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Oh Beth

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“You Jerks!”

Shaking her head, Beth Washington turned and started trudging through the woods in a desperate attempt to find her twin sister. As she followed her sister's footsteps through the crunchy Alberta snow, she was relieved that she had switched from lager to coffee a couple of hours earlier. Unlike her brother, who had really done it this time. Downing an entire bottle of whiskey in trying to win a drinking contest with his oldest friend. A contest in which the true winner was the distillery whose product had rendered both friends unconscious. Five minutes ago, she found his antics endearing, but now she was just irritated that she was, yet again, the 'responsible one'.

Not that her brother was to blame, after all he wasn't the one who came up with the idea of embarrassing Hannah with such a mean-spirited prank. Instead, it was her so-called friends, who had tricked her naïve sister into exposing herself to Mike, both emotionally and, judging by Hannah's state of undress as she ran from the lodge, almost literally. Well, not Chris, who was just as drunk, if not more so, than her brother. And judging by the angry look on her face as Beth stormed out, Sam wasn't involved either.

Still, she wished that the blonde haired girl had come with her. Partially because her rock climbing skills might come in handy, but mostly because she was the only non-Washington in their group that really understood Beth or Hannah. And Josh for that matter, although she suspected that no one truly understood the eldest Washington sibling, not even Hannah or herself.

“Shit, dead end” Beth muttered to herself as the steadily increasing snow obscured her sister's footsteps. “Which way should I go? Left or right?” Quickly noticing a shadow to the right side, she turned that way, hoping it was her sister.

“Hannah! Hannah, it's me. Where are you!?!” Beth felt the cold air sting her bronchial tubes as she cried out. Judging by what Hannah was wearing when she ran outside, Beth feared that she would be freezing, if not worse. Beth shivered both due to the cold wind piercing her own fuchsia ski jacket and black yoga pants as well as the thought of her sister being outside in just a low-cut blouse and jeans.

A loud inhuman groan broke Beth's train of thought.

“Hannah, is that you?” Beth instinctively questioned. Speeding her pace, she proceeded down the path hoping the sound was just the wind, or maybe a scared caribou, and not a wolf or her sister freezing to death. Shining the flashlight of her smart phone over the path while trying to detect any sign of her sister, Beth suddenly felt woozy as her vision blurred. Her view of the obscured trail was replaced as a third person perspective entered her mind. Showing both her and Hannah holding hands while falling off a cliff. She winced as the vision showed her smashing her spine against a jagged stone, while Hannah fell straight to the ground with her body battered and broken.

“Great. Already starting to get weird hypothermia visions.” Beth muttered as her eyes cleared “Hannah, please answer me!” she called out with a weary dullness entering into her voice. Looking over her right shoulder, she hoped to see either Sam or Josh following to help her. At this point, she would have settled for Mike or Emily. Realizing that no one was behind her, she continued forward until she heard an angry, indeterminable, scream followed by a bright blast of fire. She had felt uneasy earlier in the lodge when she heard unusual rustling noises and thought she had seen someone outside. But there was a vast difference between unsettling sounds and vague shadows, and some maniac wielding a flamethrower. She needed to find her sister immediately, for both their sakes. “HANNAH!”

“Hello? Beth?” a frail voice came from the clearing to Beth's right. As she turned and looked, she saw Hannah sitting in the snow with her face blotched with tears of embarrassment. While she had buttoned her blouse back up, the garment's exposed cleavage and short sleeves had provided little protection from the elements. Her dark long hair and the black silky blouse contrasted eerily with how her normally olive complexion had started to turn white from frostbite.

“Hannah! You look like a ghost. Oh God, you must be freezing.” With that understatement, Beth quickly unzipped her ski jacket, revealing her wool gray sweater, and passed it to her twin.

Too cold to offer polite refusals, Hannah quickly pulled on the jacket and zipped it up to her neck. “Still taking care of me after all of these years, huh, Beth.” Hannah's eyes started to water as she admonished herself. “I'm such an idiot, such a fool, such a...”

“Hannah. Stop it. You're not the first girl to have fallen for the charms of Michael Munroe.”

“But how could he pull a prank like that? Unless he's hated me all this time.” Hannah shook her head as the combination of anxiety and self-loathing washed over her.

Beth sighed and hugged her sister, pushing Hannah's cold face into the warmth of her sweater. “Look, they've all been drinking and I'm sure that they'll regret doing this in the morning. Actually, judging by the look Sam was giving them, they're probably regretting it now”. Beth chuckled slightly at the thought of Sam reaming into the others with justified indignation. “And I know that Mike does actually care about you... Just not the way you want him to care about you. I'm sorry, so sorry, that you found out this way.” Beth loosened her hug and looked over the snow obscured lenses of Hannah's glasses directly into her sister's teary eyes. “Let's go home, Han, before we get frozen together”.

Hannah broke a slight smile and was about to agree with her sister when she noticed a figure moving behind Beth. A hunched figure, with a vaguely human face, but with sharpened teeth, grotesquely tightened skin and unnaturally elongated limbs, was starting to move towards them, It's gait was a halting scurry, akin to a particularly awkward spider. Noticing her sister's change in expression, Beth looked back and saw the creature as it unleashed a blood curdling screech. Looking back at her sister, Beth released the hug and grabbed her sister's left hand in her right. “Hannah, can you run?”

Hannah nodded slightly and with that gesture, both sisters went in stride just as the creature hastened its pace. While Hannah was normally the faster of the two, Beth took the lead in what was becoming a sadistic race, with the creature gaining despite the apparent physical impossibility. While running, Beth dug for her cell phone, hoping for some way to call for help only for the phone to slip from her grasp and fall away. Looking ahead, the snow began to clear, revealing that two girls had reached the end of the trail, a high cliff cutting off their escape.

“Fuck!” Beth exclaimed as she looked at the advancing creature while Hannah stood slightly behind her, Hannah's face indicating that she hoped this was a final dream while dying of hypothermia, as it would be better than this fate. At this point, Beth let go of her sister's hand and resolved that if she was going to serve as some creature's meal, she was going to give it indigestion on the way down. Maybe some way, this suicidal act would allow Hannah to escape. As she reached for a rock, she alerted her sister “Get ready to run.”

Realizing what her sister was suggesting, Hannah began to plead. “BETH, NO. Please don't.” As Beth was about to rush the monstrosity, another plume of fire streamed out from the woods, stunning it. Unfortunately, the plume also startled Hannah and she lost her balance. Desperately, she tore at her sister, first, trying to grab her right arm and then getting a good grip on her right leg, as her momentum carried both girls over the cliff. Before reaching the point of no return, Beth grabbed a dangling tree root, with both hands, while Hannah maintained a death grip on her leg.

Beth silently thanked God for all the times she had gone rock climbing with Sam and looked downward at her sister. “Are you all right?”

“Outside of clinging to my sister's leg, while dangling off a cliff? I'm doing just great.” Hannah sarcastically intoned while unconsciously tightening her hold.

“Now you're going to start being a smart-ass?” If she wasn't terrified, Beth would have started laughing. At this point, she felt the root beginning to loosen from its' mooring on the cliff. “Oh Shit.” Scanning the cliff, she was unable to find a better hand hold nor could she reach the top. As her breathing accelerated, she felt her sister's weight shifting. “Hannah, what are you doing?”

“The branch can't hold both of us? Can it?”

“We'll be fine, just hang on”. As she uneasily reassured her sister, Beth noticed a moving figure in the edge of her vision. One who appeared to be a man, or at least a human, clad in denim with goggles and a bandana protecting his face from the flames of his improvised weapon. She thought he looked vaguely familiar, like the ominous vagrant who insisted that her family should leave the mountain. At this point all that mattered was that he wasn't the creature “Just a minute more, Hannah.” At this moment the branch decided that she didn't have a minute and loosened even further.

“You know.” Beth heard her sister state in a resigned manner. “You have always been a bad liar.”

Beth looked down at her sister and noticed that her face had changed from one of fear to steely determination, one she could never remember her sweet, docile, sister giving before. Beth's eyes widened as she recognized what her sister was going to do.

“HANNAH, DON'T YOU DO THIS TO ME! DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE!”

Hannah's gaze locked with her sister's as she responded in a sad whisper. “I'm so sorry. I love you.” And then she let go.

“NO! HANNAH!!” Beth screamed as she watched her sister plummet into the mines below. Before she could react further, the branch finally gave way. But her descent was sharply halted as a tearing sensation filled her left arm when the man roughly grabbed her and yanked upward. While not the most graceful rescue, he had succeeded in, at least momentarily, saving her.

Traumatized, Beth laid in the snow, her sweater growing soaked with both the sweat of her terror and the cold dampness of the snow melting from her body heat. Slowly absorbing what had occurred, she blankly stared at the starlit sky, only to hear the same blood curdling screech as before.

“Can you stand?” the mysterious man gruffly inquired.

“I think so.” Beth groaned as she numbly rose to her feet, gingerly holding her useless left arm. The creature continued to advance towards her and the stranger, the reduction in its prey not having reduced its appetite.

“Unless you want to have tell your friend that her sacrifice was in vain, you best do exactly what I say. Stand completely still until I tell you. Then run as fast and as far as you can.” Despite the assertive tone, Beth understood the man's words as a well-intended warning, holding still as the creature came nearer to her. Near enough that she could smell its breath, reeking of human decay and misery while the moonlight glistened off the creature's mouth full of bone daggers as well as its hands festooned with razor sharp fingernails.

As the creature came within an arm's reach of her, the stranger angrily taunted it. “Makkapietw, you old bastard.” As Makkapietw turned towards the man, he unleashed another burst of flame at the creature while shouting at Beth “RUN!”

Beth turned and ran with as much energy as she could muster in a direction which she hoped was towards the lodge. Maybe Hannah was still alive, maybe if she brought help in time she could still save her sister. However, the strain was too much for her traumatized body, and as she left the creature and the man in the distance, she felt herself begin to lose control of her legs. Gradually, she fell into shock and collapsed into the snow. Before she passed out, a slight sardonic smile formed, and a single morbid thought passed her lips. “Hannah. You're going to be so pissed at me.”

“So is that the last thing you remember?” a man's voice pulled Beth out of the Alberta snow and back onto a leather couch in Malibu.

“Until I woke up in a hospital bed, four days later.” Beth lifted her head off of the couch and looked at the balding man who with his white dress shirt and gray sweater vest, covering his conservative striped tie, provided a stereotypical image of a psychiatrist. “I hope that information helps, Doctor Hill, even if this is probably the point where you'll tell me that I'm nuts.”

Writing on his legal pad, Doctor Alan J. Hill, responded in an off-hand manner without even looking up “And why would I say that?”

“Because I claimed that my sister and I were attacked by some grotesque creature and I was saved by a pissed off dude with a flamethrower? Just for starters.”

This remark prompted the psychiatrist to finally look up from his notepad. “Beth, you strike me as an extremely earnest young woman. One who believes every single thing that she just recalled. Now that doesn't mean that the trauma hasn't warped your memory, but that doesn't make you unbalanced.” He then looked at his wrist watch. “However, that will be a discussion for our next session.”

Beth sat up on the couch and looked over at Dr. Hill in a quizzical manner “Really? That's it?”

“You know what they say. Time flies.” The doctor inappropriately chuckled at his comment before clearing his throat upon noticing his patient's expression. “There is one thing that I want to tell you before you go. No one can change what happened last year. The past is forever beyond our control. You have to accept this fact in order to move forward. But there is freedom in this revelation. Everything you do, every decision that you make, will open doors to the future. I want you to remember this truth as we work together.”

Beth nodded as she raised herself off of the couch. “Thanks, Doctor. Should we schedule my next appointment now or wait until the next time I'm in LA?”

“It's up to you. Although I want you to know that I'm available any time via text if you need help or simply someone to vent to.” The doctor slightly furrowed his brow as a thought crossed his mind. “By the way, have you heard from Josh recently?”

“Not since Christmas to be honest.” Beth paused as she thought of the horrible awkwardness of that occasion. “Why?”

A disconcerted frown pursed Doctor Hill's lips before he concealed it with a cloying smile. “No particular reason. Just curious if you were still in touch with each other.” At this point, the doctor glanced at his notepad and jotted a quick note before looking back at Beth. “Anyway, have a safe trip back to Palo Alto.”

After exiting the office, Beth settled into the leather driver's seat of her little Acura, a graduation present from her parents. At least, it was officially a graduation present. Realistically, it was half a retroactive bribe to stay west of the Rockies for college and half her parents disregarding her desire for being, at least semi, self sufficient while at Stanford. Still, it was a nice car and she could think of worse ways to have her wishes ignored. Responsible as always, she snugly buckled her seat belt before pushing the ignition button. At that moment, the radio blared a reminder of something she desperately wished to forget.

“Tonight, on Rock Bottom. The mysterious disappearance of Hollywood mogul Bob Washington's daughter Hannah in the Canadian wilderness. Nearly one year later, what do we know now? How are her beautiful twin sister, Beth, and troubled big brother, Josh, managing their grief? Are they both trying to find comfort in the arms of the same woman? Does this physic know where Hannah is now? Does it involve Bigfoot? You won't believe the answers. Tonight, on Rock Bottom.”

