Chapter 1: Forward - The Cousins
Harper knew she'd made a mistake the second the boat began pulling away from the dock. Of course, she wasn't looking in that direction, but she could hear the engines kick into a gear and the water beginning to churn. She couldn't turn and face the eyes of those people. She couldn't turn and submit herself to his gaze that was almost certainly boring into her back at this very moment. She wanted to hang her head and just run away, but she steadied herself. Shouldering her backpack and walking as confidently as she could, she left the dock and walked along the muddy shoulder of the main road of Hoonah.
She was grateful for the company she was in. Her cousins followed alongside her, no one speaking, the only noise being the crunchy earth beneath their feet as they trudged to where their vehicles were being stored during their visit to the southeast Alaskan town and surrounding wilderness. Even farther behind them, still gathering gear on the docks, was their production crew responsible for following the cousins around and documenting their accents around the country.
She'd spent most of her childhood as an only child, and the cousins were the closest things she had to siblings. Even the cousins that had their own brothers, treated Harper as if she was their own sister. When she finally became an older sister at 10, she already knew how to love her knew little brother because of how close she was to the rest of her family.
Out of the 14 cousins that were on the main reality show they starred in, 5 of them (the 5Main, as they called themselves) came to the remote area of the Alaskan bush to start in a short crossover series that combined both shows to document the intertwining of two lifestyles. Harper, at 29, split the pack in age. Older cousins and brothers by 1 month and 5 years respectively, Braden and Jack were present. Harper's younger brother by 10 years, Alex, also came along. For Harper's part on the show, it was rare to not see her with Alex. Their age difference didn't seem to hinder the bond they'd formed. Rounding out the group was her younger cousin by 1 year, Koby.
As much as the guys wanted to say something encouraging or thoughtful to Harper, they knew they shouldn't. She was very easy-going most of the time. Her drama factor was very low, mostly she was just one of the guys. But in situations like this, when tensions were sky high and her emotions threated instability, Not poking the proverbial bear was in all their best interests...even if they also thought or knew she was making a mistake. Even Alex. They knew given a short time to self-evaluate, Harper would come around and open up to them. But it wasn't that time yet.
Harper, cursed under her breath when she stepped in a phantom puddle that turned out to much deeper than she anticipated. Deep enough to crest over the top of her hiking boots. Deep enough to make her wish she'd listened and got the taller boots that had more practicality that the cuter, sportier pair she'd ended up with. She breathed in deep through her nose as the chilly water seeped into the shoe and saturated her sock within seconds. It was late spring and the weather was much warmer, but it was always wet here, storms coming from the north bringing cold rains and winds that didn't seem to let it heat up. Nothing like the sweltering heat in the lower 48 that the cousins were used to.
As the cold wetness crept up her pant leg, she wanted to curse as loud as she possibly could. She was frustrated. Frustrated with herself. Frustrated with the way things had turned out. Frustrated with him. Frustrated that every time she took a step now, she could hear and feel a squishiness between her toes that threatened to undo what little cool she had remaining. Her eyes cast forward, her face set in stark determination to keep going forward, to not look back for a chance she'd see the boat before it rounded the edge of the inlet.
They reached the garage where their ride was safely waiting. The boys exchanged glances as Harper yanked open the back hatch of the SUV and tossed her bag inside.
"Harp, we've got time if you want to change real quick." Braden said more carefully laying his bag in the back floorboard.
"I'm fine." She said, almost monotone. She went to the front passenger side, climbing in the seat. The rest of the group followed suit. Braden hopping into the driver's seat, finding the keys in the visor. He started it up and looked over at Harper. She looked at him. She knew he was silently asking her if she was sure she knew what she was doing. She knew he was making sure this is what she wanted. She knew that he thought she was wrong.
When she said nothing, Braden put the vehicle in gear and sped off down the dirt road. Harper glanced once in her side mirror and only saw open water by the docks.
They were at the airstrip within only a few minutes, a plane ready for them on the tarmac. After boarding, Harper swallowed the softball sized lump that had formed in her throat, desperate not to cry. Why was she so stubborn that she would continue to subject herself to feeling like this when she knew full well she was making a mistake? Why did she so adamantly refuse herself experiencing something that she knew would make her so happy? Maybe she was scared of being happy, because then what...what happens after that? Maybe she was scared of letting someone else have control. Maybe she was just so incapable of admitting someone else was right that she would rather hurt herself and him in the process.
As everyone settled down into their seats, one of their crew pointed one of the mobile cams at her from the seat ahead of her.
"So you wanna give your side of the story, wanna tell us why we are leaving so suddenly?" Luke asked, have grinning from behind the camera, his face pressed to the eye piece. She smiled incredulously, shaking her head.
"You are a piece of work, Luke, a real piece of work" she chided, right before she slapped the lens of the camera with her palm, jamming the eye piece squarely into Luke's eye socket. He cursed out loud as one of the other crew came to see what was wrong. Joe was in charge of the crew and responsible for most of what aired on their show. He looked at Luke's puffy eye and then back at Harper.
"We have a short ride to Juneau, once we land and get settled at the hotel. Interviews. Everyone. We have a show to do and you know that." Joe said.
Harper looked away, out of the window, but did not argue. Alex settled into the seat next to Harper, grabbing her hand on the arm rest between them. She looked at their hands, then at his face, then back out the window. The sooner she got out of Alaska, the sooner she'd stop feeling like her heart was being ripped from her chest.
Chapter 2: Outta Dodge
The Cousins was the network's newest hit reality show; following a large family's day to day activities and interactions with each other in the southern part of Missouri. The woods were thick, lakes were everywhere and the country was vast. But access to big cities was never far away so it was, as far as Harper James was concerned, about the perfect place. She and her brother and most of her cousins lived near Springfield, Missouri and their show was filmed almost exclusively in that area.
During a weekend where the entire side of the James clan was in town for a reunion of sorts, the cousins were out on the town bar-hopping and catching up. The younger ones who were not old enough to drink hung out as their designated drivers. Out of all 14 of the cousins, a few were very close in age, but almost all of them were born in stair step fashion. The oldest was 39, the youngest was 15 at the time. Out of them, 13 were boys. Harper was the only girl.
That night they'd ended up at one of the lakeside parks nearby, genuinely having a good time reminiscing and laughing about their antics growing up while nearly plastered. While trying to find a place to relieve herself, Harper came across a bulletin board for the area, plastered with college party notices and local band advertisements. One paper caught her attention.
"Think you have what America wants to see? Do you have a large group of friends that would love to be on TV? Submit your audition tape to our website and see if your family will be the next "Duck Dynasty"!
Harper thought of all the fun they had growing up and after hearing more raucous laughter coming from her group behind her, she looked back at the flyer. They didn't see each other as much as they used to. But that's what happens when you grow up, you also grow farther apart. It was a fact of life. But maybe this was a chance to rekindle the way things used to be.
The group had been in love with the idea too. Starting their audition tape 2 ½ sheets to the wind was probably not the most professional way to begin, but after editing the footage sober, they were fairly confident the production company would find the interesting. And they did. They couldn't have had the video more than 4 hours when the called up Harper and requested some interviews from all of them.
Here it was 2 short years later and a major network had picked up their first season. Most of the show was random groupings of the cousins running around the country completing odd jobs in the most bizarre ways possible. There was a lot of firepower involved, things that exploded, crashing things, practical jokes...it was like being 11 all over again on summer vacation. Except this time they were being paid for it...a lot.
There were the 5main group of Harper, Braden, Alex, Koby, and Jack; they were probably the closest knit group of them. They committed the most time to the show, the rest of the group electing to keep their jobs in case this didn't work out, being part time participants. Some of their parents, the "Aunts and Uncles" participated from time to time, mostly for nostalgic historical accounts of the cousins.
When possibilities for a second season were being discussed, the network expressed interest in having a crossover show as a supplemental season for both The Cousins as well as another multi-year series centered on another close knit family.
Alaskan Bush People focused on a family of Billy and Ami Brown, raising their 7 children in the bush areas of Alaska. Matt, Bam, Gabe, Bear, Noah, Birdie, and Rain. The show was incredibly popular and had been a great success for the network.
The skills and abilities of the cousins seemed to be a good fit, most having been hunters and fishers for a large portion of their lives. They were not sustenance people, but still very skilled in outdoor pursuits. So they would still be a little out of their element being so remote on Chichagof Island in southeastern Alaska.
The sheer idea of getting to travel to somewhere they'd never been, the James' cousins were all too excited at the prospect. They did some initial joint interviews with the Brown family in Seattle to run against some test groups. In the end, the network decided to send just the 5main group as they tested the highest in focus groups. Harper was a little miffed over the exclusion of the rest of her family, but hoped by upping their family's name recognition, it would be better for everyone. The Brown family was incredibly sweet and gracious and she couldn't wait to get out into the wild. The women were outnumbered in their family as well, so Harper felt a connection to Ami and the two girls almost immediately. The other 6 men were almost overwhelming it was hard to even know what she thought of them. Each one was so drastically different from the next that it was hard to form an opinion about them.
