George of the Jungle looked pretty darn good in Armani.
Kaitan of the Jungle didn’t have Armani. He couldn’t afford it. He had Calvin Klein. And that got him worrying about money. He didn’t have any job skills that would translate to the modern world. Except maybe wood-carving. But as Julie pointed out, no one gives a flying fuck about artistic talents in this day and age. Hell, even working at a furniture factory was going to be tough.
This is why he doesn’t belong in civilization. The stress of just thinking about it was getting to him. How well he could deal with the constant, chronic pain of real-world stress was unimaginable. Okay, he did have one part-time job The Peg, but he was only three months into the job when he took that trip that got him here.
And the worst part about this was the fact that for the first time in years, he had to WEAR CLOTHES.
Kyle wore clothes in The Peg. Societal expectations and Canada’s notorious winters necessitated this fact. The heat, humidity, and freedom from those societal expectations, meant that he hadn’t worn anything except a series of Tarzan loincloths for years, only breaking that every now and again to be fitted for clothes. This was definitely about to change, and Kaitan of the Jungle knew that Kyle Anderson, born in Winnipeg, would have to return. And once he was finished, he’d always tear those full-body handcuffs off, but only figuratively, because those clothes cost Julie a pretty penny.
So he stared at the closet of these clothes, wondering which ones he was going to pick. He already knew to wear something light in both color and fabric due to the heat and humidity. Picking the right one out was going to be difficult. There were a few light-colored shirts he could wear, but the dark-colored khakis were a different story. But since Julie had already called for a car, he didn’t have to worry much about walking in the jungle.
So he picked out a light blue, button-up shirt and a pair of dark khakis. He walked over to the mirror to get a look at himself. As soon as he covered up his jungle appearance, he felt several emotions, the most prominent of which were nervousness and embarrassment. Oh spirits, do I really look that stupid? he thought about his loincloth.
But he kept it on. To be fair, it was a clean loincloth. Even though they didn’t have much in the way of laundry, they still had to clean some smelly garments.
He pulled the khakis on first. Then a plain white t-shirt, followed by the light-blue dress shirt. He instinctively buttoned up his shirt, something he’d practiced as a kid. It was as natural to him as hunting. Then he rolled up his sleeves. He checked the mirror again. The outfit was form-fitting, and reminded him of how slim he was. To be fair, he already knew that. But being 170 lbs wasn’t noticeable in just a loincloth.
Kaitan was not here. Kyle was back.
Of course, he recognized that he’d probably have to get a haircut, which he sighed and resigned himself to. But he also didn’t hate it. Long jungle hair was hard to take care of. When he first met Julie, his hair was long and wild (even Manti commented on it), and she forced him to get a haircut. He liked it. To be fair, he was looking forward to this part. He hadn’t had a haircut since then.
“Kyle!” Julie called upon entering their bedroom. She dressed like she hadn’t left civilization. She wore a light blue sleeveless blouse and a knee-length skirt. “You look really handsome.”
“Thanks,” he said hesitantly.
“Don’t worry, we won’t get it cut too short,” she said. “We’ll probably just go for the Luke Skywalker look.”
“That’s a relief,” he said.
“By the way, you’re not going barefoot.” She pointed down at his still-bare feet. He groaned, cringed and sighed. She walked over to the dressed and pulled out a pair of cotton socks. She also got a pair of shoes for him. “I’m sorry, Ky,” she said. “You have to wear these.”
“Fine,” Kyle said, resigning his fate to the prison of socks and shoes. They felt confining. He wiggled his toes to get a grip in the shoes, but it was no use. He’d gone barefoot for so long that he stumbled on the shoes. “This isn’t good. I can’t feel the ground!”
“Sorry,” she said as she put some earrings on.
While she focused on her earrings, he tried to get re-adjusted to the feeling of shoes on his feet for a prolonged period of time. It was… no fun. He stumbled about, almost falling down a couple times. Pretty soon, he almost fell on to Julie, but she spun around, caught him and helped him up. This would be ship tease if they weren’t already in a relationship. So Julie simply sighed and helped him get back on his feet. “I should’ve helped you get used to shoes,” she said.