Not certain whether to cry, laugh, or shout a number of vulgarities, Beth skipped all of those choices, instead resting her forehead on the Acura's steering wheel while trying to remain calm. Before she had fully recovered her composure, her smart phone vibrated.

“Hey Sam, I'm just about to...”

Uncharacteristically, Sam cut off Beth in a hurried tone. “Did you watch it yet?”

“What? About how Bigfoot and Hannah ran off to Atlantis and were married in a private ceremony by Bat Boy? I'm sorry to say that it's all true and I'm now the proud aunt of a Sasquatch.” Beth drolly commented on the previous tabloid advertisement, which she assumed what the reason behind Sam's call.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“That stupid tabloid show, which I thought was the 'it' you were referring to”

“No, I mean the video from Josh.”

At the mention of her brother, Beth felt a jolt of adrenaline and lifted her head off the steering wheel “What?”

Sam's voice slowed down as though she was relaxing after an unpleasant surprise. “Sorry, I forgot about your appointment. I'm guessing you haven't checked your email. Probably better if you watch the video before we talk.”

Beth accessed her email client and discovered two new messages, one a group email with a link to Josh's private YouTube account and a second one from a travel website. Clicking the link to the video, revealed her brother sitting in a place she hadn't seen in almost a year.

“I just want to invite everyone to the annual Blackwood winter getaway” Josh gave a mock cheer at this point before taking a more serious tone “So, let's take a moment to address the elephant in the room for a second. I know you're all worried about me and I know that it will be tough for everyone one going back after what happened last year.” Josh sighed and took a moment to reassert his self command “But I want you all to know that you all mean so much to me and I know it would mean so much to Hannah if we were all together to remember her on that day. And to remember how while I thought I lost both my sisters that day, by some miracle, Beth came back. And of course, proceeded to make me look like the dropout slacker that I am. Way to raise the bar over my head, sis.” After giving a self-deprecating laugh, Josh continued. “I really want to spend some quality time with each and every one of you and to share some moments that we'll never forget. For my sisters' sake, you know?” Josh's moment of official seriousness over, he attempted to revert back to the stereotypical frat boy mode of old “So, let's party like we're fucking porn stars, okay. And make this one trip that we will never forget, all right? WHOOO!”

Both Beth and Sam stayed quiet for a moment while the brunette allowed the video's contents to sink in. However, it was Sam who broke the silence. “Did you have any idea that he was planning this?”

“No, the last time we talked was at Christmas. After that competition in self-loathing, he's been off the grid. Apparently, because he was up at the lodge where there essentially isn't any grid.” Beth sighed and rocked her head. “At least Mom and Dad will be happy to know that he's okay.” While talking Beth had checked the second email. “And has enough money to spring for a business class round trip ticket from San Francisco to Calgary?”

“He has at least enough to spring for two business class round trip tickets from San Francisco to Calgary. And Chris just texted me that Josh sent him one for a round trip from Los Angeles to Calgary as well.

“Hmm, I thought Mom and Dad cut him off again.” Beth mused, furrowing her brow over the situation. “I mean, it's good that he wants to be sociable and see everyone, but it seems so out of the blue compared to the way he's been since... Still, it would be nice to see everyone again... Well, nice to see Chris again, at least.”

Sam giggled at this quick narrowing of people Beth would be happy to see. “So what am I, chopped liver?”

“Of course not, although you are apparently a 75 year old man. You know what I mean, though. We see each other all the time, so it's not like we really count.”

“So, you're actually going to go then?”

Beth exhaled deeply at this query “Yeah. I mean it sounds like it would mean a lot to Josh and it would be nice to have the old Josh back even if it's only for a weekend. Who knows, maybe even the old Beth could make an appearance.”

“Well, in that case, I think I'll have to go as well” Beth could practically hear Sam smiling through the phone.

“Good, and maybe we can spend that Saturday afternoon looking for...” Beth cut herself off as she realized what she was articulating.

“...Hannah. That's the real reason why you want to go isn't it?”

Beth's face dropped “I know that it seems crazy, and I don't know if it's twin intuition or what, but deep down, I know that she's still alive. And I know what you're thinking, even if she survived the fall, it's been nearly a year and rescue teams were never able to find anything, but maybe the flamethrower guy rescued her or she found somewhere to shelter in the mines or...”

“Beth. Stop.” Sam interjected before Beth could ramble any further “It's okay, you don't need to explain yourself. I'm glad to help you look for her. After all, I want to find Hannah as much as you do. I'm sure you can get Josh and Chris to help as well.” Sam quickly changed the subject. “Anyways, are we still on for lunch on Tuesday after your history colloquium?”

“I'm driving back on MLK Day so we're good for lunch, and then we'll have a couple of weeks to prepare for the Great Northern Excursion.”

“Sounds like a plan. Just be careful heading back up on the 101, okay?” Sam tenderly cautioned.

“You know me. I'm Ms. Drive the Speed Limit and have both hands on the wheel in the 10 and 2 position at all times.”

“It's not your driving that I'm worried about.”

Beth laughed at the thought that popped into her head. “Now you're beginning to sound like Hannah.” Beth changed her tone into an imitation of her sister's softer voice. “That guy is going to cut off us, Beth. This lady has been in your blind spot for five minutes, Beth. How many airbags does your car have again, Beth? If you get both of us killed...” Beth's voice trailed away. After pausing for a moment she resumed, using her regular speaking voice. “I'm sorry Sam, I should get going.”

Before Beth could disconnect the call, Sam suddenly blurted out. “You know that I love you, right?”

Beth chuckled. “Well, you also love rock climbing, vegan meatloaf, and squirrels, so...”

“Beth, I'm serious. I want you to know that I'm willing to wait however long you need me to. And if you decide that you would rather never move forward, that's perfectly fine as well, but I'll be here for you no matter what. Whether it's just as a friend or what we were becoming before what happened to Hannah.” Waiting for Beth to respond, Sam instead noticed that she could hear soft sobs on the other end of the line. “I'm sorry Beth, I didn't intend to...”

“I know, I know, Sam.” Beth sniffled and tried to speak more clearly “And I'm still hoping that some day we can try again. Although not if I wreck my car because I'm busy crying and am distracted by the pound of snot in my right nostril.”

At this comment, Sam rolled her eyes. “You know, Beth, you're one classy lady.”

“The classiest one you know.” Beth smirked, “By the way, I love you too. The vegan meat loaf not so much.” And with that, Beth disconnected the call and started to back the Acura out of her parking spot.

 

 


 

Chapter Text

Despite her exhaustion from traveling and the lingering numbness in her left arm, Beth trudged through the packed Alberta snow, reaching her family's vacation home just as twilight passed into night. The lodge appeared abandoned, which outside of her wayward brother, it was. Digging into the pocket of her cardinal red jacket, she mumbled as she located her keys. "Sure hope the lock hasn't frozen shut. Again."

Even with the thick hoarfrost on the door handle, she was able to turn the key and open the door. As she entered into the estate, she noticed how foreboding the lodge seemed. The only illumination provided by the faint moonlight, leaking through half-closed blinds. A sense of apprehension saturated the lodge, one which matched her feelings on returning to the focal point of so much misery. As she flicked the foyer's light switch, she discovered that the lack of electricity had rendered the switch inoperable.   

"Dammit, Josh. Would it kill you to light some candles?" Beth cursed under her breath as a cold draft pushed through the foyer, penetrating her jacket, as well as the sweater and blouse underneath. "Or turn the heat on?" After an involuntary shiver, she left her bags and walked to the great room, looking for her absent brother "Josh! Where the hell are you?!"

At that point, a man with short brown hair, and the same olive complexion as Beth came up the stairs from the lodge's screening room with a sheepish grin on his face. "Beth! I didn't think you'd be here this early." The embarrassed smile turned into a look of distress. "Shit. Sorry about making you carry your bags all the way up from the cable car."

Beth swiftly reassured her brother. "It's okay. I've been lugging them around since San Francisco. Plus the lifting is helpful for rebuilding my arm strength." A throbbing ache pulsed through her left arm's radial nerve, causing a quick limb spasm and a short laugh. "Guess it's better than after surgery number three, at least." She walked over and embraced him in a tight hug with her good arm. "It's good to see you again, Josh." She whispered in his left ear, before releasing the hold.

"Good to see you too, Beth," Josh smiled contently after the first direct contact with his sister in many weeks.

At this moment, Beth's smile turned into an annoyed scowl. "I should smack you upside the head for running up here without telling anyone. Just what the fuck were you thinking?"

Josh looked at Beth with forlorn eyes, holding the same mixture of self-pitying and self-loathing, which Hannah always used on her. A look Beth could never quite manage. "After Christmas, I just wanted to get away. And the Lodge was the only place I could think of, which was truly away." Josh strongly exhaled. "So, I bought a bus ticket to Vancouver and another one from there to Blackwood. Of course, the locks were frozen, so I had to sneak in through an unlocked back window and use the old aerosol flame thrower trick to melt the ice."

"I don't know whether to be more impressed that you rode up here without getting a kidney stolen or that you didn't burn the lodge down with the flamethrower stunt." Beth sarcastically complimented her brother.

Josh boisterously laughed, perhaps too boisterously. "Good fucking point."

Beth smacked Josh on his left arm, in a playful yet scolding manner. "Just don't run off without telling anyone again. After what happened, I couldn't..."

A chastened expression came over Josh's face. "I know, sis, I know. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I needed to get away and clear my head..."

"I'm just more than a little surprised as you've never liked being alone."

"Well, you know what they say, there is a fine line between the peace of solitude and the loneliness of isolation. Still, I think the time away helped a lot. And I am hoping this weekend will help even more. Getting to spend time with everyone one on one and everything." Josh stared at his sister with a serious glint in his eyes. "I'm glad you came, Beth."   

Beth hesitatingly looked at her brother. "I'm happy I came too." At this moment, another draft cut through the lodge. "Although, did you have to rent out the Lodge as a meat locker?"

"Sorry, Dad hasn't been paying the electric bill, and I've been saving the generators' fuel for heat late at night." Josh then clapped his sister on the shoulder in a jovial manner. "Tell you what? Chill out on the couch and I'll get something going in the fireplace and then power up a couple of the generators. After all, I have to start getting ready for when everyone else arrives sooner or later."

"Chill out? I ought to smack you again just for the bad pun." Beth chuckled and then readily agreed, albeit with a growing sense of fatigue. "Still, it sounds like a plan, big brother." As she sat down on the cushy blue couch in the great room, her exhaustion finally conquered her. Causing her to fall into a light restful sleep. One which she was jostled out of when her brother flopped down next to her.

The additional heat and illumination provided by the crackling fireplace had restored a portion of the lodge's old hospitality. Even if it had done nothing to fill the pervasive feeling of emptiness."So how long was I out?" Beth glanced at her watch. "30 minutes? Nice little power nap, I suppose."

"So you'll be sociable tonight?"

Beth yawned in an attempt to rouse herself. "Maybe. Although, a good night's sleep looks more alluring by the second." Noticing her brother's disappointed expression, she paused. "I promise I'll be sociable tomorrow night. Even if I doubt I'll rise to the standard of partying like a quote fucking porn star unquote." Beth smiled as she reminded her brother of his previous off color statement.

"So I suppose that promise means your usual two beers over two hours before switching over to coffee, and outlining one of your textbooks." Josh cracked with a taunting expression.

"That's not fair." Beth weakly objected. "I'll occasionally have three."

Josh raised his eyebrows in mock astonishment. "My sister, the social butterfly. Seriously, though, will you at least consider staying up until everyone else gets here? After all, I'm sure that Sammy would like to see you."

Beth dismissively waved her right hand. "Sam and I have lunch together once a week, at least, so I know she sees plenty of me." After a moment, Beth realized her inadvertent double entendre and ineptly moved to cover herself. "I mean at lunch, which is not a euphemism. Just eating and having a conversation. Fully clothed."

Josh snorted a laugh and shook his head. "Smooth, sis, real smooth. So then things are going well with both of you, G-rated meals, and all?"

"Well, we both made the Dean's List last semester..."

Josh brusquely interrupted. "For fuck's sake, Beth. I wasn't asking about your grades. How. Are. You. And. Sam. Doing?"

"It's complicated..." Beth demurred, breaking off eye contact.

"How exactly are things complicated? You've been making goo-goo eyes at her since you were thirteen."

Beth looked up and, after rolling her eyes at this assertion, glared straight at her brother. "Bullshit, I didn't even realize I was interested in girls that way until I was fifteen."

Josh chuckled and shook his head. "Beth, no offense, but you were the last one to realize you're a lesbian. Hell, I'm pretty sure Hannah figured it out in grade school."

Beth ignored her brother's comment. "It's complicated because she's Hannah's best friend and, let's be honest, pretty much my best friend. After what happened, she was almost my only friend. And we hang out all the time at college. So I'm terrified of ruining things with her if I screw things up."

Beth hesitated, waiting for Josh's reply, and then perceiving he was going to let her finish, continued. "To be honest, I'm also terrified of things going well. There is a nasty thought, a steady drumbeat deep in my psyche, repeating over and over again, how I don't deserve to be happy. Especially considering what happened... So I've kept myself in a holding pattern. A unique form of self-castigation."

Seeing her brother's look of concern, Beth cracked a joke in an attempt to bring levity. "And, no offense, but Mom and Dad would be terrified if you were officially responsible for carrying on the family line."

