Lakeview is a novel/story about Jack Deser and his week-long camp experience at Lakeview: Christian Retreat Center and Campground.

Chapter  1: A Packed Day

I woke up feeling far less than ready to take on a week of blood, sweat and tears. Well, mostly sweat, but who knows these days?

I was still in bed. It was surprisingly cold, or maybe it was because a giant fan was blowing on me. Yes, I sleep better with a cold breeze. Anyway, I decided to embark on a journey out of darkness and open my eyes. I slowly rose out of bed and checked the clock on the wall. I was supposed to leave for camp in one hour at twelve A.M. Never in my life have I slept in that late. I’m a morning person; I wake up at six o’clock every morning and it drives my mom insane. Oh yeah, my mom. So she isn’t a single parent, but my dad recently got a job that makes him travel 5 days a week. That means I see him at noon every Saturday and Sunday. In case you didn’t know, that sucks. I would normally play Xbox with my dad in spare time, but since he’s gone and my sister isn't here anymore…Well, that means singleplayer. Every game, every hour.

Where was I going? Well, I’m a Christian. Every July 21st we go on a two hour road trip to Lakeviews: Retreat Center of Christ or something like that. Oh wait, did that sound like I do that every year for a while now? Nope. This is my first time. But I’m no stranger to summer camps. I went to Trinity Pineyards, I think that’s what it was. I went to that place five years in a row, and boy, that place has memories; one of my favorites being the gruesome discovery of a disembodied deer floating in the lake. We actually warned a lifeguard about an alligator sighting beforehand, but he didn’t want to hear it. Anyway, I was put in different cabins every year with different people, and most of the time I’d get my best friends; Anthony and EJ. Two out of five years I went Anthony wasn’t with me, sadly. But every single year I was accompanied by EJ. He’s only five days older than I am so that means we’re always together in the same grade, and at camps, cabins. But all of that isn’t important.

I jumped out of bed, pulled off my sleeping clothes and went to my closet. All of my winter and fall clothes were put away, which left me a rather small supply of summer clothes. I picked one of my favorite short-sleeved shirts and threw it on over some jeans, and exited the room. I went downstairs and saw that my mom was awake, but I needn’t say good morning, she was reading. I just ate a granola bar and went back upstairs to pack. Back in my room, I had nothing else to do, so I checked my phone for any messages and stuff; One message from Katie; boring, she’s weird, I should have just deleted her number…and two messages from ‘Dad.’ It was great, I rarely get texts from my dad. I opened them up and they were “I love you,” and “Remember to stay safe.” I smiled and replied, and then threw down my phone and started to pack.  There was a sheet I was supposed to refer to when packing, but I didn’t need to check it. I had memorized it reading the night before, paranoid about how this whole week was going to turn out.  “Bring extra deodorant, clothes, and remember to be modest and respectful to fellow campers,” I muttered. I shoved the rest of my summer clothes in a duffel bag along with undergarments, and added bathroom things and stuff like mosquito spray and my toothbrush. After I finished, I flopped down on my bed again to take a nap. Normally I’d like to watch Netflix or something but my mind was still pre-occupied with camp.

Fast forward to the way to the church parking lot where everybody gathers their bags into Uhaul trucks, which I wasn’t too okay with, because tons of dirty laundry and other disgusting things go in there. So, as my mom and I approached the church in our car, I asked her, “How long will it take to get to the campground from here?” She thought for a second then replied, “They say about two hours. And don’t hide with your phone in that van, talk to your friends.” “Van?” I said, before spotting three large vans parked in front of the church. Two hours seems like a long to travel in a cooped-up van next to some person, but if EJ somehow comes I might sit next to him. Hopefully not Brandon… Brandon is about my age too, but he looks like he got hit in the face as a baby. He also has a moustache, which is weird since he’s only 13, but I suppose there’s nothing to complain about. Lots of people are unattractive. Brandon also is in love with his iPhone that he hunches over every second he gets, playing some game on it. I’d ask him which game it was but I don’t want him to talk to me for hours about mobile games…yuck. It’s because he’s hunching over his phone that his neck looks deformed – Oh right, enough about his appearance.

I said goodbye to my mom, grabbed my bag, and walked towards the entrance. Inside I could see a large group of teens inside, apparently waiting to go. But as I inspected the group of fellow teenagers I saw two people I recognized right near the door: the infamous Brandon playing on his phone and EJ. EJ and I met eye contact and smiled, and I picked up my pace a bit.

Chapter 2: The Long Road Ahead.

“Hey Jack,” EJ said as I walked up to him. I said hello back. We didn’t shake hands, or hug, or pat each other on the shoulder. He hated that sort of thing. “So, how’ve you been? You haven’t been here in a while,” I asked. “I sort of broke my ankle…in soccer,” he replied. I looked down on his ankle, which seemed perfectly fine, and decided to ignore the fact that an ankle can’t stop someone from going to church for a year. I was certain his family just didn’t want to come.

We stood there in comfortable silence for a long time, watching other teenagers gather around the vans with their luggage. I was ready to go, but the drivers wanted to wait until everybody that signed up to go had arrived. “What’s going on? I want to go,” EJ muttered. “They have to wait for everybody to get here, dude,” I said. Looking at him, I noticed his older sister standing behind him. Her name was Payton, I remembered, and she had some sort of mental illness like Alzheimer’s or something but it wasn’t too bad. I opened my mouth to ask EJ about it, but when I looked back at him, he was staring in the other direction. “What are you looking at?” I asked. He didn’t answer.

I too looked where he was looking, and smiled to myself; he was looking at Cara. Cara is a short, thin girl with a very cute face. I had known her since I was about five years old, and so had EJ, but for some reason he was looking at her like he hadn’t ever before. “She got a haircut,” EJ whispered. “And her glasses are gone.” It was true, her long black hair was no longer long and straight but short and stylish. She had makeup on and her glasses were nowhere to be found. Suddenly I  noticed my stomach lurch a little bit when she looked in my direction. EJ looked back at me with a shocked look, “Wow.”

“Ok, well…uh, get your bags, I think we’re gonna be on our way now,” he said, hurrying to get his suitcase. I took my bulging duffel and followed EJ and his sister to the door of the van. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around. It was Brandon, still carrying his phone. “Did you see Cara?” he asked, a smirk on his face. I forgot to mention that Cara is Brandon’s brother, so naturally I was disgusted. Luckily, he didn’t say anything romantic at all; “She got rid of her glasses. I think she looks worse without them, to be honest…” he said, and went back to his phone. Thank goodness that didn’t get creepy.

Brandon followed us into the van to our misfortune. We sat at the very back of the vehicle, with me at the window and EJ next to me. I threw my bag on the ground, put my feet on it, and started to relax. I looked at EJ and noticed how much he hasn't changed. His face just doesn't change, he just gets taller. Even his voice hadn't changed. But perhaps I spoke too soon...

"You're homeschooled, right?" He asked me. I nodded, "Yeah. And you're public?" He nodded, and continued. "Well, do you meet any good people at homeschool?" He leaned in closer, "any cute girls?" I was wary to answer, because a bunch of girls were sitting in front of us in the van. "Well, not really," I whispered. "Something most have gone wrong in the homeschool gene, because half the girls in the community just aren't...right." To this, EJ laughed, and so did I. It was true; why did all the homeschool females have to be so weird? I showed him a picture on my phone of my only female friend, who was also homeschooled, and he made a revolting gurgling sound. I assumed he didn't think she was that pretty.

