Excerpt from Cozy Camping

     "Have you lost your mind?"
     "Not at all, Lexie. The clean air and beautiful scenery in Wyoming is incredible. And camping will be a lot of fun. You know how much you enjoy new adventures," Stone Van Patten, my husband of one year, replied.
     "Adventures, yes! Sleeping on the ground with spiders, and other creepy crawlers, is definitely not my idea of a fun adventure. And I just cringe at the idea of a snake slithering in next to me to curl up in the bottom of my sleeping bag! Sitting next to poison ivy while eating gritty hotdogs, turned into burnt leather over a blazing fire, does not sound all that appealing to me either."
     At fifty-one years of age, I had no desire to hone my survival skills in the deep, dark woods, where danger might be lurking around every corner. With the snap of every limb, I'd fear I was about to be mauled by a bear or a mountain lion. I'd run out of pepper spray before we reached our camping site, just reacting to phantom assailants. I had my own little pink-handled gun now, too, but randomly firing bullets at figments of my imagination might make my fellow campers a bit uneasy.
     Stone would probably insist I catch my own supper in a rippling stream, too, and he should have learned from his first attempt to teach me to fish it was a recipe for disaster. He would spend his entire vacation untangling my fishing line and digging hooks out of somebody's flesh, most likely his own.
     Stone and I own and operate a bed and breakfast lodging facility in Rockdale, Missouri, called the Alexandria Inn. Alexandria is my given name even though everyone calls me Lexie. We both lost our first spouses years ago, and met and fell in love back east when I was there investigating a murder case that involved the welfare of my only child, thirty-year-old Wendy.
     Now we were celebrating our first anniversary and Stone felt we needed to get away for a couple weeks to rest and relax, and enjoy ourselves. Ever since he told me he was planning a secret vacation to celebrate the end of our newlywed status, I'd been hoping he had booked a western Caribbean cruise during which we could ingest entirely too many calories at a midnight chocolate bar, and stuff ourselves like throw pillows at the endless buffets. The onboard entertainment and nightly shows would, no doubt, be fascinating, and the ports of call would offer endless possibilities.
     I could visualize myself snorkeling the second largest barrier reef in the world, in Belize, and riding a zip line through the forest in Roatan, Honduras. I hoped to swim with the dolphins in Cancun, as well. For some odd reason, being eaten alive by sharks or plummeting to earth from a high cable did not scare me as much as the thought of a boll weevil finding its way into my sleeping bag. A walking stick, no matter how harmless Stone assures me they are, can creep me out like nobody's business.
     You see, I really do enjoy new adventures, but roughing it in a tent and having to squat behind bushes to relieve myself, were just not my cup of tea. My idea of roughing it is when room service is late. I was preparing my rebuttal in my mind when Stone's next words made me stop in my tracks.
     "Not tent-camping, honey. I've rented three class-C motorhomes, and reserved sites at an RV park in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during the largest outdoor rodeo in the world, called Cheyenne Frontier Days. I've even purchased tickets to several nightly concerts, including a couple of your favorite country music artists."
     "Oh, well, that's different then. I can picture us driving down the interstate while fixing lunch at the same time," I said, my spirits lifted instantly.
     "Yes, and these rigs have all the comforts of home, just in slightly smaller proportions in some cases. And not only that, I won't have to pull over at every single rest stop between here and Cheyenne, since you always have a cup of coffee in your hand. You can use the john in the RV at seventy miles an hour," he said.
     "It's not just me who needs to visit the rest stops on a regular basis. You tend to need to stop frequently too," I said, a little insulted by Stone's comment.
     "I can't help that I have an enlarged prostate, my dear. Besides, I was only teasing you. Getting out and walking around intermittently helps prevent blood clots from forming in our legs. We probably need to do that even when traveling in a motorhome. The exercise will be good for us, and adequate circulation becomes more of an issue at our ages."
     "Isn't getting older a barrel of fun? I can remember the days when we never gave issues like those a second thought," I said. "Now, just forgetting where I laid my keys makes me panic, convinced that a rapid-onset case of Alzheimer's is kicking in. It does run in both our families, you know."
     As Stone was responding, it suddenly occurred to me that I had lead us far away from the initial topic of conversation, and also that we must not be going on the trip alone. "Why did you rent three motorhomes, by the way?"
     "I've talked Wendy and Andy, and Wyatt and Veronica, into joining us on our venture. I knew you'd be delighted to have them all along on the trip. They were sworn to secrecy, knowing I wanted to surprise you for our anniversary."
     Wendy was living with Stone's nephew, Andy, who, like his Uncle Stone, had also relocated from South Carolina. I was certain it was only a matter of time before they tied the knot and began producing some grandchildren for me. So far, the closest they'd gotten to giving me grandkids to spoil, was adopting two baby alpacas, which they'd named after a '70s sitcom. I could just see us inviting Mork and Mindy to sit in on our next family portrait.
     Wyatt was a dear friend of ours whom we'd met when a guest was murdered in our inn on its opening night. Detective Wyatt Johnston had served on the Rockport police force for sixteen years, and he dropped by nearly every morning to devour enough pastries to provide any normal person with his entire daily recommended caloric intake. His girlfriend, Veronica, was the only daughter of the murder victim from that inaugural evening at Alexandria Inn. She had moved back home to Rockdale from Salt Lake City after inheriting her father's historic Italianate mansion here. Like us, she had turned it into a bed and breakfast, which she called Little Italy Inn.
     I thought highly of Veronica, but I wasn't totally convinced she'd be that delightful to travel with. All the lotions and potions she couldn't live without would more than fill the small bathroom in a motorhome, and probably the storage space under the bed, as well. High-maintenance was an under-statement when it came to Wyatt's girlfriend. And the young lady couldn't ever manage to get anywhere on time, which drove me crazy at times. We couldn't join her and Wyatt on a run to Dairy Queen for ice cream cones without waiting an hour for her to get ready. How nice does one have to look to drive up to a window and have a chocolate sundae passed out to her by a sixteen-year-old, pimply-faced boy on summer vacation?
     "How nice to have company on our trip," I told Stone. "Traveling with two younger couples will only enhance our vacation and keep us entertained and amused, I'm sure. Now that I know I won't have to share my bedding with a rattlesnake and my meals with a swarm of ants, I'm getting excited.. After all the murder cases I've unwittingly gotten myself involved in the last couple of years, I could use a vacation."
     "Unwittingly?" Stone asked. "I'd describe it more as continuously throwing yourself in front of moving trains."
     "Well, whatever," I replied. Then I quickly changed the subject back to our upcoming trip before Stone began reprimanding me for my habit of finding myself knee deep in doo-doo while investigating murder cases I had no business being involved with in the first place.
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