An Excerpt from Better When We're Together

“On this playlist we have sad country and upbeat country music.  Which will it be, Courtney?”

“Oh, you’re giving me a choice?”  I turn to look at my shaggy haired younger brother who is sitting in the passenger seat of my car.  It’s very surprising that my parents haven’t made him get a haircut yet.  “That’s really very generous of you, but I choose neither.”

For the most part, I really do get along with my younger brother.  He’s just two years younger than me, which means that we got to spend two years of high school together.  We even share some mutual friends.  But just because we get along pretty well for the most part doesn’t mean that we agree on music.  When it comes to music, we decided a long time ago that it’s better for us to agree to disagree.  But that was before he hopped in my car this afternoon with his iPod and demanded to play the part of DJ.

“You’re such a kidder, Court.”  Tyler grins.  That’s probably because he knows that I am not kidding and he’s just trying to test my patience.  “Sad country it is.”

My little silver Volvo continues traveling down the highway.  I keep my eyes on the road and try to tune out the awful music coming from Tyler’s iPod, but it’s very difficult.  I try to keep in mind the fact that he’s only seventeen.  Nobody has great taste in music when they’re still in high school.  I would know.  But the current gem coming from the speakers is just atrociously bad, and I’m not sure that it’s physically possible to hold my tongue for any longer.

“I can’t take this anymore.  Tyler, if you play one more sad sounding country song, I’m taking away your DJ privileges for good.  And that’s it.  You can’t earn them back.”

“What?”  The look on Ty’s face is a mix of shock and something else.  I’m honestly not sure if it’s fear or concern.  “You mean you don’t like listening to country guys sing about hot girls, trucks, and lost love?”

“Would you like me to put it simply?  I glance over at him and then let my eyes return to the road in front of us.  “No.  Not one bit.”

If you had asked me at the beginning of the school year what I would be doing for Christmas and Winter Break from school, I would have said spending the holidays with my family and then heading up to my paternal grandparents’ house in upstate New York.  There may have even been some snow tubing involved if Mother Nature was kind to us and let it snow a bit.

But while that had been the plan in many years past, that wasn’t the plan for this year.  It was December Twentieth and my brother and I had just hit the road for our family’s winter vacation at our old stomping ground, Shady Knoll Campground.  It was the place where we had spent countless summers when I was a kid.  We haven’t been back as a whole family since the summer before my junior year of high school and now I’m a sophomore in college, so it’s been quite a while since out last excursion.

It was only back in September that we decided to book our winter trip.  We had received a brochure from Shady Knoll in the mail, explaining that in an attempt to raise interest and guests at the campground again, they were holding a Winter Festival for the holidays on the facility grounds.  The business was apparently in a little bit of financial trouble because the brochure said that If they didn’t receive the right amount of funding by the end of the year then the business would have to be shut down.  They didn’t state what the amount was.  The wording was a little vague.

I don’t know if it was the new marketing or the idea of Shady Knoll not existing any more, but that was just the push my parents needed to get us all back there.  They told my grandparents that we would see them at Thanksgiving but that they shouldn’t count on us for the holidays because we were going to be going on a trip.

“I can’t even imagine them shutting down.”  Mom had said at family dinner back on that fateful night in September.  She and Dad were sitting at the heads of the table with Tyler, Ben, Lydia and I in between.

“I can’t either.”  Dad had muttered.  “Remember how much fun we used to have fishing there, boys?”

It was true.  Back when we were all teenagers, the guys had spent a lot of time fishing by the lake.  But everybody knows that fishing is code for drinking beer and talking smack about sports teams ( and possibly girls).  Dad thinks that nobody knows about him supplying beer to his underage sons, but what can I say?  I’m observant.  There are never many secrets in the Kurtz family, and when there are, they don’t stay secret for long.

“That sounds like a lot of fun.”  My brother Ben’s wife Lydia said, looking up from her plate of food and smiling at my Dad.

Lydia had been Ben’s girlfriend for most of their college days and back in June, they had finally tied the knot.  She had heard plenty about our adventures at Shady Knoll but now that she was an official member of the Kurtz family, she would get to experience them herself.

So from there it was decided.  Mom called up the team at Shady Knoll and made our reservations for a couple of days before Christmas.  I was excited but I kind of forgot that we were even going until Fall rolled around.  It was around Thanksgiving that Mom brought it up again, and by then, she had a surprise.  Our old friends the Davis family had rented a cabin for Christmas as well.

I tried to hide it, but everybody was psyched about the news except for me.  Don’t get me wrong because we’ve known the Davis family since my older brother Ben and their oldest son Travis started kindergarten together.  They’re both in their mid-twenties now so that’s a really long time.  You could even say that the Davis family kids are our best friends.

But see, there has been some awkward tension between Alex and I since we almost drunkenly hooked up on Valentine’s Day.  It’s a really long story and I don’t want to get into it right now but we were tipsy (or drunk) and feeling pressure and thinks just got a little out of hand, in the way that things do when you’re away from home and you’re at college.

We’ve pretty much recovered from the situation and we’re back to being best friends.  I mean, he even found himself a new girlfriend by the end of last school year.  But still.  Things haven’t quite been the same and the idea of our families being snowed in at Shady Knoll together just seemed like a little too much.

It’s not like I could say anything to my family though, which is how I wound up driving with Tyler to Shady Knoll this afternoon.  Ben and Lydia left this morning and my parents left even earlier this morning which means that Ty and I are bringing up the rear.  All I have for company are Tyler’s awful music choices and my own thoughts, and I definitely don’t want to get lest in my own head right now.


If you want to find out what happens next, Better When We're Together is available for just $2.99 on Amazon.

Yours truly,
Marian Elizabeth
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