Chapter 1: The Annual Trials and Tribulations of a Seasonal Ranger
The housing situation for the upcoming season was going to be a little different, Ben was informed. Different how, they had yet to say. It could mean anything, and each possibility seemed to be even worse than the one before. Would they not have air conditioning this summer? Has alcohol been banned from the premises? Was the housing not guaranteed in the first place? Would he simply be homeless, sleeping in an office while his old quarters are used as a rec room for someone of a higher status than him?
On-boarding for a new season is stressful enough. He really didn’t need this. He didn’t deserve this. Maybe he was a little high strung. You would be, too, if you were forced to deal with the uncertainty and whims of federal employment.
So when the word finally came down from the administration up on high exactly what changes were to be made, Ben was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. The news still wasn’t ideal, exactly, but it wasn’t cause for a code red meltdown either.
Apparently his park had merged with another one, some island or seashore park out in the harbor, and those rangers potentially needed housing too. Ben was fine with that, but he was less thrilled with the fact that he was asked to share a room with one of them. It did mean the rent was cut in half, and in an expensive city like this, any penny saved was worth whatever sacrifice had to be made. If that sacrifice was giving up his solitary room of 4 seasons to have a roommate, then so be it. If they turn out to be awful, he could always just crash on the couch in the living room instead. It was relatively comfortable, and the park had recently had it fumigated. (They had been begging for that for at least 3 seasons now, if not longer, but that’s government efficiency for you.)
If there was any silver lining to this (not that Benjamin was a fatalist by any means, of course), it was the simple fact that Ben’s season started sooner than his roommate’s did. He’d get to move in first, set up his section of the room, and get acclimated. Two weeks alone to himself, to enjoy whatever peace of mind he would have left. To be fair, that wasn’t entirely on his roommate. His roommate might be a perfectly normal person! But there is only a small window of time that a ranger has to be fully at peace with the world. There are a lot of variables to how long their mental well-being can last (the park itself, coworkers, the types of tourists encountered, number of programs, the proximity to street performers, your bosses, the current administration, etc. etc.), and Benjamin Tallmadge placed his emotional and mental break somewhere around July 5th, if his roommate was good, and May 3rd, if his roommate was a nightmare.
On April 8th, Ben moved into the park housing, and set about decorating his half of the room. On April 14th, he had his first program of the season- a somewhat rusty, but still rather nice, talk about the Stamp Act. Everyone was friendly, and he even got a high school student to laugh at his corny jokes. Week one, a success.
Two days later, he had a tourist yell at him about perpetuating liberal propaganda for mentioning the city’s connection to the Atlantic Slave trade. Sometimes he wished he had chosen a nature park instead, like his soon-to-be-roommate. He couldn’t imagine getting sworn at over a hermit crab or whale.
On April 22nd, a car pulled into the parking lot, and Ben casually peaked out the front window to get a glance at the new ranger. From what he could see, the man was probably around his age, maybe a year or two older, with a bushy beard that could not be considered regulation and a goofy smirk that somehow stood out despite the distance between them. The man was singing, and Ben vaguely recognized the song from Jaws… spanish ladies, or something like that.
As the man offloaded one of his boxes he glanced up, spotting Ben in the window, and grinned even more. “Hey!”
Ben waved, calling out a hello. “You’re my new roommate, then?”
He laughed. “So you’re the unlucky bastard that got stuck with me, eh?”
Ben shrugged. “I won’t know how unlucky I am until after you move in.”
“Fair enough! ….. would you mind letting me in? I have my keys, but… boxes…” he tried to gesture, and nearly dropped the one in his hand.
“I’ll be down in a second!” Ben replied, unable to suppress a laugh. He bounded down the stairs quickly, a tentative feeling of excitement running through him. This guy seemed relatively normal. Maybe it wouldn’t be a horrible situation after all. He opened the front door, propping it open with a stopper, then ran out to meet the ranger face to face.
“Here, do you need any help?”
“Yeah, would you mind just grabbing the edge, there? Thing weighs a damn ton.”
“What do you… have in here?” Ben gasped, shocked at how heavy the box was, and how casually the man seemed to be carrying it.
“A large assortment of pet rocks.” He replied, deadpan.