Josh decided to respond to the joke first. "Nice try, Sis. Although if it's the Washington line you're worried about, I would be more than glad to fill Sam with my seed."

Beth's mouth flew agape as every vulgarity in her vocabulary sought to burst from her throat. However she just made a loud, angry grunt, roughly akin to "WWWHHHAAATTT?"

Josh smirked at this response. "In vitro, Beth, In vitro. Although I'm glad, I was able to get your attention." The smile quickly left Josh's face as he attempted to be earnest. "Look, the whole I only deserve misery and pain routine is self-flagellating bullshit. And I know as I've spent a shitload of time whipping myself with that whip."

"Didn't need to know about your kinks." Beth wisecracked.

Josh snickered in appreciation of his sister's sarcastic quip before proceeding. "But even if you don't deserve to be happy, what about Sam? Do you think she deserves to have you suspend her in a holding pattern? The same one she's been stuck in since she found you freezing in the snow." Josh hesitated as he could see his sister's eyes beginning to well. "Not trying to provoke another guilt trip. You're good enough at doing that to yourself. But Sam fucking loves you, and you fucking love her. So make up your mind and do something. Now, if it were my call, I would go with the hot blonde. But, either way, shit or get off the pot."

Beth felt her warm tears starting to roll down her cheeks. "Jesus, Josh. That was almost profound."

"Well, you have enough psychotherapy sessions, you learn things, even if it's by osmosis." The point made, Josh closed off the solemn part of his personality."Although, if you pass, I get dibs. Just because you won last time, doesn't mean I can't have a second chance."

This statement and the thought it forced into Beth's head, caused her to start laughing while still crying, although far more jovially than she had been. "Technically, Hannah won. She just didn't realize she was playing."

Memories came back to Josh, causing a sharp laugh of his own. "Oh, God, that's right. Poor Sam. First dealing with both of us massively crushing on her. Then making a move for the one Washington, who wasn't interested."

"Poor Sam? What about Hannah? She had been pushing both of us to say something for nearly a year, only for Sam to try for a relationship upgrade. She was embarrassed for almost a month. Spending practically the entire time chattering to herself about being flattered, but also oh so very confused as to how Sam could be so mistaken."

This thought caused both siblings to laugh, actually laugh, in unison for the first time in nearly a year until Beth stopped abruptly.

"You okay, sis?"

Beth nodded. "Yeah. Just this is the first time I've thought about her without wanting to cry."

"Well, that's part of the process of moving on. Eventually, we'll think of her and just remember the good times. Instead of thinking about how she's gone."

"Trying to apply your practical knowledge of psychotherapy again?" Beth bit her tongue to stifle the thought which was pulsing through her head, as that path only led to an argument which she and Josh had already fought numerous times. Instead, she conceded a different point. "You're right about Sam. I owe it to her to make a decision. After all, she's stubborn enough to stay in the holding pattern until we're all in a nursing home."

Josh nodded in agreement and then both siblings rose up from the couch and hugged. "It's good to have a real conversation with you for once, Beth. Like in the old days, I mean."

"I know, Josh. I know."

"Just promise me one thing. Whatever decision you make regarding Sam. You make it for you and no one else. After all, it's what Hannah would have wanted."

Beth tittered slightly. "Aren't you being a tad contradictory?"

Josh smiled back. "You know what I meant. All I want is for you to be happy. You deserve that feeling, and I just want everyone to get what they deserve. And that's all Hannah would have wanted." And this point, he released his hug. "Let me carry your bags up to your old room." As Beth was about to demur, Josh, tongue-in-cheek, cut her off. "No, I insist. After all, you carried them up the slope, the least I can do is to bring them the last couple hundred feet. It's the absolute literal least I could do."

As Josh went into the foyer, Beth trudged up the grand staircase. Feeling her attention drawn away from her bedroom, she sauntered towards a large bedroom suite. The room's decoration motif heavily featured purple and gold colors along with butterflies, indicating this suite was Hannah's old bedroom. A place Beth had worked hard to forget the particulars of after the last year. Cautiously moving through the poorly illuminated chamber, she came across the alcove containing her sister's desk.

Curiously looking through her sister's mementos and knickknacks, the depth of Hannah's crush became palpable to her again. Beth had known about her sister's feelings regarding Mike for years. Before the prank, she even used to make cracks about scheduling an intervention. But seeing the various pictures and reading the collected notes brought up so many sensations and emotions.

Recalling her failure to protect her twin sister that night, both from her friends and from the creature in the woods. Not being able to live up to the promise that she had made to all of her siblings, including herself, many times throughout her childhood.  Ruminating over how her alleged friends could be so cruel as to prank Hannah. After all, Hannah had never actually hurt anyone with her innocuous pining. Wondering just how Hannah could be oblivious to foster a silly crush for so many years. Over a boy who, at best, humored her out of a sense of misplaced kindness, or, at worst, manipulated her as part of some sick game.  These thoughts slowly mixed inside Beth's cerebellum, until being molded into the clarity of sheer vindictive rage. Which she wished to express via smashing Mike's smug visage into a jigsaw puzzle. One which would take the best Beverly Hills plastic surgeons years to solve correctly.

At this moment, she heard footsteps behind her. "You know, I forgot to mention the ten dollar fee per bag..." Beth turned, and her fierce stare stopped her brother cold. "Jesus, Beth, you look like..."

Beth labored to stay calm while she clenched her fists and teeth in outrage. Even when furious, Beth had long prided herself on not venting her anger onto an innocent target. One who had done nothing to provoke her wrath. "Josh. Please leave me alone for a few minutes."

"Are you..."

"JOSH! PLEASE!" Beth snapped. Her brother wordlessly exited and closed the door behind him. Afterward, Beth threw herself down on Hannah's bed and allowed her emotions to overwhelm her entirely.




As the 20:17 bus from Calgary slowly drove down the increasingly snow-covered road, Sam glared at her smartphone, or to be more exact the video her phone was playing for the third time in a week, in irritation. Despite her better judgment, she had downloaded the tabloid report on Hannah's disappearance and confirmed that she was the 'same women' with whom both Beth and Josh had been 'searching for comfort.' While the pictures of her with both Washingtons were clearly non-romantic and Beth had laughed off the report's insinuations, the judging glares of her classmates had unsettled Sam. As did the whole idea of being stalked like a deer by a sniper wielding a 24-megapixel camera with a telephoto lens.  

After the prime example of yellow journalism concluded, Sam searched her smart phone's radio scanner for a more intelligent piece of reporting. Hoping to find a news program which was not discussing the incident, she scanned until coming upon the local CBC affiliate.

"You're listening to CBC Radio One on 97.1 FM Blackwood. Today on 'Radio from the Pines', Marty Tillens will be discussing the one-year anniversary of the tragic disappearance of Hannah Washington on Mount Madahee with RCMP Inspector Annie Cline, who headed the investigation.

"Oh Goddammit," Sam grumbled under her breath. Still, she continued listening to the broadcast. Half out of a desire for a more cerebral discussion concerning the disappearance and half out of a sense of relief that neither she nor Bigfoot were likely to be mentioned. However, the conversation slowly faded into the background, until the reporter referenced information, which Sam had only heard directly from Beth.

"Inspector Cline, your office has stated in the past that there were no signs of any foul play?"

"That's correct, Marty.  Her sister's affidavit indicated Hannah probably fell off of a cliff and into the mines carved throughout the mountainside. The inquest found her statements to be credible and consistent with the facts discovered during the investigation."

"But your office was unable to find any trace of her either in the mines or on the mountain?"

"Yes, although when her sister was coherent enough to provide a statement, the operation had already been changed from search and rescue to search and recovery. Considering what occurred 62 years ago, our office did not believe it worth the risk to have either our officers or Parks Rangers explore deeper in the mines."

"Of course. Now did your office did originally have a person of interest regarding the case? I remember hearing stories about some disgruntled misanthrope."

"Well, a local man did vigorously argue against the Parks Canada sale of Mount Madahee to the Washington Family. If I recall correctly, he claimed that the mountain was sacred to his ancestors. However, his assertions were investigated and no ties to the local Cree nations found, so the sale was approved. Despite his fervent protests, which some would say bordered on thinly veiled threats. Still, our investigation found no evidence indicating that he was involved in Hannah's disappearance."

The reporter loudly hummed in an inquisitive manner. "That's odd, Annie because our station has obtained transcripts of the original statements made by Beth Washington in Blackwood General Hospital after she regained consciousness. In that interview, she claims a mysterious man who fits the description of the person of interest saved her life and, after pulling her to safety, engaged a grotesque creature in combat with a flamethrower."

The Inspector was taken back and sat in stunned silence for a second before responding. "With all due respect, Marty, you're reading too much into the statements of someone who had just regained consciousness after deep physical, emotional and mental trauma. It's not particularly unusual for people in these situations to weave a narrative that defies the laws of physics let alone general credulity."

"Fair enough, but in that case, why were her original statements included at all with only that particular information removed from the official inquest?"

The Inspector sighed sullenly "In all sincerity? To stop conversations like this one."

At this point, static overtook the radio signal. Before Sam could find the relay, she heard the bus driver loudly speaking over his shoulder.

"Miss! Here's your stop! Mount Madahee. Or Mount Washington as you Yanks insist on calling it."

As she was the only passenger, let alone the only American, Sam logically inferred that the bus driver was talking to her, and, after a quick wave of thanks, departed for a walk she never thought she would take again. To the cable car which would return her to the Washington Family Lodge.

As she walked towards the old wrought iron gate which served as the formal demarcation between the mountain and the road, Sam felt the eyes of someone, or something, watching her. Turning around, she studied the area but saw nothing but snow, rocks, and coniferous trees, a stereotypical landscape of the Canadian Wilderness. Discounting her intuition as a mixture of tiredness and nerves, she resumed her quick gait towards the gate, missing the two shapes moving behind her.

Reaching the gate, she noticed how the stone wall next to the fixture seemed remarkably scalable. Despite wearing a skirt, albeit, over leggings, Sam couldn't stop herself from taking on the short wall for a few moments of brief climbing practice. Quickly scaling the ten-foot high wall, she dropped down and grinned to herself. "Didn't even break a sweat."

While moving towards the station, she noticed a small red squirrel looking at her curiously. Sam picked up an acorn and then kneeled still on the cold, snowy trail. "I don't care what Beth says; you guys are way too cute. Come on buddy." With Sam's prompting, the desire for a free snack overcame the squirrel's innate fear of humanity. The rodent came and ate the nut directly out of her hand in a scene which would have looked almost cliched in a Disney movie, let alone reality.

Placed in a buoyant mood by her climbing and rodent hand-feeding, Sam started humming to herself as she finished her walk to the cable car station. As she pulled on the door handle, her luck failed as the door refused to budge. "Great, locked. Whose bright idea was this?" While searching around the station's exterior for a hidden key which she hoped was in the vicinity, Sam heard three gunshots in quick succession. Remembering her active shooter training she crouched and lowered her profile while moving around the exterior of the station. There she noticed a lanky, bespectacled man with short blond hair taking entirely too much satisfaction at his shooting.

"Oh yeah. You just got sacked." he boasted while performing an awkward taunting dance. As he spun around in victory, the man noticed Sam and gave her a friendly wave. "Hey Sam, I found this kick-ass shooting range. With a hunting rifle just sitting out here, ready and waiting."

"Another victory for proper firearm safety practices, I see, Chris. And any idea why the hell is there a shooting range here to begin with?"

"Dude, you've met Josh's dad. He has a massive Grizzly Adams streak. And who could blame him with these beauties." Chris gazed upon the rifle before offering it up. "You want to take a turn?"

Sam gave him a quizzical look before sarcastically riposting "Sure. Because if there is one thing that pacifist vegans love it's shooting off guns in the middle of the woods."

"Says the vegan wearing a leather jacket and a ridiculous fur hat she stole from her Russian uncle." Chris countered.

"No, says the vegan wearing a vegan leather jacket and a faux fur hat. Which is not at all ridiculous looking and is quite warm, thank you very much. And I don't even have an uncle." Sam defensively rejoined.

Chris affably shrugged in response. "Fair enough." He turned back towards the ad hoc shooting range.  "You don't mind if I keep on shooting do you?"

"Suit yourself. Although I'm surprised Josh isn't down here with you."

Chris fired off a couple of rounds before responding. "Nah, unless they're on the PS4, Josh isn't much for guns. Come to think of it, the only one I can ever remember shooting is Hannah."

Sam did an immediate double-take. "Hannah? Beth, I could believe, but Hannah's the last person I can imagine shooting."

Chris nodded before firing off the last round in the rifle's magazine. "Yeah, Hannah used to go to the range with her Dad. Wouldn't say that she enjoyed it, but neither Josh or Beth were into it, so it was a great opportunity to bond with him. As her dad got busier with work, they stopped going together, and Hannah wasn't going to go by herself. Although, I remember her being a surprisingly good shot." Putting the rifle aside, Chris turned back towards Sam with a sly smile. "Not as good as me, of course."

"Nice shooting there, Tex." Sam whimsically responded in an overly faux Southern accent before switching back to her normal dialect. "Any other surprises, you've been withholding from me?"

