It was a Friday afternoon in July and I was driving a familiar route through rural southern Missouri, making the annual pilgrimage to my favorite river for a weekend of camping and canoeing. As I hugged the centerline of the two lane highway, leaning my Jeep into the ever present curves, and gritted my teeth through the nauseating up and down of the hilly countryside, I daydreamed about past trips to the same destination.

The river, along with a half dozen others in the region, had been the stage for some of the best times of my life. In recent years, my appearances there had occurred infrequently and with relaxation as my primary purpose, but that hadn’t always been the case. During my college years, I took part in two day floats multiple times per summer on the more party-oriented rivers of the region as part of large, coed groups. My best river days, though (the really memorable ones), came later, during my mid to late twenties. The majority were spent on the very river to which I was headed.

After college and a few years spent overseas in the Army, I returned to my hometown, Kansas City, and became a police officer. For the remainder of my twenties, I was a night shift street cop in a high crime area. Obsessed with the job, I worked too much and took too little time off. Like most cops, I wound up only socializing with other cops because nobody else understood us or our crazy schedules.

I became pretty close with some of the other guys on my patrol squad. We were of similar age and stage of life. Our schedule gave us the same days off, including every other weekend. It seemed only natural that we spend many of those days off together. A couple of them were veteran river rats like me and we soon indoctrinated a few others. Before long, most of our summer weekends off were being spent on or near a river. That pattern persisted for several years.

There were many aspects of canoe trips that appealed to me. The rivers and campgrounds provided a chance for me to enjoy the outdoors, the camaraderie with my friends, and my habit of drinking beer by the case. My outgoing personality thrived in the party atmosphere of the area. More importantly, though, the environment gave me the opportunity to practice my favorite pastime of that age: chasing women.

That was before internet dating was a thing. For the most part, you had to meet people at work (not generally a good option for cops) or at social events. Being a terrible dancer and boring dresser, I wasn’t always a hit with the ladies at bars and clubs in the city. I was, however, tall, reasonably handsome, in great physical shape, and a fair conversationalist; all traits that played well on a float trip. Accordingly, I was popular with the fairer sex in that environment. Rarely was I spurned by a girl during a float weekend. It followed that many of the most memorable conquests of my single life happened on those float trips.

We stayed at the most party-friendly campsites, camping overnight Friday and Saturday with an all day float in between. The river itself could usually be counted upon to host all types of drunken debauchery, but the party didn’t begin or end there. An open-air bar and dance club was within walking distance of our favorite campgrounds and we generally spent at least one of our nights patronizing it. Women of all ages in pairs and groups abounded. They were often scantily clad and well liquored. It was an idyllic setting for socializing, making new friends, and hooking up with women.

It wasn’t all about sex and we certainly didn’t get laid every time out. Some of my best memories were of purely platonic interactions with awesome girls or mixed groups whose company I genuinely enjoyed. That being said, sex was one of the signature features of those outings. Not only was it rarely in short supply, the quality trended toward the spectacular (for me, anyway). As I pondered some of my most cherished riverland sexual exploits, it occurred to me that they were pretty impressive feats, even without the embellishments I had often added when telling the story in later years.

I had once talked a smoking hot waitress at the club into having sex with me in the men’s room. Lifting her skirt, I bent her over a toilet and did her from behind in a filthy stall. We got so into it that we broke the stall, one wall crashing down on the floor, yet we kept going until we both finished, guys doing their business at urinals right next to us all the while. I got high fives, handshakes, and free drinks around the club the rest of the night from guys who had witnessed the show and were impressed by my accomplishment.

Another time, a game of ‘Truth or Dare’ got out of hand and a well built sorority girl accepted a dare to have sex with me on my camp chair next to the fire at our campsite. She took off her shorts, pulled out my dick, and impaled herself on it while a dozen people looked on. We went at it for at least twenty minutes while the others in our group either casually watched or continued their own conversations with indifference toward us.

These weren’t just run of the mill hookups, they were like unrealistic porno movie scenes that actually happened. And there were many other, more tame and less story-worthy, encounters that were just as enjoyable.

Along with the flood of good memories coming back to me, there was one that was less pleasant, that of a sexy blonde from Arkansas named Jamie who was immune to my charms. Smart, classy, and fun, in addition to being beautiful, she and her friends camped next to us one weekend. I was completely smitten about ten minutes after meeting her, but my interest wasn’t reciprocated. We hung out together most of the weekend. Despite my every effort to impress her, I never received more than polite tolerance from her, my status as the lady killer of the riverlands be damned. The memory of that epic failure haunted me for a long time.

As I replayed that experience in my mind, it occurred to me that fortune had played as big a role in my conquests as had any of my skills or qualities, real or imagined. A fair evaluation of me at that age, with the benefit of hindsight and maturity, revealed something less than the great catch I had thought myself to be. Young me had a little too much testosterone, drank way too much, and talked about himself too often. The tales of my heroic police exploits with which I used to regale anyone who would listen lost much of their luster in retrospect. That I had seldom slept alone on a canoe weekend back then had to have been at least partially due to dumb luck or women with low standards, I thought, grinning to myself. Jamie had simply been too good for me. The more mature version of me could live with that, but young me never could have.

