The sound of an alarm buzzing, no wait that wasn’t quite right. 12.14? River blinked open his bleary eyes to see the harsh red glow of his watch and the little numbers blinking away at him. It was right about then that he became aware of something else. He was moving. The muted thump thump thump of something rolling beneath his body; the slight sense of unease as if he was rocketing down the highway in the back seat of… Oh shit!
His eyes snapped open and River jerked upright, his head smacked against the low ceiling of his brother’s SUV and he groaned as he rubbed his throbbing skull. He stared out the window for a second that dragged into a minute, he was definitely in the back of an SUV that was screaming down the highway in the dark of night. The waxing glow of the moon cast light across a vast shadowy nightscape and one thing was for certain River wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
“Ow!” River muttered as a flash of bright light lit him up and left his eyes stinging, it was right about then the shock wore off and the rest of his senses kicked in. He was wedged in the backseat, between two of his frat brothers who were laughing their heads off. At the front of the car another frat brother was holding a camera up to his face and was offering River a cheesy grin as he waved maniacally.
“What the hell?” River asked. He glanced back out the window and the night flitting by in a vast expanse of empty highway.
“Haha! You should see your face!” Derrick, frat brother number one and the guy holding the camera said.
He ripped the bottom off the camera to expose the white surface rapidly taking shape and as River stared at it in mute silence Derrick kept laughing. If River wasn’t feeling so pissed he would probably have agreed the expression was pretty hilarious, unkempt bed-ridden brown hair, glazed hazel eyes, just a touch of dried drool on his check and an expression of bewildered disbelief that left him scratching his chin.
It was also courtesy of that picture he realised something else about his current predicament—he was wearing a rather special assortment of clothes; truthfully they were a lovely shade of white and purple. It was just the fact that it was a skin tight women’s shirt cut off at the midriff that concerned him, not to mention the frilly little skirt. It took a moment for it to sink in.
He was wearing a cheerleader’s uniform.
Madelina’s uniform based off the shiny number 66 embossed on it. With that realisation the last forty eight hours of his life came crashing back into his skull like an ocean trying to fill a sieve. River groaned and slumped in his seat while a frat brother on either side gave him a friendly smack on the chest and made a mock pass at him. He didn’t care, he was already spiralling back into his gloom, depression seeping in at the edges as he breathed out quietly.
Derrick saw it instantly, saw the tip of his head, the look of despair in his eyes, the way his body hunched in on itself and before River could so much as contemplate Madelina he was sputtering in shock as ice cold water splashed across his face.
He jerked upright and spat into the back of the SUV which brought a nasty look from the guy to his right—a guy who was also splashed courtesy of the contents of the water bottle currently dripping all over the leather seats.
“No.” Derrick said firmly, “No. You got it?”
“Derrick,” River began
“I’ve got more water,” Derrick cut him off. “And look outside, you see that beautiful placid lake we’re about to pass? Lake Tuiho, and as the British would say one dip and you’d freeze your bullocks off bro, so just no. Snap out of it.”
“Dude.” The stalwart one word addition of the driver that was the equivalent of a tirade. The driver, Kieran, clocked River in the rear view mirror and raised an eye brow that said ‘buck up or I’m going to toss you in that lake myself.’ It was a very expressive look. The eye brow tweaked slightly and it was as if he had added, ‘Now.’
“Where the hell are we?” River finally said, it wasn’t the same as pulling himself out of the gut wrenching spiral but it was the best he could manage while Derrick muttered to Kieran about the uniform being a stupid idea. Kieran shrugged nonchalantly in response.
Kieran was that kind of guy, stoic and unaffected as if he was just another wave in the ocean rising and falling but never seeming to crash. He was from the land down under and it showed in his surfer’s tan and the tweak of his accent whenever he strung more than a couple of words together.
“Minnesota.” Derrick said after a minute.
“How did we get to Minnesota?” River asked in shock.
“Duh!” the frat brother on the right of River said, “We drove you moron.”
“Eric.” Derrick warned, “Ill boot your ass out of this car.”
“It’s my car!” Eric protested, “You can’t boot me out of my own damn car!”
“You also said only you could drive,” Derrick reminded him and Eric snapped his arms shut and offered a petulant frown. “Sorry man,” Derrick said, switching back to River, “My cars in the shop and Danny’s wouldn’t have lasted a mile.” Danny was the smiling guy on River’s left.
Danny scratched his head, “Yeah, sorry man.”
“Because your car is a piece of crap or because you abducted me?” River asked.
“Ah, both?” he hedged.