She wasn't very worried, soon they'd been dropped into the bush wilderness of the island and would have no choice but to get to know the family better. The production schedule had them on the island for a 10 week period, with one week in the middle for exploring some of the other locations Alaska nearby.
After the project was greenlit, the cousins boarded a flight from Kansas City to Juneau. Harper was almost jittery, she was so excited. Also, knowing she was going to be cooped up for several hours on a plane was making her anxious. Alex and Braden exchanged looks as the ascended and it became apparent that Harper was going to be a chatterbox for the entire flight. After suggesting she take some motion sickness medication "just in case", the boys relaxed, knowing she had maybe 20 minutes until the double dose took effect. She nodded off mid-sentence, mumbling something about bears.
Harper opened her eye groggily, becoming slowly aware that they were no longer moving. Her four cousins were standing in the isle, attempting to rouse her from her travel coma. The still bright sun, coupled with the overhead lights assaulted her pupils as she rubbed her eyes, trying to remember why she was there. She felt like the sun should be lower, but remembered they'd gained a couple hours with the time change.
Walking through the regional airport was hazy at best, finally making it to the van waiting to take them to their hotel for the night. They met up with their streamlined production team that would work in tandem with the production crew already on site at the hotel. While it was spring, it was much cooler than she was used to. This time in Missouri it was usually in the 70's and possibly 80's. They'd be lucky if it was 50 here not counting the wind that brought its own little chill.
She collapsed on the bed, peeking through her eyes at the local news playing on the television. It dawned on her that this was the last tv she would see for a good while. She glanced at the small pile of gear on the floor, realizing this was the last legitimate bed she'd be in for the next 2 ½ months. She grabbed the edge of the blanket and rolled herself along the bed, creating a human burrito as she tried to revel in its softness as much as she could.
When Alex and Jack walked in, they just shook their heads.
"Hey Joe! The cleaning ladies left a body on the bed, do you think that means we can get our money back?" Jack yelled out the door laughing.
Joe appeared at the door, camera in hand. Seeing Harper on the bed, he shook his head. "You damn, Jameses...." He began filming and Jack ran and jumped for the bed, launching Harper all rolled up and on to the floor.
"You ass!" She yelled, muffled from inside the comforter.
Chapter 3: Bon Voyage
Harper dragged herself out of bed, her limbs heavy and uncooperative as Jack and Alex ran around her room banging trashcan lids and whatever debris they found outside. They'd been up late filming scenes around the area, most likely for bonus footage later.
The accidental dip into a creek like spur of water off the inlet had sobered things up real quick. Harper had instinctively jumped right back out of the water, but was surprised by how quickly the cold invaded her senses. The temperature was still well above freezing, in the high 40's, but the water was still very, very cold. For safety reasons, they had to wrap up and get back to the hotel to keep her from developing hypothermia. By the time she got to the shower and stepped into the scalding hot water, she'd almost chipped her teeth from chattering so much.
It took a few minutes but little by the little the hot pellets of water permeated her chilled skin and the feeling in her fingers and toes came back. She had stood in the shower without moving for a good 20 minutes, realizing that this was probably not something she was going to be doing much of over the next several weeks. Showers with hot water would become a luxury.
Alex was continuing to make as much noise as humanly possible. Harper picked up the pillow off of her bed and cold cocked Alex in the face with it. It was a down pillow, much heavier than the normally fluffy, fun pillows. It stunned him for a minute, silencing the room.
"Damn, woman...that was cold!" He said rubbing his jaw. Harper rolled her eyes at the camera that was recording in the room.
"Well it's entirely too early in the morning for your bullshit!" She called back, laughing. She waked to the bathroom with an arm full of clothes.
She stared in the mirror, again wishing that the cameras hadn't been rolling after seeing her face still puffy from sleep, her eyes still looking tired. She splashed water on her face as cold as she could stand it and went about getting dressed. They were told to pack practically. So jeans and a v-neck black tee would do it. She gave herself a once over in the mirror, tying off her pig tail braids. It was one of the only ways to tame her wild, wavy dark hair. And being out in the "bush", well she didn't want to have to constantly worry if her hair was out of whack while being filmed for the entire world to see.
She threw on a pair of her mis-matched striped toe socks and wiggled on her new hiking shoes before balling up her clothes and swiping the rest of the free soaps and shampoos.
Walking out into the hotel room, it suddenly felt much more cramped. The entire production crew and her four cousins were standing about, packing gear and preparing to depart. She squeezed through the narrow openings between bodies and threw her armload of pj's and hotel swag in her pack. Koby jumped on the bed, sending her pack upwards and a perfect angle for her to catch it. She smirked at him, shaking her head.
"Let's go, girl, I need to get out in them woods, get my howl on!" He exclaimed, loudly howling. She cringed as the sound assaulted her ears. Those standing close by quickly covered their ears. She was sure anyone else staying at the hotel was more than ready for them to leave.
"Please tell me you aren't going to start howling at everything like those Brown boys do." Harper chided.
"When it Rome, Harp." Koby said bounding off the bed again.
The hotel they were staying at was just a couple miles from the dock where the Brown family were supposed to be waiting. Loading up the cars was a chore, they had to take anything and everything they thought they could possibly need, including tents. The storied Brown Town complex currently was only setup to house the family: the main house, the trapper shack, and a few other structures that the family called home. Their production crew stayed on a boat anchored in the bay.
The Cousin's production crew would be bunking in the same boat, however, the 5 cousins would be having to figure out their own shelter arrangements. They'd gone in together on a tent that had several pods that connected to each other via tunnels. It made an awesome setup, but was pretty gargantuan in the fact that it took up a lot of square footage. Luckily, though each pod could be set up independently in the event that they would have to inhabit a smaller space. The tents were heavy. Extremely heavy for their size. But they were also very stout and hopefully could withstand the unpredictable Alaskan weather.
In addition to those, they'd brought their packs, jammed full of as many clothes as they could manage. They'd brought buckets of their own food supplies, guns and ammunition, knives, fishing gear, their personal camera equipment and other basic survival gear. Their shopping had consisted of one of everything from the camping isle of Cabela's. Stepping back to look at the SUV's all loaded up, Harper was sure they'd doubled the gross weight of the car. She bit her lip, considering how difficult it was going to be lugging all of this gear to Brown Town, especially if the tide was low. The extra weight would probably sink them knee deep in the muddy shore. But they'd manage. It was important to Harper that they show immediately that they could carry their own weight, not wanting the Brown's to feel obligated to help.
Braden nudged her with his shoulder, breaking her out of her trance. She smirked as she looked at him. Bright green sunglasses, plaid board shorts and a beach tank. He'd at least gotten boots, but they may have looked ever more ridiculous paired with the shorts. The 55 degree weather made his entire get up even more ridiculous.
"You ready, girly?" he said leaning his forearm on her soldier. The boys all enjoyed teasing Harper about being a girl. They all knew full well she could probably out hunt, definitely out fish, and outsmart them all. So teasing was their way to bring her ego back down, which honestly, could get pretty full of itself from time to time.
"Can't wait!" she said grinning excitedly, "I've been so excited to finally get out here. It'll be weird though, knowing you can't just run out to town to get something. Knowing you aren't going to see other people unless something is up."
"Knowing there are freaking bears everywhere!" Koby said, literally jumping next to them.
"Those bears are going to eat you, you know that, right?" Harper said, pushing Koby towards the vehicle.
"No! For I am one of them!" He yelled, growling loudly and hulking towards the car himself. Instead of climbing inside like the rest of them, he pulled himself upwards and on to the luggage rack, settling between to lumps in the giant pile of gear.
As the lead man, Joe knew these people. He knew there was no getting Koby down and he also knew they were flirting dangerously with being late. The Brown's were picking them up on their boat, The Integrity. And the tide controlled the window of time they'd have to board.
"Alright, guys, let's get going or we won't make the boat" Joe warned, his crew kicking into gear loading into one of the SUV's.
The cousin's piled into their own, 4 of them cramming into the backseat. Jack said shotgun, while Joe climbed in, speeding off toward the Hoonah docks. He'd noticed in one of the inlets they were close to that the tide had crested. They had too much to unload to waste any time. He ignored the passenger's complaints as they were thrown against each other when he took the corners too quickly. He would have been more concerned if they hadn't been laughing the whole time.
They arrived at the dock, quickly throwing the vehicles into park. Joe exited and waved to the other crew milling around the dock where the Integrity softly bobbed in the water.
Braden opened the back door and all 4 of them came spilling out into the gravelly mud on top of one another, faking injuries and blaming Joe. Joe shook his head and started unlatching the tie down straps for their gear.