“Ah…. I guessed as much.” Ben nodded sagely.
The man laughed again, with a sort of giggle that could only be described as adorable. At least, that’s how Ben would have described it, had he stopped to consider the fact. “What’s you’re name, anyway?”
“Ben. Ben Tallmadge.”
“Well, Tall-boy, it’s nice to me ya. I’m Caleb Brewster.”
On April 23rd, Caleb Brewster was scheduled to start work, bright and early, at 8:40 in the morning. That didn’t stop him or Ben, however, from spending half the night drinking and talking, and realizing that despite the rather different personalities, this new roommate situation might work out after all.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [April 23, 9:51] Please don’t fall off the boat today.
Caleb Brewster: [April 23, 9:53] Do u really think this is my first hungover harbor cruise? I’m not even on the boat today. I have to fill out all the paperwork. Yay me.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [April 23, 10:04] Oh fun, the “uphold the constitution with my life” pledge is coming up soon. Moment of truth. I hear if you lie while giving the oath Uncle Sam manifests and drags you down to American hell.
Caleb Brewster: [April 23, 10:06] Is that Florida or New Jersey?
Caleb Brewster: [April 23, 11:32] Update- it was Texas.
Chapter 2: Day One
Caleb’s first day of work went rather well, in the overwhelming way that first days always tend to be. The hangover didn’t help either, but that part was worth every painful throb to the temple. The evening with Ben wound up being more fun than he had in a long time. Besides, as much as they sucked, Caleb was a bit of an old pro at handling them. He filled out the paperwork with only minor difficulty, and sent an amused text to Ben as soon as he was out of the administration office- “They said they reduced the amount of paper to help save the trees or some shite, but I swear my packet was like 50 pages long. If this is saving the trees, I’m amazed we have any of those left.”
With paperwork complete, he made his way back to what would be his own offices and sat down with the supervisors to set a fixed schedule for his first week. Training at all the duty stations was the main point on the agenda, but he’d also have to order uniforms, get some lessons on the park and interpretation itself, and take the computer ethics course. He texted Ben a complaint about that, and Ben sent an evil looking emoji right back. Bastard.
Of course, none of this was really new to him. He had been a ranger out west for three seasons, working in the woods and trying his damnedest to make sure no one got eaten by a bear. Or a hot spring. Turns out those were becoming an increasingly common problem. You wouldn’t think “eaten by a hot spring” would be a concern on a fun-filled family vacation, but if anyone bothered to read the signs posted literally everywhere, that fate could easily be avoided. At least, that was the thought Caleb had on a near daily basis while he was working out there.
People and signs. Do they view signs as the enemy, to be defied at all costs? Or do signs just turn invisible as soon as someone enters vacation mode? There was valid hypothesis in there, somewhere, and Caleb wanted to test the theory out the next time he went on a trip.
In either case, Ben would get an earful of that rant soon enough, Caleb decided. He liked ranting, and Ben seemed like a perfectly wonderful person to rant to. Something in him just screamed “I am a calm person”. Or… something in him talked quietly. Screaming seemed rather counter-intuitive, come to think of it.
It was decided, after lunch, that the best way to close out the day was to observe one of the rangers doing a rove down on the beach. Caleb was thrilled at the chance to actually be outside, and hurried out to meet the ranger in question. He saw him a few yards down, talking to a group of young boys. It was only when he got closer that he saw one of those six-pack plastic rings in the ranger’s hands and heard what was being said.
“Now, let me put it to you this way… how would you like it if I walked into your home and just started making a mess? Throwing your clothes everywhere, spilling drinks, hiding your xbox controllers, turning off your wi-fi?”
The ranger’s voice was slow and quiet, but with enough of a bite to it that the kids around him looked rather guilty. “I wouldn’t like it,” one of them replied meekly, not meeting his gaze.
The ranger glanced up at Caleb, giving him the faintest smirk, then turned to face the kids once again. “I figured as much. Well, this beach is the home to hundreds of different animals. Do you think they like you messing up their home?”
A dejected chorus of “no’s” rang out, and the ranger nodded gravely.