"Well, there are some hot girls in my public school. I don't really go after them, but when I do, a fight always breaks out," he said. He was silent for a while, and I opened my mouth to reply when he spoke again; "Did I ever tell you about my first fight?" Suddenly the van stopped. We had arrived at a gas station, and everybody was coming out to get snacks for the way there. I spun around to EJ, who was beginning to stand up. "Wait, tell me about it, EJ." He shook his head. "No, the story is thrilling, I want plenty of time to tell it," he said with a smile. And then he was off, and I was alone in the van. Eventually I decided that I wanted food, so I ran out and got a bag of Cheetos and a Gatorade. While I was standing in line I saw Cara and EJ's sister laughing in one of the aisles like they were best friends. "That was quick," I muttered. The cashier heard me and said she was "happy I liked the service," and then I was rushed out by the driver. "Go!" he said. "We have to get to Lakeview in time."

Jump forward to an hour into driving, and my feet were tired and longed to run. I was also eager to get a glimpse of the campground's exterior before we drove in, but it felt like it would be forever before that moment would be bestowed. Brandon was, you guessed it, playing on his phone. His battery was about to go out, and I slyly hid my car charger behind the seat. EJ and I talked about different things, like school and movies, but I never once remembered to ask him about his first fight. I just forgot. A few others in the vehicle were asleep, and EJ rested his head upon my shoulder and began to go asleep too. It started to feel like the road to children's camp all over again.

I sat there bored. It had been two hours since we left, so clearly my mother had been incorrect about the estimated travel time. I actually began to envy that Brandon still had a phone to play on, the trip was surely going quickly for him. I would use my phone but I have no games and I have nobody to text. I tried texting my friend Gabe, but he was either busy or not replying, thus I stopped. I also was jealous of EJ and how he could fall asleep so easily on the road. I was also, ALSO jealous of those who had thick shoulder pads to protect against people falling asleep on them...

Fast forward to another hour into the trip, and EJ is still asleep on my dying arm. The other campers in the van were asking why it was taking so long, to which the driver just pointed out of the window; we were stuck in traffic that went miles ahead. Everybody let out an audible moan, and rested their heads against anything they could find, desparate to escape the reality of a hot car. Did I mention the van's air conditioning didn' work? The van began to reek of sweat and body odor, and II felt like crying. But then I smelled a sweet and floral scent drifting towards me, and I noticed Cara fanning herself. Her scent made my tears go away. Whoa, that sounded weird. Sorry.

The smell of Cara must have awoken EJ magically because I found him sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "Are we there yet?" he said quietly. Brandon looked up at EJ and pointed out the window. "I don't think we'll be there for a while." EJ looked over at me, "I'm going back under, then," and then he flopped his head back unto my aching shoulder and started to snore.

Finally, after a four-and-a-half hour drive, one of the people in the van let out a yelp of joy; he had spotted the Lakeview campground sign. We all looked out the window and saw it with out own eyes: In glorious blue letters, above a big iron fence, read 'Lakeview: Christian Retreat Center.' I shook EJ awake and put my shoes on as we pulled into the grounds.

Chapter 3: The Lakeview

As we drove into the campground, I finally got to look around.

Unlike the campground I went to when I was a child, Lakeview had fewer trees, making it more bright and sunny. I saw a cafeteria, worship center and a recreation center, all big and new looking. I was used to more rustic, wood-built buildings that were older, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Although Trinity Pines was great, it was more shady, more humid, and smaller. Lakeview felt like a campus, but somehow kept the ‘camp’ feeling. “This place looks nice, doesn’t it?” EJ said. “Sure does, pretty different from the other one,” I said. I was about to ask Brandon what he thought of it, but he was clearly more interested in his game.

Our van and the three others stopped in a parking lot outside the girls’cabins and all the girls in the cars exited, grabbed their bags, and followed the camp counselors to the buildings marked “Cabin A, Cabin B, Cabin C, Cabin D” while us boys stayed put in the hot car. I squeezed through the chairs and grabbed the car handle and threw the door open, and a slightly cooler temperature hit my sweating face like a splash of cool water. EJ came up behind me to get a taste of the wind. “Finally, we’re here,” he said, smiling. I breathed the campground air and smelled the lake, “Do you smell the lake?” I said. He nodded.“I smell it,” Brandon said. “Reminds me of boy scouts, we always used to tent up at the lakes. I wonder how big the lake is anyway? That’s where I want to go.”  EJ and I both made a mental note to go to the lake a different time than Brandon.

As soon as our feet touched the grass, however, we were told to get back in the vehicle until we reached the boys’ cabin, although we kept the doors open for air recirculation. At one point I heard a scream from out van as Cara and EJ’s sister Payton realized they were supposed to leave. “Did they say we have to  get out?” Cara cried. “Yeah, ages ago,” EJ laughed. “Better hurry, or else you’ll be bunking with us.” Payton yelped, grabbed Cara by the arm and ran off towards the buildings. I snickered.

EJ and I began to discuss all we wanted to do after we could roam the grounds, and before we knew it were at our cabins, also named “A, B, C, D.” We all groped around in the back of the vehicle to get out bags and went off towards the cabin. Our pastor, Craig, directed us towards Cabin B. Outside the building was a large clothesline and an emergency exit door, with no exterior door. The main doors, when opened, revealed a small lobby-like area with shoe-racks at the sides and the occasional cabinet. Straight ahead was a bath room, with three sinks, three stalls and three showers. “Amazing,” EJ said. “Our own restroom. I still remember having to walk half a mile to get to an outhouse at Trinity Pines.” And I silently agreed with him.

There were two parts of the building: the left side was where our church bunked, and the right was where another group of a different church could sleep. Like always, the sleeping room was made of a bunch of bunk beds in a room, except this time, between each  bunk was a shelf and shoe holder. Those on the top bunk could put their belongings on the top of the cabinet, too. I was very pleased with this arrangement, and all the boys plopped their bags down on a mattress to claim it.

I was on a top bunk, with the bottom bunk empty and free to put my suitcase and clothes. EJ was on a top bunk too, right across from me, with a boy named Garret to sleep under him. I looked around at the other beds to see who got where when I saw two skinny boys, one blonde and one brunette;

“She called you gay,” the slightly taller one said, laughing at the other blonde boy. “Shut up, you know that one girl hated you, and I got all their numbers!” he said. I recognized them as James and Davis; James was my height, blonde, and stylish. Davis was tall and sporty and typically punky. I liked James better, but Davis was alright.  “Oh, hi Jack,” James said. Davis said hello also. Then James got on the bottom mattress and Davis climbed to the top.  Brandon walked in and cuddled up in a bottom bunk near mine, with his top bunk free. Those were what seemed like the only empty beds, as everybody else had claimed all the others.

EJ got up to leave and so did I when we were stopped by Pastor Craig. He explained that we could go anywhere as long as we didn’t leave the campground, we made it to meals and chapel service, and that we made it back to the cabin by the 11:00 PM curfew. It all sounded great to me; at kid’s camp, we were forced to follow the camp leader around everywhere and attend all the activities and I was elate at the freedom that we now had.  I could tell EJ was too, so we stood no longer and ran out the door. That day the weather was fine, and we strolled down the wooded path towards the lake. EJ had grabbed a pamphlet of all the activities one could do, “It says the rec center, pool, and everything else like that doesn’t open until tomorrow…that sucks,” he said. “All we can do is go to the Smithsonian center, an outdoor shaded place, to play nine-square. Oh, and there’s a big GaGa ball pit.” I nodded, “Well, there isn’t much to do today, but tomorrow sounds great!”

When we reached a clearing, we had a vast sight ahead of us: the lake for which the camp was known for was massive, with rocks, small trees and flowers  lining it all around. At the far end of it was a deck with  a zipline, boats, and a thing called an Inflatable  Blob; one person would jump on the floating inflatable, climb to the end, and another person would jump on the opposite end, rocketing a camper through the sky and into the water. This recreation was adored by all campers. We saw a good amount of people running around the lake and a few sleeping by the trees, and I longed to do the same.

“Well, they were right about one thing,” I said blissfully. “That is one hell of a lakeview.”

