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Love at Camp Black Bear
“Come on, Aspen, it will be fun.” Tiffany said emphasizing her words by waving her hands around. “We’ll have nothing but nature surrounding us. At night the stars will be our tour guide for hikes.”
Aspen sliced the thick New York strip steak separating the fat from the medium-well done meat, grumbling. “No thank you. I am not the outdoorsy type of person. But, don’t let me stop you from communing with nature.”
Tiffany frowned. “You promised we would try something different ever year to be adventurous. Last year we went on a cruise. The year before that we went to Las Vegas and lost a ton of money. This year our company retreat is the something different we don’t have to pay for.”
“It is too different for my taste. I’m not all that excited about sharing space with bears and other animals that call the forest home.”
“It’ll be cool to see how Noelle reacts to roughing it outdoors. I bet she has never been on a camping trip.”
“The witch will scare the animals away,” Aspen said taking a sip of wine. “I don’t see her roasting wieners and marshmallows over an open fire and singing camp songs. That is too beneath her.”
Tiff curled her frosty colored pink lips in a snarky smile. “She is a caviar and champagne diva. Oh well, she’ll have to use paper cups and plates like the rest of us.”
“I know you’re friends with Kayla and she is good buddies with Noelle. Because of that, you all will be coupled off. Tiff, you don’t have to include me in everything you guys do on this retreat. I can’t stand Noelle and will not be spending any time with her.”
Tiff winked her eye. “It should be you with Dante Marks and not Noelle. She just weaseled her way in between you two.”
Aspen snarled, desperately trying to hide her distaste for the vice president at Devon Media Corporation, where they worked. Dante was the object of her desires at one time but not anymore. The handsome thirtyish-year-old African American man that could grace the cover of any magazine had the majority of the women salivating at the mouth. He was tall but not overly muscular and when poured into a suit, he was perfection. Dante was metrosexual all the way, maybe too much for her taste. Manicured nails, trimmed and neatly cut hair, and he smelled better than any woman in the office. However, there was never any question about his sexuality. He was all man and had eyes for Noelle Kelly.
Aspen curled her lip at the corner, and snorted, “I don’t think so. Everyone in our department knows he wants Noelle.” She stabbed at her steak with the sharp knife. “He’s the only other black person working at Devon Media Corporation and he’s interested in the bitchy white girl. You would think he’d go after one with class.”
Tiffany said raising her shoulder. “I understand where you coming from. But you know how Noelle is. She’s pushy and demanding. Honestly, I don’t believe she has an interest in Dante. She’s playing with his head to manipulate him to get what she wants.”
Aspen threw her napkin on the plate and pushed it away. “Yeah she wants his job. All she talks about is how she would run the department if she were in charge. Is he really that blind to see she is after his job?”
“Picture this: 5’10” with never-ending legs, loads of blonde hair, steamy green eyes, stacked upfront, implants behind. What do you think is on his mind when he is with her?”
Aspen smirked. “I got full view of that picture. But, let’s pray he is careful not to back her implanted fake ass up too close to a camp fire.”
Wine sprayed from Tiffany’s mouth. “Don’t say stuff like that when I’m drinking!” She laughed.
“I’m just saying. Noelle is too vain to sport two big deflated dents on her ass. And it’s not a sexy look in a bikini, either.”
Tiffany wiped her mouth. “You are just mean, Aspen. But that was funny as hell.”
Swirling the resilient red wine in the goblet, Aspen narrowed her brows. “Sorry, but that’s how I feel. I don’t like her and will not pretend I do. Noelle is a conniving woman and has everyone she can control jumping through her imaginary hoop. It will be a cold day in hell before I jump through anything for her.”
Tiffany dropped her head in her hands. “God, you’re talking about me, Aspen. I need my job. So, if kissing Noelle’s ass is the way for me to stay employed; that’s what I’ll have to do.” Tiffany continued. “I don’t have an MBA or any degree to further my career. I got my job before any of that was required and worked my ass off to get promoted.”
Aspen shook her head. “I’m not taking about you, Tiff. Anyhow, those degrees are pieces of paper that state I completed a course. The real work comes when you get the job. We’re both good at what we do and deserve the promotions we get. I just don’t like how you bow down to Noelle. She cannot further or lessen your career. She holds no power. Stop letting her inside your head with that dumb crap.”
“She’s sleeping with the boss, Aspen. Because of that Noelle has power whether you want to believe it or not. All she has to do is start whispering in Dante’s ear and boom—I’m out of a good paying job. So, I’ll keep Noelle close and smile in her face. She just doesn’t have to know I don’t care for her as a person.”