“Exactly. Now I know you didn’t mean any harm, but these rings are dangerous and should not be thrown around. Birds and fish get caught in them, and most aren’t lucky enough to be rescued. I know the rules sound lame, but we have them for a reason, alright?”
The kids nodded, shuffling their feet awkwardly, waiting for the lecture to be over. The ranger sighed, knowing there wasn’t much else to be said, and sent them on their way. Rolling his eyes, he turned to give Caleb his full attention at last.
“Do you need a knife to cut those rings, man?” Caleb asked.
The man looked him over, studying him carefully. “It would be much appreciated, yes.” He handed the plastic over, and Caleb went to work cutting the loops with his pocket knife. The ranger crossed his arms, not saying anything else.
Caleb didn’t see anything rude in it, as he figured the man was just shy. Shrugging, he continued, “That was a fun lecture I overheard! I think you scared the shit out of them. Or at least guilted them into submission.”
“Thanks. I’m not too bad dealing with children. They generally don’t want to do wrong. They’re inherently sweet, until they start screaming over whatever it is they scream over. It’s the teenagers I have the problems with. I have no idea how to handle those. Not even when I was one.”
Caleb laughed, closing his knife and glancing around for a recycling bin. “I’m actually not too bad with teenagers. You just have to be really sarcastic and morbid around them, and they seem to appreciate it.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” the ranger replied, still a little coolly, but clearly trying to appear relaxed. “If I’m being honest, I’m not too great with adults either.”
“Ah, if ever there was a job to help with that, it’s this one, I think,” he continued, happy to see the man at least trying to continue the conversation. “I’m Caleb, by the way. I’m the new seasonal. I think I saw you this morning, but they shuffled me right to admin.”
With that, the man’s demeanor began to shift entirely, and he smiled genuinely for the first time.
“I’m Rob. You just moved into park housing yesterday, yes?”
“I did! The only people I saw was Ben and Anna, though.”
“Ah, yes, I was out last night, got back late. Heard some talking, but thought better than to disturb it. Besides, I was tired… so you’re Ben’s new roommate, then?”
“Indeed I am!”
Rob paused, clearly pondering something. “You’re our newest house mate. We should hold a council of war tonight and get you acquainted with everyone.”
“Council of war? That sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, hardly. Anna, our den mother, will welcome you to the fold in her most charming way over a group dinner. We’ll probably order pizza or something. Get some fake candles lit to pretend to be classy. You’ll meet the whole gang, get the house rules, and then the war aspect will probably begin.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s always some drama, it’s just a matter of what day of the week it is. If I have to place a bet, though, this early in the season it’s probably going to be Abe and Anna finding something hopelessly stupid to bicker about. My only consolation is I don’t work with them at their park. Their drama must drive the rest of the staff insane. I don’t know how Ben does it.”
“What exactly do they bicker over?”
“Everything, really. I think they both enjoy it, too. Separately, they’re perfectly fine and even fun, but together? It’s clearly not a situation that can last.”
“The living situation?”
“They’re… together. Usually. I think they broke up right before last season ended, but got back together when he came back last month? Or maybe they got together over Christmas break. It’s hard to say, with them. In any case, it’s an important lesson learned. Never date a co-worker, Caleb. Abandon all hope ye who enter there,” he sighed, shaking his head.
Caleb nodded, letting out an amused whistle. Where Rob clearly saw misery, Caleb saw an endless source of entertainment. It was only day one, and this was already looking like the start of the most amusing summer of his life. Especially since, Caleb noticed almost immediately, Rob seemed a bit too invested in Abe and Anna's relationship in the first place.
Chapter 3: Damon, Pythias, and the Miner Fourty-Niner
Benjamin Tallmadge: [4:48pm] What’s your favorite type of pizza?
Caleb Brewster: [4:49pm] I’m not picky. Pepperoni is good, or anything with non-veggie toppings. Why? Is this for the council of war?
Benjamin Tallmadge: [4:51pm] ????????????
Caleb Brewster: [4:53pm] Townsend said we’d have a council of war tonight.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [4:54pm] ?????????????????????????