Jack exited the SUV laughing at his younger cousins as he helped Joe with the gear. Kicking some loose mud towards them, he got their attention. "C'mon kids, get it together!"
"Aw, c'mon man, not cool!" Harper said separating herself from the pile, wiping splattered grey mud from her face. The rest of them stood up, also wiping away what mud they could, the ones on the bottom of the pile had a lot more of a mess on their hands.
"Well then quit dicking around and help." Jack instructed, handing one of the tent bags to Harper. She rolled her eyes, but took the bag, also grabbing her pack and another bag of supplies. She shouldered her bag as the gear was tossed from person to person.
"We'll have to make a second trip." Joe instructed, "But, we need to get down to film the introductions. We don't have much tide left to get all the footage we want. You all are supposed to get a tour of the boat that we want to capture, too".
From the wheelhouse in the boat, the Brown family watched the group at the top of the dock gathering their gear.
"You'd think they were staying for 6 months or more, as much stuff as they've got with them" Billy, the father said, chuckling to himself.
"Well, most people don't know how to live in the bush, they have no idea how to live with what you've got." Ami, the mother said, laying her arm on Billy's. He squeezer her hand and returned the smile she gave him.
"It'll be nice to have another woman around, but 4 more guys? It's going to be crowded!" Birdie said.
"But at least you're not related to them, that'll be something different." Matt said, pushing a stray lock of his curly hair from his face, growing it out was proving to be more of a chore than he had originally considered.
Billy frowned slightly. He wasn't sure how comfortable he was with the idea of 4 strange men around his daughters. He also wasn't sure about the girl either. He had 5 sons. He knew they were all a little woman-starved. He hoped it wouldn't create any competition between his boys. He really liked Harper from his first meeting with her. She seemed to be pretty grounded, while still appearing to be confident. But it was hard to get to know someone well enough in a few short hours, to know if they were going to be ok to live with for 10 weeks.
She hadn't fawned over the boys during their first meeting either. She'd seemed genuinely interested in what they had to say. Though a few of his sons he couldn't say the same about. Luckily, they didn't make it to obvious. He had to chuckle again the way all 5 boys were in a line almost pressed against the windows as the group started to trek towards the boat. Birdie and Rain walked out to the deck first as the group reached the end of the dock.
Harper dropped her bags as they reached the boat. The boat was much bigger than she had assumed. Soon, familiar faces began to emerge from the wheel house, Harper greeted them with a smile.
"Glad to see you made it in one piece!" Billy called from the deck, following the rest of his family to the plank board that led to the deck.
"Yeah, didn't know if we'd get all of this stuff up here. But we managed." Joe said, shaking Billy's hand once he was on the dock. The Brown boys began picking up various bags laying on the dock that the crew had dropped to ready their cameras. They tossed the tent bags up onto the bow of the boat from the dock. Harper followed their lead, making sure to get as many bags as she could managed and heaved them on board.
"Nice toss!" Matt complimented her with a mischievous grin.
"Thanks, I lift a little." She joked, flexing her right bicep. It seemed to humor pretty much everybody, laughter filling the air. She turned back around, meeting Matt's gaze, catching a small wink he directed towards her. She smirked slightly and threw another bag towards the bow.
"A lady really shouldn't have to do all of this heavy lifting." Harper heard from behind her. She turned to see Noah, his long coat hitting the ground, his cane by his side. He had his free hand out for one of her bags.
"Oh, that is really sweet, Noah, but really I don't mind at all." She said, blindly throwing another bag on the bow. She only turned to look when she heard a voice yell out.
"Son of a bitch!" Alex yelled, toppling over the bags on the bow. "That's the second time today you've nailed me in the face!"
"Oh damn! Sorry Alex" Harper yelled towards him, wincing a little. More laughter.
Noah bent and picked up a couple of the bags laying around stepped out of Harper's way.
"Ladies first, I insist" he said, slightly bowing towards her. She smiled as his gesture and proceeded to board the boat with the bags she didn't want to take the risk of throwing. She smiled at Ami, Birdie, and Rain as she walked onto the deck. Ami gave her a hug.
"It's going to be so nice having another woman around!" She said patting Harper on the shoulder.
"I KNOW, I'm not going to know how to act with other woman around!" Harper said, just as Koby walked by, belching as loudly as he could. The woman giggled amongst themselves.
Suddenly, a face appeared from above them.
"Hey Harper! Nice to see you again!" Bear said, reaching his hand downward. Harper looked up at him dangling from the roof of the wheel house. She reached up taking his hand to shake it.
"You too, Bear" She said smiling up at him, shading her eyes from the bright sun.
He repelled down from the roof, landing next to them.
"You ought to climb up later and get a view from the buoy swing, it's awesome!" he said, obviously excited to have new faces around.
"Yeah, we'll totally do that!" Harper said, matching his enthusiasm.
"Bear, get down there and help with the rest of their things" Billy said, carrying an armload on board.
"You got it, Dad!" Bear said, hopping the railing and jumping to the dock.
Following Billy was Gabe, carrying much more than everyone else, a bead of sweat trickling down his temple.
"Good grief you're strong!" Harper said as he boarded. He turned around and winked at her.
"Eh, I do what I can." He smiled at her, turning to head to the bow with his load.
The crew boarded the ship as well, some carrying more gear, some with camera's rolling. Bam was the last one on the boat, he stopped next to the woman, looking at Harper.
"You've got something, right....there." he said bringing his hand to one of her braids. He flicked a piece of mud from her hair, his thumb lightly brushing her earlobe.
"There, all gone" He said, slightly grinning at her. He continued onto the deck slinging the bags to the front before pulling in their plank.
Harper was glad for the bright sun and her tanned complexion. These boys weren't able to see her slight blushing. She wasn't used to all of this attention.
With the help of his brothers and some of the Cousins, they pushed the large vessel from the dock. Both families started towards the front of the boat, where the production crews were, cameras ready for the start of the Brown led boat tour. Harper was the last of the group to start towards the bow, but stopped as she was called into the wheel house.
"Hey, wanna try driving?" Bam said from the helm of the boat. Forgetting the tour, Harper was all too excited to try steering.
"Oh my gosh, YES" she exclaimed, entering the wheelhouse, almost bounding over to the captain's wheel.
"Ok, I'll take care of the throttle, you just steer it" He said letting the steering wheel go.
Harper grabbed the spokes of the wheel, surprised how much she had to steady it against the currents of the inlet.
"It sure would help if all of these people got out of our way." Bam said frowning at the large group gathered at the bow.
As if they heard him, the group starting back towards the wheelhouse, and going downstairs into the belly of the boat.
"Harp, let's go, tour's starting" Joe called halfway down the stairs.
"You all go ahead, I'm steering the god damn boat!" She said excitedly. Joe shook his head and continued his decent.
Bam laughed a little, gunning the throttle a little more. "You know, you don't have to white-knuckle it quite so much." He said, noticing the strain of her delicate looking hands on the wheel spokes.
"Eh, I'm just a little excited that's all." She said shaking a cramp out of one hand.
"Turn a little more starboard to make it through that pass" Bam instructed, gunning the engine a bit more.
Misjudging what Bam meant by a 'little', Harper spun the wheel several times, severly turning them agaist fairly calm waters. Below deck, they heard people losing their balance.
"Dammit, girl, I said a little!" Bam spat almost pushing her away from the wheel.
She called down the stairs. "Sorry everyone! My bad!"
"Well at least you own up to it." Bam said, righting the boats course. Harper frowned. She wasn't a big fan of being spoken down to.
"Well it was an honest mistake, maybe you should consider your audience before barking commands." She shot back.
"Well I'm used to considering idiots so it shouldn't be too difficult for me to remember that next time." Bam said, keeping his shaded eyes forward. She narrowed her eyes into his back, this was not a good way to start this trip. Matt had come up the stairs just in time to hear their last two exchanges. Seeing the look on Harper's face, he quickly got her attention. One thing they didn't need today was Bam rage.
"Hey Harper, you oughta come down for the tour. I think Bam's got things handled up here." He said, flashing her another toothy grin and a wink. She nodded and walked to the stairs, taking Matt's hand as he held it out for her to help her down the uneven stairs. When they got to the bottom, she looked up through the stairwell, still frowning slightly.
"Aw, don't be mad," Matt said, slightly tapping the corner of her frowned lips, "Bam's just a grumpy guy. He's like that all time time. Don't take it personal." He said his voice low and calming.
They stood there, Harper's frown slowly turning to a slight smile, not sure what to do next with Matt standing there looking at her.
"C'mon, let's catch up with everybody else." He said, walking ahead of her, reaching his hand out behind for hers. She tried not to smile too much, taking his hand and letting him lead her through the dim underbelly of the boat.