“I hate these things,” he said. “They’re like that cruel and unusual punishment your country’s constitution forbids.”
“You’re thinking of high heels,” said Julie. “I swore I’d never wear them, and I never will.”
“But I don’t wanna slip and slide!”
“How about this?” she asked. “I’ll hold on to you to help you out. We’ll just link arms like we usually do to show we’re inseparable.”
“You’re such a romantic,” he said.
“And you love me for it, Kyle,” she said, kissing his cheek. “Now, try walking around to get used to it.”
Kyle nodded and gingerly walked along the wooden floor out into the living room. Kimi read a Harry Potter book in the big chair, ignoring them until they came by. That’s when she looked up. She tried to stifle her sniggering at how Kaitan—KYLE—had trouble walking in a pair of dress sneakers. She opened her mouth to speak, but Julie cut her off.
“I’m going to lock the liquor cabinet,” she said. “There’s still some stuff you can eat, unless you want to go out unsupervised. But, I’m pretty sure you can take care of yourself reading some books. If you need to defend yourself, the arrows and spears are right next to the radio. No guns. You’re not ready for that. Think you can handle yourself?”
“Sure,” said Kimi.
“Good,” said Julie. The car horn beeped outside. “We’ll be back some time this afternoon. If you need us, don’t be afraid to radio the research camp to let us know. We’ll be back as—”
“OI! When’d you turn into my mum!?”
“I’m not your mom, I’m your sister from another mister!” Julie snapped. “Can’t a big sister be concerned for her little sister?”
Kimi snorted, dug deeper into the seat and buried herself in the book.
John Tamou waited for them in the topless Jeep at the foot of the tree, watching them descend the rope ladder to the ground. He snickered upon the sight of Kyle stumbling with Julie trying to keep him up. “Have a nice trip, Jungle Boy?” he asked.
“Eat shit!” Kyle replied.
“Completely worth it,” John said to himself while they both got in the car. Once they were settled in, he was off.
They got to the research camp about ten minutes later, and an hour before their scheduled meeting with Aunt Brenda.
The first thing they did was to take Kyle to the camp’s barber. When he first went, his hair was a tangled mess of matting and dreadlocks. Now, it was still messy, but nowhere near had the same mess it was when he was first discovered in the jungle. The barber was relieved. He got right to work, washing his already-washed hair and then proceeded to work on it. In a total of 45 minutes including the hair-washing, he’d shortened it just enough to the same length and style that Mark Hamill had in “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back”. The difference being that Kyle’s hair is brown. So it could just be described as Luke’s style with Han Solo’s hair color.
Julie, meanwhile, just had her hair trimmed and pulled into a ponytail because it was so long.
And they didn’t have to wait long for Aunt Brenda.
“KYLE!!!!” a piercing shout echoed through the campsite and disturbed some of the nearby birds and bats. Even the other researchers stopped in their tracks to look at a middle-aged woman run up and hug the bewildered young man in question.
“Nice to see you again, Aunt Brenda,” he said.
Aunt Brenda looked like your average middle-aged soccer mom, wore a business casual blouse and skirt, a pair of earrings and a big grin. Her slender frame was smaller than Julie’s, and she was almost as tall as her nephew. “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it, you look so HANDSOME!” she said, “Just like your father!”
“Thanks,” he said.
“And you must be Julie! Gina’s told me a lot about you!”
“Thanks,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” said Aunt Brenda. “What are we doing, come, come, sit down! I want to hear all about you!”
They sat down at a table within the little outdoor dining area in the center of the camp. They were served some tea, coffee and PB&J sandwiches.
“So, Aunt Brenda,” said Julie, “Are you Mr. Anderson’s sister?”
“Oh, heavens, no!” she laughed. “Kyle’s father is my brother-in-law!”