Caleb Brewster: [4:55pm] Think you could add more question marks? I don’t think you have enough there. Look Bennyboy I just know what I’ve been told. He said it’ll be fun, but then drama will begin and most of it would probably come from Anna and this Abe guy? He sounds annoying.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [4:59pm] OMG.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:00pm] They just got back together last month. Had a pretty rough break up last season. I think Rob is still pissed that he wasn’t able to slide in before they got back together. He seems to like Anna.
Caleb Brewster: [5:03pm] You sure he doesn’t like Abe? ;)
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:04pm] I doubt that. Every time they’re in the room together it’s really... tense. I don’t think Rob can stand him.
Caleb Brewster: [5:05pm] Bummer. It would certainly make things interesting.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:07pm] Look, I love Abe Woodhull, I do. But I don’t need any more drama than he already throws on himself daily. The stories I could tell, honestly…
Caleb Brewster: [5:08pm] !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tell me. Tell meeeeeeee.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:09pm] It’s too complicated to type out. I’ll tell you tonight. It’s going to wind up in the ranger lore someday. I’ll meet you back at the house around 5:30. I have to pick up the pizzas.
Caleb Brewster: [5:10pm] Dramatic accounts of a total stranger’s personal life AND pizza? Remind me to marry you when I get home.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:11pm] Not until one of us makes permanent.
Caleb Brewster: [5:16pm] Deal.
Ben stared at the phone, smiling softly as he waited for his order to come up. He tried to think of a response, but the truth was Caleb had ended the whole conversation perfectly. It normally took months for anyone to banter with Ben this easily, but Caleb had managed it in exactly one day. Even Nathan took at least three days when they first met. The man had a gift, Ben had to give him that.
Nathan. God, he hadn’t texted Nathan in at least a week. The pizza still had about ten minutes to go, so he figured he had enough time.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:20pm] Hey, Pythias!
Nathan Hale: [5:21pm] New phone, who dis?
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:21pm] You did not just make me read that with my own two eyes.
Nathan Hale: [5:22pm] Read what, random stranger texting me? Surely you’re not my best friend, because he wouldn’t have given me the silent treatment for the past two weeks.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:23pm] It was only a week!!!!
Nathan Hale: [5:24pm] It was two weeks.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:28pm] Crap.
Nathan Hale: [5:29pm] I’M supposed to be the one who never replies, Damon. These are the clearly defined rules of our friendship.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:30pm] I’m sorry! I’ve been really busy.
Nathan Hale: [5:31pm] :(
Nathan Hale: [5:40pm] Silent treatment again????
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:45pm] I’M SORRY I WAS GETTING PIZZA.
Nathan Hale: [5:46pm] Pizza without me????????
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:47pm] YOU’RE IN CONNECTICUT.
Nathan Hale: [5:47pm] :(((((((((((((((
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:48pm] S T O P. It’s for the the new ranger here. It was his first day, and we’re throwing him a welcome party.
Nathan Hale: [5:49pm] So this newbie gets to spend all the time in the world with my best friend while I’m trapped in Connecticut? No justice in the world, I swear.
Nathan Hale: [5:49pm] I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Is he cool?
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:51pm] He’s perfect. Absolutely ridiculous. He looks a bit like a crazy mountain man and acts like a crazy sailor. You’d love him!
Nathan Hale: [5:52pm] Yes, because my type is 100% Gorton’s fisherman meets Miner Forty-Niner.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:54] It’s amazing how much he looks *nothing* like that at all.
Nathan Hale: [5:55pm] Pics or I refuse to believe you.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:56pm] Ok ok I’ll send some pictures from the party.
Nathan Hale: [5:57pm] You better!!!!! Now go and have fun. Tell everyone I said hi. Text me more often. Punch my replacement in the face.
Benjamin Tallmadge: [5:58pm] Caleb is not your replacement!!!!
Nathan replied with a depressing looking emoji, and Ben rolled his eyes. He should have pointed out that the last time Nathan had texted him was a month ago, but it was too late at this point. The status quo had returned to normal.
He put his phone in his pocket, and went into the living room to assess how many were going to be at the party. He saw Abe sitting on the couch next to Robert Townsend, chatting away while Rob glared daggers at the table in front of them. Caleb was sitting across from them with a large shit-eating grin on his face.
Shit. Caleb found this situation hilarious.
Ben pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to mentally prepare himself for what was in store.
This was going to be a very long night.