Chris cracked a wry smile. "Well, Beth used to worship Cthulhu, although who hasn't had a Lovecraft phase. Speaking of the little cultist, I would have thought she would be here with you. Don't tell me she changed her mind at the last minute. If she didn't show, that would crush Josh."

Sam cleared her throat awkwardly "Actually, she was on an earlier flight. She probably got up to the lodge a couple of hours ago."

Chris gave Sam a disconcerted look. "Huh. I just assumed that you guys would be traveling up together. Unless...Oh man, you two broke up. Just what this trip needs, even more, drama."

Sam sighed in exasperation before gingerly explaining. "No drama. We still get together for lunch at least once a week, and, yes, we spend a lot of time together. However, we're not a couple and in fact have, technically speaking, never been one. So there isn't anything to break up. And apparently, I need to call you more often to explain things rather than relying on text messages to get my meaning across."

"Well since you were going to 'lunch' together all the time, I figured "lunch' was code for something other than eating."

Sam furrowed her brow. "Did you think that Beth and I fucked at 12:45 every Tuesday afternoon? In the middle of the cafeteria? Or out on the quad? Did you think I had secret exhibitionist tendencies?"

Nonplussed by Sam's irritation, Chris shrugged and responded with a one-liner "Well, they wouldn't be secret if you were doing it in the middle of the cafeteria. Ow!" He cried in mock pain as Sam struck him in the shoulder. "Does this attack mean all my Sath shipping has been in vain?"

"Sath?"

Chris grinned in amusement. "It's a portmanteau of Sam and Beth. It's what I call you guys when I'm thinking of you two, you know, as a couple." He then gave her an over-exaggerated wink.

"So, you gave my non-existent romantic relationship a pet name?" Sam shook her head in disbelief. "I'm not sure if I should be more concerned about that or the fact you know what portmanteau means." At this point, Sam heard the cable car making its way back down to the station. "Saved by the cable car. Come on, Doctor Drew. Let's get out of here." As both Sam and Chris moved back towards the front of the station, she noticed a police bulletin out of the corner of her right eye. "Victor Milgram. Wanted by the RCMP for acts of arson on Mount Madahee. December 9, 1996."

"Oooh, maybe we'll get to star in our very own episode of Canada's Most Wanted, eh? I hope my reenactor can match my rugged good looks and rapier wit." Chris quipped.

Sam examined the notice again. "I wonder if he has any relation to Beth's Flamethrower Guy? If so, would have explained why he didn't want to stick around or talk to the police." Shaking her head, Sam started moving to the station door with Chris behind her, only to remember the door was securely locked. "You wouldn't happen to have the key, would you? As I would rather not have to hike back to Blackwood to find a hotel room."

Chris pulled the key out of the front pocket of his blue winter jacket. "As a matter of fact, Mike gave it to me before he and Jess headed up. Since we're apparently the last ones, remind me to give it back to Josh." He unlocked the door, and both Chris and Sam moved towards the cable car, sending it up the mountain after both had sat down.

As the old cable car creakily pulled itself up, Sam looked over at Chris with a concerned expression. "I hope we did the right thing in coming back here."

"Oh yeah, totally. Josh seemed pumped. Like the most pumped, I've seen him about anything since what happened."

Sam nodded and smiled with a twinge of guilt on her lips. "That's good to hear. How's Josh been doing? I...I haven't...I haven't been good about keeping in touch with him since I moved up to San Francisco. Mostly because..."

"You've been so focused on Beth?" Sam silently nodded in response to Chris' interruption before he ruefully continued. "Honestly, until he sent the video out I hadn't had a real conversation with him for months. Anytime I would ask how he was doing; Josh would just insist he was fine, and he didn't want to talk about it. So we didn't. And, after a while, we started to drift apart. Sure we'd send each other texts now and then, but all superficial bullshit. From your messages, it sounds like Beth was the only one he was having real conversations with from October through December. And after Christmas, they didn't even talk."

Chris gazed out the car's window into the dark abyss of the winter night. "Still, he does seem excited about everything. Maybe with all of us together, he'll consider heading back to LA and get everything straightened out." Chris glanced back towards Sam. "Speaking of Washington siblings who we've fallen out of contact with, how's Beth coping?"

Sam exhaled softly and looked up with her anguish displayed in her eyes. "On the surface, she's doing well. Good grades, settling in the Bay Area. Her arm is healing up to the point where she's playing rec league soccer a couple of times a week. Even manages to drag me out there now and then.” Sam paused apprehensively. “But, she despises everyone coming other than Josh, you, and me. And it's not like all the trauma helped her anger issues." Sam looked back down, averting her eyes from Chris'. "Plus, she admitted that she thinks Hannah is alive."

"Oh, man." Chris quietly interjected.

"Yeah. So I'm worried, terrified really, about what realizing Hannah is dead could do to her. Scared enough to play along." Sam looked away from Chris, out the window, lest he saw the tears growing in her eyes. "I so want her to be right. For Hannah to somehow be okay. But when I found Beth passed out in the snow, she was suffering from hypothermia and shock so badly I thought I was going to lose her."

While her voice was quavering, Sam proceeded.  "And you know how long she was out there? Four hours. Hannah has been out there for a year, and that's not factoring in falling off a goddamned cliff." At this point, Sam didn't bother trying to hide the tears flowing down her face. "I'll spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I had followed Beth out there after her. And hating myself for not doing it."

Chris affectionately placed his hand on Sam's shoulder. “You can't blame yourself. Like you just said, you don't know what would have happened. Maybe you would have died out there yourself. Maybe Beth would have too.”

“Or maybe Beth and I would have found Hannah before she fell off the cliff and everyone would have been fine.” Sam melancholy resisted Chris' efforts at emotional support.

“Maybe,” Chris conceded. “It's like that Ashton Kutcher movie a few years back. You know the one...”

“Not sure what 'Dude, Where's My Car?' has to do with, well, much of anything. Outside of smoking pot, I suppose.” Sam cracked.

“Not that one, the one where he's able to go back in time, only for his actions to have all sorts of nasty unforeseen consequences. Each time he goes back things just keeps on getting worse and worse.” Chris labored to think of the movie's title until his eyes lit up. “'The Butterfly Effect.'”

Sam laughed casually “So instead of bringing up chaos theory, or even the whole butterfly flapping its wings causing a hurricane weeks later scenario, you thought of an Ashton Kutcher movie?”

“Got the point across right?” As Sam half-nodded, half-shrugged in assent, Chris resumed. “I mean what if Josh and I were sober or at least conscious? What if Hannah ran up to her room instead of outside? What if we all decided to stay in LA that weekend?”

“What if Mike, Jess, and Emily didn't choose to be massive assholes?” Sam drove Chris' train of thought to its logical terminus.

“That too.”

“You know why I didn't go after Beth and Hannah that night?” Sam asked while turning from Chris' digression. “I told myself it was because I wanted to give them time to calm down. To allow Beth to start mending Hannah's broken heart. While Hannah kept Beth from castrating Mike. But that was an excuse. I wanted all of them to feel my pain for having my best friend betrayed. While I couldn't hurt them the same way that they hurt her, I could sure as hell make them feel like complete pieces of shit. It's the main reason why I stopped Mike from going out there after them himself. As I thought he was just trying to ease his guilty conscience by making a big show of contrition."

Sam exhaled in an agitated manner.  “I thought that Beth and Hannah would be back in ten minutes. Fifteen at the most. Even when the blizzard started to pick up, I figured they would be back any moment. By the time I was worried enough to put aside my self-centeredness and go out there with Mike; it was already too late.”  

Sam's eyes locked with Chris'. “And that's why while I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, I do blame myself for what happened. As I'm sure you blame yourself. Because we all deserve blame, at least on some level. Even Hannah. Even Beth. Or at least that's what she feels.”

Chris nodded, and his own eyes began to moisten. "You're right. I do blame myself, and I know damn well that Josh blames himself, far more than he would ever want to admit. Still, we can't let our these feelings destroy us. After all, I don't think that Hannah would be egotistical enough to want us to spend the rest our lives hating ourselves. I mean, the prank was appalling, but it's not like the pranksters wanted her to die. Not even Emily. I think."

Chris used his bare right hand to clean his eyes while Sam used her red woolen scarf to wipe her own. After clearing his vision, Chris smiled at Sam in a forced confident manner. "You know what? Let's just try to stop talking about what happened and enjoy a weekend without textbooks or term papers in the majestic Canadian wilderness. After all, we won't be able to help Josh and Beth if we spend the entire trip dredging up old miseries."

"You know what, you're right." Sam then jokingly punched Chris in his left arm while gently parodying him. "Thanks, bro. Real good talk, dude".

Chris rubbed his arm in mock annoyance. "Since when do you hit people all the time?"

"Since I started hanging out with Beth all the time."

"Heh, fair enough" Chris conceded as the cable car continued to move towards the station.




After her earlier outburst and subsequent reasserting of her control, Beth had quickly apologized to her brother and, after a sweet sisterly hug, decided to take a walk around the lodge's grounds. Both in an attempt to calm down completely while also putting off the moment where she would have to interact with the people who were responsible for much of what happened that night.

She knew on a visceral level that it was unfair to blame them. Makkapitew, as the flamethrower guy had called the creature, chased Hannah and her, causing Hannah's fall. And causing Beth to relive the moment where she watched Hannah let go over and over again.  However, if it weren't for the prank, they wouldn't have been out there in the first place. And unfair or not, she loathed the three co-ringleaders while not exactly having fond thoughts for either Matt or Ashley.

She wasn't surprised that the prank involved Jess, Emily, and Mike. Jess' irreverent and juvenile sense of humor would have found of Hannah being embarrassed worth a good laugh the same way she would have found any of the others being embarrassed worth one. While Emily's picture was on the Wikipedia page for vindictive bitches. Or at least it was until the moderators had reversed Beth's edits. Mike was a little harder to read. He was the kindest of the three if predisposed to frequent moments of stereotypical macho dickishness. Mostly because said organ often controlled him completely. Beth scowled at the thought that he just wanted to see Hannah's tits and was drunk enough not to care about the after effects.

She was less angered than saddened by Matt and Ashley's participation. Beth had thought that Matt would have been a good match for Hannah if she could have ever weaned her sister off the  Mike obsession. Both were rather athletic, with Hannah's prowess on the tennis court and Matt's ferocity on the football field, belying their otherwise soft-spoken and gentle characters. At least, that's what Beth had though until she learned that Matt was the cameraman for the prank, presumably out of a desire to get in either Emily's or Jess' pants.

Ashley on the other hand, Beth had no idea why she would have gone along with the prank as Ashley had a significant, and not unrequited if unfulfilled, crush on Chris. She was also reasonably close to both Josh and Sam. Granted neither twin had been particularly close with her, but they weren't on bad terms either. As far as Beth could figure it was a combination of trying to move up on the status totem pole, or at least being relieved that she wasn't de facto at the bottom for once, along with thinking that Hannah was wrong to have a crush on someone with a girlfriend and simple...

Beth's running internal monolog was interrupted by a snowball smacking her square in her right ear. While her white knit cap provided some protection, she could feel the remnants of the projectile running down under her jacket while the dull pain of the hit itself began to throb. Already feeling her temper building, any semblance of serenity was gone when she saw the snowball thrower.

"Jesus. I'm sorry, Beth. I thought you were Jess." Beth glared at the man, with his short brown hair and easygoing manner, who was smiling at her like he had never done anything wrong in his entire life. At times; she could understand what her sister saw in him. Hell, until the damn prank even Beth had respected him for his natural magnetism and leadership skills. But then, he would always open his mouth and say something to piss her off.

As Beth continued to glower at him, Mike laughed with a tinge of nervousness in his voice and attempted to lighten the mood. "You know, Beth, the way that you're looking at me right now, I'm starting to wonder if your vaunted immunity to my charms is wearing off."

Beth's eyes burned with swelling wrath as she clenched her teeth "Not. Quite."

"Well, in that ca..." Mike's comment was cut off as he felt a crushing pain throughout his body as Beth kicked him square in the nuts with her powerful right leg. The pain forced him to double over before he fell into the snow.

Chapter Text

His lower torso still aching from Beth's strike, Michael Munroe grunted while attempting to fix himself in the snowy tundra. Resisting the urge to cry out, he paused while laboring for a quip which would belie his pain. His attempt failed miserably.

“FUCK! My Nuts! Jesus Christ!”

Mike winced while struggling to get on all fours, letting loose a pained groan while instinctually bracing for a follow-up strike. Only to see Beth standing motionless above him. A scowl etched across her face, although Mike swore he saw a brief twitch of a grin. A cynical smirk, as though she had mentally struck him a thousand times, but figured she would never actually lose her temper enough to hit him. Having done so, she wasn't sorry she had. As he was about to say something, a flash of blonde hair swiftly moved past him, before jostling Beth with a hard shove in the chest.

“What the hell, Beth?!” Jess growled as her sudden strike pushed the brunette onto her back heels, but failed to topple her over.

Beth snorted as she regained her balance. “After the shit, you pulled, you want to start something? Because I would love an excuse to break your homecoming queen nose.”

As both girls eyeballed one another, Josh's tales of Beth learning jiu-jitsu in middle school spun through Mike's head. Not wanting to risk the eldest Washington having, for once, told the truth, he diffused the situation. “Jess, can you give me a hand?” He croaked out in a voice which he hoped didn't sound as high pitched as he feared.