Aspen narrowed her dark brown eyes. “I’ll get Dante’s job before Noelle. Her greedy hands will never get a chance to touch the doorknob to his office. Trust me on that.”
“Oh, man, Aspen; don’t unleash that nasty side of yours on her.”
“Then she better stay in her lane and not cross mine.”
Tiffany didn’t respond as she ate the last forkful of pasta on her plate. Draining the last of the wine in her glass, Aspen reached for the bottle, it was empty. The two of them had polished off the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon leaving none for dessert. Oh well, it was best this way, she didn’t need that slice of cheesecake she’d been craving for over a week.
Aspen Burkes accomplished a lot in her life so far. She graduated from college with two degrees, an MBA in marketing and a Bachelor’s degree in journalism. Employed by Devon Media Corporation as their marketing director, Aspen could have gone either way. She was offered two positions. Turning down the journalist position she chose to use her skills in marketing. She thought journalism would be exciting until she did it for two years working at The New York Times.
Traveling the globe to get a story from the same source every network or newspaper was trying to get, got old. Fighting and clamoring with other journalists for an exclusive got out of hand with journalists fighting and sabotaging each other. Airports, train stations and bus depots were not safe or sanitary when traveling outside the United States. And chasing those exclusives caused her to miss family functions and lose touch with friends. Aspen was pretty much alone in the world and hated every minute of it. The job paid well but she had nothing to spend the money on since she lived out of hotel rooms and suitcases. This was not her lifestyle and two years was enough for her to realize that.
The stunning 31-year old African American woman didn’t need his attention. She turned heads wherever she went. At 5’8” tall and 135 pounds, a flick of her golden brown eyes or a gentle toss of her shoulder length black hair was enough to grab the attention of any man. Their eyes usually started at her long shapely legs traveling up to check out a magnificent body covered with smooth cocoa-colored skin. While most women who fit her description were referred to as a tall glass of water, she was often referred to as a succulent piece of chocolate candy. Those men were pigs but she loved the attention anyway.
Aspen didn’t have a desire to pursue Dante romantically. She was curious about him. She wanted to know what made him tick and so far all she found out is he wasn’t into black women and had a weak backbone when it came to Noelle.
Looking around for their waiter, Aspen flagged him. “We should go. I’m still not packed for this trip we have to take in the morning.”
“Aspen. I promise to keep Noelle out of your hair. You won’t even know she is there.”
She groaned, “I doubt that but whose idea was it to have our retreat in October anyway?”
“Actually, this is perfect weather to be out in the forest. The foliage is beautiful and it’s not scorching hot. It might be too cold to swim but other than that, this is the best time to go. At night you can snuggle with a cup of hot chocolate and maybe a special someone.”
“We’re going with co-workers. Ain’t a one of them, I want to snuggle close with,” she said giving the waiter her credit card.
Tiffany wrinkled her nose. “What about…”
Aspen held up her hand cutting Tiffany’s sentence. “Don’t even say Walter, either. That thrill is over and down the drain.”
“You’re letting what you have to offer go to waste, Aspen. It’s time you got back in the dating game. You took three years off to build your career in marketing; you’re there now. What are you really waiting for?”
Aspen expelled a deep breath. “The right man, Tiff. I don’t think I’ll ever find the right man for me.”
“He’s out there waiting for you,” Tiffany said reaching across the table to take her friend’s hand.
“That’s easy for you to say. You go home to a loving husband after work. If I had a man like Sam, I would have that special glow you carry all day long.”
“I had to train him for years,” she giggled.
“You did a good job. I’m envious of what you have.” Aspen scooted her chair from the table. “I’m ready to go. I dread that 5:00am wakeup call in the morning.”
Tiffany swung her purse over her shoulder. “It will be fun. Sam and I will stick close to you and keep you away from Noelle.”
“No need. I’ll hang with the other singles and pretend to enjoy myself. Good thing about this being a company event is that there will be enough alcohol to get me through the weekend.”
Jimmy finished mopping the deck of his boat. The next wave of visitors was set to arrive soon and he had to be ready for endless boat tours up and back along the Alleghany River. His tour included pointing out important fact concerning the river and the history surrounding the area. However, he doubted this group of visitors would be interested in any of that. The eight cabin campsite was rented for the weekend by a corporation from Cleveland, Ohio.
“Hey, Jimmy, gotta second to talk?”