Chapter 4: Ravioli and Raving

Arriving two hours behind schedule, we missed lunch. I was going to have to try the food at dinner instead.

EJ and I were pissed that we couldn't do anything until the next day, and with Brandon at the cabin on his phone, it was just the two of us. We looked around the whole camp, satisfied with the grounds. At the center of the camp was the recreation center, with a patio and snackbar out front and a door leading to tables, ping pong, indoor pool for 18 years and above, basketball court, gift shop, and some vending machines. All the doors were closed and the ping pong balls were missing, all we could do was sit and enjoy the air conditioning. A small parking lot was outside, but beyond that were railings and halfpipes for those on skateboards, as well as a GaGa ball pit. For those who don't know what that is, it's a small arena in which a single ball is thrown into. It bounces each time, and on each bounce we chant "Ga, Ga, Ball," and when 'ball' is said the players in the arena uses their hands only to hit it into other people. Sort of like dodgeball on the ground, except with one ball and there's no catching. I've always been decent at it...I guess. Next to that is the Smithsonian center, which is really just a lot of concrete with a roof over it. It had a stage for those who brought instruments to play and it had a nine-square court. And if you don't know what that is, look it up, I don't want to explain. There was also a big field with soccer courts in it.

"This all look great and all, but where is everybody?" EJ asked. I couldn't answer, though I had a suspicion that by 'everybody' he meant was doing their church service, as different churches do chapel at different times. "I forgot, we never checked out the chapel area!" I exclaimed. EJ gasped, and we ran to explore what hadn't been explored before.

What separated the chapel/cafeteria section of the camp and the soccer court/recreation section was a long ditch, with steps leading down into it and up the other side. At the bottom were benches and firepits. We walked this way, passing a restroom, and made it to the clearing; there was the large cafeteria to which we couldn't get inside, and parallel to that was the chapel, equally as big. The doors were shut, but we could hear music inside. "They're doing service, then," EJ stated. "We've seen everything, now what do we do?" Dinner wasn't until 6:25 PM, and it was 5:00 at the time, so we just headed back to the cabin to unpack. On the trek back, I noticed a few girls looking at us, two of them smiled at me. Me, being the oblivious idiot that I am, didn't smile back, though they didn't seem to be offended. Finally we arrived at the building, and I climbed up to my duffel and spread out my bedding. All I had were two sheets and a pillow, I had packed lightly assuming the weather would be hot, explaining my lack of a sleeping bag.

Brandon, however, had brought a thick sleeping bag and a large blanket and had it across his bunk. I laughed. "Brandon, it's summer, and it's hot," I said. He peered over his game and looked at me, then at my bedding, and then grinned. "They put the air conditioning at high overnight. At least at scout camp they do," and he flopped back under his blanket. He had a point, often the air conditioning was jacked up pretty high to make up for the warm weather, but I shrugged it off. It'll be hot, I thought to myself. After all, EJ had a thin sleeping bag instead of a thick one, and he said it was "sufficient for summer weather."

Digging in my bag, I pulled out my various things and placed them either on the shelf between me and EJ's shelf, and put my phone charger under a bed nearby. The reason to that was that there was a multi-outlet and everybody seemed to plug their phones into it, so I did the same. As I looked up, I saw the pastor bringing in cases upon cases of bottled water, and all the boys in the cabin cheered. "Awesome!" a brown-haired teen named Josh said. "What's all this for, Pastor Craig?"

He threw the last case of water to the side before responding; "We got this from the camp overseers who said you boys need to stay hydrated, and I agree. So take some water with you each day, but not too much. We only have..." he stopped to roughly count the cases, "we have around 80 bottles here. Seems like a lot, I know, but out there in the heat this will be plenty enough, though I ask you to limit yourselves." and with that, Craig walked out the emergency exit door. Instantly a loud siren went off when the door swung upon, and I could hear EJ swear in surprise. As my ears were raped by the sound, I saw Pastor Craig jump back into the bunkhouse in effort to cease the noise. When the door closed, the siren stopped. That was our cue to leave. EJ and I lounged on a bench outside for the last twenty minutes before dinner. He got bored and eventually got up to find a vending machine, but I stayed there, basking in the sun and warm, fresh air. I was at camp, all was happy. I wouldn't call my homelife bad, but it sure is boring when you're not a sporty person and you don't go and do sports everyday. I just sit and home and do nothing, and I get depressed when I do nothing. But at camp there were things to do each day, and boredom was hard to come by.

Cara and Payton walked by the bench, and I said hi to both of them. "Where are you guys going?" I asked politely. "We're just looking for stuff to do," Cara said. "What are you doing?"

I motioned down the path, "EJ just went to get soda. We're waiting until food." When I said EJ, Payton rolled her eyes. "Great, I needed to get sunscreen from him. I'm staying here until he comes back," she said. "No!" Cara said quickly. "Uh, sounds boring, let's keep moving. Bye," she told me and walked up the hill dragging Payton with her. I was sort of hurt that they didn't want to keep me company, but almost right after EJ came up with two Dr. Pepper's. "What did they want?" he asked. "She wanted your sunblock," I said. He sat back, popping the cap off his soda. "I would lend her my sunblock, although her nice tan skin wouldn't need it," he said scornfully. He paused. "Her skin is like yours, actually. Do you wear sun protection?"

"A bit," I said. "And it wasn't Cara that wanted it, your sister did." EJ blinked. "Oh. Well she can't have it, I'm paler than her." He took a swig of his drink, and we walked off to dinner.

The cafeteria had a big ceiling and layout, with much more tables than at Trinity Pines. I saw they had soda pop machines instead of fruit juice, too, and the food looked good; it was ravioli pasta floating in red sauce, and the side was french fries with chili and cheese. For a small desert they served cookies. EJ and I looked at each other. "Wow, this stuff looks better than kid's camp," he said. I got my tray of food and we both walked over to the salad bar, with toppings like carrots and tomatoes. I got a small salad, added it to my tray, and went to inspect the drink machine. They had Dr. Pepper products like 7-UP, RC, and Canda Dry ginger ale, and also a carbonated fruit punch, lemonade and tea. This selection of fruit blends and sodas were good. I filled my cup with RC and sat down.

Not long after Brandon followed, his plate consisting of two cookies and a single leaf of salad. EJ looked at me in a "are you seeing this" sort of away, shook his head and took a bite of salad. I tried the main dish first; the ravioli was typical camp food; better than what you find in the frozen section or in a can but not as good as home-cooked or restaurant food. I was starving since I had a light lunch, so I ate every last bite. "The first meal is always the worst," EJ explained. "And this isn't that bad, so I'm sure tomorrow will be great." I drained my last gulp of soda and got up to throw my paper plate and bowl away, as I heard Brandon complaining about the cookies not being soft enough. By the time I got back, I found EJ had already left. I walked outside and saw him walking over to Cara, and I wanted to watch that, so I followed him.

"Hey, I'm EJ," he said, greeting Cara. She smiled back, "Hi, I know you, actually," she said. "And you know Payton here." EJ looked over at his sister. "I'm not giving you my stuff, Payton, sorry." She scowled and walked off, to which Cara went after her, irritated. EJ looked at me. "My sister is such a..." he began, but stopped short when two adults walked by. "Come on, let's sit down and wait." I said. We sat down on a short brick stair and watched all the other people come by. I was wrong about the churches having different service time, because many crowds of kids began to wait too. We were soon not alone, and even sooner were were going inside the building. The building was big and full of chairs, and sections were titled with different church names. We found our church and sat down in that area. Brandon sat beside us. After a little while of nothing, the band came up and started playing songs. Unlike kid's camp songs,these weren't stupid and didn't require dancing. In fact, they were pretty good, and I really got into the spirit. However, Brandon didn't like it and complained to me loudly that all he wanted to do was sit down and fall asleep. I tried to ignore him, and finally he sat down and played on his phone. EJ saw this and started to mutter some sort of death wishes upon Brandon.