Slowly turning away from Beth, Jess knelt down beside Mike. “Are you okay? She kicked a 50-yarder with your balls.”

Despite his discomfort, Mike turned another cringe into a cocksure leer. “Did you think I would let a little rough foreplay ruin our weekend?”

Jess chuckled and then gazed intensely into his eyes. “Good. Because I was hoping to do more than catch up on my reading.” She then leaned in and gave Mike a quick peck on the lips. As he moved to return the favor, he again groaned in pain, leaving Jess to shake her head. “Sorry. You just failed the reflex test.”

“Well, you'll just have to kiss it and make everything all better.”

Jess guffawed at his transparent lewdness. “Adding in calling me your snowball queen, I'm starting to think your intentions are less than honorable.”

“Are you offended?” Mike flirtatiously inquired as his eyes regained some of their natural vividness.

“If anything, I'm relieved. Was beginning to worry about you a bit there, Mikey.” As Jess playfully slapped her boyfriend on his arm, a loud throat clearing reminded them they were not alone.

“Are you two done?” Beth probed, her irritation bleeding through her cynicism.

As Jess prepared to resume her delayed confrontation, Mike grabbed her arm. “Let me handle her. Alone.”

“Are you serious? After what she just did?”

Mike shrugged lightly, and while leaning while leaning towards Jess, whispered. “There's no reason why we both have to deal with her. Especially when she's in a shitty mood.”

“Noble idiot,” Jess groused under her breath. “Okay, I'll leave you two alone.” She then pointed towards a clump of trees back up the main path, raising her voice to ensure Beth could also hear her. “But I'm staying right over there, and if I see her making a move towards you, I'm going to choke a bitch.”

“So now you’re into auto-erotic asphyxiation?” Beth snarked back. As Jess was about to rush towards the brunette yet again, Mike put out his left hand, gesturing her to hold back. Grunting with annoyance at giving Beth the last word, Jess turned and trudged towards her indicated vantage point.

Mike glanced up as Beth moved close to him. Realizing he had never noticed how imposing Beth's lanky 5'8" frame could seem until she was towering over his prostrated figure. Regaining his balance and slowly rising to his knees, he was surprised to see Beth extending her right hand in an offer of assistance.

“Sorry about losing my temper. Even if you totally deserved a nut-kicking.”

Mike cautiously accepted her hand and gingerly used the additional leverage to pull himself to his feet before backing a couple of strides away from his attacker. Looking at her with a puzzled look on his face, he issued an apology of his own. “Fair enough. Sorry about nailing you with a snowball right in your ear.” He smirked slightly as a smart-ass remark popped into his head. “Even though I didn't render you sterile. Somewhere my great grandson just faded from existence."

Beth chuckled with a sardonic tone as she shook her head. “Do you honestly think the snowball is why I kicked you?”

Mike sighed and muttered just loud enough for Beth to hear him “When you put it that way, I suppose not.”

Both he and Beth looked towards each other, waiting for the other to speak. As they looked at each other, the chilled Arctic air seemed to freeze between them. Finally, Beth broke the silence with a single word “Why?”

Mike broke eye contact and looked away with the closest expression to shame Beth could recall him showing in the four years she had known him. Still, he didn't answer, much to her impatience. “Seriously? After a whole year, you still haven't thought of a decent answer?”

Mike still refusing to make eye contact, murmured almost under his breath. “I don't know, Beth, I don't know.”

Beth took a deep breath, exhaling loudly through her nose in an attempt to stay calm. An attempt which did not entirely succeed. “Okay. I'll ask a different question. How could you do such a thing to her? You were supposed to be her friend.” Mike still didn't answer, causing Beth to grow angrier.

“Or was your friendship all an act? Designed to manipulate Hannah into doing your bidding.” She bitterly changed her voice into a mockery of Mike's confident tone. “Hi Han, you look beautiful today. By the way, can you get me and Emily tickets to your Dad's latest premiere?” “Hi, Hannah. Cute outfit. By the way, could I borrow your notes for the AP Biology exam because I'm too much of a lazy turd to take them myself?” “Hey Hannah, can you...”

“Enough!”

“After what you did, you have the balls to get snippy?!” Beth instinctually clenched her right hand into a tight fist before relaxing it. “The first day of freshman year, Hannah insisted she had met a great guy in her trig class. Smart, handsome and a real gentleman. But when I first met you, I thought you were a massive douche canoe. One who skated by on his good looks, and 'masculine charms.'”

“But, as I got to know you, even I had to concede there was a decent person buried underneath. One who would never deliberately do anything to hurt Hannah, even if he didn't reciprocate her stupid crush.” Beth sharply shook her head, “Or so I thought. But with your prank, my first impression was confirmed. You're a real piece of shit, Mike.”

Mike finally interjected. “For fuck's sake Beth. Do you think any of us wanted what happened to Hannah? Do you believe I'm cruel?”

“Enough to take part in the damn prank. What did you think Hannah was going to do? Laugh off having her heart ripped out by people she thought were her friends? Admit she was silly for having a crush before having some fucking pudding!?”

“I don't know.” Mike conceded. “Honestly, I was drunk off my ass. And, no, that's not an excuse, at least not a good one. And you know what, you're right, going along with the prank was a real shit-head move.” Mike paused and broke eye contact with Beth, looking up at the sky as though he was trying to find absolution, before slowly returning his view level. “I can't speak for anyone else, but I guess, I was hoping, by doing the prank, she would come to her senses and move on.”

Beth snorted in disdain, before responding with sarcasm thick enough to paint a house. “How noble of you, Mike. Of course, your explanation does raise one minor question.” Dropping the sarcasm, she verbally poked at him “Why record the whole thing? Were you planning to release the video of her taking her blouse off, ruining her reputation in the process? Or so you could relive the moment her heart breaks over and over, for your sick amusement?”

Mike reflexively put his hands up in a defensive pose. “I had nothing to do with the recording. Say 'hi' to Matt and see what he has to say. As for the blouse, it's not like I made Hannah strip. Believe me; I was as shocked as anyone that sweet, innocent Hannah Washington's reaction was to get her tits out.”

“Oh, bullshit!” Beth snarled, finding herself edging closer to the former student body president, with menace flashing in her eyes. “I read you assholes' little love note, remember? Telling Han, you bet she would look even better without her shirt. Regardless, you sure as fuck didn't seem to mind! I saw the video during the inquest, and you looked like your eyes almost popped out of your damned head.”

Mike shrugged nonchalantly. “What can I say? Hannah has a nice rack.” Beth's eyes widened at his matter of fact admission. “And, before you hit me again. Yes, I would have been more ashamed of myself if I was sober, but, can you blame me for being excited when a cute girl starts taking her top off in front of me?”

Beth subconsciously draped her right arm over her chest, as though she feared Mike was thinking lasciviously about her own, identical breasts despite the four layers of clothing which were currently covering them. “Yes. Yes, I can.” Turning away, she coldly remarked under her breath. “Scumbag.”

Mike snapped back with an increasingly defensive tone in his tenor.“If I were a scumbag, I wouldn't have done the prank! I would have fucked her, as she wanted mind you, and then cast her aside like a used tissue. What was I supposed to do, break up with Em and run off with Hannah just because Han had a fifth grader's definition of love?”

Beth felt the urge to repeat her earlier strike as it had, apparently, failed to knock the smug bastard out of Mike. “Well, breaking up with Emily wasn't the deal breaker, now was it? At least, judging by your 'interaction' with the double digit IQ bimbo. Tell me, are you already screwing around behind her back?”

“Fuck off Beth,” Mike interjected in a state of tired irritation more than genuine anger.

Beth smirked slightly at her striking a nerve.“To answer your question, how about acting like a man instead of a horny little boy and tell Hannah how you felt, or, more to the point, didn't feel, about her. And let her decide if she wanted to stay your friend. Rather than stringing her along for four years.”

“Considering the Washington family's penchant for rational discourse, maybe I was afraid she would take the news badly and do something rash, like, I don't know, run out into the woods in the middle of a fucking blizzard! After all, it's not like events exactly proved me wrong. Now did they? Bethany!”

“OH FUCK YOU ASSHOLE!” The strain of the conversation having finally completely worn down Beth's patience, she turned on her heels and looked away, daring Michael to continue the conversation.
Mike turned himself to see Jess looking at him and starting to come down the path to back him up. To his surprise, he gestured for her to stay back, while he could start to hear soft sniffles coming from the other side of Beth's cardinal red parka.

“Look, I'm sorry. I know I've said it a thousand times before tonight, and my apologies don't mean anything to you, but I never wanted Hannah to experience anything like what happened. I truly didn't. But, I would hate me if I were you. So, I'm just going to do my best to stay out of your way the rest of the time we're here.” Mike paused as Beth didn't respond to his latest apology. “If it makes you feel any better, she was wearing a bra.”

His obtuse comment made Beth chuckle, despite herself, at Mike's dense attempt at consolation. Still brimming with emotion, she walked a few strides away from Mike before turning around and responding. “You know, Han always said I was a bad liar.” Mike looked at her confused, trying to figure out Beth's point as she continued. “But when I found her in the snow and told her you did care about her, even if it wasn't the way she wanted you to care, she believed me.”

As Beth continued walking away from Mike, he responded: “You weren't lying, Beth.” The brunette gave a dismissive side wave gesture while trudging away from Mike, Jess, and the cabin. Mike slowly turned and started making his way back toward his current girlfriend while muttering one choice word under his breath. “Fuck.”

After hiking from the cable car station, filling their time with friendly, if banal, conversation, Sam, and Chris crossed the threshold into the Washington family lodge, which despite Josh's earlier efforts still oozed with an eerie and foreboding presence.

"At least Josh left the door unlocked. Still, never thought we would be back here.” Sam shivered, before turning back to Chris. “Looks like nothing has changed. Outside of an extra year's worth of grime.”

“Yeah. I guess Josh had other things on his mind.”

Sam shivered again despite the extruding heat from the nearby fireplace. “Heating and lighting weren't on his mind either.”

Chris snickered while looking back towards his cohort. “Well if you had worn a halfway decent jacket, maybe you wouldn't be quite so cold. Or if you had worn pants.”

Sam looked down at her outfit and then glanced back at Chris with mild indignation in her eyes. “Not like we're used to this type of weather in California.”

“Dude, I live in LA which is like twice as warm as San Fran, and even I own a decent winter coat. Plus I remember you having a nice wool overcoat last year. And pants. Maybe you traded them for the dead muskrat on your head.”

Sam took on a self-conscious posture while trying to warm her arms. “First, didn't I already tell you to stop making fun of my hat?” Sam arched her eyebrow as Chris affably shrugged “Secondly, I'm wearing tights underneath my skirt which is just as warm as wearing a pair of jeans. Finally, I have both a pair of yoga pants and jeans in my bag. I just...chose...not to wear them today.”

Chris grinned at Sam's chagrin. “Fashion before practicality? What has gotten into you, Ms. Giddings?” He started laughing as she extended the middle digit of her right hand. “Man, if Beth could see how flustered you are right now.”

Concern swiftly replaced annoyance as Sam's primary emotion. “Speaking of, where is she? I thought we were the last ones here, not the first?” As Chris remained silent, Sam started calling out while they moved throughout the lodge “Beth?" "Josh?!" "Anyone?!?”"

“Sam?” a girl's voice called out, one with a higher and vaguely frantic tone compared to Beth's. The sound of an unexpected torrent of books hitting the floor, cut off her communication.

“You okay?” Sam queried as she and Chris followed the voice up the lodge's grand staircase and into the library. Where they found a young woman with long, vibrant natural red hair flowing out from the bottom of her striped knit cap. She made a haphazard attempt to re-shelve the healthy portion of the Washington family library scattered around her.

“Oh man. I knew I should have gotten a stool. Just how the heck am I going to put all these books back?” the woman muttered to herself before noticing Sam and Chris had come up behind her. After giving a startled yelp, she composed herself. “Sorry, was trying to grab a book off the shelf and, well...” she gestured towards the many piles strewn about her.

“You okay, Ashley?” Sam inquired again.

“I'm fine. Somehow managed to get books everywhere except where I was standing” Ashley winced in recollection. “Figuring out how to get everything rearranged before Josh gets back is another story.”

Chris looked at the redhead teasingly. “Remind me not to hire you as my interior decorator. Anyways, we can help you put them back, right Sam?”

“Thanks, you guys.” While taking a couple of books from Sam, Ashley hesitated. “By the way, did you get my text from earlier?”

Chris smiled and nodded. “Indeed I did. You didn't get my response?” Ashley shook her head, causing Chris to shrug. “Been hounding Josh for years about his dad needing to spring for a cell tower. Although considering what happened...”

Sam interjected as Chris trailed off. “Speaking of Josh, where is he?”

“Right here,” Josh replied while heading up the stairs. As he reached the top of the staircase, he noticed the scattered books. “If you guys wanted to play fifty-two card pickup, you could have just asked me to bring a deck of cards up here.”

“Sorry. I was just trying to reach the top shelf, knocked everything over, and, well, made a mess like a big klutz.” Ashley berated herself as a form of apology.

Josh shrugged. “Don't worry about it. Not like I have any idea where anything goes anyways.” He turned from the redhead towards the shorter of her two current companions. “Good to see you again, Sammie. Been a while since the last time, hasn't it?"

