Chapter 1 – Man Spread


2 Years Ago

I had no idea how long I’d been hiking, but enough to make my way through half a bottle of wine. Because of that–the lost time and the wine–I stopped to catch my breath and look around. There was nothing but tall pine trees and quiet out here above Hunter Valley, only the gentle breeze cutting through the branches and an occasional bird caw interrupted my alone time with me and Malbec.

Yeah, I brought wine on my hike. Didn’t everyone? It made the uphill climb out of town easier. Hell, it made everything easier. Except my need to pee.

That need was worse than ever, and I wasn’t making it back to town before I burst. I looked around, like any prudish pee-er did, ensuring no one was going to witness me squatting bare-assed in the woods, then set the wine bottle on top of a nearby rock. Grabbing the napkins I stashed in the side pocket of my little backpack for just such a possible occasion–I’d done this before, the hiking and peeing, but not the hiking and peeing and wine drinking–I pushed down my yoga pants, squatted and took care of business.

I sighed with relief, reveling in the feel of a happy bladder and the warm summer air on my exposed legs and butt. I also took a moment while relieving myself to know that this was the perfect spot for why I set out on the hike in the first place.

A sun-dappled hillside above Hunter Valley. It was quiet. I taught four-part breathing and the need to let go of mental burdens. I was taking the afternoon while Sierra was at a friend’s house for a birthday party and sleepover to do just that. With wine as my helper. My ex, Duncan, was one hell of a mental burden and no amount of lower lung or spiritual cleansing rituals were going to clear him from my mind. That was why I was up here in the woods.

To bury him and my past bad behavior of falling for an asshole. After asshole. After asshole. To thinking someone would want me for me, not a connection to my mother, the senator.

Enough was enough.

I tilted my head toward the blue sky, took a breath and exhaled it with a loud sigh.

I was between the tall Ponderosa pine with the bent branch and a boulder that looked like a… bulldog? Was I that buzzed? No, it really did look like one. And that tree had a branch that had a full loop in it.

I finished peeing and pulled my pants back up, looked around to ensure I’d been right in my thinking while squatting.

“Yes, this is the perfect spot,” I said aloud. “If I can pee here, I can bury my stupid old life here as well. Duncan and my bad choices can just fuck off.”

Shrugging the backpack from my shoulders, I set it on the bulldog rock beside the wine bottle, unzipped it and grabbed the tin my favorite green tea came in. Peeling back the lid, I peeked in and saw the ring box I put there earlier. It held the engagement ring Duncan gave me.

“You ask me to marry you and then want me to push your business agenda to my mother? Nope,” I muttered. “No way am I being used by a guy… by anyone, for politics again. I want love. Is that so wrong?”

Pausing, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, let it out. At the time, I’d cluelessly thought he’d given me the ring because he wanted to spend his life with me and Sierra. Well, he had, but it would have been crowded in our marriage bed with him, me and senate appropriations bills he hoped to be included in.

The fact that I barely cried over him proved I never loved Duncan. Hell, the sex hadn’t even been that good. My mother had–

No. I didn’t want to poke into that emotional sore spot right now.

Yes, I’d been stupid thinking I had a man to help me with life. And raising Sierra. And the bills. And maybe some incredible sex.

I’d been blind. Desperate for love and affection. Just plain crazy. All the things I shouldn’t be.

Yet, here I was, drinking and hiking like a real crazy person. Burying my stupidity.

Kneeling in the dirt and pine needles–a few feet from the wet dirt–I grabbed a stick and used it to dig a hole. It hadn’t rained in a while because the ground was hard as hell. It took me a few minutes, a hell of a lot of sweating and a few swigs of wine to get it deep enough for the tea tin. In it went, then I used my hands to move the dirt back into place. I patted it, then spread the pine needles back over the spot. As if staking a flag on the moon, I stuck the stick vertically in the loose soil.

I nodded my head in satisfaction. “There.” I looked around. “Fuck you, Duncan. Fuck you, old life. I’m starting over. Again.”







Vanessa Vale