After the songs, the sermon started, and an unknown talker gave us a lesson about how us 'ordinary people can do very unordinary things," which was very cliche but he delivered well. We all got wristbands that said "Ordinary" on it, which I wasn't happy about. But at least it wasn't "Unordinary."

Right after the sermon, us campers clapped and one of the managers of Lakeview came up and spoke:

"Ten o'clock at night, every night, we will begin something called Late Night. This is when us adults let you go to the recreation center to enjoy the snack bar and the few games there until curfew. Those who don't want to participate are free to go elsewhere, but remember our guidelines of where to go and where not to go. Tonight, we will be doing late night, except we're planning something different; I want you to go outside this building and wait for us to call you back in to experience something special: a light rave!"

There were cheers from the audience and a groan from Brandon, and then we were dismissed outside.

Chapter 5: The Cold

And so we went outside, some us laying down on the grass, others sitting on the stairs, a few against the wall. Most of the people were talking, but some were playing instruments or on their skateboards. One boy was playing a ukelele very nicely. EJ and I just talked.

"You get to use textbooks in public school," EJ explained. "They're fun. Have you ever read a science or health textbook? There's tons of anatomy, dude. Lots of balls." We laughed together, even though I actually did have textbooks. Brandon was playing a game. I saw the girls of our church looking at their phones. The boys from our church were tossing around a football or flirting. I stopped people-watching to continue our conversation; "I want to go to the pool whenever we can," I said. I had seen a tall slide when we were driving into the grounds. It wasn't too hot yet, but we arrived in the late afternoon and the sun was only up for an hour or two. That being said, it was very warm and muggy while we were waiting to get back in. "Sure," EJ replied. "But it's a long walk to get there, you have to walk across the soccer field. In fa-" He was stopped by the doors of the building opening wide, and an adult beckoning everybody inside. Everyone cheered and ran inside, including us.

When I walked in, I was blown away; the lights had all been turned off, but there were blacklights and colors flashing everywhere. Glow-in-the-dark bouncing balls were thrown all around, creating a light show. Rave music was blaring from all the speakers. We were given light bracelets and necklaces, and soon everybody was dancing and jumping around and clapping their hands. Except for EJ and I. We both didn't do the whole dancing thing, so we just clapped out hands. Ten minutes passed before someone got up on stage. "Hey everybody, it's me! DJ Zane!" when he said this, there was an uproar from the crowd. Apparently this guy was a popular camp rapper or something, but I didn't know him. "I've got a short while, but I'll make it count!" he yelled, and then he started rapping so fast that I had no idea what he was saying. All I caught was "never before" and "swagger.”

It was getting old. There wasn’t much to do at this party late night thing. I walked through the crowd to find my way to an exit, but it looked like all the adults were guarding the doors to make sure nobody left until it was over. I wandered off to find EJ, who was sitting quietly on a seat. He looked very pleased to see me. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” I replied. I guided him towards the door until he cuffed me on the arm and pulled me to side, of course to my surprise. “They only let people leave to go to the bathroom. If we’re going to leave we should go separately.” It was a master plan. I let him go first; he walked up to the door leading to the exit and bathrooms, spoke to an adult, and then he left. I waited a good minute or two for good measure and followed his steps. As expected, I was stopped when I put a hand on the door. A man grasped my shoulder. “Hey buddy, are you going to the restroom?” I did a nice smile that all adults loved and nodded, and he let me pass. Knowing they were watching me, I did not go towards the exit but took a right to the bathroom. I found EJ waiting for me. It was very awkward waiting in the bathroom, people would walk in to use a urinal, see us standing there and either leave or walk into a stall. Eventually we could wait no longer, so EJ grabbed me to leave when we heard clapping. But when we left, I was taken aback by virtually ever camper coming out of the big room to leave. “Yes,” he whispered. “We were right on time!”

We squeezed into the crowd of people and slowly and clumsily made it out of the building. It was hot and dark outside, and I started to regret leaving the air conditioning. EJ and I went down and up the gorge, through the wood and back to our cabin by 10:30. Everybody else was there, some in bed, some sitting down playing cards, a few in the bathroom showering or washing their hands. “It’s cold in here, isn’t it?” EJ asked. I shrugged, “Yeah, or maybe we were just used to the heat. Maybe it’s ninety degrees in here.” But I knew deep down that they had turned the air conditioner on high all day, and now all the cold air was pooling in the cabin. The two of us went over to our beds to change. I put on sweatpants and a white sleeveless shirt, shivering. This always happens, yet I forgot to plan appropriately. I threw my thin sheets over the mattress, ready to go to sleep. But it seemed the rest of the boys were far from tired, including EJ, so I decided to stay awake.

I was sitting on my bunk when James climbed up to me and sat down. “Jack, I’m going out of my comfort zone here,” he said. “I need some shampoo. Can I have some?”  I reached down below my bunk and pulled up my bag. I handed it to him and he dug around. “Dove soap bar, Old Spice,” he muttered to himself. “Toothpaste, and what’s this?” He pulled out a can of AXE body spray. “What?” I exclaimed. “I never packed that.” It must have been in there for years. I got my first can of body spray a while back, but it smelled bad and I never used it again.  James laughed. “You don’t want it? Hey Davie!” he yelled. Davis walked up, snacking on chips. “What, dude?” James looked at me one last time, and I nodded, so he threw the can of spray to him. “Perfect bomb material,” Davis said to himself. He looked up at me. “The older it is, the better. How long have you had this?”  Confused as to what kind of explosive they were making, I estimated; “Three years, I think.” James and Davis smiled and spun around at each other. “Three years!” they cried.

EJ, who had previously been untangling a knot of clothes, spoke up. “What’s going on?” He looked at me, and I just shook my head. “Ask James, he took my body spray and cried tears of joy.”  EJ looked over at James. “Man, what are you doing?”  James looked at us, still grinning. “Ya’ll, we moved up to the youth group early last year, so we’ve been here before. We met this really great guy named Car or something crazy like that. He taught us some awesome prank things, some really savage-level stuff. Right Davie?” “Ok, don’t call me that.” “Wuss.” “I brought my knife.” “Fine, Davis.” “Thanks. Sure, that guy was great.” “Anyway,” James continued, “One of his favorite things was to tape down the triggers of body spray cans, throw them into cabins, and run off. The can that’s taped down will keep on spraying until somebody has the nerve to go pull the tape off.” He looked back over to Davis. “What’s the name of that scent?” Davis inspected it. “Black Ice,” he said. “That’s one of the worst smelling ones.” He looked up at me. “Jack, your contribution is appreciated. Take some Takis,” and he threw his chips at me.” James patted me on the shoulder, took my soap, and hopped down. “I’ll be back with this!” he called.

 EJ came over to my bed to have some of the chips. “Jack, tomorrow morning, I want to get up early.” “Why?” I asked. “Any reason?” “Nope,” he said. “Gonna go brush my teeth. You should too,” and he left. I took my toothbrush and followed him. When I arrived in the bathroom, everybody had left. We stood in front of the sink and brushed. I noticed my hair was sticking up in the back, and appalled that it was doing such a thing, wet my hand it put it back to its rightful spot. After we finished, Pastor Craig told us to turn the lights off and get to sleep. It was midnight, I was sure nobody argued after the long drive. EJ crawled into his sleeping bag, and I dropped down onto my sheets and pillow, and tried to fall asleep.

But I couldn’t. It was freezing.