After giving my attention to the road while negotiating the tricky passing of an old guy in a farm truck, I glanced at myself in the rearview mirror. A couple of months shy of my 41st birthday, I didn’t look nearly as different from younger me as I felt or acted. My dark, close-cropped hair had a few speckles of gray in it, but otherwise I might have passed for having had many fewer birthdays than I’d actually had. A strict diet and workout routine kept me trim and fit, if not quite as lean and chiseled as in my heyday. Had it interested me, I could probably have still landed a lady or two in one of those campgrounds.

Of course, it didn’t interest me anymore. Seven years of marriage followed by three years of nearly dateless divorced life had passed since my woman chasing days. I had a four year old daughter and a six year old son who were my top priority. Night shift policing had given way to a banker’s hours investigator gig with the federal government. Everything about my life was different and I was different as well.

The float to which I was en route was the only thing that brought me back to the river anymore. An office-organized, annual event with my coworkers, it bore little resemblance to the floats of my younger days. We didn’t camp at a party campsite and we only floated half the distance of the full route. For the most part, we steered clear of the young partiers out on the river. Coming for relaxation rather than rowdiness, we probably would have chosen a calmer river entirely except that we wanted one with little or no kids on it. Our group was usually all couples, though I was the oddball flying solo that year, due mostly to my lack of effort at securing a date.

Though the river itself hadn’t changed much over the years, my recent river adventures were nothing like those from my past and that was fine with me. Those were good times with good friends and the memories would always be fun, but the only thing I truly missed from back then was the sex. I still craved it, though not as rabidly so as in my youth. In recent years, sexual encounters of any sort, much less bold or adventurous ones, had been few and far between for me.

As I exited the highway, taking the gravel road leading to the campsite, I ended my trip down memory lane and focused on the present. I was looking forward to spending some time with my coworkers and their wives. We all worked individually from our homes and didn’t meet often in person, giving these social outings added value. This trip had been a great bonding experience in the past and this year should have been no different. Over and above all else, including my genuine eagerness to socialize with friends, was my desire to be out on the river alone, at least for intermittent stretches. The potential peacefulness offered by canoeing solo held an appeal that put a smile of contentment on my face during the last few bumpy miles.


A couple of hours later, my favorite coworker, Andy, and I were hard at work erecting our tents, racing against the fading daylight. A half dozen or more tents, belonging to the members of our party who had arrived earlier, were already in place about the campsite. After my arrival, I had lost track of time while catching up with everyone and got a late start on construction of my little dome. Having just arrived, Andy had a better excuse for not having his tent up yet.

A short, stocky former Marine with a quick wit and a dry sense of humor, Andy had begun the job the same year I did and we had gotten along well from the start. He was a few years younger than me, but had kids in the same age range as mine. Unlike me, he was still married, but only barely so. He and his wife, who was along for the trip but off scoping out the restrooms at that moment, hardly tolerated each other.

“Where are Ted and Sharon? They’re coming, right?” I asked him.

“I got a text from Ted a while ago. They got a late start out of the city and don’t expect to be here until after dark,” he replied.

Probably in his mid fifties, Ted was one of the longest serving members of our office team. He had been a mentor to newer investigators like Andy and me when we came on board and was universally well liked and respected. He and his wife, Sharon, were conservative and religious, though not to the point that it wasn’t fun to have a beer with them. Fairly prim and proper, they were not the outdoor type and always seemed a bit out of their element on these floats.

“That’s gonna be fun, setting up their tent in the dark,” I observed, sarcastically.

“No shit!” he agreed, chuckling. “Uh, also, I almost forgot to mention it, but they’re bringing their daughter with them. Ted was thinking she could ride with you on the river.”

“What the hell? Their daughter?” They had more than one daughter: three, if I was remembering correctly. I had met them all at one time or another, but didn’t remember much about any of them. The oldest one seemed most likely to be the one accompanying them. The other two were too young. “Their oldest? What is she, early twenties? Ellie? Is that her name?”

“I don’t think she’s even that old. Can’t remember her name.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Anyway, I thought you might not like the idea, but I figured I’d let you and Ted argue about it. You are the only one without a canoe partner and I doubt she’s competent enough to manage her own canoe.”

Andy was right to assume I wouldn’t like it. If my memory was accurate, the girl in question was a quiet, bookworm type just out of college–not likely to mesh well with me after several beers. The last thing I wanted for my weekend was a buzzkill tagalong whose presence would require me to watch my language and manners. Even so, I could see that I might have to get used to the idea. From the sound of the situation, her riding with me was going to be the only sensible arrangement. I would come off looking like a selfish jerk if I refused.

“It might be the only thing that makes sense,” I admitted, with a sigh.

The topic of conversation changed to war stories from our military days and that carried us through the completion of our work and the onset of darkness. Eventually, reluctantly, we broke it off and turned in for the night. Eager for the following day’s float, I was out the minute my head hit the pillow.