“Oh, so you’re his mom’s sister,” Julie concluded. Aunt Brenda nodded before setting her tea down. “I admit, we weren’t expecting you.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I get that a lot! So, Julie, tell me about yourself.”
“Okay, I was born in Palo Alto, but I grew up in Santa Barbara,” she said. “My dad was a teacher, first in a high school in Palo Alto, then he got a job in Santa Barbara. My mom runs a small camping and outdoors store.”
“So I guess the outdoors have been in your family for a long time,” said Aunt Brenda. “What do you like to do?”
“Oh, I like to read, take hikes through the jungle, blog… I read a lot,” said Julie. “A lot of Harry Potter.”
“I like to read and explore, too,” said Kyle. “I have dad’s old Tarzan books, some Steinbeck and Harry Potter, too. You should really explore the jungle, by the way, it’s the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see in your life. Just the pristineness of it will give you chills.
“That sounds great!” said Aunt Brenda. “Julie, Gina said you went to college at UCLA?”
“Yeah, and I graduated early,” she said with subtle pride. “The semester in the field was all I needed to finish my degree in anthropology. Right now, I’m studying the native populations. They have so much in common with the Native Hawaiians, language included, that I think their ancestors were part of the Polynesian migrations that went to Hawaii. They may have split off and landed here.”
“Oh, that’s amazing!” Aunt Brenda commented. “What was your minor?”
“Biology,” said Julie. “I like to consider myself a good scientist.”
“That’s amazing!” said Aunt Brenda. “What about you, Kyle?”
Kyle hesitated momentarily, enough for Julie to notice and subtly cringe. And scream internally. “I’m a research assistant,” he said. So far, so good. “I help Julie with her research into the Teo Tribe. I’m the translator. One of my favorite things to do is to go and explore the rainforest.”
“Really,” said Aunt Brenda. “Is that why they call you ‘Kaitan of the Jungle’?”
Needless to say, the cat was out of the bag before it was even put in the bag. It was easy for Julie to be angry at Kyle, but she was angrier at herself for not going over how they were going to make a story to convince Aunt Brenda. She also figured that it was going to be very hard to come up with another story that explained what a person declared missing in Canada was doing. “I’ve read the magazine articles,” said Aunt Brenda. “Apparently, you’ve had a few adventures.”
There was that, too.
“Well…” Julie trailed off. She looked over at Kyle, and she guessed that he wasn’t sure what to say about their “adventures” either. “It’s complicated. Kyle did survive the shipwreck that killed his parents.”
“I survived with the Teo’s help,” he said. “They taught me to survive in the jungle.”
“Aren’t you like Tarzan or something?” Aunt Brenda asked.
“I’d rather not talk about that,” he said. “Julie came into my life when she came with the researchers. I really love her, by the way. She’s passionate, especially about things she really likes.”
“Kaaaaaiiiii!” Julie blushed.
“Oh, you two are so cute!” Brenda cooed. She re-gathered herself, cleared her throat and sipped her tea. “So, you two love each other. I can see that. What made you want to stay, Julie?”
“I don’t really have an answer for that,” said Julie. “I think it may have been love; love for Kyle, the Teo, the island, the jungle, the animals… I could have just as easily been a researcher.”
“I stayed because I didn’t have a choice,” said Kyle. “It was either survive of die. I’m kind of surprised I didn’t turn into a feral child like what Julie talks about. I guess it was the Tribe who helped out.”
“The reality is that a character in the vein of Tarzan or Mowgli wouldn’t happen in real life,” said Julie. “A feral child—”
“Okay, okay,” said Brenda. “I get it. But how did you have those muscles?”
“Exercise and a balanced diet,” said Kyle. “The Teo really taught me how to cook my meat and which plants to eat. Swinging on this tree branches really helped.”
“Well, I was already like this before I came, so—”
“Oh, so those are real?” Aunt Brenda asked, pointing at Julie’s chest.