I reluctantly got up to check the thermostat near the door. What was it? Forty degrees. I had thin sheets. I was expecting hot temperatures when I was sleeping. It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Six: The Bad Start

I began to envy Brandon. I thought it stupid that he brought a huge, fluffy sleeping bag and a blanket, but then I realized years of boy scout camp has served him well. I literally had every shirt I brought on, curled up in my sheets, and I still shivered. At least EJ was buried inside his sleeping bag. There was only one last thing to do. I began to tell myself that it was very hot, and that being cold was just my mind lying to me. And before I knew it, I was being awoken by EJ. “Wake up,” he whispered, shaking me awake. “Why are you wearing a bunch of shirts?” “It was cold,” I said embarrassingly. I began taking them all off. EJ had his clothes on, standing in the darkness at my bunk. I checked my watch; it was 6:40. “It’s not even seven yet!” I said. “Nobody else is awake. We’ll be first. And aren’t you curious what it looks like in the morning?” I sat up and took off my clothes, put on shorts and a gray shirt, and ran after EJ. The minute we stepped outside, I was greeted by pleasantly warm weather. The campground was dim and foggy. There was dew on the grass. It was actually a nice sight.

“We could have slept later,” I said. “It’s 6:30 in the morning.” “No, your clock is wrong,” he replied. “Your clock says it’s the year 2017.” I checked my watch again: it was Friday, the year was 2017. I assumed the time was wrong too. Luckily there was a handy button on the watch that reset to the default time and date or something. I pushed it, and the clock numbers went to “Tuesday, July 12th, 2015” and I discovered the time was actually 7:15

“See?” EJ said. “Breakfast starts at eight, and everybody wakes up twenty minutes or so before that. We’re early.” “Okay, what do we do, then?” EJ turned left off the path we were going on and sat down on the bench. “Let’s sit.” And so we waited. I guess EJ just wanted to spend time together instead of sleeping. We talked about different things between moments of silence. At one point we saw a group of teens walking from their cabins towards the area where the cafeteria was, so we got up and continued on our way. When we reached the door to the cafeteria, there were a good amount of people in there already. I guess we weren’t the only ones who had the bold idea of getting up early for food.

They were serving sausage, eggs and French toast. They had coffee and tea, and I had a cup of each for caffeine. When we sat down with our food I noticed Brandon leaving the building, apparently he had already eaten. “The guy probably had a spoonful of eggs,” EJ snickered. As I sat down, we went over what we wanted to do that day. We eventually decided that swimming would be best in the late afternoon, and the other things we could do whenever. The gift shop wouldn’t open until after lunch, so we’d check that out right afterwards. “I’m pretty sure they want to do a small-group thing today, too,” I explained. “I heard some other boys talking about it.”  EJ waited for me to finish my food and then we left. When we arrived outside, there were plenty of people awake now. I wasn’t sure what to do, but luckily I didn’t have to decide because we were approached by Cara.

“Hey guys,” she said. “Have you seen my brother? Has he eaten?” I opened my mouth to answer, but EJ beat me to it. “Yep,” he said. “Well, I saw him leave the cafeteria.” “That’s good enough for me,” she said. She started to walk away. “Hey, wait!” EJ called. She looked back at him. “What?” He paused. “Well, is my sister with you?” She nodded, and started to walk again. “Well, we’re coming then!” he said. “Let’s go, Jack,” and without a choice, I went with him.

She led us to a small wall they were sitting on. I had a funny feeling that since EJ didn’t really care about his sister that he just wanted to get to know Cara. In fact, I wanted to do the same, but I didn’t have an opportunity to speak up. When I did, they dismissed what I had to say and continued to talk. I was used to this sort of thing. What were they chatting about? Who knows, I zoned out. It was hot, and I was bored. Just then, a big horde of people walked by. They were a little bigger than us, mostly girls. A few them actually said “hi” to me, to which I was able to smile and reply. When they all passed, I noticed a boy falling behind the crowd. He had really long hair, and he was wearing all black. Eventually he stopped walking altogether down the path and turned to look around. It was really strange. Then he looked over to where we were sitting, and began to walk over.

When he reached us, he completely ignored me and went straight to Cara. “Hey,” he said. “I’m Ben.” We were all taken aback by this sudden introduction. She politely gave him her hand and they shook, and then he nodded at EJ and walked off. “Do you even know that guy?” he asked Cara. Before she replied, Ben was running back over. “Sorry, that was awkward,” he said sheepishly. “I came up to say hi because your shirt is great.” I looked down at her shirt; it was some sort of band logo, but that was all I knew. EJ stood up, “I’m EJ,” he said, shaking his hand. “And this is Cara. She never told you her name, isn’t that right?” She gasped. “You’re right. Yeah, that’s my name,” she said.

Ben began to sit down, rather too close to where I was sitting. I moved over just in time. I’m not sure what really happened after that. They were all talking and having a fantastic time, and then they got up together and left. EJ didn’t give me a second look. I was very surprised by all of this, and I began to wonder if I did something wrong. I watched them walk off into the wooded part of the camp until they got out of sight, and then I slowly got up and followed their footsteps.

While I was walking down the path, I saw Brandon sitting on the ground drawing something in the dirt. Happy, I went over to see what he was doing. “Hello,” he said. “I’m trying to sketch in the dirt. It’s not working.” I nodded understandingly. “Your sister wanted to know if you ate,” I said. “Did you?”

He shook his head. “I had a cup of soda only. I was wondering if they had Wi-Fi in that building, but then my phone died so I left.” He did a last stroke on the ground and then got up to leave. “I’m going to go take a nap. Bye!”

Chapter Seven: The Sport I'm Decent At

When Brandon got up and left, I was there alone. Again. I decided there was no other thing to do but go to the gaga ball pit. It was really hot, though, and I was thirsty. I had packed water and other things in my bag, so I decided to stop there first.

When I arrived at the cabin, most people were gone for breakfast and early activites. There were only four there: Brandon, on his bed, Pastor Craig, Joshua, and Davis. Pastor Craig said hi to me as I passed to my bag. I grabbed not one but two drinks, because I didn't plan to stop by the cabin again until evening. Two waters in hand, I turned around to see Davis hauling a bag with apparent difficulty. "Having trouble lifting that thing?" I asked. He noticed me. "Oh, hi," he said. "Yeah. Know whats in here?" he asked, grinning a bit. I shook my head. "Come on, dude!" he cried. "I have one of yours in here," he said. "AXE cans!" I exclaimed. "No," he whispered. "AXE bombs. But be quiet, Craig doesn't want to hear us." I blinked, "Us?" He grabbed my arm. "Yeah, dude! We're going to bomb people. You don't want miss out." I tried to tell him I was going somewhere, but he kept shaking his head and pulling me along. I figured it couldn't be too bad, in fact, probably fun.

We exited the cabin, walked for a bit through the trees, and arrived at a neighboring bunkhouse. There were three boys there: James, wearing a mask made out of a rag, and one short boy and a tall boy. They were wearing sunglasses and towels that covered their face, they looked threatening. They rushed up to me. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" the taller one demanded.

I was surprised and a little scared by this statement. Iraq terrorists were, at the time in the news, invading the places of the world and killing those who Believed. I got a sudden, foolish fear that these boys were connected to the terrorists and that I was going to die depending on my answer. "Uh...yeah. Yes, I mean, I guess," I stammered. Awaiting an attack, I got no such thing. Instead the boys patted me on back. "Good kid. Good answer," he said. He pulled back his sunglasses and I saw friendly blue eyes looking at me.

"Scary getup, huh? That's what I figured," he said. "You weren't the first to be taken aback by us. It's a good question to ask, though. You'd be terribly surprised by the amount of people that said no," he said grimly.