Chapter 4: Anchor's Away
When Bam heard the voices of Harper and Matt fade away towards the back of the boat, he set his jaw, shaking his head. The brothers had made an agreement to not be flirty with Harper. None of them wanted to be throwing the others under the bus over a girl. He had been skeptical from the start though, knowing full well his brothers were all eager to find a girl of their own. Hell even he was ready to find someone to bring home and settle down with. But this girl, while he found her attractive and had enjoyed talking to her at their first meetup in Seattle, was probably not the one for him. Following basic instructions seemed to be too much of a challenge and let's face it, he was too much of a hot head to try and be too patient with anyone.
He sighed as he thought back to a few moments ago. All of the Jameses were from the lower 48, smack in the middle of the country in a land locked state. She'd probably never even been on a boat like The Integrity - and being on a boat like this repeatedly was about the only way to really know what you were doing. He hadn't taken any time to at least explain simple basics, like 'port', 'starboard', 'deadheads'...none of that. He hadn't mentioned how sensitive the rudder was. He had been too impatient to get on the water, too proud of his skills thinking that he could manage it all even with her inexperience, he'd been too eager to try and make a good first impression with her.
Who was he kidding? He hadn't stop thinking about her since the first time they met in Seattle for the pretrip interviews. Each cousin had been randomly matched up with a Brown family member. Harper had interviewed alongside both Billy and Matt. Bam had skulked around on the set, not really knowing why, until he saw Harper and Matt sitting next to each other while being filmed. He now realized he had been jealous. When he'd seen her again on the dock, hearing her laugh, seeing her goof around with her cousin's in the mud, he'd gotten really excited at the thought of her being around.
The truth was, he was slightly intimidated by Harper. She was a pretty independent chick. She seemed to be more or less the 'leader' of her group. She was very outspoken, she cussed, she made dirty jokes. She was always outside and off having adventures when most women he knew were the ones that stayed home and took care of the homestead and did the more menial chores. Not that those jobs were in anyway less important. He had a lot of respect for the women out here in the busy that took on those jobs. He doubted if that was a day to day that Harper could maintain. He didn't know if 'settling down' was something she was capable. She seemed so in-control, so alpha. That he wasn't sure he liked. He wanted to be the alpha, he wanted the control. And the prospect of taming her was exciting him, more than he wanted to admit.
He didn't want any part of a competition though, and it appeared Matt was already working himself into her line of vision. Bam loved Matt, they were brothers after all, but they so rarely saw eye to eye. And they could hardly be more different. So far Harper hadn't seemed to favor any of them more than the other, but if she was more inclined to Matt's personality, Bam didn't see how he would stand a chance.
Below deck, Matt continued to lead Harper along the narrow dim path towards the din of voices. He tried not to grin too much, but he was liking the feeling of his bush worn fingers intertwined with the smooth, soft skin of her hands. He stopped short in the hallway next to a door. He could see the camera crew with their backs to him up ahead.
"Hey, wanna see the engine room?" He whispered, turning to face her. She shrugged, looking the door up and down.
"Sure, why not?" She said, releasing his hand so he could open and unlatch the door. He regretted suggesting something where he had to let her hand go, but smiled again and he ducked into the engine room and felt her palms against his back. He let her steady herself against him as she too stepped into the cramped room. She was in awe that this many pipes, wires, and engine components could fit into this space. She followed the length of the pipes all around the room and refocused on Matt when she felt him touch her shoulder. She looked from her shoulder to Matt, cocking an eyebrown.
"Mud." He said, flicking another piece that had dried on her shirt. "You guys like to goof around a lot, don't you" he said, wiping another piece off her lower back.
"It's what we do best, pretty much the only reason we have a show." She said, picking another flake of mud off of her sleeve and flicking it towards Matt. She laughed out loud when it nested itself in his hair. He tried to pick it out himself, randomly grabbing at clumps of his curly coif.
"Did I get it?" He asked, looking at his empty hands. He yelled when he didn't see it, causing Harper to giggle again. He stuck all his fingers in his hair and tried shaking it out.
"Oh good lord, here, I'll get it..." she exclaimed walking over to him. She grabbed his hands with hers and moved them out of his hair back down to his side. "Staaaaay" she said to him. When he didn't move his hands she responded "Good boy".
She softly put her hand in his hair, the mud flake having sunken down even further. She gently moved around his curls until she the offending piece of mud, slowly pulling it out as to not disturb his cute little curls.
"Stop it!" her mind told her, "Don't go getting all flirty or none of the people are going to respect you!" her conscience continued.
"Here it is." She said holding it in her hand to show Matt. He didn't look away from her. His eyes had become intense, shifting from looking at both her eyes and if she wasn't mistaken, possibly her lips.
"DEADHEAD!" They both heard Bam yell from the upper deck, looking towards the ceiling.
"A what?" Harper asked looking confused.
The boat lurched a little, knocking Harper off balance, her back hit against the pipe behind her, Matt also thrust in the same direction. Her hands instinctively grasped for something to steady herself in the confusion. Her hands found themselves wrapped around Matt's shoulders, his hands gripping either side of the pipe she was pushed against. She could feel her heart thudding in her chest. His body was pressed up against her and his gaze had intensified. He wanted to kiss her. She knew it and he knew it.
"A deadhead," he spoke deep and low, "a big hidden log in the water. Wood can be dangerous." He laughed slightly, his laugh was husky and couldn't help but draw a smile from her.
"No...don't do it...you haven't even gotten to the island yet. You can't be making out with the first one to make a move. You are not easy! DON'T BE A SLUT" her conscience seemed to scream at her.
It seemed like hours had passed in that position. She reacted when she heard the engine room door creak open slowly, pushing Matt away and straightening herself up. He spun around, trying not to look too disappointed at more company.
"Hey, there you are!" Bear said, followed by a cameraman, Gabe, and Birdie. Te rest of the group gathered around the door, still in the hallway.
"Yeah, it looked crowded back there so I thought I'd show off the engines." Matt said, trying to think of cold showers, old people...anything to calm him down.
"You know how any of this works?" Gabe asked her, cocking an eyebrow.
"Weeelllll..." Harper said looking over all of the gadgets in the room, "I have a basic idea of most of it, like this is a hydraulic line," she continued, pointing towards a tube, "This is the exhaust elbow," pointing to another part, "and this looks like the fuel feed line."
"Impressive." He said nodding. Bear interjected.
"We don't have a long way left to go, want to go give that buoy swing a try?" He said excitedly. "It's super awesome." He grinned exciting, flipping his hair back.
"Yeah, it's our favorite thing to do on the boat!" Birdie added.
"Sure! That sounds fun!" Harper replied, excited. She glanced at Matt as she headed towards the door, "You coming?"
"Yeah, I think I could use some fresh air." Matt said, exhaling. Bear ran out of the room and towards the stairs. Harper followed Birdie out of the room.
"You two getting cozy in here?" Gabe asked accusingly, smiling at his oldest brother.
"C'mon man, you know we all agreed we weren't going to make a move on her." Matt said waving his brother's suggestion off. Gabe laughed and shook his head, following Matt out.
"Yeah, I'm sure you have every intention of keeping that agreement up." Gabe said sarcastically.
Coming up from the stairs, following Bear, Harper cast a glance at Bam. He turned around when he heard them. He opened his mouth to say something, but Bear beat him to it.
"We're going up on the buoy swing, so don't hit any reefs!" He teased his older brother. Bam just shook his head. Yeah, that joke never got old. Bam made eye-contact with Harper, through his sunglasses, before conceding and turning back around to steer the boat.
"Did the deadhead do any damage?" Harper asked to his back. He turned his head back towards her.
"Nothing a little paint can't fix." He said a half grin on his lips. She wished he'd smile more. His scowl was pretty, but his smile was stunning.
"GET YOUR ASS OUT OF HERE" her conscience snapped her back to reality.
"Have fun." He said , refocusing on the water.
Harper followed Bear to the roof of the wheelhouse, where the buoy hung from the boom. From the deck it didn't look too bad, but from up here, she felt very vulnerable and exposed. It was oddly liberating being assaulted by the cool, salty sea air. She closed her eyes and breathed as deeply as she could.
"Kind of a rush, isn't it?" Bear said to her over the rushing wind. She tried to tuck a few fly away strands back behind her ears.
"Oh, definitely!" She answered, holding her arms out to a "t". Bam climbed up the boom and release the buoy. Birdie caught it and held it out towards Harper. "Me?" Harper asked pointing to her own chest.
"Yeah, totally, guests first." Birdie said, "Don't worry, it's not hard to do." She continued has Harper bit her lip, looking up the long rope to the top of the boom which suddenly looked very flimsy to her.
"I'll go first, show you there's nothing to worry about." Bear said, grabbing the rope. He hopped up to the top of the buoy and wrapped his legs around the top. After hooking his feet together, he gave Birdie the thumbs up and she heaved the buoy to one side.