I awoke in the morning five minutes before my alarm was set to go off. As I rummaged through my stuff and dressed for the day, my six foot, four inch frame cramped in the confined space of my little dome tent, my spirits were dampened by memories of the previous night’s conversation about Ted’s daughter. Try as I might, I still couldn’t think of any way out of accepting the unwanted passenger without looking like an ass.

I had been awakened by the noise when Ted had finally arrived during the night, but only partially so. My memory of his arrival was foggy. However, I vaguely recalled hearing his voice not far from my tent, along with two different women’s voices, conversing as they set up their tent. That memory dispelled any hope I previously held that maybe Andy had misunderstood the situation or something.

After a quick walk to the restroom, I returned to the campsite to find Ted and Sharon sitting in camp chairs near the fire, sipping coffee. After we exchanged hellos, I dragged my chair over to join them. We made small talk about work, the weather, the drive down, and such. All the while, I was wracking my brain for a clever way to beg off from hosting their daughter for the day. That effort came to naught, though. When Sharon finally broached the subject, I still had nothing.

Having just asked me about my relationship status and commented about my being alone on this trip, she segued perfectly into what sounded like a rehearsed spiel. “So, Jason, it’s kind of convenient that you’re alone this year. You see, we brought along a third wheel, leaving us with an odd number.”

“Emily came down with us,” Ted added, with excitement in his voice. “She wanted to spend some time with us before heading back to school next week. We figure she’s old enough now to handle this crowd.”

Emily? That name didn’t ring a bell with me. I could have sworn her name was Ellie. School? I just knew she had already graduated from college. Ted had proudly shown me dozens of pictures from her graduation. He was talking about her as if I should remember her. I had lots of questions, but was leery about asking them and proving that I hadn’t paid attention the first time he told me, whenever that may have been.

“We invited her along without really thinking about how the canoe pairings would work out,” Sharon continued. “Then, when we heard you were coming alone, we thought it would even things out perfectly if she just partnered up with you.”

“She’s pretty outgoing, you might just enjoy her company,” Ted said, with a hopeful smile. That wasn’t how I remembered her.

“I don’t imagine having a pretty young lady as your hood ornament for the day will be too much of a hardship for you.” Sharon flashed a conspiratorial grin. Did she really think of her daughter like that? That definitely wasn’t how I remembered her.

“What do you say? Any objections?” Ted asked.

I was a bit confused and I had plenty of objections, but none that I wanted to say out loud. It wouldn’t kill me to hang out with their mousy daughter. “No. Not at all. That’s fine. She can hop in my boat. Sure.”

“Great. Thanks buddy. Hopefully she’ll get up and around soon. Teenagers…always hard to get them out of bed in the morning,” Ted said, shaking his head and glancing toward their tent.

“Yeah. I know. Haha.” Teenagers? I had to be missing something. Maybe they had brought one of their younger girls. That possibility was unsettling. Babysitting a kid might be even worse than hanging out with the boring young lady I had been picturing.


Twenty minutes later, I was giving my gear a once over in preparation for heading out to the float. Out of habit, I always ran through a checklist like I had before missions in the Army or tactical operations in my police days. Though the nature and purpose of this gear were laughably different from those for which the habit had been developed, I still found comfort in the process. Besides, old habits die hard.

My cooler was perfectly fitted out with 18 beers and six bottled waters packed in plenty of ice. The beer was all in cans because glass bottles were forbidden on the river. Though I generally preferred bottles, cans brought the advantage of being easily stacked, which appealed to the organization nerd in me and allowed for an impressive quantity to be stowed in the medium sized cooler.

My white Kansas City Chiefs t-shirt, green military police baseball hat, blue swimming trunks, and black water socks made for an awkward looking and uncoordinated ensemble, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. Everything else I needed was in my dry bag, a watertight rubber sack for protection of sensitive items on the water. A simple lunch, sunglasses, multitool, sunscreen, credit card, cellphone, and car keys made up the full inventory of its contents. Cooler in one hand and dry bag in the other, I was ready to hit the water.

As I smothered the campfire in preparation for stepping off toward the embarkation point, I heard the zipper on Ted’s tent and looked up, eager to size up my companion for the day. The tent door unzipped halfway from bottom to top and a head of blonde hair popped out, top first. Two tanned and well muscled but feminine arms came into view next, their owner crawling out of the tent behind them on hands and knees. Her hair, in a thick ponytail, dangled down, obscuring her face. Below the wavy mane, two shapely breasts hung, restrained by a black bikini top and swaying slightly with her motion. After crawling until most of her was outside the confines of the tent, she transitioned gracefully from crawl to walk in one smooth, effortless motion. She paused and looked around, taking in the campsite and its surroundings. I was fairly dumbstruck by her appearance and took the opportunity to look her over while she wasn’t paying attention.

She was petite, standing maybe 5’2″, but powerful looking. My eyes were drawn first to her toned, muscular thighs, protruding from a pair of tight jean shorts in the short-legged but high-waisted style popular among young millennials. Upward from there, sculpted abs led to perky breasts and strong shoulders. There was lots of exposed skin, all of it tanned and smooth. It was a classic gymnast’s body, though it boasted more feminine curves than most bodies worthy of that description.