Ch. 13 What's the Deal?

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It was the hike through the underworld of Tartarus to see the glowing coals of hell. The air was hot and dry, the sky menacing orange and the lava fields black and deadly. In fact, Beth might have suspected she was dead and had been condemned for all her wicked thoughts and illicit desires-technically, she was still married. Since Russell was with her, she couldn't quite believe she was damned. Just on a horrible walk over razor sharp rocks in ninety degree heat.

Once again, she kicked herself for getting drunk and making this arrangement in the first place. What had she been thinking? And the deal....She still held onto hope that the deal was something wonderful, rather like a Titanic survivor holding onto a life vest. In freezing cold water.

"Couldn't you imagine seeing this on another planet?" Russell asked, breaking into her pity-party. "It's amazing. I love this place."

"It's so wonderful," said Beth, mustering all her enthusiasm. She took a big gulp of water. Sweat was streaming down her face and in between her breasts. She wished she could take off her long-sleeved shirt, but Russell had insisted she wear it. Not that it would keep her from getting cut. They had passed another couple who were leaving; the man had a four inch gash on his lower arm and another cut on his forehead from falling. Needless to say, he had been covered in blood despite his long clothing.

"We're pretty close now, see the fumes on the side of the hill?"

"Oh, yes. I see them."

"That's where the lava will light up as soon as it starts getting dark. I think we can go a little closer. They said it was cool on the flat area before you get opposite the flows."

"Is that what they said?" Beth asked. It came out more sarcastic than she meant it to.

"You're not having fun."

"I am having loads of fun. It's just that I'm hot and this walk is more physical than I imagined. I mean forty-five minutes on a trail in the lower Rockies is nothing for me, but this...." The trick was to think positively; everything would be all right.

The lava fields did have a certain otherworldly feel to them. As the lava flowed from the fissures, it slowly hardened in spiraling, bunching forms which were spectacular in their dark beauty, but very tricky to walk on. The field they were on was relatively young, and the formations were still crisp and black, as opposed to some of the other eroded, red-brown fields they had seen. Even so, there were already tufts of grass and tiny ferns growing out of cracks in the rock; life springs up everywhere on the islands.

It was early enough for them to not need their flashlights, but the sky was growing dark purple in the east. In a half an hour or so it would be night. She fidgeted with her water bottle nervously and started walking again.

"You aren't disappointed we came, are you? We had agreed on this as one of the activities that you wanted to do. It's something I did when I was young and I told you it was an incredible experience," Russell explained, watching her sideways.

"Wait a minute. Wait just one minute," Beth said.

She stopped as realization hit her. Oh, criminy. She doubled over for a moment to catch the breath that had just been knocked out of her.

Rising, she pointed an accusing finger at Russell.

"I just figured it out," she said. "I know what the deal was that we made." Talk about being slow on the draw. How had she not seen this?

"The deal?" Russell blinked several times.

"Yes! Remember the deal from the Tequila Steak House?" She waited for him to nod. "I figure it out. That night, I told you about my vacation prize and offered to give you a ticket, and you...you said you would take me to all your old stomping grounds and redo the stuff you did as a teenager. That explains the hotel in Waikiki, the parasailing, and coming here to visit the volcano park. You wanted to relive your youth for free and I agreed to it! You took advantage of the fact that I had way too many mojitos that night at the party!"

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