Friday’s sketching date seemed too ambitious for LeAnne, as the previous night a fast-moving cold had set up residence in her head. It would’ve been so easy for her to take her day off from work and stay in bed. Dayna had another three weeks of school left before summer break, so LeAnne would have the day to herself to soak in the tub and read. However, the pleasure she had in the company of the other women and the commonality of their creativity on those weekly dates together had become more precious than a day alone in the bathtub.
When she arrived at the day’s agreed upon site, Darce and Nettie were already engrossed in a humorous debate regarding Archibald’s ongoing skin condition. LeAnne settled herself on her folding stool, and began assembling her day’s tools for her project as they talked, animatedly. One of LeAnne’s chief complaints when she suffered from colds was her tendency to become slightly deaf until the virus began clearing up. Voices around her were often muffled, so during those times people who spoke to her were met with puzzled stares. Dayna had compensated through the years by just yelling at her mother when she was sick. Often the yelling would go on beyond the span of her mother’s ailment, and she had to be reminded that it wasn’t needed anymore.
“Spider dander?” LeAnne sniffled at Darce as she popped open her pencil case.
Darce turned and stared at LeAnne for a moment, then repeated her previous comment. “I said, ‘Archibald seems to be doing pretty well... despite her dander problem’”.
“Are you alright?” Nettie turned to LeAnne, concerned.
“Just a head cold,” LeAnne whined, “It usually clogs my ears. Sorry. You two go on talking, I’ll just sit here in my muffled cone of silence. Throw a rock or something if you need a response.”
Nettie tossed her tissue packet toward LeAnne, helpfully, before she and Darce continued their conversation.
LeAnne quickly fell into her own thoughts as she pulled a series of strokes on her sketchpad with a new, solid-graphite pencil, a tissue dangling from one nostril. The pressure in her skull from the cold darkened her inside dialogue and images, pulling her expression into a scowl as she tried to make sense of her random pencil marks. She resisted the impulse to grab the eraser, as each line was making her angrier and angrier. Before long she was sure that coming to the river today was a mistake. She should go home and soak in a hot bath, lose herself in a science fiction novel.
Glancing up to tell her companions of her decision to go home, a movement on the opposite bank of the water caught her attention. It was rare to see someone or something over there, as she knew that on that stretch of river, the acreage was private property. There were no paths on that side, and it was heavily overgrown with salal, right to the water’s edge. Even so, she knew there was something, someone, that slipped out of view deftly as she looked up. Focusing carefully, patiently, LeAnne caught sight of a jacket arm that nearly blended with the tree-branches. Her heart rate picked up as she determined there was a man’s hand attached to that jacket sleeve, and unless she was mistaken, a pair of binoculars were gripped in that hand. Then, before LeAnne could direct the attention of the other women, the arm melted into the brush and vanished. Though she’d heard only muffled words of Darce’s and Nettie’s conversation, the sharp snap of a stick on the other side of the river confirmed for LeAnne she wasn’t hallucinating.
“Quick, both of you, look behind you... across the river!” LeAnne hissed, stretching her arm in the direction of a distant figure, now retreating through the tall grass in the meadow.
Nettie twisted her torso to gaze in the area LeAnne indicated, holding her hand to her sun-blinded eyes. LeAnne held her breath, waiting for Nettie’s comment. The older woman pushed herself up on her knees, now obviously seeing the retreating figure. By the time Darce dropped her pen and looked up, there was nothing to see, as the figure had moved beyond an obscuring line of trees by then. All three stood up, one by one, Darce glancing back at LeAnne for further direction.
As much as Nettie had been curious, she was just as suddenly unconcerned. Dropping back down to her paints, she fell silent, engrossed in her work. Darce remained standing, hoping to see the subject of LeAnne’s excited outburst.
“Nettie, did you see him?” LeAnne asked. “I think that man was watching us!”
Nettie made almost a dramatic display of swirling her brush in her water jar, and with a distracted voice, mumbled, “Maybe. Probably a hiker.”