Jimmy put the mop in the bucket and dried his hands on a towel hanging from the front of his jeans. “What’s up, Hank?”
Hank walked up the ram to enter the boat. “The executives from Devon Media will check in early tomorrow morning. Your grandfather wants you to be there to greet them.”
“Why should I be there to greet them? I’m not running the show at the cabins.”
“Don’t shoot the messenger, kid; I’m following directions from the boss. He wants you there so be there,” Hank said turning around to step off the boat.
Jimmy watched the biggest ass-kisser he’s ever seen stroll with confidence to his car. Hank couldn’t wait until Denali Towns dropped dead and he’d take possession of Camp Black Bear and the thousands of acres surrounding it. The land dated back to tribal times and belonged to Denali’s ancestors. Denali claims Little Beard, (Si-gwa-ah-doh-gwih) who was a Seneca chief, participated in the American Revolutionary War is the ancestor who first settled the Seneca tribe in New York.
The Seneca traditionally lived in what is now New York State between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake and joined the Iroquois nation after the Iroquois destroyed both the Wenrohronon and Erie nations, who were native to the area. His grandfather also fought the construction of the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River. The Dam forced the relocation of Seneca’s from 10,000 acres of land which they had occupied under the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. They were relocated to Salamanca, New York, near the northern shore of the Allegheny Reservoir, which covers land flooded by the dam. The Seneca did not want to relocate and appealed to the courts and President John F. Kennedy to halt construction. The Seneca lost their court case, and in 1961, citing the immediate need for flood control the request was denied and the Dam is now a major attraction for the Allegheny National Forest.
Jimmy shook his head watching Hank drive away. Whatever his grandfather did with the land after his death, was not his concern. Hank was Seneca Indian. Ely, his father was Seneca but his mother was a white woman from Upstate New York. Denali disowned Ely for marrying the woman who denounced their heritage and talked him into a political career that not only hurt the Iroquois nation, but also tore an irreparable hole separating the Town family forever.
As the years passed, Jimmy became estranged from his father as their lives absorbed the world of politics and social functions. Ely soon forgot he existed. Jimmy didn’t fit in with the crowd of social misfits, as he called them, and sought to live a simpler life. He contacted his grandfather who agreed to let him work for him until he decided what his next step in life would be.
Now 33-years old, Jimmy is content with his life. He’s learned about his heritage from Denali and just how important the land is to him. An expert woodsman, Jimmy owns and operates a boating and hiking tour company for Camp Black Bear. He calls the forest home as he built a small house abutted against the side of a mountain.
The trees protect the home from the hot sun in the summer and he has plenty of wood to keep the fire burning in the winter. The major problem he has is keeping the bears at a distance until hibernation. Adjusting to life outside of the city was hard at first for Jimmy.
The darkness was darker than anything he’d ever experienced before. No street lights, or cars zooming or the sounds of planes over head proved how isolated he was from the real world. Denali lived on the land but not in the mountains. His twenty-acre ranch-style home was located on flat land with all the amenities necessary at his fingertips.
Jimmy set the bucket of water on the dock and jumped off the boat. Carrying the pail to a drain, he dumped the water and rung out the mop. The boat was clean and ready for tours tomorrow.
Opening the door to his office, he went to the bathroom to wash his hands. Wetting a face towel he slowly washed his face. The reflection in the mirror stared back at him. No worry lines creased his forehead or mouth. This way of life tamed his wild side permanently.
Finishing in the bathroom, he locked up the office for the day. His next mission was to head to town for supplies. Grandfather summoning him to the cabins bright and early meant he had to get his errands done tonight.
Thirty minutes later, Jimmy parked in front of Dakota’s Trading Post. It was easy to drive further into town to shop at a mega department store, but he preferred to shop on the reservation. The money helped the locals and it was the only revenue outside of the casinos and travelers stopping to purchase tax-free cigarettes and gasoline.
Jimmy opened the door to the store. His heavy boots made noisy contact with the wooden floor as he walked down the narrow aisle leading to the front of the store. Sawdust and handmade soap mixed together and drifted in his nose. Dakota carried all sorts of supplies. From handmade clothing to Moonshine, Dakota stocked it. And if he didn’t have it on hand, he would get whatever was needed.
He heard the buzzing of the chainsaw coming from an open door behind the counter and walked toward it. Winter would be closing in soon and Dakota stockpiled and delivered firewood and coal to elderly residents unable to chop their own wood or shovel coal.