"We mean nothing but fun. Davis, did you bring the.. you know...ammo?" the shorter one said. Davis held up the plastic bag. "It's heavy," he said. Both towel-wrapped boys and James walked up to bag and pulled out the cans, each with red duct tape around the top. "Just press down on the button that sprays the body spray, put the hovering tap on it, and throw," James told me. I grabbed two cans from the bag, one for each can. "You're going to need a mask too, but you can just pull your shirt over your face once you throw the cans. That's what I'm doing," he explained. The shorter boy with the towel turned towards me, holding two cans in each hand. "This is very simple. On this strip, there are about six or seven cabins, each with around 15 or so campers. In each cabin there are two sections, you should know. I have four, so I throw two in one section and two in the other. You have only two, so throw them both in the bathroom, okay?" I nodded. "Awesome," I said. It was so diabolical, so prank-y. "James and Davis, guard the outside to make sure nobody interrupts us when we're doing our work inside. When we run out, you run ahead and go into the next cabin while this kid," he said touching me, "and I wait outside." Suddenly, in the middle of him explaining, a group of adult chaperones walked by the cabin. Almost instantly Davis and James pulled up their shirts and turned their backs, and I did the same in a rush. I heard a child yell. "That's them!"

"Damn you, Gary!" James screamed. "Run!" Before I knew it, we were all throwing the AXE cans back into the bag and running at top-speed away from the kid and the adults. I could hear the pounding of feet behind me, I could almost feel the hands reaching out for the back of my shirt. Luckily, we came to the hill leading down to the lake, and Davis said "Jump!" and plummeted down the hill. I followed, tossing myself through the air. I landed hard on my back in some leaves some way downwards, but it didn't hurt to much. The shorter towel boy and James landed right beside me. "Oof," they said, eating leaves. A second later Davis landed in front of us on his stomach, hitting a tree. "Ouch," he muttered. He stood up, brushing dirt of his sleeve. "I think my arm is cut," he said. "Not too bad though." He looked at us lying there. "Well? Did we lose them?"

"Yeah," I said. They turned to me as I staggered to my feet. "I heard their footsteps quiet as we got further to the hill." James got up too, followed by the two boys. "Mission failed, sons," the taller one said. "But we'll do it again some other time, hopefully when a brat of kid doesn't rat us out," he cried. The shorter boy turned on James. "Yeah, how did he know our plan? Did he overhear us talking about it?" James threw his hands up. "Don't blame me! It was your idea to hit all the cabins, we were going to do the one my brother is in!" Davis interjected; "Yeah, who are you two anyway? And where's the bag of spray?"

As they argued, I climbed up the hill, up and away. It was disaster.


By then it was close an hour before service started, but I was pretty sure EJ and his new friends were at the gaga ball pit still. So I walked for a distance before coming across the place it was located; right next the halfpipes, in a clearing. There was a crowd of people cheering on some people in the pit, going against each other. Sure enough, EJ was leaning on a tree next to the Ben kid and Cara. When I came up to them, they were talking about their siblings. "Speaking of my sister, where is she?" EJ said. He looked around for her before spotting me. "Jack!" he exclaimed. "Finally, I was beginning to think you abandoned us!" I gritted my teeth. "No, actually, but you would understand that sort of thing."It sounded very terse, but luckily he didn't notice my passive-agressiveness. "Well, since you're here, you might as well meet Be-"

"I know, I heard him introduce himself to you guys," I said. I noticed that Ben was quite taller than EJ and I, and wanting to start conversation, I asked him how old he was. "He's seventeen," Cara answered for him. "This is also his last year here. His church is really conservative, he's not supposed to talk to other churches." Ben looked down, nervously laughing. "Yeah," he muttered. "I'm happy this is my last year." EJ began to say something, but then interrupted himself and ran towards the gaga ball. "New game," he shouted. I had experience with this sport at kid's camp, and I was always average at it, but EJ was very good.I was wary to get in and play. "Hurry, Jack!" he said, beckoning me into the pit. I reluctantly climbed over the small fence to get into the pit, and it then it began:

Someone threw the ball into the air. It hit the ground once. "Ga," we all chanted. A second bounce: "Ga," we said again. On the third bounce, "Ball!" and then everybody moved. Some went straight for the ball, some did what I did and stayed close to fence. There was an immediate out; a short teen rushed forward and hit the ball with his hand and spiked the ball straight at an older looking girl. She screamed, and angrily climbed out. The same boy bounced it against the fence wall and it rebounded towards me. I quickly evaded it, but somebody right next to me hit the ball towards me and it went to my ankles. "Out," a few people said, and I climbed out. I knew the first time I wouldn't get close to winning. I patiently watched as the game unfolded. It was down to the last two: EJ, a look of determination on his face, and the same kid that got the first girl out. They were circling the ball like vultures, waiting for the other to run forward and hit the ball. It took entirely too long for EJ to go up and spike the ball at the other kid. He dodged it and instantly hit it back at EJ. He jumped in the air, the ball going right under his feet, and when he landed he used both his hands to hit at the kid again. The ball went extremely fast and hit the kid straight in the stomach. We all clapped, and I went over to help the kid up. "I suck," he muttered as I helped him up. "You're better than me," I said. He nodded, clutching his belly, and went out of the pit. EJ was the victor. "Good job, Jack, but try harder!" he called. As if I didn't know I needed to do better. At least he was encouraging me.

"Ball!" we shouted again, another match started. This time EJ confidently went and hit it to the left of the pen, nearly hitting two boys. One of them jumped away, the other spun around and saw it coming towards him; he hit it back toward EJ, who ran away to let somebody else get it. Unfortunately, when he got out of the way, a girl behind him was hit. She exited and then a girl next to me ran up to get the ball. She spiked towards one of her friends, but when she dodged it, it hit the fence and rebounded towards me. Filled with panic, I threw my fist to the side of the ball; it went flying towards EJ. He just barely moved himself out of the way. "Nice one!" he told me, but then he took the ball and hit it back at me. I hopped over it, hit the ball at him again, that time hitting him. He climbed out, cheering me on. It felt like I was the main target now, so I backed away a bit from the ball. It was left alone so somebody came up and spiked the ball in my direction. I decided not to hit it, and I was glad I didn't, because it hit two boys who were distracted. At that point, there were five of us left. One bumped me, "Truce?" he whispered. I nodded, and he went away. I inferred that meant we weren't going to hit each other until the end.

He spiked the ball towards the only girl left. She hit in while it was going towards her and it nearly hit me. The one I had a truce with jumped in and hit it towards her again, but she got out of the way once again. This time she hit it towards him, and I had time to get away from her line of sight. The kid hit it towards a boy this time and got him out. He cursed under his breath as he climbed out. With just a few of us left, I was feeling much more brave now, so I ran forward to hit the ball. However, when I swung my hand towards the ball, it went to low and my hand scrapped the concrete. I recoiled my hand in pain, the top layer of skin gone. I backed up and let somebody else get the ball, who somehow got two kids out. Finally, it was just me and the truce boy left. I was still nursing my hand when the ball came zooming at me. It went really high, though, and flew out of the pit. "Someone go get it," EJ said. When nobody did, he went after it himself and threw the ball back into the pit. "Wreck him," he whispered to me.

But with my right hand injured, my hitting power was decreased. I tried to spike it at him but it didn't go quick enough and he easily dodged it. It only took a few seconds for him to get me out after that. A few people clapped or snickered, and then they all began to climb back in. At that time, somebody yelled "Chapel time!" and everybody exited again and began to walk on the path towards church service. I followed the crowd, but EJ stayed behind. "Where did Cara and Ben go?" he said, looking around. I silently groaned. "They left ages ago," I half-lied. "Come on, let's go."

I suppose gaga ball is something I'm decent at. But it might have been a one-time thing.