“Where are we?” River demanded again, “Or hell where are we going?”
“Just chill,” Derrick said, “All will be made clear soon.”
“Derrick I’ve got finals—”
“In two weeks, you’ll be back on campus in a couple days,” he thought about it for a second and shrugged, “three days tops. Probably.”
“It’s not like you were studying anyway,” Danny offered helpfully. “You were moping about with that whole woe is me, oh god oh god, how can I go on? My life is in shambles and my heart is breaking—” it was entirely possible Danny was taking drama courses back at their college, “—however will I go on.”
“If you start quoting Shakespeare…” River warned.
“Whether it is nobler in the heart to sling—”
Ice cold water splashed the two of them and River shivered as Derrick cracked the window and let the blisteringly freezing night wind slap against the water soaked frat boys, who were reduced to chattering teeth and goosebumps. It sucked but it helped. Whatever dark little place River had been going he was snapped out of it. He just needed to avoid thinking about Madelina, she was a dangerous subject, a no go unless he wanted to return to the depressive encompassing abyss of his own melancholy thoughts.
“You cool?” Derrick asked.
“Ice cool.” River chattered out and Derrick chuckled. “So I’ve got two questions, just two and then I’ll shut up and take whatever you plan to dish out.”
Derrick’s smile took on a hyena like quality, “Hit me.”
“Where are we going?”
“Oh yeah, we took a wrong turn off the highway, just been coasting for the last fifty miles, so we could really be heading towards any backwater hick town,” he shrugged sheepishly, “but hey all is bright. Cheery even. This weekend is all about you man, we’re going to hike, drink, swim, drink, camp, drink, tell ghost stories, drink. It’ll be like junior high all over again,” River cracked a smile at the thought of him and Derrick sneaking a six pack back in junior high and vomiting all of the woods. Painfully good times. Emphasis on the painful part.
“No school, no girls, no pressure, just us and the woods.”
“The woods?” Eric groaned, he looked like he wanted to say more but one hard look from Derrick shut him down.
“Look I get it, life sucks, what happened was crappy by any stretch of the definition but you need to get out of your head before it ruins you.” Derrick suddenly sounded very sombre, “Like you said finals coming up and you need to buckle down so think of this weekend as a chance to clear out the cobwebs, forget everything and just relax. There’s no pressure, no expectations, no drugs, just booze and your fraternal brothers. We’re here for you man.”
“Aw shucks,” River said, “that was touching, really.”
“Oh shut up,” Derrick snapped back half-heartedly.
“Yeah, like haha, are you on your period?” Eric said. River had been joking, Eric was just trying to butt in, and the glower he received from Derrick was enough to make the kid huddle down in his seat and cross his arms like a chastised school boy. River didn’t really know Eric all that well, he had rushed their fraternity that year and he was a freshman whereas the rest of them would all be graduating to various levels of success in a few weeks. River would be finishing up his masters and he was still debating whether to head into the doctoral program, he was good enough, ambitious enough… but right then the idea of years more with his head in books and his life passing him by… it wasn’t a pleasant thought.
Madelina slipped unbidden into his mind and he shook his head grimly to drive the thought of her away, he was left with the fleeting impression of her blazing blue eyes and that sassy, but mischievous, smile she perpetually wore. As if she had a secret that you would kill to know—as it had turned out River would have preferred ignorance. At least it would have let him sleep at night.
Kieran clocked the sag in River’s expression and nodded to Derrick who frowned in response.
“So what was your second question?” he asked, “You said you had two. So if I can do my math, and I’m not saying I can,” he joked, Derrick was studying mathematics. “You’ve asked one and that leaves one to go.” He glanced at Kieran, “That sounds about right… right?”
Kieran nodded, “Left. I mean, right.”
Derrick looked to Danny, “Two minus one, equals?”
“One.” Danny agreed.
“Looks like a consensus,” Derrick said, “So what’s your second question?”
“Uh, well,” River hedged, trying to liven himself up a little for his friend’s sake rather than his own. They were obviously trying damn hard to get him out of his own head, and it wasn’t like he was the only one with his finals coming up but still they were there with him in his hour of need, the least he could do was try not to be such a sullen jack ass. “This might come off a little awkwardly, I mean I don’t want to imply anything and it’s sort of a two part question.”
“Hit me.” Derrick said.
“Probably,” River agreed, “Part one. Who changed my clothes?” the brothers glanced between themselves and they all smiled as if to say they would never tell, “Yeah. Figured as much, and part two. Did you guys roofie me?”