Just a few minutes prior, Lucy had been awestruck by the scenery at Buffalo National River Park. But now her stomach came to a full boil as Rob handed her a fishing rod. She knew she must have looked like a lunatic when her eyes met Matt’s because he spontaneously snorted.
“Now remember,” Alison announced, clipboard in hand. “The limit is two catches per person and, if you catch anything smaller than 14 inches, you have to throw it back. We have worms over there by Tony, or live minnow down here by Justin. And Dave and Betty Sue back at camp are going to host a dinner of whatever we catch, out on the lawn behind the lodge if it’s not too cold.”
Lucy looked around her to find Justin leaning over the pack of fishing equipment, helping Tony to pull it out of the enormous canvas sack. The way the sun caught his hair made it seem like a halo made entirely of radiant streaks of light. And when he laughed, Lucy’s breath caught in her throat. He seemed so at home on the river, and she found herself wishing she’d embraced outdoor activities when she was younger and still had the chance. As it was, she felt a bit like one of those fish she was going to catch, removed from the river and trapped on dry land. Not at all like the girl Justin had described.
“He wants someone at home on a campground,” Brenda had told her.
Not too into her looks or high maintenance, someone who can cook a meal, she recalled, and then Lucy inwardly groaned. She loved a great meal as much as the next person, but the only substantial meal she’d ever mastered in her own kitchen involved a salad, some spaghetti and a jar of Ragu. And on at least one occasion, even that had ended up in flames.
Matt caught her attention with a quick, “Psst,” and Lucy followed him down the bank. She groaned when he produced a couple of wiggling worms from the pocket of his khaki shorts.
“Remember what to do?”
“It’s burned into my memory.”
Matt chuckled as he attached the hook to the end of the line and held it steady.
“Go ahead.” Lucy looked up at him, biting the corner of her bottom lip until she thought it might bleed. “What?”
“I can’t feel my legs,” she whispered.
One side of Matt’s mouth quivered, and then he quickly poked the worm with the hook and gave her a wink.
“Good job,” he said out loud as Justin, Wendy and Brenda approached them. “Want to bait mine?” “What are you, a girl?” Lucy cried, tossing her hair and rolling her eyes. “Bait it yourself.” Then she sent an unspoken thank-you Matt’s way with an apologetic grin.
It seemed to Lucy that five minutes hadn’t even passed since Wendy had cast her line, and now she was wailing with excitement.
“I’ve got a bite! I’ve got a bite!”
Justin, Rob and Tony were at her side in nothing flat, and it appeared to take all four of them to reel the thing in. Lucy let out a scream when the fish took two consecutive acrobatic leaps right out of the river, and then actually walked right across the water’s surface on its tail.
“He’s a fighter,” Justin called out, and the rest of the group moved in to watch and cheer them on.
When they finally reeled it in, Wendy was hopping up and down, high-fiving people as Justin dumped the captured fish into a large rectangular container. Before they closed the lid, Lucy noticed its beady golden eyes that sparkled with a dash of red. It reminded her of a demonic shark she’d seen once in a late-night movie, and she had never quite broken free of the memory.
“I don’t think we have to measure that one, Wen,” Alison called to her. “It’s well over the 14 inches.”
“Small-mouth bass,” Jeff commented to Lucy. “They fight hard, but they sure do taste good.”
Lucy pushed a smile up to her face, and then gagged back the wave of nausea that thumped through her.
“Hold it together, girl,” Matt whispered, and then he rubbed her back between the shoulder blades.
“Did you see those eyes?”
“Fish eyes, Luce.”
“Demon eyes,” she corrected him with a shudder. “Blecch.”
“They love to hang out in the weedy patches,” Justin told them, and then he smiled at Lucy. “You should cast out in that direction.”
She rummaged around for that smile again and pasted it on before reeling in her line and re-casting, almost hoping there were no more red-eyed family members hanging out nearby.
Brenda had passed on the actual fishing, opting instead to paint her fingernails while watching the others from atop a nearby boulder. Wendy joined her there after she bagged another whopper, and then Matt and Justin followed suit. It seemed, in fact, as if everyone with a rod and reel in their hands had snagged themselves a respectable catch or two, except for Lucy.
When she finally did get movement on her line, it turned out to be some unidentifiable miniature fish that laughed right in her face when Matt removed it from the hook and tossed it back to its home. Afterward, her baited hook just floated around in the water, humiliating her with its inactivity.
“It’s getting chilly,” Alison announced. “So what does everyone think? Shall we make our way back to camp a little early?”
“Let’s wait a few more minutes,” Justin suggested. And then, to make matters worse, he added, “Give Lucy a chance to catch something bigger than the bait on her hook.”
Funny. Just hilarious.
Turning her back to them all, she tilted her head upward and silently prayed. “It doesn’t have to be on steroids, like Wendy’s, Lord. But something?”
Ten minutes later, Lucy felt a tug on the line. Then another.
By the time Matt reached her side, the line had extended out to its limit, and it was all she could do to hang on to the rod.
“It’s huge, Mattie!” she cried. “I can’t even hold it!”
As the others gathered around her, Lucy pumped the reel with one steady turn after another, biting down on her lip as she did. Her catch fought back, but she was determined.
Matt forged in front of her and lifted the line from the water, holding the flailing fish up toward her.
“Oh,” Tony sort of groaned. “Nice effort, though.”
“It sure is a little one, isn’t it?” Brenda asked.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to throw it back,” Alison told her. “Sorry, hon.”
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