Sam nodded and smiled with a hint of anxiety. "About six months now." She forced the unease from her face. "Good to see you too, Josh."

Josh grinned “Well, looks like the Bay Area is treating you well. Beth will be a lucky lady if she ever comes to her senses. I've already tried to nudge her once today.”

“And how did that go?”

“About as well as you would expect.” Both Josh and Sam smiled at the recollection of many discussions where Beth had thrown up a metaphorical brick wall. “Seriously, though, I think she's coming around. Might even stop stalling before the heat death of the universe.”

Sam rocked back on the soles of her boots impatiently, “I’m surprised she hasn't come down here yet. She up in her room?”

Josh shrugged with relaxed indifference. “Beats me. Haven't seen her since she decided to go for a walk an hour ago.”

Sam tightened her lips as she felt her facial and neck muscles tense. “She went hiking? By herself in the pitch black? After what happened last year?!”

“You know, you both get the same expression when you're annoyed,” Josh smirked. “Anyways, something pissed her off, so she decided to cool her heels before everyone else showed up."

Sam's felt her voice cracking in frustration with Josh's lack of concern, “And you just let her? With no idea where she is? Are you fucking high?!”

Josh loosened a short, blasé laugh. “Come on, Sammie. You know as well as I do, stopping Beth once she's made her mind up is nearly impossible. Especially when she goes all AngryBeth.” Josh changed his tone into a reasonable approximation of a Neanderthal. “Beth angry. Beth smash. Beth blast nuclear fire from her mouth.”

Turning from helping Ashley with cleaning up the scattered books, Chris cut in. “Aren't you conflating the Incredible Hulk and Godzilla?”

“You know what I mean, bro. My sister gets big, green, and destroys metropolitan areas.” Josh turned back to Sam. “To answer your final question, I've been completely drug-free since I've come up here. Not even a drop of alcohol.”

“Seriously?” Sam pushed for confirmation Josh wasn't making another of his typical off-color statements.

“Seriously,” Josh stated with an unusually straight demeanor. “If there were an AA group on the mountain, I would be on my six-week chip. Although finding a non-caribou sponsor...”

“Wait a minute, so this whole shindig is dry?” Chris bemoaned

“Nah, I'm just staying away, myself. You guys can drink as much as you want.” Josh grinned slightly at the short blonde woman. “Even you, Sammie. No having to be Miss Responsible Designated Driver when there aren't any roads for miles around.”

Sam sharply sucked in a deep breath. “Which reminds me. One of you doofuses left your weed shoved in between the Prius' backseat cushions. So thanks for causing me to commit a felony for the last thirteen months.”

Chris again inserted himself into the conversation. “Thank God you drive like an old lady. Anyways, did you bring it with you? Because, I mean, it is supposed to be a party.”

Sam shook her head, as though Chris' inquiry was reaffirming why she tended to hang out with Beth. “Sure, because I've been looking to add international drug trafficker to my resume. And I would just love to get thrown in prison for 20 years just so you and Josh, who apparently wouldn't even partake himself, could smoke up.”

Josh laughed as he amiably patted Sam on the shoulder. “Always need to have a diversity of work experience on the old grad school application. Plus, I'm reasonably sure Ashley and Jess smoke as well, so technically you would be providing weed for three people, not just the bespectacled bro. And it would be 20 years in a Canadian prison. Which I'm sure is nicer than your average Bay Area studio apartment.” Before Sam could counterattack, Josh turned towards Chris. “You guys okay? Or do you need some help?”

“Think we're just about done.” Chris looked towards Ashley who nodded in affirmation. He then turned back towards Josh, slowly closing the distance between the two of them. “Been a long time, bro.”

“Indeed it has. Still driving all the CalTech professors nuts?”

Chris silently nodded before asking a follow-up. “So how have you been doing? You know...”

“I'm alright.”

“Good...Good to hear. But I'm guessing it has to be hard being back here after Hannah...”

“I said I'm fine!” Josh curtly ended Chris' line of inquiry before heavily exhaling “Look, I didn't invite you guys up here to wallow, but to remember Han while having a damn good time. So while I appreciate your concern, I'd rather not dwell on what happened last year.”

“Alright, bro. Sorry to pry.” Chris mumbled almost imperceptively

“No worries, dude. I know you meant well.” Josh smoothly transitioned back into gracious, if snarky, host mode. “Anyways, I've found some cool stuff while cleaning out the basement. Old movie props and such. If you want to kill some time before the others get here.”

Chris looked back towards Ashley, not wanting to blow either her or Josh off. Ashley hesitated before letting him off the hook. “You guys go ahead, I can hang out with Sam.”

Josh barely smirked at her capitulation before gesturing towards the stairs. “If you wouldn't mind leading the way, Cochise.” As Chris started down the stairs, Josh slightly tilted his head downwards and allowed himself to take in the view.

Irritated by this turn of events as well as her tacit approval of them, Ashley flopped down in the nearest cushy leather reading chair. Sam followed her over before sitting backward in a more utilitarian wooden chair. She looked at the redhead with empathy. “Somethings never change, do they?”

“Yeah, I guess not. Another stint as the third wheel.” Ashley grumbled

“I'm sure you and Chris will get to catch up eventually, well as much as two people who text as much as you guys do need to catch up.” Sam commiserated. “Plus Josh and Chris have known each other since the third grade, I mean, Chris is basically his brother.”

Ashley looked up at Sam and warily commented. “Somehow, I doubt anyone ever caught Josh trying to gawk at Beth's rear end.” An awkward thought crossed her mind. “At least, I hope not, as doing so would be super creepy, and probably illegal in most states and when I say caught, I don't mean, it would be okay if he was doing it and just never got caught...”

Sam gently held up her right hand to stop the stream of consciousness. “I know what you meant Ash. And I know firsthand how Josh's feelings towards people can be...complex. But I also can never recall Chris saying anything which indicates he considers Josh to be anything other than his bro.” Smirking a bit, Sam continued. “Although, I will say, on the record, Beth does have a nice ass.”

“Jesus, Sam!” Ashley started tittering at the surprising bit of lewdness. She then stopped suddenly. “Oh man, I forgot Beth is here. And probably still super pissed at me. I mean I understand why. But still, I would rather not get punched in the nose.”

Sam attempted to assuage Ashley's fears. Attempted being the operative word. “I'm not going to lie and claim Beth isn't angry. But I suspect one of the reasons why she came back is to work on the healing process and make progress on how she feels. So, while you might get told off, I don't think she'll slug you.”

“Thanks, Sam...”Ashley cut herself off and reflectively squealed as she heard the lodge's front door forcibly open.

“It's a celebration, bitches!” Jess' loud and exuberant voice echoed throughout the lodge's dank and musty foyer. Mike trailed behind her with a pained expression as well as a slight limp. Turning back to her boyfriend, Jess chided him. “Come on, Sponge Bob Sullen Pants, act like you're happy to be here.”

Mike strained a grin to his lips. “Sorry, still a little sore. Not as sore as we'll both be later, though.”

“Is that a promise, Michael? After all, I should be the only one causing swelling in your loins.” Jess retorted with ribaldry.

Having heard the couple entering the lodge, Josh interrupted their flirtation by sticking his head around the corner of the stairs. “Will you two get a room already? Or at least give me a couple of minutes to make popcorn.”

“We have every intention of getting a room, just lead the way,” Jess responded while Mike settled himself into the old blue couch, which served as the foyer's focal point.

“Well, I have a couple of ideas. But before settling in for the night, we're still waiting on Emily, Matt, and Beth.” Josh noticed Mike flinching slightly at the utterance of his little sister's name. “You all right dude? Seem a bit on the quiet side. Or did Jess already wear you out?”

As Josh chuckled at his insinuation, Mike turned and looked back at his host. “Slipped on the ice heading up here and managed to land crotch first on a jagged rock.”

“Owww! I'm sorry.”

“Thanks, man.”

“I was apologizing to Jess. She's the one who's going to be bored with you this weekend. Instead of being bored by you.” Both Josh and Jess proceeded to snicker at his lewd comment, while Mike furrowed his brow.

“Ha-Ha, wordplay. Anyway, would you happen to have some ice? So I can work on being able to do the latter instead of the former.” Mike inquired with the irritation in his voice starting to rise.

“Dude, have you looked outside? We're in fricking Canada. It's a Winter Wonderland out there.” Josh unhelpfully replied before starting to hum the Christmas Carol of the same name. Noticing the surly glare Mike was shooting toward him, Josh stopped and cleared his throat. “Seriously, though, I'm pretty sure we've got some in the big freezer.”

Before Mike could answer, Jess offered. “I'll go and get some. After all, wouldn't want to tire Mikey out before he can fully heal up.” With a flounce in her step, Jess headed off to the lodge's kitchen while Josh turned and headed back down towards the basement. Leaving Mike alone with his thoughts, much to his chagrin.

While it was true that Beth had wounded him with her strike on his nether regions, her words had damaged him far more than the physical trauma. He had always cared about Hannah. Not in the way she wanted, of course, but she was a sweet girl who deserved to be happy. And the relationship was not as one way as Beth had claimed. He had helped Hannah in subjects he understood better than her, both scholastically and otherwise. Not to mention the time he convinced his mom to bottle up a regulatory bill targeting splatter house flicks, Bob Washington's foremost amongst their number.

Still, when Hannah had gotten the butterfly tattoo on her right arm, he should have taken it as a sign she was not going get over him and move on without help. He decided more than once that a painful conversation with her, was necessary, only to chicken out at the last minute. Until the three of them set the prank in motion, leading to her death.

Why hadn't he ignored Sam and gone out after her and Beth? If he had, Hannah might still be here. Then again, maybe she wouldn't, and he might not be here either.

Exasperated at the thoughts running through his head. Mike muttered. “And this is why I drink.”

“Good to see you too, asshole.” Mike looked up to see a raven-haired woman scowling at him with a shy looking man standing behind her. His football letter jacket was serving as an indicator of his athletic prowess.

“Sorry. I was thinking aloud. Long time, no see, Emily. Matt.” Mike taciturnly responded.

“Yeah, what has it been, a whole hour, since you jumped out of nowhere and scared the shit out of me.”

“Fair enough, that was jerky, albeit hilarious, of me. Still, I thought we were cool. Even if you seemed awfully disappointed, you weren't able to drag Matt and me into a fight.” Mike countered.

“We were until you had the balls to say that I'm the reason why you drink. You know, you're a real piece of work, Munroe.” Emily's facial muscles contorted themselves into an epic expression of irritableness.

“Again, Davis. I wasn't talking about you, although you are sure as fuck making me wish I had a drink with me right now” Mike slowly enunciated his response to highlight his point.

Matt interjected in an attempt to relieve the tension. “So Mike, what do you think about the rumors of an NFL team moving back to LA? ESPN mentioned the Rams...”

“Don't try to change the subject.” Emily chastened him before returning to her primary target. “I wasted four years of my life with you before I realized what an immature horn doggish little boy you are. And I can't tell you how glad I am that I discovered a real man, practically right under my nose."

Mike mirthlessly laughed at this display “Good one, Emily, considering I was the one who broke up with you.” He then looked directly at Matt. “Good luck, man. Catch you on the rebound.”

A questioning expression fell across Matt's face while Emily flared her nostrils in disdain. At this point, Jess walked into the foyer. “Found you some ice for your...” cutting herself off as she noticed Emily and Matt. Determined to make her mark, Jess put down the ice and sat down next to Mike. After staring deeply into his eyes, she proceeded to insert her tongue lustfully in Mike's mouth. As she could hear Emily over dramatically gagging, she released her kiss and shot her a taunting grin.

“Gross, are you part python? Trying to swallow your prey whole?” Emily scoffed in disgust.

“Whatever, like I give a crap what you think.” Jess dismissed her former best friend while returning her gaze back to Mike.

“At least, I can think, 4.0, bitch, honor roll. Suck on that when you're trying to sleep your way into a job.” At this jab from Emily, Jess got up and proceeded to get nose to nose with the dark haired girl.

“You know, maybe both of you should just calm down before...”

“Shut up, Matt!” Both girls shouted nearly in unison. Throwing up his hands, Matt turned away and then pantomimed shooting himself in the temple while Mike continued watching the girls fight, however indirectly, over him. With the beginnings of a shit-eating grin on his face.

“You couldn't buy a moldy loaf of bread with your skanky ass.” Jess taunted with a sneer, daring Emily to hit her.

“What the fuck? That doesn't make any god damn sense! Is it an insult?” Exasperated, Emily practically rolled her eyes back into her head “You know what, I take back what I said earlier. The only job for which you might be qualified involves truck stops.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!”

“It means you're going to suck...” Emily's taunt was cut short by a hard shove from Jess. A shove which she then returned. Both girls were about to descend into a mess of hair pulling and slapping akin to an episode of a fourth-rate reality show series. Hearing the commotion, Josh and Chris made their way back up from the basement while Sam and Ashley came in from the library. Sam noticed that Josh had the angriest look in his eyes she had ever seen, except for the day he found out what had happened to his sisters.

“STOP IT! RIGHT NOW!” Josh bellowed in a voice whose demonic tenor seemed to startle even him. Taking a breath to calm himself down, he started in a lower, if no less angry tone. “What is wrong with you people? It's been less than ten minutes, and you're already about to murder each other. Do you think this is why I invited you here? Do you believe this is what I want? What Hannah would have wanted?”