"Give it a push!" Bam yelled down to Harper. She pushed from her side as well, laughing as Bear howled from the top. Watching him, Harper felt a rush. It looked incredible. The howl must have alerted everyone below. Harper turned towards the ladder, seeing Gabe, Matt, Alex, and Jack climb up.
"Don't think you guys are going to hog this thing all to yourselves!" Matt laughed, eyeing Harper. She tried to look away without a flirty look. Bear signaled Gabe to stop the swinging and jumped down.
"Ok, now you!" Bear said, gently grabbing her forearm and leading her to the buoy. She followed where she was led, still nervously looking up. She reached up and grabbed the rope and almost immediately felt a strong pair of hands around her hips, lifting her. She looked back, grinning at Gabe.
"Good grief, you picked me up like I was nothing." Harper clung to the rope, her knuckles white, her muscles taut. She maintained a smile, though she still must've been visible nervous.
Gabe winked up at her, his strong hands resting against the buoy, "Don't worry, you've got this." He said in his Sean Connery impression. She giggled a little and nodded down. She glanced over at Matt again. He met her gaze with a big smile.
"Lookin' good!" Matt called to her, winking when she made eye contact.
Harper jumped a little, feeling Gabe push the buoy forward. She half screamed/half laughed as they continued to push her. Soon she as swinging from side to side, up over the open water. She had never experienced a thrill quite like this.
Gabe grabbed the buoy after a few swings, reaching his arms up towards her. She gladly slid down into his arms, steadying herself on his forearms. As fun as the ride was, having her feet on something solid was welcome.
"Thanks!" She said almost breathless from the experience. She stepped to the side as her brother jumped up, wanting a ride. She stepped back out of the way, not wanting to be tossed into the bay by getting in the way of the swing.
By the time everyone had a turn on the swing, Harper realized she could see land directly ahead in the distance. Bear pointed it out as well.
"There's home, Browntown on the horizon!" He yelled from halfway up the boom.
The group descended from the roof, gathering on the deck with the rest of the family. Bill was explaining to Braden and Koby and the filming camera how they came across the land for Brown town.
Harper was the last one down the ladder and at the back of the group. She strained to hear over the engine noise (which she directly above) as well as the ocean noise, but was not having any luck. She suddenly felt herself being pulled sideways and looked to see a hand around her bicep. She looked up the hand to the leather bracelet bound wrist, to the bare, pale forearm and up the rest of the way to Bam's face. He pulled her the rest of the way into the wheelhouse.
"Oh, I'm sorry, was I standing somewhere I shouldn't be?" She smarted off to him.
"Listen, I went about that wrong, earlier." He continued when she didn't respond, "I'm just so used to everyone being able to drive a boat up here." He said, not meaning to sound condescending.
"Oh well, my mistake, I'm not used to everyone being a condescending ass." She answered back.
He wanted to answer back, but his mind was blank. All he could focus on were the deep green eyes piercing him right now. Her intense stare was strikingly similar to a bedrooms eyes look and he couldn't decide if he want to be offended or not.
Before he could make up his mind, her eyes softened a little as she bit her lip.
"Sorry," she mumbled, "I shouldn't have said that...I should have said up front I didn't know anything about driving a boat like this. The most I've done before is a bass boat or pontoon."
Bam laughed a little, breaking out of his trance, "Yeah, this is a little more boat than that."
The laugh sent tiny butterflies through her stomach. She smirked at him, trying to hide her giddiness.
"Let's try again, and this time I'll be better with what I say." Bam said.
She grabbed the wheel narrowing her eyes at him, unable to hide her smile though. "You didn't apologize."
"I know," Bam said, cutting back the throttle on the boat, "I wasn't wrong about what I said, just maybe the way I said it." She got and admission of wrong doing, she better be happy with that.
Harper rolled her eyes at him, but unable to quell the smile from her lips, she turned towards the water. Bam disappeared from the throttle behind her. The next thing she knew, he was directly behind her guiding her hand.
"Anchor drop, right here" He said softly. She could feel his beard slightly tickle her ear chills ran down her spine. She pressed the lever and heard a large splash outside.
"Good girl," he said, almost whispering in her ear.
She didn't know how her knees didn't buckle right there on the spot. Through the wheelhouse window she could see the group unloading onto the skiff.
"We should go help." She managed to squeak out, still wholly aware of his presence almost up against her. She turned her head towards his, looking slightly up into his shades.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING???!?" Boy, was her conscience busy today.
Somehow she managed to slip out from in front of the wheel and on to the deck, Bam following a few steps behind.
"Didn't knock us over this time, 'Grace'!" Koby called to her. She playfully flipped him off, before throwing a tent bag towards him.
Chapter 5: Arriving in Browntown
No one had calculated how long it would take to unload the extra people and all of their gear, plus the Brown's and their crew. It took much longer than anticipated, even when the production crew borrowed the skiff from their house boat to tandem from the Integrity to the shore. The massive tent structure took the two boats at once, only able to put one person on each boat, who then had to heave the heavy bags from the skiff to the shore, one by one. Harper waited until she would be one of the last to ferry for shore, following Gabe around as he instructed her on how to shut up the boat properly while it was anchored in their little inlet. One cameraman, Joe, stayed behind with them to capture the routine.
Gabe wasn't shy about reaching his hand to help pull her up or lending a hand to help steady her legs if she was above him. She just had to grin and roll her eyes a little, still impressed that it seemed to effortless on his part to lift her. She wasn't tiny by any means, nearly as tall as the tallest Brown's and was pretty toned herself. She prided herself in being healthy, not thin. ButGabe could lift her with barely any effort, or at least any he showed.
Gabe, Harper, and Joe waited on the deck as the skiff approached, Bam steering. He tethered the skiff to the boat and steadied at as Gabe jumped down. Joe slid over the side, careful to maintain his balance with the camera mounted on his shoulder, shooting as Harper swung her legs over the edge of the boat. Without waiting for her to slowly lower herself down, Gabe stepped up on one of the seats of the skiff, gripping Harper by the waist, bringing her down on the seat in front of him.
"All safe and sound!" He grinned.
"Thanks," she said, hoping her blushing wasn't noticeable as she lowered her sunglasses over her eyes. She quickly found her way to the back bench in the skiff and braced herself for the takeoff. She peered back at Bam when the boat didn't move.
"Safety first." He said motioning towards the life jackets. She noticed neither the Joe, Gabe, or Bam were wearing them.
"I can swim." She said, refusing to put it on. She wasn't breakable, "It's 100 feet, if that." She said motioning towards the bank.
"Respect the danger, girl" he chided, securing the life jacket around her neck and fastening it before she could react. She shot him a dirty look, though through her sunglasses, may be been difficult to see. The satisfied smile on his lips told Harper he received her feelings though. She huffed as the skiff lurched forward.
As they neared the shore and began to slow down, Harper yanked the life jacket off and threw it into the floor boards, not happy being man-handled by these boys. They obviously didn't know her and how she was. When they got to their small makeshift dock, everyone was still there, organizing how to transport their gear. Harper bailed out of the skiff, almost knocking Joe into the water as she skulked over to the pile of bags. She shouldered her two bags and as many tent bags as she could manage without dislocating her shoulder.
"C'mon you guys, it's not rocket science, just pick up a god damn bag and let's go!" She said traipsing through the marshy grass towards the woodline.
"We can help with these." Noah said picking up a bag.
"Yeah, let me help you." Matt said, starting for where Harper was waiting for them.
"Ahem" Koby cleared his throat towards Matt, his eyes wide with warning. He made a slashing motion across his throat as if to tell Matt to back off. He instead grabbed a couple bags laying on the ground and attempted to jog through the sloshing mud to catch up with her. It took several yards to catch her.
"You're fast when you're mad." Matt said slightly breathless, laughing a little.
Harper turned her head, trying to scowl at him, but found it difficult with his crazy slightly damp hair and his welcoming smile. He saw her lips falter as she tried to keep from smiling. He didn't mean to keep looking at her lips but he did.
"Don't." She said, still trying not to give in, but smiling her warning.
"What, just trying to see if I could wipe that frown away, we don't need any more Bam's around here." he joked. Matt walked ahead of her motioning her to follow him. Koby, Alex, Jack, and Braden had caught up to them at this point, panting under the heavy loads they were carrying. The Browns were close behind. "We've got a spot up here for you guys to set up." Matt called back
"What about more 'Bam's' being around here?" Bam said, two bags slung over his shoulder. He smirked as he made eye contact with Harper, passing by her, "Sounds like something we need more of, if I do say so." He continued following Matt.
Harper almost growled under her breath at him. Alex gave her an inquisitive look.
"Welcome to Brown town." Bam said as they entered a clearing in the trees.
