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Sex & Sourdough

By:A.J. Thomas

own copy. He had never tried to set up his tent except in Joel’s living room, but it was fairly simple. He had never slept in his sleeping bag, but it was rated to well below zero, and he had a good sleeping pad to go with it.

The stranger closed his mouth and tightened the cap on his water bottle. “Huh. You know, I like to get a slow start myself,” the man said carefully. “You can hike with me for a bit, just in case you run into trouble.”

“I’ll be fine,” Anders insisted.

“You probably will be. But meeting new people is part of the experience, isn’t it? Besides, I am a hell of a good cook.”

“You cook?”

“Well,” the stranger said, looking sheepish. “I bake.”

“You bake?” Anders laughed. “Out here in the middle of the forest?”

The man smiled brightly. “I bake everywhere. Except hotels—they get a little touchy about smoke detectors.”

“You seriously bake?”

“Bread is cheaper than crack.”

“What?”

“I mean that it’s addictive. It’s my addiction, anyway. That’s how I got my trail name. I’m Kevin, Kevin Winters, but folks call me Sourdough.”

“Trail name?”

“Your friend didn’t even mention that? Female hikers started it a long time ago, going by a pseudonym so hikers coming behind them wouldn’t be able to see they were a single woman from reading the shelter logs. Everybody uses one, at least for signing the logs and registers.”

“They do?”

“Usually.”

“Oh.” Anders felt like an idiot. He might as well have tattooed the word NEWBIE across his forehead. “Was I supposed to do that down at the visitor center?”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Someone will give you a nickname or two before long, you can bet on that. Or I’ll just keep calling you Butch.”

“Butch?”

Kevin nodded with enthusiasm.

“Why Butch?” Anders gestured down at his skinny chest.

Kevin’s smile didn’t falter. “I’m not very creative.”

Anders sighed and nodded. “Okay, I’m game. I don’t want to be called Butch, though.”

That night, Anders followed Kevin to a shelter just past Springer Mountain. When he went toward the shelter, Kevin tugged on his shoulder, pulling him toward a couple of small tents set up about fifty yards away. “Toilets are great, a big fire pit is great, but the shelters aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

“But what if it rains?”

“Unless you bought your tent at Walmart, it’ll keep you dry,” Kevin made a noncommittal grunt. “And there are mice and chipmunks in there.”

“Chipmunks?” Anders chuckled. “A guy your size is afraid of a few chipmunks?”

“Those mice and chipmunks will eat through your pack just for the salt that’s soaked into the fabric from your sweat. If you aren’t an active sleeper, they’ll eat through your sleeping bag too. They’re evil. Tents are better. You don’t have to put up with twelve other people snoring, no one trips over you in the middle of the night, and you can sleep naked. Tents are always better.” Kevin hesitated. “Unless there’s a flash flood, anyway. It’s hard to climb a tent.”

“You sleep naked?” Anders whispered before he could stop himself.

Kevin nodded, laughing, and strolled toward a small campsite, where another tent was already set up.

Anders huffed. He definitely wasn’t planning on sleeping naked without Joel around. He set up his tent in an area that had obviously been used before, cleared of rocks, with a bit of soft grass beneath it. He rolled out the ground cloth, staked out the tent and tarp, and then tossed his air mattress and sleeping bag inside. He opened the small valve so that mattress could inflate, fluffed the down sleeping bag, and then set his backpack in the corner of the tent. The tent was large enough for two men. It fit him, his equipment, and had room to spare. It was also four pounds heavier than a single-person backpacking tent, but he hadn’t been planning on carrying it, or sleeping in it alone. If he couldn’t talk Joel into joining him, he would have to buy something lighter.

His treacherous brain conjured up images of what all of those muscles on Kevin’s chest would look like as the man slept naked in his tent, but he shook his head and forced those thoughts aside. Joel got angry enough when he imagined Anders was thinking about other men. It was better just to avoid it altogether.

When he was finished, he crawled outside and saw Kevin fiddling with pots, plastic bags of food, and tiny plastic bottles.

“So what were you planning on doing for food?” Kevin asked, looking up at him from his spot by the fire.

Anders froze, struck dumb by Kevin’s intensely chocolate-colored eyes. While they were hiking, Kevin had kept his sunglasses on, and Anders hadn’t actually seen his eyes. The sheer depth and sparkle of them was so striking Anders didn’t even realize Kevin had asked him something. As Anders stared at him, Kevin reached into a large plastic bag filled with flour. He pulled out a flour-coated mass, turned it in his hands until it formed a ball, and then set it into the center of a small frying pan.

“Did your friend pack all the food too?”

“What?” Anders shook his head. “No, I brought food. Hang on.” He sat down by the fire with a bag of freeze-dried pasta he’d bought from a sporting goods store. “I just brought these….”

“Lasagna?” Kevin read the label. “That one’s okay. Or it was the last time I tried it. Too pricey for me, most of the time. If you want to share, I can spice it up and turn this into garlic bread to go with it.”

The package was supposed to feed two anyway. “Sure.”

Kevin fiddled with a tiny clear bottle of spices. Anders watched him sprinkle the top of the white ball of dough with water, then with a mixture of white and green spices, and then set his cooking pot on top of the frying pan. Kevin nestled the whole thing directly into the coals in the fire ring, then began boiling water to prepare the freeze-dried dinner. Within ten minutes, the area around the fire pit smelled better than the Italian restaurants Anders enjoyed in Jacksonville.

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