Her dander raised by the interrupted confrontation with Jess, Emily glared right back at Josh. “Fuck Hannah!”

“Excuse me,” Josh asked in a flat voice, his tone masking the growing intensity of his rage as his skin started to turn white and clammy.

“I'm sick and tired of this Saint Hannah bullshit! She spent three and a half years making goo-goo eyes at my boyfriend, like a love sick six-year-old. She regularly made little passive-aggressive attempts to break Michael and me apart. And the second she thought he might be responding, after resisting her advances for years, she was more than willing to screw me metaphorically and him literally!” Emily huffed after finishing her short diatribe.

At this point, Sam interjected as Josh was too stunned to respond himself. “So you think she deserved what happened to her? Then, why did you even come, the free vacation?”

Coming down from her adrenaline rush, Emily sighed and shook her head sadly. “No. No one deserves what happened to Hannah. Despite what I just said, she was my friend too, and I miss her. But there is a difference between being sad she's gone and preparing her for beautification.” A tint of anger reentered Emily's tone at this point. “Especially because if she had just taken her medicine and not run out in a blizzard like a little bitch, she would still be alive.”

After this assertion, Emily grew nervous as she noticed an uneasy silence. “Why are you all staring at me? It's not like...”

“They aren't staring at you.”

Recognizing Beth's voice, Emily felt a sharp twinge in her gut. Turning around, she saw Hannah's twin sister with rage dancing in her eyes. As Emily started to open her mouth to either backpedal or double down, Beth reared back her right arm and slapped Emily with all the force she could muster. A split second after Beth hit her, Emily Davis hit the lodge's wooden floor.

Chapter Text

With the force of Beth's slap wearing off, Emily groaned as she tried to regain her footing. Only to notice Beth looming close to her. The strike she had delivered doing nothing to alleviate her rage.

“Keep your fucking mouth shut!”

After her snarled warning, Beth backed away. Simultaneously Mike and Matt moved forward, Matt stridently, Mike warily while holding the bag of ice over his groin. Beth watched them maneuver in front of Emily, shielding her sprawled figure from Beth's anger.

Beth flashed a bitter smile and stretched her arms in a gesture of defiance. Before either one could accept her unspoken challenge, Josh and Sam pulled her back, protecting Beth from the potential consequences of her fury.

For a second, Beth felt intense disappointment at their intervention. With wrath-fueled adrenaline flowing through her, she reckoned a three on one confrontation would be no problem. Even with a weak left arm. And maybe, Josh and Sam would finally help her take care of those who had hurt Hannah.

Instead, they continued to pull her away. Only allowing Beth to shrug them off once enough distance separated the two groups.

With breathing room, Matt cautiously helped Emily up. Once on her feet, her wounded expression showed more fear than physical trauma. “Jesus Christ, Beth, Are you mental?!”

“Please! You know damn well you deserved a slap and then some! And if I weren't afraid of breaking my good hand on your face, I would give you 'then some.'”

Shaking with indignation, Matt responded. “You are so far out of line right now, Beth.”

He looked back at Emily's face, seeing welts and bruises swelling from the slap while her eyes watered. His boiling blood was urging him to make Beth an exemption to his views regarding fighting women. “If you touch her again, I swear I'll...”

“You'll do what? Whip out your little selfie prick? Like you did with Hannah! Or are you honestly threatening to beat the shit out of a woman six inches shorter and 80 pounds lighter than you?” At Beth's withering comment, Matt felt the blood rushing out of his face as anger subsided, replaced by shame for his actions, both a year and a moment earlier.

“Just in case I haven't made it clear, I don't want you assholes here. But, for God knows what reason, Josh does. So you're here as his guests, not mine. The second he grows tired of your company; you can go fuck yourselves!" Beth turned towards the staircase and started walking away, before spinning around. "Just stay the hell out of my way!”

As she was about to begin her ascent to the second floor, Beth noticed Chris and Ashley, lurking in the corner. Ashley was behind Chris, with her back nearly up against the wall. As Beth walked over, Ashley instinctively shivered, shrinking farther behind her protection. Looking directly at Chris, Beth waved, with a disturbingly cheerful smile plastered on her lips.

“Hey, Chris, been a long time. How have you been?”

Chris looked at Beth questioningly. “Umm. I'm doing okay...”

Beth smiled again and nodded. “Good to hear.” She playfully whacked him in his left forearm. “You need to stop being such a stranger. Didn't see you at all last time I was in LA.”

Chris stared with wordless bewilderment at Beth's change in demeanor. “You're on CalTech's quiz bowl team, right? I'm on Stanford's, so we'll have to swap practice horror stories. Heck, I might even run into you at nationals if we can get past Berkley. She gently patted Chris on his left shoulder. “Anyway, nice to see you and we need to catch up.”

After Beth finished her one-sided conversation, she glowered at Ashley, before proceeding to the staircase.

Once Beth was upstairs, and out of earshot, Chris noisily exhaled. “Well, unsettled doesn't begin to cover how I'm feeling.”

“You're unsettled?” Ashley inquired, apprehensively shifting her weight back and forth. “Did you see the look she gave me? Or the slap? Or, pretty much everything she did since arriving? Oh man, she's going to punch me in the face, isn't she?”

“I don't know,” Chris admitted. “I mean she only slapped Emily for insulting Hannah. Although, it’s only Friday.”

Ashley smacked Chris' right arm. “Way to be analytical instead of comforting.”

“What is today? Girls smack Chris in the arm for free day? First, Sam, then Beth, now you.”

Both were cut off by bickering coming from the foyer. After sitting on the couch quietly during Beth's attack, Jess reignited her dispute with Emily.

“Way to go, Em! What the hell were you thinking?”

With her eyes drying from the effects of Beth's assault. Emily returned fire. “Well if you weren't such a slut..”

“Seriously, you're going to blame me kissing my boyfriend...for your insulting Josh and Beth's dead sister?”

Emily bristled. “I didn't insult Hannah. I reminded everyone of how she was a flawed person and not some exalted saint. An insult is when you called me a skank.”

“Or when you called me a slut.”

Emily sneered. “Calling you a slut isn't an insult, it's a factual assertion.”

At Emily's derogatory statement, both girls started pushing and bumping each other. Albeit, with less energy than before. Growing weary of the continuing confrontation, Mike and Matt halfheartedly tried to separate them.

Josh shook his head, before looking over at Sam. “While I play Jerry Springer for a few minutes, you wanna head up and check on Beth?”

Sam quietly chuckled in disbelief. “You want to handle this mess by yourself?”

Josh faux grinned back with clenched teeth. “Not a chance in fucking hell.” He relaxed his jaw. “But Beth needs someone right now, and she's more likely to listen to you.” Amusement entered his eyes. “Plus, you're like a foot shorter than me, so if she starts chucking stuff, you'll have an easier time dodging any projectiles.”

Sam rolled her eyes slightly before drolly responding. “Thank you for being concerned about my safety.” As she turned towards the staircase, she paused. “If you need me to help down here...”

“I'll be okay. Go take care of my sis.” As Sam headed upstairs, Josh intervened in the dispute. “Enough! Since you two still can't behave yourselves...”

“You've got some balls talking about behavior after Beth assaulted me. When I get back to LA, she'll be hearing from my family's attorney.”

Josh laughed scornfully at Emily's threat. “What did Beth do? I didn't see anything. Did you Cochise?”

Before Chris could answer the question, Emily batted away Josh's dismissal. “Whatever. I'm sure Matt and Mike would both serve as witnesses. Ashley, too probably. Shit, Sam is too honest to be able to perjure herself even if she wanted to.”

Josh drew within a hair’s breadth of Emily, squinting with malice growing in his eyes. “Why don't you just follow Beth’s advice?”

Matt again stepped forward. “Josh, Watch it!”

In contrast to her reaction to Beth's attack, Emily pulled Matt back. “Like I'm afraid of you. Lord knows you're half the man Beth is anyway.”

Before Josh could counter, Matt interrupted. “You know what I just realized? I forgot to bring one of your bags up from the bridge.”

“Huh?”

“You know the gray leather bag you got from the Coach store on Rodeo? When you bought it, you got pissed at the salesgirl because you thought she was flirting with me. The bag with your 'supplies'?”

As Matt gave her a pleading look, Emily picked up on his hint. “You know, you're right. For once. We better find it. I'm not losing a fourteen-hundred-dollar bag because you're a doofus.” She circled towards the lodge's entrance, lightly tugging Matt behind her. “Be back in a bit, see you guys later.”

As Emily and Matt hurried out of the lodge, Josh looked towards Mike and Jess. “Wasn’t transparent at all, now was it?” Shaking his head with a look of bemused disbelief, he reached into his vest's pocket, pulling out a set of keys. "Since I would rather not have round three tonight, you guys okay with heading up to the guest cabin? Would be a nice private place for you guys to...you know, enjoy one another’s polite company.”

As Josh’s eyes glinted suggestively, Jess grabbed the keys. “Sounds like a great plan to me. What do you say ice crotch?”

“Well, maybe a walk would do some good to get the blood flowing,” Mike admitted hesitantly

Josh gestured toward the back entrance. “I've got a couple more things to take care of in here, but I'll meet you guys outside in ten minutes and give you directions.”

As Mike and Jess headed towards the back entrance, Sam prepared herself outside of Beth's bedroom door. Her thoughts wandered through all the times she was inside Beth's room, including the last time. A time both felt euphoric about their future together. Only for the mutual elation to be ruined by what happened a few moments later. As staring at the bedroom door all night was not a realistic option, Sam swallowed her uncertainty and firmly knocked.

“Fuck Off!”

Sam shook her head at Beth's profane greeting. “It's me. Can we talk?” Sam waited a moment before knocking again. “Beth...”

“It's not locked.”

As Sam opened Beth's bedroom door, she was struck by how the room looked unchanged from when she was there twelve months earlier. Intellectually, the room's stasis didn't surprise her. Beth had gone straight back to LA after hospital stints in Blackwood and Calgary. Tonight was her first night back at the lodge as well. However, the effect still jarred Sam. It was as though the last year hadn't occurred and they were still a young couple in the early blossoms of a tender and romantic love, and not whatever the hell they were now.

Over the years, Sam spent the bulk of her time at the lodge in Hannah's room, but she spent enough in Beth's to know the stark difference between them. In more cynical moments, Sam thought of how if Hannah's room was eternally an eleven-year-old girl's, Beth's was permanently a thirteen-year-old boy's.

As exemplified by how Beth haphazardly tacked posters of baseball, basketball and soccer players, along with those for various punk rock bands, on the otherwise barren white walls. Also included were posters of female athletes wearing uniforms which barely covered anything. Sam mentally snickered at the memory of Beth's dad believing she was fascinated by swimming and platform diving when what intrigued Beth was toned women wearing wet, clingy Lycra.

Shaking her head to drive away the memories, Sam focused her vision directly on Beth. “Are you okay?”

Beth snorted a joyless laugh. “I wasn't the one writhing in pain on the floor.”

“True...But I didn't ask if you're hurt. I asked if you're okay.”

Beth broke eye contact, looking towards one of her old bookshelves. “I'm all right.”

“And if you could have looked me in the eye there, I almost would have believed you.”

Beth fired an angry glare at Sam. “I said I'm all right.”

“Like I said, almost” As Beth mumbled and wandered away from her, Sam followed behind. “Maybe I'm taking things out of proportion, but slapping someone, challenging her six-foot-two linebacker boyfriend to a fight, and then threatening a bunch of people doesn't seem all right to me.”

Beth wordlessly paced towards her walk-in closet, ignoring Sam. “You know, no one would blame you if you decided coming up here was a mistake and went back to San Francisco first thing tomorrow morning. And I would be more than willing to go back with you if you wanted my company. Although not for the conversation apparently.”

Beth turned back towards Sam. “I'm not going anywhere. I have an actual reason to be here. Unlike those shitheads.” As Sam sighed in frustration, Beth continued. “If they want a free vacation thanks to Josh's, or to be more accurate, my parents', generosity, I don't care. As long they stay out of my way and don't piss me off. And if they do?" Beth smirked threateningly. "Look at what happened to Mike and Emily.”

Sam thought about Mike wincing while holding a bag of ice on his groin and realized Beth must have kicked his manhood. “Beth, I understand you're enraged about what happened last year. And I'm angry too...”

“Well, you wouldn't know it from looking at you.”

Sam bit her lip hard at Beth's deliberate incitement. “You can't go around hitting people. Not just because you're pissed off.”

“Why not? Especially when they deserve it?”

“Because you're better than that!”

Beth turned and moved back towards her closet. “Am I?”

Sam came up behind her and tightly gripped Beth's shoulder as though she was clinging to a handhold on a sheer cliff. “Yes, you are.”

Knowing Sam was too strong to be shaken free just by walking away, Beth turned into the hold, forcing Sam to loosen her grip. Leaving the two girls face to face again. “I wouldn't be so goddamned angry if I were a better person, ”

Sam started to interrupt only for Beth to hold up her right hand. “It's not just the anger. I would haven't left Hannah alone with them. Leaving her to their 'mercy' while I snuck off for some quality time with you. They would never have tried such a cruel prank if I was there. And if they were stupid enough to try anyway, I would have stopped them.”