The house was actually quite impressive. Television didn't do the size justice. And the wood was gorgeous. The porch railing design was beautiful. It really did have a small 'town' feel to it. The tire house on one end, Noah's tent nearby. The Trapper shack was nestled between a couple of fir trees. The old chicken-coop-turned-Noah's-bedroom was even quite quaint.
They balanced themselves along the boards that were make shift bridges over the deeper, muddy areas, hoping they didn't completely eat it in front of the ever present cameras and their new acquaintances. They reached a grassy clearing at the far edge of Brown town, where Matt swung the bags he was carrying.
"This is it!" He said, his arms out, presenting what would be there home for the next 10 weeks.
Harper dropped her 4 bags next to Matts, trying to cover up her ragged breath and her heart beating almost clear out of her chest. She was in shape, but her temper pushed her to do too much. She caught her breath quickly and she and her cousins, set about arranging the bags where each piece of their tent needed to go. They fell into their efficient routine of communicating while building while the Browns backed off, impressed by how well the 5 worked together, each pulling their own weight, taking the lead when necessary. There was no fighting and almost virtually no arguing what-so-ever.
"Now see, they can do something this complicated and not be biting each other's heads off." Bill teased his boys, mostly towards Matt and Bam.
The tent really was massive, but looked like it would house the 5 extremely comfortably. A few minutes after the tent was complete the 5 had disappeared inside to unpack their other gear. They emerged from the tent, offering the Browns a tour. They were surprised by how well the tent blocked the weather and how cozy it seemed. Ami noticed Harper's pod as she passed by. She noticed her yarn stuffed in a basket in the back.
"Do you knit?" Ami asked Harper, pointing towards her stash. Harper grinned, almost embarrassed. It was one of her hobbies that the boys would tease her about. Saying it was an old granny habit.
"Nah, I crochet though. I don't have the attention span for two needles." She joked. She walked over to the basked, pulling out a couple of intricate beanies she'd managed to produce during their downtime.
"These I made out of some really nice alpaca yarn I picked up when we met you guys in Seattle." Harper said, showing off the pieces, a little shy over how Ami, Birdie, and Rain looked them over. Harper noticed how wide and longing Rain's eyes seemed over the teal and purple one that Ami was turning over in her hands. Birdie was similarly eying the red and grey one Harper still held. She handed it out to Birdie.
"You do really nice work," Ami complimented, smiling at Harper. Birdie and Rain agreed. Birdie tried to hand back the hat. Harper held up her hands, refusing.
"Nah, I have bags of those back at the house...I need to get rid of some." Harper laughed. It was true, she'd tried to hat everything that would stand still. It was a project that was useful and she could complete before she got distracted, "Rain, you too." She continued, pushing back the hat that Rain was trying to hand back to her.
"Really???" Rain said excited, already pulling the hat down over her head. She ran her hands over it," Oooooh, its soooo soft!"
"Thank you, really, so much!" Birdie said, also putting hers on.
"Wow, those look like they were made for you two." Bill said, walking up to the women, "You made those?" He asked, pointing at the hats.
"Yeah, I can be useful from time to time." She tried not to beam too much.
"Maybe you could teach us how to do this and I'll show you how to knit sometime." Ami offered, admiring Harper's work. Harper jogged back to her pod, pulling another pale yellow hat out. She handed it to Ami.
"I'd really like that, I think it'd be really fun!" Harper had to admit, the idea with getting to hang out with more women was welcome. She loved those boys, but sometimes boys could be a lot to handle all...the...time.
They'd worked away most of their day with the trip and the tent. Bear and Gabe led the group into the woods to find fire wood for them to keep at their little camp. Several armfuls later, they were stocked for the next several days. Hunger pangs were starting to become more and more noisy in their guts. The sun was beginning to set and the group still had some unpacking to do as well.
They politely declined Ami's offer for supper, saying an early good night to the Browns as they ducked in their tent 'colony' as they were calling it. All of their pod's faced what was essentially a 'great room' each pod being able to partition itself off. They began finishing up their unpacking, arranging each pod the way the wanted as Koby began preparing their rations. They tried to pack food that wouldn't spoil or would do so very slowly. He slightly rehydrated the jerky and portioned out granola and the dried fruit.
While the food was tasty and more than sufficient, it wasn't food food.
"As long as I'm earning it, I'm not turning Ami down tomorrow if she offers to cook. I can smell their dinner from here." Harper said taking in a deep whiff of whatever game the Browns were cooking on their campfire. She sighed outwardly opening her eyes just as Alex bent in front of her face, letting a flatulent noise escape.
"How's that fart smell?" He laughed.
"Oh for the love of god!" She yelled pushing him over. The cameras panned around the room to everyone else who was rolling on the floor, laughing. She couldn't begin to explain how 'happy' she was that was on camera.
The Browns could hear the laughing coming from the tent as they all began to turn in for the evening. Bam paused at the door to his trapper shack, looking towards the tent. He want to go over there. He didn't know why, he didn't know what he would say or what his excuse would be. He just felt like seeing Harper one more time. He couldn't on earth fathom why someone so irritating would intrigue him so. He sighed, looking around the camp instead of at the tent.
He saw Matt, at the entrance of his tire house, looking back at him. Bam half smiled, waving good night, quickly ducking into the trapper shack. Maybe Matt hadn't seen how long he'd been staring at the tent.
Matt had noticed, and he didn't like it. He felt like it was clear that he was getting somewhere faster even if Harper seemed to be backing off. He wasn't 100% sure that Bam would back off even if just for the sheer fact he would again be besting Matt. He waved back, backing into the tire house, taking one more glance towards the tent.
The next morning, the James group awoke slowly at the same time, having set alarms to get up at an acceptable hour. None of them were morning people and the tent was very good about blocking out light. It would have been very easy for them to sleep until noon.
Harper threw the top of her sleeping bag off, just to pull it right back on as the chilly air greeted her. She chattered her teeth theatrically. Still in her sleeping bag, she knelt, unzipping her partition.
Jack laughed and shook his head at the sight of her, "You look like a giant pillow with a face." He joked, continuing to steep his coffee. One of the cameramen laughed from the side. She shimmied on her knees, trying to avoid being cold any more than she had to. It didn't work well as she fell forward onto the canvas floor. Her hands still in his sleeping bag, she couldn't even try to brace herself as her face hit the ground.
"Good grief, woman..."Koby said, his sides hurting from laughter as he helped her flip over and get out of her sleeping bag.
After a small cup of coffee, she slipped back into her partition and dressed. She went with her tight fitting jeans, making it easier to pull on her almost knee high mud boots. She undid her braids from yesterday, admiring the defined curls they'd left behind. She bunched the bundle of curls into a high pony tail, praying the frizz would stay at bay. She dressed in layers otherwise, slipping on a tank top and a thin long-sleeve v-neck tee over it. She grabbed her zipper hoodie, putting it on as she left the tent.
The air was cool, slightly chilly. The freshness filled her lungs as she inhaled deeply. Dew hung on everything in sight, the morning sun making the entire forest glisten. She turned to head to the main house and see what there was to do that she could help with. She saw a couple crew members following Gabe, Billy, and Birdie around as they chopped and piled wood near the house.
As she walked closer to the other structures, she got a faint whiff of a strange burning, oily smell. She heard noises coming from Noah's tent. Curiosity got the best of her as she ducked into the tarped structure.
Noah looked up as she entered. "Normally, I make people honor the 'KEEP OUT' sign on the door, but it would be rude to deny entry to a beautiful woman." He said smirking confidently. She smiled, averting her eyes as she blushed. She glanced around at everything in the tent.
"You built all of these?" She said looking at some strange mechanical contraptions sitting on some makeshift shelving. Joe came into the tent, his camera resting on his shoulder.
"What do we have on tap today Noah?" He said, viewing through the viewfinder.
"I'm continuing the electricity experiments with things besides moss." He explained.
"Ooooh, can I help?" Harper asked, becoming intrigued at the sound of the word electricity.
By the time Joe completed filming their small segment, he suggested the try several so they could air each week with their new episode, Like a Professor Noah's Experiments, featuring his assistant, Harper sort of segment. Noah looked excited at the prospect of finding other ideas that would have their own mini feature each week.
By the time she left Noah's tent, it was well later than she meant to arrive. Everyone else was busy around camp, her cousin's having broken off into sub groups with the Brown family members. She didn't see Jack, Bam, or Bear. She heard gunshots in the distance, to which no one else looked alarmed. They must be target shooting. She made her way over to their homemade range, standing several feet back as the boys each shot at wood slices on their stick tripods. Bear was the first to turn around and notice her as he went to reload his handgun.
"Hey Harp!" he beemed, "Wanna try?" He said nodding towards the targets. Bam and Jack both turned around.
"Nah," she said, "Looks like you guys are having fun, I don't want to intrude, just watching."
"It's nothing to be scared of." Bam said, almost rolling his eyes, motioning towards Bear's 40 caliber handgun.