Chapter Eight: The Fight

We sat down in the seats of the church building, waiting for service to start. Cara and Payton were now sitting next to us. I wanted to know what EJ talked about with those two and Ben. “What did you guys talk about?” I asked. “Well,” he said. “I can’t really tell you.” He leaned in closer. “I’m kind of helping Ben with something. I swore not to say.” I raised my eyebrows. “But your sister and Cara know, don’t they?” He shook his head. It made me a feel a bit better, but I still didn’t understand. “All of you guys were together. Did you whisper to Ben while they were there?” “We were talking, all of us, and then Payton had to go to the restroom and Cara followed her, and then Ben started telling me… stuff.” I sighed. I didn’t want to be nosy, so I dropped the discussion. I was sort of hurt that they left me, but that’s not all their fault. Half of it was that EJ was outgoing and liked to make friends, while I’m shy and I don’t speak up. In fact, it probably would have been better to just follow them without invitation. But, being me, I wouldn’t have done that. I decided I would do it anyway. Next time they went off, I would follow. I also figured I shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it.


By the time service ended, I was sitting in a bench not far from the cabins. After the sermon ended, we all got split into groups of five, mixed up with different churches. Everybody, in every group, went to different parts of the campground to talk. That meant I was separated from EJ and the others. But after the small group, everybody had split up. I didn’t know where to go to find EJ so I stayed at the spot where our small group was held. I was actually tanning. In the bench, there was an opening of sky where the sun was shining on me. It was relaxing and warm. I was beginning to fall asleep… “Hey,” a voice called. I snapped out of my relaxation and looked around. I saw three girls around my age or a little older hanging around a small playground. “What are you doing over there? Aren’t you lonely?” I was wondering why they were speaking to me. “Uh, yes, but not really,” I said. “I am alone, but I wouldn’t say lonely.” “Really? Okay. But do you want to come hang out with us?” I didn’t answer, because right then EJ came into sight. “Jack!” he called, and began to come over. “Oh, there’s your friend,” one of the girls said. “Okay, nice meeting you, person!”

After that, it was nearly time for lunch. We had an hour. So what did we do? It was me and EJ alone together, so we decided to do what we didn’t do before: check out the gift shop and the recreation center. We walked there, but when we arrived, it was discovered they didn’t open the doors until after lunch. That eliminated one thing to do. And so we walked a distance to the gaga ball, but nobody was there. “That’s good,” EJ said. “We can practice.” We took turns hitting the ball at each other. I dodge it most of the time, because it’s tricky to rebound the ball back at the one who hit it. If you don’t do it well enough you’ll either hurt your hand or wrist, or the ball won’t go far at all. “You’ve gotten better,” I said, noticing how good he was. “I mean, you’ve always been good, but somehow you got better.” He shrugged. “I’d like to think I’m decent. But that would make you bad. Which you aren’t!” he added quickly. “You just need to practice. The more you do it the more awesome you become. But I don’t need to tell you that.” “Yep,” I said as I spiked the ball at him. It hit him in the ankle rather hard, and he fell to the ground. “That’s the spirit!” he cried.

Tired, we were sitting on the ground until we regained our strength. “Well, since we’re here,” he began. “Do you want to hear about my first fight?” “Yeah!” I said. He gulped. “Okay, it’s not glorious.” “It was two years ago, at my old school. There was this guy named Hunter, about a year older and bigger than me, and he was targeting me in P.E. The whole time, no matter what he did, he picked on me. It wasn’t such a big deal until afterwards; I was standing in the locker room, wiping my forehead with a towel. Suddenly the guy comes behind me and hits my head against the back of the locker.” EJ grabbed my head and force it against the tree. “Like that. Sorry if that hurt. Anyway, I was pissed the whole class about this guy terrorizing me, and when he smashed my head into the locker, it was the last thing I was going to deal with. He didn’t expect me to fight back, but I did.  I tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned around, I threw my fist into his face. He was caught off guard and he fell down, so I pounced on him.” “I was on his chest, throwing hooks and jabs at his face. Left, right, left, right. I punched him over and over again. I got up to leave, he was lying there, but a crowd of boys were watching me. And I had a sudden fear that they would come after me next, so I had to prove my danger some more. I turned around, back at Hunter on the ground, and went down towards him again. I grabbed the back of his head, and you know what I did? I smashed it on the floor. Over and over again.” A cloud seemed to fall over the sun. I had an uneasy feeling talking to EJ. It seemed like he really enjoyed it. “I’ll stop there. I got suspended from that school. That guy Hunter had a concussion, a broken nose and jaw, and other head trauma. Ever since then, I’ve had this weird feeling.” He looked at me. “Jack, I have this obsession with fighting. I don’t mean to sound dangerous, but I can’t help it. I’m super aware now.”

“Hey Jack,” he said, changing the subject. “I’m getting sunburns. I need to get some sun-block.” “Okay, I need to get some too. See you at the cabin?” “No, I’m going to find my sister.” I sighed, “Okay. I’ll just see you at lunch where we sat last time.” He nodded and we went different ways.  As I walked through the trees, I admired by surroundings. It was very sunny, but it wasn’t as humid. There was a cool breeze in the air that made a satisfying sound when it flew through the tree leaves. I breathed in the summer air.

I walked into the cabin and was surprised to find everybody gone. But I thought too soon, because I heard a commotion by my bed. When I walked over there, I saw Brandon being harassed by Joshua. “Come on, go outside. Fresh air, c’mon!” Joshua was exclaiming. Brandon was hanging on to the bed, clearly resisting. “No!” “You can’t stay here forever!” Joshua yelled. “And it’s actually a good day. Get off your phone!” He grabbed Brandon’s phone and hung it above his head. It was actually kind of humorous. “Give it back!” Brandon said. He managed to grab the phone, and he hopped back on his bed. “No!” Joshua said, and he threw himself on top of Brandon. “Ohmygofh,” Brandon said in a muffled voice. “Gerofmeh!” I must have let out audible laughter, because Joshua turned around on top of Brandon and saw me. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “Are you going back out? Take this guy with you, he’s been here for a while.” “Sure,” I replied, smiling. “Come on, Brandon.”

I applied a decent amount of sun-block and took Brandon outside. “He was raping me,” he complained. “I was just trying to beat the fourth boss.” “He was trying to help, not rape you,” I said, forcing back a chuckle. He followed me for a good few minutes before turning right back around towards the bunkhouses. “I never slept last night,” he said. “I need a nap.”

It was meal time. I walked into the cafeteria, and it was very busy. After what took like an eternity to get my food, I sat down at the table where EJ and I sat that morning. And I waited. The food was chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. And in case you didn’t know, that is true excellence in summer camp dining. But looks were deceiving, so I took a bite. The chicken fried steak? Amazing. However, it reminded me of an unfortunate incident with chicken fried steak that happened a year ago, so I stayed clear of it. The potatoes and green beans were also good, but not great. I finished rather quickly. But EJ was nowhere. I figured he was sitting at the wrong table, so I left my seat and looked around the place.

Sure enough, I found him sitting with Cara, Payton and Ben. I got a salty feeling seeing it. I walked over to the table and sat down at an empty seat. “Hey Jack,” EJ said. He turned to the others. “Nice talking with you, Ben. See you later Cara,” and then he stood up and went over to me. “Ready to go?” I didn’t answer right away. I didn’t know how to respond to this. I supposed that EJ was there for a while prior to when I showed up, and he didn’t want to sit alone. “Yep, let’s go,” I said. We began to walk out the door when Ben called behind us. “EJ, remember not to think about it too much!” he said. “Of course,” EJ called back. I looked at him as we walked towards the recreation center. “Can I know about that?” I asked. “No, sorry,” he said. He put his hand on my shoulder. “I promised I wouldn’t tell.” “Sure, I get it,” I said truthfully. “But why didn’t you sit with me?” He didn’t answer for a while. He was staring out behind the trees. I followed his eyes and saw Cara and Payton walking towards the fields and pool area, wearing swimgear and carrying their other clothes on their back. I heard EJ reply, finally; “I was there for a while and you never came. But wasn’t the food good?”