She empathically pounded her closed right fist into her open left hand. “Shit, when we went down there, you almost did stop them. What did I do? Taunt my passed-out brother and mock my sister's infatuation with the smug prick. By the time I was concerned with anything other than thinking up another bitchy comment, Hannah was gone.”

Sam closed her eyes to compose herself as she could feel a surge of emotion coming on, one which she needed to stifle. One of them needed to be the emotionally stable one, and it wasn't going to be Beth. As Sam opened her eyes, she saw Beth staring back at her, with a blank expression outside of her eyes moistening with frustration, sorrow, and rage.

“You didn't leave Hannah alone; We left Hannah alone. It takes two to tango and even if our dance style was more awkward lip-locking than ballroom grace, we were up here together.” Beth started to grin, and Sam dared to hope she was calming down. “However, we can't blame ourselves for what happened while we were...canoodling.”

To Sam's bewilderment, her statement caused Beth's furor to flare again. “I don't blame us! I BLAME THEM!”

As Beth projected her rage throughout the room, Sam stepped backward, unnerved by Beth's shout. Seeing her outburst frightened Sam, Beth's loathing turned inward. She violently slapped her left hand against the closet door. As the smack echoed through the bedroom, she leaned her forehead against the door. Simultaneously crying and muttering a torrent of vulgarities under her breath.

As Sam gingerly moved towards her, Beth blubbered through her tears “I'm sorry, Sam, I'm sorry. You're the last person in the world I want to scare.” She loudly wheezed to unclog her nasal passages. “If it weren't for you, I would have died out there. And sometimes, I wonder if you wouldn't be better off if I...”

“Don't you ever fucking say I would be better off if you were dead!” Beth looked over, stunned at the venom in Sam's voice. “I spent days by your bedside in the hospital. Terrified you would never wake up. Then failing to console you when the police broke off their search for Hannah. Then spending nearly a year listening as you spewed all sorts of bile towards your friends when you weren't full of self-hatred. And I would be more than glad to do it again one hundred times over if I had to. Because I love you, you big dumb stupid bitch!”

“Sam I...”

“Shut Up! You're one of the most vulgar, irritable and stubborn people in the fucking universe! But you're also the one of the bravest. You didn't hesitate for a second to go after Hannah when she ran out into the woods when the rest of us just stood there or were too drunk to stand period. Everyone knows you're the rock, the dependable one, the responsible one, the selfless one. The one who needed, still needs, to get it through her thick skull she deserves to be happy. And not to pretend I don't get anything carnal out of the equation, you're pretty fucking hot even though you're constantly trying to hide it.”

“Sam, Let...”

“As for guilt? You think you're the only person who feels guilty?! Who misses Hannah?! How many times have they all apologized to you? Even Chris who did nothing more than getting blackout drunk, like he does every damn time he comes up here. And when they first apologized, every single one of them was crying their eyes out. Did you think they're faking or were just afraid you were going to beat the shit out of them? No! They know they fucked up horribly and nothing they can ever do can change what happened."

"Sam, please..."

"Or how about the smug prick, as you like to call him. Did you know he went out there with me to find you and Hannah?" Beth's astonished look answered Sam's question. "Of course not. Because then you might think better of him. And he wants you to hate him. Because I know damn well he hates himself. But you owe him your life as much as you owe me. And I owe him mine as well because I wouldn't have been able to carry you back myself, and I sure as fuck wasn't going to leave you there alone, so I would have frozen to death next to you."

Sam's breathing grew heavier as she grew winded and her voice started to waver. "As for me, the only one you've never blamed? I deserve blame as much as anyone. Every day, every moment, I hate myself with every fiber of my being for not going out there with you. Because I know together we would have found some way to save her. And you know what gets me through my guilt? What helps me out of bed every morning? The fact I was able to save you. So how fucking dare you say my life would be better if you were dead!”

Sam's diatribe halted as her eyes started to glister and her breathing quickened. Before she could fully break down, Beth enveloped her in a comforting bear-hug, resting her chin on Sam's top knot as Sam allowed herself to grieve openly in front of Beth for the first time.

As both girls mourned, the temporary relief of exhaustion gradually replaced their anguish. Sam, her voice muffled due to still being pressed into Beth, reaffirmed what should have been apparent from the beginning. “I miss her so much. I just...She was my best friend, Beth.”

“I know, Sam, I know.” Beth cleared her throat, trying to displace the phlegm which had been generated by her crying. “I've been so wrapped up in...”

“It's okay.” Sam sniffled “I'm sorry I called you a big dumb stupid bitch. But you know, you can be a shithead sometimes, right?”

Both Sam and Beth interrupted their crying with giggling. “I prefer the term stubborn fuckhead myself. Just for future reference.” Sam lifted her head up, and both girls locked gazes. “I know you're hurting too, Sammy. But, you're so damn strong and stoic it's hard to know just how badly you're hurting. Sometimes, you have to let me try to be there for you like you've been there for me. And while I'm sorry for many things, I'm especially sorry for not making sure you knew.”

“It's okay, Beth. I have to remember you're strong too.”

“Not as strong as you.”

Sam grimaced and tried to shift her position in Beth's embrace. “No. Seriously, I think you might have cracked a rib.”

Beth blushed and released her hug. “Sorry. I just wanted to stop you from crying.”

“By crushing my lungs?” Sam inquired with a slight grin. “Damn, I always forget how sneakily muscular you are.” Sam paused briefly to check herself for any damage. “So, are you feeling better now?”

“After being told off? Actually, yeah. I mean you did say I was pretty fucking hot. Unless you were referring to my parka and new found respect for dressing in layers.”

Sam unleashed a full smile at Beth's. “Good, good, making dumb jokes is always a positive sign.”

Beth nodded. “Yeah...I mean I wasn't in a bad mood on the flight or the bus ride from the airport outside of travel anxiety and tiredness. Had a good conversation with Josh when I first arrived. Then I went into Hannah's room and just lost my shit. Everything reminded me of what happened here last year. Making the lodge feel real. I mean it is real, of course, but in California, it's more of an abstract idea, almost just a nightmare.” Beth patted her right ear. “And then while taking a walk to clear my head, Mike nailed me in the ear with a snowball.”

As Beth subconsciously tried to dry her right ear yet again, Sam's expression grew cross. “Seriously? What the hell?”

“He wasn't aiming for me. He thought I was Jess. Apparently on stilts wearing a brunette wig.” Beth waved her hand dismissively. “Doesn't matter, I've already gotten him back and then some. But between the snowball and Emily's verbal diarrhea, I was wound up. And, you were there, you saw what I did." Beth looked down at her boots, not wanting to maintain eye contact as she wrinkled her nose in shame and disgust. "But, you're right, I need to try harder to keep my emotions in check because I am better than that. Or at least I used to be.”

Sam grabbed Beth's upper arms in an attempt keep both of them emotionally steady. “You still are. I wouldn't be here right now if you weren't.” Beth gave a glimpse of a smile which bolstered Sam's hopes. “But there is something you have to do. And I know you're not going to want to do it. And I can't blame you for not wanting to.”

Beth closed her eyes. “Sam, you can't ask me...”

“I can, and I have to. You have to forgive them. Not for their sakes and certainly not for mine, but your own. Otherwise, your anger is going to continue to fester and it's going to eat you alive.” Beth frowned and started clenching her jaw. “I'm not saying you have to be friends with them again or even be particularly pleasant. Especially if whatever the hell you were doing with Chris is your idea of sweet, instead of mondo creepy.”

Beth shook her head while thinking of her earlier conversation. “I just wanted him to know I wasn't angry at him.”

“I know, but I think you would have scared him less if you cussed him out like everyone else. At least judging by the look on his face when I came up here.” Sam paused and massaged her temples with her right hand before unleashing the most potent strike in her arsenal. “Do you honestly think Hannah would want you to spend the rest of your life hating them?”

“Bit of a low blow, Sam.” Beth protested. “But no, she wouldn't. She was always the gentle one. The one who was quick to forgive. Not like me.” Beth exhaled loudly. “You make an excellent point, as usual. But, I need to sleep on it. Considering I've gotten like 14 hours of sleep in the last week, I think I need to rest period.”

Sam nodded in concurrence. “Yeah, we both need to unwind after everything. I get the impression Josh is trying to leave a low carbon footprint by not paying the electric bill, but do you think you guys would have hot water? I could use a bath.”

Beth openly cackled. “You and your long ass baths. I swear I could go downstairs and watch the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy in the time it takes you.”

“Not true. You tried a couple of years ago and only got through Fellowship.”

Beth laughed again. “You still took a three-hour long bath. For someone who's big on conservation, you sure like heating up a lot of water and then sitting in it all evening.”

“Well, we can't all take eight to ten-minute showers and feel clean, unlike some people I know.” Sam gestured towards Beth. “Plus you guys are the only ones I know with a massive hot tub. And if I'm going to burn the energy to heat the water, I might as well enjoy it as long as possible.” Sam crossed her arms in teasing defiance. “It's only the responsible thing to do.”

“What ever you say, Sammy,” Beth responded in a light-hearted sing-song tone before returning to normal. "Still the hot-water heater has a generator backup, so you should be able to indulge.”

“Cool. I mean, it is relaxing though. I think it would be a good place to talk about everything without having to worry about prying ears. Maybe you could join me there tomorrow evening?”

Beth raised her right eyebrow and gave Sam an awry glance. “Excuse me?”

Sam's eyes widened as she backpedaled. “No, no, not that way. We were never to the naked bathing together stage even before.”

“Naked bathing is a stage? I think I missed those lessons in sex ed.”

Sam narrowed her eyes and grumbled. “Don't be a smart-ass. I brought one of my bathing suits. The red one piece I used to wear while on lifeguard duty back in high school.” She gave Beth a knowing gaze. “I remember you liking that suit after all.”

Beth shook her head and started snickering. “Well more I loved seeing you in said suit. And if you brought it with you, I guess your offer isn't the most impromptu one in the history of the universe.” She tittered as she realized Sam's brazenness. “Fuck, you don't fight fair, do you, Giddings?”

Sam gave Beth the once over before giving a suggestive grin. “I fight to win, Washington. You of all people should know.”

Beth gulped to buy herself a moment. “Figured you might hatch some scheme, so I shoved my black and pink one piece in my bag before I left, just in case. Although to be honest, I didn't think I would need it.” She smiled nervously. “So I suppose it's a date. The first one in a long while.”

“Suppose it is” Sam beamed. “Anyways, I should probably be heading downstairs to power that generator.”

“Okay, see you in the morning.” As Sam turned to leave Beth's bedroom, the brunette called back out to her. “Sam. I noticed you referred to Hannah in the past tense.”

Sam felt a shudder up her back as Beth broached the subject which Sam hoped she wouldn't. As she spun towards Beth, the pit in her gut grew from olive to peach sized. “Beth, I'm sorry, I'm...”

“Don't worry. I'm not mad or anything. I mean, I'm not an idiot. A rageaholic maybe, but not an idiot. I realize Hannah being dead is the most reasonable conclusion. Fuck, I almost died and I didn't even fall off a cliff.”

As Sam worriedly and wordlessly looked on, Beth chuckled to herself. “I know what I'm about to say is going to sound completely fucking nuts. And if anyone said it to me, I wouldn't believe them. But, I've been having visions of Hannah in my dreams. Where she talks to me directly, says things which couldn't just be my subconscious acting out. Things I couldn't possibly know. She tells me she is alive but trapped on the mountain. Being held by the creature which chased us, Makkapietw. And, then, she begs me to save her.”

“Beth. You're under a lot of stress and...”

“You know me; I'm not a big believer in dreams or spirits. However, I know damn well those visions are real. If it weren't for them, I would never have agreed to come back, no matter what Josh might have said. But I did come back. I'm here now. And I will not fail Hannah again.”

“Oh, Beth. Jesus, Beth.”

Beth ignored the tears of concern which were starting to form in the corners of Sam's eyes. “It's okay. I don't expect you to believe me. But, I'm hoping your offer to help me look for her still stands. If only so I can see the incredible smile on your face when you realize how wrong you were and she's alive.”

Beth's broadly hopeful, almost delighted, expression cut through Sam, causing a quick surrender. “...I'll help.”

Beth hugged Sam nearly as hard as she had earlier but with no tears this time. On her side. “Thank you, Sam! I knew you'd help me!” Beth loosened her hold. “I'll have to find equipment; ropes, harnesses, lights, dried food, water. We'll probably have to take a couple of Dad's shotguns too, just in case we run into the creature. Assuming Josh didn't pawn them off.”

Beth tapped herself on the side of the head as she released Sam. “We can start planning in the morning, I need a good night's sleep, and you need to take your bath so you can relax and rest up. We've got a hard weekend ahead of us. But, we're going to find my sister. We're going to recuse her."

Sam numbly nodded as she edged towards the door. “Sure. I'll see you in the morning, okay.”

As Sam reached the doorway, Beth added one last interjection. “For the record, I'm glad you were able to find me. I'm glad I'm alive.”

Sam turned back and gave a soft grin. “Not as glad as I am.”

She closed Beth's bedroom door and after making sure she was out of earshot, rested the back of her head against an oak support beam.

“What the fuck am I going to do?”