Jack had to stifle a laugh as Harper stared daggers at Bam. Just who did this guy think she was? She was the best marksmen in their bunch, long guns or handguns. Archery for that matter as well. She marched over to Bear taking his gun as he offered it to her. He started to show her the safety and other mechanisms.
"I know where they are." She said, almost snapping. Bear backed off, his hands in the air in mock surrender.
She lifted the weapon lining up her open sights and repeatedly unloaded the 10 round clip into her wood slice. She'd grouped all 10 rounds within a 2x2 inch space, knocked a good sized hole clear through the thick wood slice.
"Did I hit it?" She asked in a mocked baby voice, directed towards Bam.
"THAT WAS AWESOME!" Bear said running up to the target and bringing it back to her, "We've gotta show Da this."
Billy having heard the shooting commotion was now on the wood line as well.
"Oh I saw it, alright!" Billy said, obviously impressed, "That's some darn good shooting. Where'd you learn to do that?" He asked, walking up to her, admiring her grouping on the slice. Bam almost snorted in disgust, Harper seemed to be the only one who heard it. If looks could have killed, Bam would have been dead 3 times by now.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Berries
The rest of the first week went by quickly. The James’s learning a great deal from the Browns as they absorbed a huge amount of knowledge on how to live sustainably and how to adapt to Alaska’s unusual weather patterns.
The Browns were quick to admit they appreciated the extra help; 5 extra sets of hands were like a godsend when there was so much manually labor. Each one of the 5 James’s had more than pulled their own weight and then some on developing a little more of Brown town. The production crew had made sure each cousin had been paired up with a Brown or two for different projects, trying to see whose chemistry would work the best for the show. They didn’t necessarily need to get along, in fact, a little drama never hurt the ratings. A couple pairing just didn’t ‘work’ really, some of the personalities one on one just didn’t match.
For example, Koby was tall and skinny, average kind of body. When paired with Gabe, it just didn’t really provide much entertainment with Gabe doing all of the grunt work and Koby trying to help, but getting more in the way. Matt pretty much spent the entire time paired with Harper flirting with her. As flattering as it was, it was all too easy for the camera to pick up the fact that Harper was getting frustrated. She liked to goof around, probably more than most of the cousins, but they were trying to build Cupcake a new dog house and she was pretty sure she was going to scream the next time Matt make a joke about ‘wood’. Braden and Noah ended up having a 2 hour gentleman's argument over one of Noah’s theories. Neither raised their voice or became combative, but neither gave an inch.
But every evening was spent as a large group gathered around the fire pit each person or group giving an account of their day. It was so relaxing to everyone, having a chance to unwind and cut up with their new friends. It really helped them to bond as well, as a group anyway.
Each day the groups had piled out of their respective sleeping quarters to see who they were matched up with for the day. Joe had taken the lead on the pairings and would post a list on a tree near the fire pit each morning. The pairings that had worked out the best tended to be repeated more often, but there was still somewhat of a rotation.
Harper loved hanging out with Ami, Birdie and Rain, already having taught them a few basic stitches during the evenings. But when she was paired with them and they stayed close to the house or went foraging, Harper felt herself longing to follow the boys off into the woods or on the boat or wherever it was they were going off too. She tried to squash her jealousy, but it mostly rested in the pit of her stomach making her also feel guilty for not fully enjoying her time with the women.
At the beginning of the second week, Bam was sharpening and cleaning his axe blade as he sat on a stump just outside of his trapper shack. He was glad he hadn’t been matched up with anybody. He had a lot of things he needed to get done around the shack and having anyone around just slowed him down; mostly because he was so picky, he had to redo everything anyone else did who was trying to help. He wanted things done right and he’d just as soon do them himself.
He glanced up at the big house when his mother, sisters, and Harper came out onto the porch, all wearing tall mud boots and carrying a bucket or a bag. Harper had made her own bag while the women had been crocheting and knitting the night before. The colors on it were beautiful and even Bam had to admire it a little.
“Going berry picking!” Ami called to her son, she blew him a kiss. Bam smiled and waved them off, wondering to himself how in the world Harper got those tight jeans on every morning. Watching her walk away was becoming a new favorite pastime. Bam frowned as the sight of the women grew fainter in the woods. Why was he looking at her? They clearly had some personality clash issues. On their day together last week it’d been a nightmare. Trying to thatch his roof properly, he’d been a little short with her and set off her temper a little. A hammer was thrown and bucket of nails had rained down from the top of the trapper shack. It hadn’t been pretty. The camera guys seemed to love it, though.
Surely after that interaction, she wouldn’t even be remotely into him. Matt was the one continuing to be openly flirting with her and she never said anything to stop him, though he was pretty sure he saw her bite her tongue on more than one occasion during the dog house build. And hadn’t he caught her look away from him quickly if they made eye contact, as if she’d been staring at him? Bam squared his shoulders and gripped his newly sharpened axe, following the trail the women took. He needed some new wood shims for his walls and the berry patch was surrounded by perfect shim wood.
“Well I think that’s all the blueberries here, there is a gooseberry patch just around the corner of that tree.” Ami said pointing at a tall fir on the edge of a clearing.
“Oh, ok. I’ve still got some to get here in this section,” Harper said, standing upright while rubbing her lower back. The other three were definitely more used to this, they’d raided their sections in no time flat.
“Do you want one of us to help you finish?” Birdie asked, looking down into her full bucket.
“Nah, you guys go ahead, I’ll be alright,” Harper said waving them off. Ami looked unsure about leaving her alone, there were known bears in the area and they were away from the house in an area where bears could possibly frequent, “Seriously, I’ll be fine, I’ve got my gun. If something happens I’ll use it.” Harper said, trying to reassure Ami, “Plus, I could use a minute by myself.” She continued faking that she had to pee. Ami laughed.
“Alright then, just come join us when you’re finished up. We’ll probably fill up your bag with all the berries over there.” Ami said.
“If this bag gets filled up, I’ll need Gabe to come haul it out for me!” Harper said, looking at the good little crop of blueberries in her bag.
As the women disappeared around the corner, Harper went back to her little patch, unaware of the set of eyes nearby.
Bam wasn’t sure what to do with himself. Here she was alone in the blueberry brambles, bent over with her backside in the air…and those jeans just framed it so perfectly. He was having more and more trouble controlling his thoughts and what those thoughts caused to stir in his loins. He snapped back to reality when she threw her head up, looking off into the woods to the side. Something was nearby.
A strange sound came from the brush and Harper stood up, her hand placed on her pistol holstered on her hip. She couldn’t really tell what kind of sound it was, but there was definitely something.
“Oh, fuck…” was all she could mutter, she began to back up, but got her heel caught in the low vines of the plants and started to fall.
Bam, forgetting all of his previous reservations, ran to Harper. Her fall was softened as he used his body as a buffer.
Harper not expecting anyone was surprised when she felt the person catch her. Out of instinct she started to yell, but her yells were quickly quashed as she felt a rough hand cover her mouth. She turned her head, seeing she was basically sitting in Bam’s lap. He lifted a free finger to his lips, requesting her silence. She quit tugging at his hand with hers, nodding her head that she would be quiet. But Bam did not lower his hand from her mouth and a strange part of her felt safer this way.
They both kept their eyes glued to the spot of the brush where they expected the creature to emerge. Harper prayed it wasn’t a bear. Unless it was Bear, then it would be hilarious how scared they got. She felt her heart thudding in her chest as it got closer.
“Son of a…”Bam swore, scoffing as a tiny deer fawn emerged from the brush, its mother in tow. When the pair spotted the two humans lying in the bushes, they took off, crashing back through the bushes.
Bam was now all too aware of how tightly he was holding Harper. He released her, his hand falling from her mouth, moving slowly to prolong the feeling of his fingers on her lips.
Harper had to admit, she felt a little disappointed when his hands let her go. She had felt very safe at that moment with him holding her, his hands demanding her quiet attention. She was usually the one in charge, in life and on her show. She had part of her that may have even liked feeling submissive to him. She tried to rid herself of the thought as she looked up to the hand he offered down towards her. She made eye contact with him, reaching for his hand with hers. She stood up thanking him for the assistance.
Bam leaned over and picked up her bag that she had dropped. A good 1/3rd of her haul was on the ground. Her shoulders sunk a little.
“Oh man, I still had some to go, too.” She said squatting down to pick them up. Bam squatted down with her and started helping her pick them up. She sort of smirked at him, “What’s gotten into you?”
Bam looked at her surprised, “What’s gotten into me?”
“Yeah, after the roof incident I figured you’d be more than happy for a bear to attack me.” Harper said, continuing to pick up berries, smirking at him still.
Bam who prided himself at remaining stoic, found it impossible to keep from cracking a small smile, “Girl, you did have me fit to be tied that day.” He dumped a handful of berries in her bag.
Harper looked at him, trying hard not to be a smart ass.