“OF COURSE THEY’RE REAL!!!” Julie shouted in embarrassment while crossing her arms over her chest. “MY BOOBS JUST HAPPEN TO BE THE AVERAGE SIZE FOR SOMEONE MY AGE, HEIGHT AND WEIGHT!!!”
“Julie, calm down!” Kyle pleaded.
“The stories about her were true,” said Aunt Brenda. “She’s very spirited. Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s a touchy subject, isn’t it?”
“Unfortunately,” said Kyle.
“Of course,” said Aunt Brenda. “Now, I’m sure you both want to know why I’m here, besides finally getting to see my sister’s son for the first time in years.”
“Of course,” said Kyle.
Aunt Brenda sighed, took another sip of tea and had some of her PB&J before she spoke again. “Kyle, do you remember your father’s logging company ever being successful?”
“Nah,” he said. “But dad was happy.”
“Of course,” she said. “Lawrence Anderson was a happy man. Well, I’m in charge of the company now.”
Kyle’s mouth gaped open in surprise, and so did Julie’s. Well, it wasn’t the most surprised. “Basically, I was the only family member who could take it over,” she continued. “But, we’ve managed to help the company grow, and we’re now the largest logging company in Manitoba!”
“Wow!” Kyle said, his amazement getting in the way of his love of nature.
“And what does this have to do with Kyle?” Julie asked.
“I want Kyle to come back so he can be a part of the family business, said Aunt Brenda.
Both Kyle and Julie registered their displeasure with this.
“No! No, no!” Julie said. “Not happening! Okay, he’s not a feral child, but I wouldn’t recommend him going anywhere near a city any time soon. He’d probably make a mess of things.”
“I’d eat pigeons all day,” he said. “Hunting instincts. Oh, plus, I have no idea how to run a business!”
“Nelson!” Julie finished. “The jungle does stuff to you. It makes you… an animal! Like this guy here, he’ll go weeks without bathing. I mean, you should’ve smelled him when I first ran into him. Whooo-wee!”
“Yeah, and I know the business world is a jungle, but I don’t think I’m prepared for THAT kind of jungle!” said Kyle. “Not only do I have absolutely no experience running a business of any kind, I don’t think I’m ready for that. And I’ve heard that corporate predators are much more vicious than one of these jungle cats!”
“That’s okay! I can teach you!” said Brenda.
“Yes, but we’re talking about a jungle boy here,” said Julie.
“What would investors think when they find out I grew up in the jungle?”
“You see, nature is a cruel, savage thing!” said Julie. “That’s why I wouldn’t recommend this lifestyle to just anyone—and why I think primitivists and anarcho-primitivists have it wrong, because what about people with disabilities? And there was also these militia types who thought this was easy, but found out their Ayn Rand, conservative philosophy didn’t work here. They’re all dead!”
“See, the jungle does something to you,” Kyle said. “It messes with your brain!mi don’t belong in civilization with sane people!”
“Who knows? He could turn into a wild animal during a board meeting!” said Julie.
“All the more reason you need to come back!” Aunt Brenda said. The coupe, stared at her in comical shock, and Julie dropped the biscotti she’d grabbed.
“Mrs. Nelson,” she said, “This is Kyle’s home now. He ain’t going anywhere. Ah damn, my grammar suffered.”
“Of course he is!” said Brenda. “After all, you got him to wear something!”
“I’m lucky I was around people so my brain could develop correctly,” said Kyle. “I could be like Frozen Caveman Lawyer, for all I know!”
“You wouldn’t want that, would you?” Julie asked.
“Kyle, the company is growing,” said Aunt Brenda. “We have a contract to help clear the forests in Alberta for tar sands development.”
Kyle suddenly cringed, took several break through his nose and calmed himself down. Then Julie said, “Was that contract legal?”
“Oh, you didn’t know? Because the National Post said the Mounties were investigating your company for bribery!”
“Julie, what?” Kyle asked.
Her veneer of a white, middle-aged corporate soccer mom was starting to slip. “I beg your pardon?”
