,” Cara protested. Her voice was weak and barely audible.
“Let go of her, right now,” a calm, deep voice said. Roya had returned with Jim, who stepped in front of Cara. “We’re going to have to ask you to leave. We will call the police if you refuse.”
Wade let go of Cara to focus on Jim. “Don’t get involved. You don’t want to mess with me,” he said in a low grumble.
Now free of Wade’s grip, Cara backed away, rubbing her arm.
“I don’t think you want to mess with me,” Jim said.
“HEY! Don’t you walk away! I’m not done with you yet,” Wade shouted at Cara.
Cara froze in place and looked around to see other employees and customers gathering and watching the confrontation. She burst into tears and ran into the employee-only area. Wade took a step after her, but Jim blocked his path. “Right now, sir.”
His heart hammering against his chest, Wade’s head felt like it was going to explode from the pressure building inside. He glanced around him, noticing the stares from the small crowd that had gathered. He focused on the large, dark brown eyes at the front of the group. “See you again soon, Roya,” he said with a smile, like he was talking to his best friend.
Wade left the BEE without looking at anyone else. Outside, he peered back inside through the display window and saw Ben and Drew laughing as Ben tugged on his backpack. Wade opened the bag of chocolates and popped one in his mouth. Still eyeing the boys, he took out his phone and texted, “Wanna make some easy cash?”
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