“It was really busy by the time I got there,” I explained. “But you’re always early.” “So Jack,” EJ said. “Did you see Cara?” “Yeah, just then, right?” I said. He nodded. “She was wearing a swimsuit,” he said, raised eyebrows. “She looks good in it, doesn’t she?” “Yes,” I replied. She really did. But clearly he wanted to talk more about it. “She’s hot,” he whispered. ‘Like, really. Not just cute, she’s hot.

I didn’t think she was that hot, but for the sake of conversation, I exaggerated by feelings a bit. “Definitely,” I said. “I feel kind of awkward thinking that, though.”

“Why?” he asked. “Well, I used to have a crush on her,” I explained. His eyes widened. “And?” “She found out,” I said. “And she was really appalled. I learned later that she really liked me too, and-“ “Okay,” EJ said shortly. “I get it.” I blinked. “But… Well, okay. And you’re right, she’s very pretty. Anyway, I’ve-“ “Have you ever dated a girl?” he asked me, interrupting me again. I shook my head. “I have,” he said. “At least two. They like me a lot, you know? And I’m not that attractive, but I’m charismatic, and that’s why they like me.”

I was feeling uncomfortable. I felt like he was upset. “I’ve never dated,” I said. “But I have had some girls like me. And I’ve liked some back.” He stopped walking. We were on the path leading towards the cabins, and eventually towards the gift shop. “Look. How much do you like Cara? Right now?” Suddenly, it made sense. He was peeved about my history with. It was clear that he had a thing for her, and I had said my feelings, and he was afraid that I was going to take her. “A little bit, but not much,”  I assured him. “It’s barely anything. I mean, if we… I don’t know, kissed or some-“ “She doesn’t like you,” he interjected sharply. “I’m not sure if she has a thing for me, but I know that she-“ I had enough. If he was going to be passive-aggressive like this, then so was I.

“Look, are you feeling alright?” I said, irritated. “Why are you bugging me? If you like Cara so much, she’s all yours! I don’t care!” He took a step closer to me. “You do care! You just said so!” “I said she was pretty!” I yelled. “And you brought it all up in the first place!” “I didn’t bring anything up!” He yelled back, entirely too close to me now. “I was just-“

But we stared at each other, fists clenched, his eyes changed. He looked worried. “What?” I cried. Then I noticed he was looking over my shoulder. “Oh God,” he said. “God, please no.” He grabbed my shoulders. “Jack, I’m still angry at you, but we need to get out of here.” “No,” I snapped. “If you want to start something, let’s end it.” He shook me. “We’ll do it later!” he took another look behind me. “Hey, I’m not sure if Cara likes you or not, okay? Happy? Come on!” I spun out of his grip and looked around, and saw two boys walking towards us. “Who are they?” I asked. “Jack,” he whispered. “I’m leaving. You better come too.” The boys walking towards us stopped. I awkwardly waved at them. I had no idea what else to do. But EJ stepped beside me and hit my hand down. Suddenly the boys ran forward. I didn’t know what was going on, but it was going to bad, I was sure of it. I started to run, but EJ grabbed my arm. “No, sorry,” he said. “It’s Hunter. Remember? I told you about my first fight?” I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. “We’re talking it out?” I whispered back. “He’ll beat you!” He’ll beat us both!”

The boys stopped in front of us. One of them stepped forwards. “EJ,” he said, grinding his teeth. “EJ Fox. Fourth grade, Birch Elementary school.” EJ didn’t reply. The boy walked forward more. “Well, it’s me. Hunter.” The other boy came forward. “I’m his brother,” he said. “You owe some money for a hospital bill. Do you have a few thousand dollars?”

EJ said nothing still. Suddenly, Hunter rushed forward and threw his fist straight into EJ’s face. “No!” I cried, running forward. But then I felt something hit me from the side. It was his brother.

I stumbled back and almost fell, but I was on my feet. The boy had his fists raised. He screamed and threw a left punch. It hit me in the cheek, and pain erupted from my face. My vision went blurry, but I managed to focus on him. As he threw another punch, I blocked it and threw my own hook. When it hit him, he stumbled backwards. So I punched again, another hit. He went to the ground. I fought back watering eyes as I spun around at EJ, eager to help. But when I saw him, he was on top of Hunter throwing punches at him. “Run!” EJ yelled at me, bleeding at the mouth.  I turned around to the boy I punched to the ground, who was getting up. I kicked him in the face for good measure and ran off in the other direction. I was immediately stopped by two adults running forward. One of them grabbed me by the shoulder. “Break those two up!” they said.


“That was bad,” EJ told me, as we sat on a couch in the first aid building. “I’m not sure why they were there. I have no idea how they found me. But I hear they’re going back home.” He was holding a bag of ice to his mouth. I had ice to my jaw. “You’re lucky you’re not going home either,” the nurse said. “But since they started it, you get to stay at Lakeview.”

“Hurray,” he said smiling.

Chapter Nine: Having Fun

We weren’t there for long before Payton came rushing in, both worried and irritated. “EJ!” she cried. “What happened?” He sighed. “Remember Hunter? He came up to us and started throwing punches.” “Really?” I heard Cara say, coming up behind Payton. EJ nodded. “His brother was there too.” “I took care of him,” I said proudly, clutching my wound. She looked at me. “He hit you pretty hard, then,” she said. “Your face looks bad.” “It always does,” I chuckled.

We went on our way to the gift shop and recreation center. The whole way there they talked and I stayed silent. I was content with it, although Cara mentioned that it was kind of creepy how I didn’t speak very much. But that’s just the fun part of being introverted. When we got there, we noticed the snack bar. There were a good amount of patio tables with a roof overhead for shade. The bar had its iron windows closed, but that didn’t stop us from looking at the menu; it had wonderful things like chili-cheese fries, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, corn dogs, ice cream, candies, chips, sodas…it was all very mouth-watering. “Are you kidding me,” EJ scoffed. “Six dollars for a hamburger?” “I bet it sucks,” I muttered. “Or its tiny,” Cara said. “Guys,” Payton said. “The chili-cheese fries are seven dollars. Only five-fifty without the chili.” I was ready to turn and leave right there, I was so disgusted. I’ve come across many rip-offs in my life, but these were a little hard to believe.

“Well, let’s go inside,” EJ said. When we opened the door, we saw the inside portion of the snack bar, also with closed openings. “It’s nearly two o’clock,” I said “What’s a better time to sell food?” “At meal times,” I said. EJ laughed, and called me a smart-ass. Further down the hallway, we came to a room with vending machines and a ping pong table. The most interesting thing, however, was to the left wall: There were two doors, leading to expansive rooms with nets for tennis and volleyball. Of course, both were being used. Past the ping pong table was the gift shop, so we went inside. It was small. On the walls there were shirts with motivational messages, Lakeview logos, crosses, tons of patterns. There were racks with necklaces and bracelets and shelves with necessitates in case campers forgot them, including shampoo, suntan lotion, towels, tissues, you get the gist of it. And finally, at the cash register, there were bottles of water and soda, and a small rack of candies and mints. The woman standing there looked unacceptably bored and irritated. Payton leaned in and told us, “That lady probably gets paid one dollar a day.” There were some dogtag necklaces that looked nice, but I already had one on my neck from my last camp experience. I had no need for one. The girls ended up buying bracelets, and then they left our company. “Wanna keep looking around?” I said. EJ nodded, so we kept walking.

We went to the next room to find a customer service desk, a very large gym, and beyond that were some exercise machines and an indoor pool. They were barricaded so that campers couldn’t go in. The gym had a tall rock wall to the side, with basketball hoops to the rest of the walls. It looked an intense game going on. There was a sign on the door that shoes with black bottoms weren’t allowed to touch the gym floor, to avoid black scuff marks on the shiny ground. “My shoes are fine,” EJ said. He looked down at mine. “Yours aren’t.” He had grey tennis shoes, but I had black Converse on. “Yep,” I said. “You can go in, I’ll-“ “No way,” he said. “We’re sticking together. