My breath is visible inside the tent, highlighted by the dim phosphor of the stark brick structure that houses the nearby communal bathroom. Still, I think nothing of the cold, my inability to feel my nose, the scant comfort provided by the sleeping bag and the thin foam pad beneath it. I think only of what I have done wrong. I have an eerie feeling that this time, it’s going to be catastrophic.
I turn my head to her.
“What is it, honey?” I say.
She looks at me, sniffling, eyes glistening, thin lips curled.
“I…I…” she mutters.
“You…hate me?” I say. “You…want a divorce?”
She shakes her head.
“I…can’t take this anymore,” she says, hugging herself. “It’s so cold… and my face hurts…I’m worried the kids are going to die.”
I sit up to look at the kids. They appear to be sleeping, as one would expect.
“They’re fine, honey,” I say. “They’re sleeping.” I look again. It’s too dim to tell if they’ve turned blue, “or in suspended animation.”
Shannon tries to laugh, but it comes out instead as a crying hiccup. This is serious.
But also, potentially great.
Not only am I outlasting Shannon on the camping endurance front, I may be getting my ticket to see Game 5.
I take Shannon’s gloved hands in mine and look as deeply into her eyes as my frozen pupils will allow.
“I’m sorry you’re so uncomfortable, honey,” I say. “Tell you what, I’ll check tomorrow if we can cancel our last night here, and look into hotels in the park. There was a place up by Mammoth Hot Springs that looked pretty good. We’re seeing the springs tomorrow anyway, right? So let’s just try to stay there.”
Secretly, I’ve been researching and memorizing every inch of the Yellowstone map. Mammoth is my only hope, not just for its hotel, but its location – a mere 5 miles South of the northern park border and the state line, on the other side of which lies the town of Gardiner, Montana. Even if I encounter a worst case scenario and the hotel at Mammoth is Amish, Gardiner will be right next door as a backup.
I am saved.
If I play it right.
I muster every bit of sincerity I can.
“Sweetheart,” I say. “You’ve done a great job planning this whole trip. We’ve had a ton of new experiences and there was no way to know how well any of us would react to them. We’ve had our frigid Yellowstone camping experience, and two nights is obviously enough.”
Shannon is nodding, teary-eyed, and clearly on board. I don’t know why I’m even trying so hard. I guess I just want to make sure it’s a slam dunk.
“I’ll take care of it, darling,” I say, hugging her tight. She grabs at me, craving warmth. “I’ll take care of it.”
With my face perched safely over her shoulder, I’m grinning from ear to ear. Lying behind Shannon is Patch, his head propped on his shoulder. He, too, is grinning.
“Are you sure you didn’t cook any bacon tonight?” he says.
I get serious all of a sudden.
“What did you do?” I say.
There are mysterious animal noises outside the tent. I glare at Patch. His teeth shine with sinister glee.
I pull back from Shannon.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I say.
Unzipping the tent door, I step out to find myself back in the cafeteria, surrounded by the group. They are enjoying the antics of a baby bear calmly sniffing around the tent.
“See?” Patch says. “I didn’t go overboard. Just a little intrigue, but nothing dangerous.”
I go to pet the bear. It growls at me.
“Be careful,” Patch says. “It’s still a bear.”
I back away from the animal.
“So,” Stache says. “Game 5?”
I put my arms in the air to signify victory. “The hotel had one bar, and one television,” I say. “One television in a 3,472 square mile area, and I found it. Devlin and I relaxed, ate appetizers for three hours, and watched the Celtics go up 3 games to 2. All hail me!”
If you see this, congratulations. You are near the TV.
It's over yonder. Sweet, sweet yonder.
Incidentally, if you see this, you're still at the all-you-can-fit-on-one-plate buffet at Yellowstone. That means: GET OUT OF THERE!
The group applauds, and I soak it in. The clapping startles the bear, who hops into the tent. Before you know it, Shannon is screaming.
Safe in the knowledge that Shannon isn’t actually being mauled by a baby bear, I take the frantic screaming in stride.