“Hey, Dakota, who’s minding the store while you are out here playing in the yard?”
Dakota cut off the chainsaw setting it on the ground and grinned. “Hey, Jimmy. I thought I locked the front door,” he answered taking off the safety goggles and placing them on the table behind him. “What brings you here today?”
“I came for supplies. I thought I’d have time to do it tomorrow but Granddad has requested my services at the campsite.”
“Oh, right. Denali has a group of bigwigs coming up for powwow,” he said laughing. “Hank was in earlier bragging about it.”
Jimmy followed Dakota inside the store. “What’s to brag about? We have groups of rich white people coming to commune with nature all season. The men pretend to know the ins and outs of camping and get lost in the damn woods and the women complain about the bugs and bathroom facilities. I can’t wait to face that tomorrow,” he said rolling his eyes upward.
Laughing Dakota pulled off his gloves throwing them on the counter. “Don’t talk about your people that way.”
“My mother is white, but inside, I’m pure Seneca. I wish I could have experienced this when I was a kid,” Jimmy said picking up items and placing them in a handheld basket.
“You’ve learned a lot since you’ve joined the nation, Jimmy. No one would know you used to be a corporate drone with the long hair and buff body you’re sporting. Nope, I would not suspect you were a lawyer at one time.”
Jimmy tugged on the long hair of his curly ponytail. His appearance was a drastic change. When he first arrived in Salamanca, he was skinny with no body mass and wore his hair short. Years of working on the boat, hiking, chopping and shoveling coal gained him muscle mass and he let his hair grow because he could. He was no longer tied to a corporate standard when it came to appearances.
“Dakota, it wasn’t hard decision for me to make. I was up for partnership and it hit me. I didn’t want to practice law for the rest of my life. My law career was a dream my father wanted me to have. I never wanted to be a lawyer or a politician. I’m an only child and they needed a kid they could show off to their friends and the more they did that, the more I resented the life I was living.”
“I understand that but a lot of the ambitious youths around here would love to change places with you. There are not a lot of families with money able to send their kids to an ivory league college or any college. Unless the parents have made a success of themselves outside of the reservation, those kids are doomed to working the fields or doing other trades to bring money to the reservation.”
Jimmy nodded his head. “I know. One day I want to change that and offer scholarships to kids that want to further their education.”
“How are you going to convince Denali to part with his money? Hank has been his shadow for eons and will take over Denali’s businesses unless you step up, Jimmy. You are his blood and should be the next in line to inherit his dynasty.”
“Granddad is very traditional. He treats me with respect and loves me but I’m not full Seneca and I think that bothers him. Besides, I don’t want to run his empire,” Jimmy said with a slight chuckle.
“Hank is not his blood. You are the last link to the Town name, Jimmy. Once Denali dies, there are no more ancestors unless you get married and produce heirs.”
“I’m not in the market for that either,” he replied pointing a finger at Dakota. “I don’t suddenly want women showing up at my door, Dakota. My grandfather can do what he wants with his land and businesses. If he has chosen Hank to take control, then I have to respect that and so will you and everyone else that are loyal to him.”
Dakota narrowed his eyes. “What a bunch of bullshit, Jimmy. Hank has six sons that this land your grandfather worked so hard to maintain and keep a part of our heritage will go to. You should be outraged. Your father should be outraged about that.”
“Ely Town is about himself. If he walked through that door you would not believe he was Seneca. His appearance has changed more than mine.”
“I’ve seen him on television. He doesn’t appear to have any Native American blood running through his veins, but he does and he can’t change that.” Dakota rang up the purchases Jimmy set on the counter. “We have white people living on the land that don’t interject their way of life on us. However, your mother was a piece of work. She visited my store and turned her nose up the minute she walked in. She held her skirt close to her body afraid her clothing would get dirty if it touched anything.”
Jimmy sighed. It hurt to hear people talk badly about his mother, but it was all true. She didn’t adjust to Ely’s lifestyle and quickly removed him from it the moment they got engaged. Wendy Bayley Town came from money. Her family resided in Albany, New York where her father was an active member of the Democratic Party. The Bayley’s welcomed Ely with open arms and he loved them just as much. He never returned to his roots or Salamanca once he packed his belongings to get married in a lavish wedding paid for by Wendy’s family in New York City.
Denali Town may be rich in Salamanca, but compared to Wendy’s family, Denali would be classified as comfortable but not wealthy. Ely was wealthier than his elderly father.
The above is a WIP (work in progress) Let me know what you think.