Julie had come prepared. She reached into her bag and pulled out some papers that she handed to Brenda. “Don’t play dumb,” she said. “According to a whistleblower, you paid both the Alberta provincial authorities AND Canadian federal authorities to get those contracts!”
Instead of fessing up like Julie expected, Aunt Brenda laughed derisively. “Come on,” she said. “On what evidence? A disgruntled employee trying to bring down the business? Please, you have no evidence. I can’t believe the Post would publish such claptrap. Besides, his evidence is flimsy at best, just some hearsay and made-up nonsense.”
Julie didn’t want to argue with Aunt Brenda. So she nodded instead, deciding that it was best to let Aunt Brenda confess on her own, and to stop herself from digging herself too deep. “Okay, then,” she said. “But, I think we already know the answer to your offer.”
“And that answer is ‘no’,” said Kyle. “I kinda like it here.”
Aunt Brenda scoffed, much to Julie’s non-surprise. “I’m afraid that’s not going to cut it, Kyle,” she said. “It’s best if you come home.”
“I am home,” he said.
“And I kinda like it here,” said Julie. “I know my family wasn’t happy, but they’re happy that I’m happy.”
“You sure you want to stay?” Aunt Brenda asked.
“Positive,” said Kyle.
“Besides, we’re kind of busy right now,” said Julie. “Somebody just attacked an island-wide Olympics-like thingie. Doctors Without Borders, who just got here a couple days ago, are still helping to treat the wounded.”
Brenda scoffed. “Sorry, but I didn’t fly thousands of miles to Hawaii, then take a seaplane ride here just to be turned away,” she said. “I’m coming back with Kyle, and that’s it.”
“You’re welcome to stay a while,” said Julie.
“But I’m not going anywhere.”
“You can either come home with me, or you can stay here and live out a childish, immature fantasy,” said Aunt Brenda.
“No, seeing a woman get knocked out and/or eaten by a snake is a childish fantasy,” said Julie. “A REALLY childish fantasy. Re-wilders are also living a childish fantasy.” Besides, this story is a fantasy.
“Kyle, you have two days to get ready,” said Aunt Brenda. “You’re coming home whether you like it or not.”
“Oh, go fuck yourself, BITCH!” Julie’s temper got to her.
“Julie!” Kyle said, grabbing her arm to try to calm her down. “I’m really sorry. It was nice to see you again, Aunt Brenda.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you,” said Julie. “Thanks for the coffee.”
The couple stood up and walked away. And Julie was already in such a rotten mood she didn’t see anyone ahead of her until she crashed into someone emerging from one of the tents. Even though she didn’t hit her head, wasn’t concussed or knocked out, she was still surprised to find herself on the ground without so much as a word.
“Julie!” Kyle ran up to her and pulled her up off the man she knocked into.
“It’s fine, it’s fine!” said the man she knocked into. “Oh, you’re Kyle!”
“Uh, yeah?” he said. “Who are you?”
The man stood up and said, “What, you don’t remember me?” His wavy brown hair had a few specks of gray here and there. And although he was taller than him, he had the same body frame as Kyle. Said young man shook his head. “It’s Uncle Brett!”
“Uncle Brett… Uncle Brett!? You came, too?”
“Who?” Julie asked.
“This is my Uncle Brett,” said Kyle. “He’s Aunt Brenda’s husband. Uncle Brett, yes, this is Julie.” Brett Nelson extended his hand to shake Julie’s. She had to wipe the dirt off her hand.
“Sorry,” he said. “Been working with a few things in the botany tent. Are you already leaving?”
“Of course,” said Julie. “Your wife is stubborn.”
“I know,” he said. “Good to see you again!”
“Good to see you, too,” said Kyle. He and Julie walked past him to the waiting car.
Aunt Brenda walked up to him and stared at him. He looked back at her, then back to the couple getting in the car. “I’ll handle it,” he said.
“Good,” she replied.