“Thanks.” She said simply.
“You’re welcome.” He responded.
When they’d finished picking up the loose dropped berries, Bam helped her finish the plants that were left. Stopping at the last few berries.
“Have you ever had a fresh one that’s just been picked?” He asked, turning to her as his long hair fell from his shoulder. Harper thought for a second and shook her head.
“Nope, I guess I haven’t.” She said, throwing another small handful in her bag.
Bam grinned and picked the plumpest blueberry left, he held it gingerly, lifting his hand to her mouth. For a moment, she thought about taking it from him with her hand, but she could tell in his eyes, he didn’t want that. She parted her lips and he placed the berry softly on her tongue, as he started to pull his hand away, she closed her lips, letting them softly graze his fingers. She saw him swallow hard and the look in his eyes changed a little.
“Good?” He asked her, feeling heat rushing to his face. She nodded, slowly chewing the berry. She closed her eyes and hummed her approval. When she opened her eyes again, he was still in the same spot, staring at her intently.
“HEY, I thought we had an understanding here…” Her conscious scolded her, “We’ve been fine for the last week, and now old blue eyes is hand feeding you berries in the woods????”
Harper wasn’t listening this time. She picked the last berry from her plant. She held it up in front of his face.
“Your turn.” She said smiling at Bam. At first he didn’t open his mouth, still slightly suspicious, but he quickly lost his suspicions, letting her place the berry in his mouth. He smirked, chewing the berry noticing her eyes were glued to his mouth, her lips hanging partly opened. He could kiss her. He could kiss here right here and now. He had an image flash quickly in his mind of lowering her down to the ground among the berry bushes. Taking control from her, making her submit to him. He couldn’t be 100% sure, but her sultry, green eyes made her look like she was feeling awfully submissive right now.
“Good, huh?” He asked, his lips in a closed grin. It was Harper’s turn to swallow hard now. He noticed.
“Yeah, they really are…” Harper almost breathed the words from her mouth. Her heart was thudding in her chest, she was almost sure he could hear it. Why wouldn’t he just kiss her already? Why did she want him to kiss her? He was the one that had caused her the most grief since arriving on the island. He was the one that had spat the most hateful words toward her. Sure, she’d had a retort ready every time. Why wasn’t Matt he one here, he’d have kissed her 100 times by now. But the longer she looked into Bam’s eyes, both knelt so very close to each other among the wild plants, the more she realized, she’d never wanted to kiss Matt, not nearly as much as she wished Bam would just grab her.
They suddenly heard more crashing in the plants, but heard very quickly it was human. The both stood up so fast they were slightly dizzy upon standing. Harper took a small step away from Bam, noticing she was entirely too close.
Matt and Gabe emerged mere moments later, followed by a camera man. They all looked quizzically at Bam who still had a handful of berries. Bam looked down at his hand, remembering himself and handed them off to Harper. She dumped them in her bag, noticing that Matt was looking slightly concerned at finding his younger brother alone in the woods with her.
“Thanks.” She mumbled, trying not to rouse suspicion. Gabe tried to break the tension first.
“Did you guys see any deer run through here?” He asked. Harper giggled a little noticing that Gabe’s arms had a few scratches on them, obviously from where they were crashing through the overgrowth, chasing two animals that would never be caught on foot. Matt seemed to be staring directly at Bam now, almost angrily.
“Oh, yeah….we totally did!” Harper said, making her way over to Gabe, “It was a momma and a teeny, tiny baby.” She said, mimicking the baby’s size with her hands. Gabe looked like he deflated a little.
“Well then I guess no use to keep tracking the big one if she has the baby…What are you all up to?” Gabe asked, looking around the blueberry patch. Harper held up her bag.
“Berry picking…I spilled a bunch, Bam helped me pick them up. I think I’m going to head to the gooseberry patch now, your all’s mom and Bird and Rain are over there now. I told them I’d catch up.”
“Oh, I know where that is, I can take you.” Matt said stepping forward, barely looking away from Bam. Bam rolled his eyes. He knew this is why they’d all said they wouldn’t make a run at her, because of this precisely. He didn’t want to compete for her. But to him, it was very, very clear that she preferred him. He didn’t see her looking at any of this brothers the way she’d just looked at him. He was glad for the dark jeans today, they did well to camouflage the ‘interest’ he was having in her. Bam held up his hand to his older brother.
“Dad asked you and Gabe to get some meat for the next few days. You guys need to stay on task.” Bam said, walking the few feet to where he dropped his axe, picking the tool up.
Matt let out an annoyed laugh. “Bam, I think we could get enough squirrels in about 30 minutes, the other berry patch is what, all of 300 feet away. I think I could spare that little bit.”
“You should probably finish your job before you go off gallivanting in the woods.” Bam said, shouldering the ax, "I’ll take her, I’ve got to go that way anyway.” He said, motioning his thumb behind him, “I need to fell a couple small trees.”
Gabe could sense this turning into a fight and quickly wanted to diffuse it.
“C’mon you two, let’s not get into this now. You can go berry picking anytime, Matt” Gabe said, pulling on the back of Matt’s jacket.
“Yeah, it’s fine, he was headed that way anyway,” Harper added, “We can hang out later though. I’m really good at cleaning squirrels.” She smiled at Matt, hoping he would cool down a little. She didn’t want a fight over her, either. She didn’t want that kind of attention. The camera must be loving this.
Matt finally nodded in agreement, his eyes softening a little as he focused on Harper.
“Ok, it’s a date then.” Matt said as he turned away, following Gabe farther into the woods. Harper couldn’t help but smile and rolled her eyes at him.
She turned back to look at Bam, but he was gone. She turned towards the gooseberry patch and saw him already walking down the slightly worn path the women had taken earlier. She jogged to catch up with him, being careful to hold her bag closed. Once she had her bag securely on her shoulder, she dropped her hands to her side. Looking at Bam out of the corner of her eye. She was surprised enough to almost jump when she felt his fingers brush the inside of her hand. She looked down at his fingers as they fit between hers and he closed his hand a little.
“Yes, I’m holding your hand.” Bam said, still looking forward, as if speaking to some invisible person in front of him, “I’m going to continue to hold it until we get closer to my mom, before she can see it, I’m going to let go.” He said. It was so matter of fact and almost a speech that Harper had to really try not to laugh at him. She bit her lip, trying to keep her smile under control. She didn’t pull away. She liked the feeling of his hand. She hadn’t like the feeling of a man around her in a long time.
“You’re eyes are the prettiest I’ve ever seen.” Bam said, still looking as directly forward as he could.
“I assume you are talking to me, so thank you.” Harper said, giggling slightly. She could see a smile tugging at the corner of Bam’s mouth, “I like your eyes too.” Harper said, knowing if he looked at her he could see her blushing. He slightly tugged at her hand, pulling her closer to him, their arms slightly rubbing together as they walked. This was a weird way to court someone, Harper thought. When they heard voices near the bend Ami had pointed out earlier, Bam kept his word and dropped her hand.
Harper looked at him, trying hide the little bit of disappointment. She started to go around the tree, where it sounded like Ami and the girls were close by, when she felt a familiar hand slide behind her neck. The fingers gripped her hair and forcefully pulled her to Bam. Her eyes were wide in surprise at first as he pressed his lips to hers. She moaned in shock a little at first, but her eyes quickly fluttered closed, enjoying the demanding kiss. She quickly wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him as closer to her as possible as he pushed her against the rough bark of the fir tree.
She could feel the bark digging into her back, but she could barely care. All she could feel was her hands in his hair, his hard body pressing into her, and his hand that was dangerously close to going up her shirt. She could feel his mustache brushing her upper lip as she parted them, he wasted no time taking the invitation by deepening the kiss, his tongue probing for hers. He could feel her soften to him, as if giving him license to continue. The kiss was hard, it was punishing, and it was the most erotic thing either of them had ever felt. Ami’s voice broke them out of their trance.
“I wonder where Harper could be, maybe we should go back that way and check on her.” She said, standing nearly 20 feet from the tree, her back to it.
Bam broke the kiss, his breath slightly ragged. His muscles tensed all over his body when he looked back at her. Her lips were slightly swollen and a darker pink from his kiss. Her eyes were deep and lustful, they were needy. He knew what she was needy for and he wanted to be the one to give it to her. It took every ounce of him to not drag her to some secluded spot and just take her.
They separated and quickly straightened their clothes and hair, trying to look as innocent as possible. They rounded the tree quickly trying not to cause alarm.
“Oh there you are!” Ami said, seeing Harper, accompanied by Bam. This made her curious but she declined to pry… for now.
“Yeah, clumsy me dropped half my bag back there.” Harper said, trying to act casual. She showed Ami her haul.
“They must be good, looks like some of the juice has stained your lips a little darker! “ Ami teased.
Harper felt her cheeks flush, slightly.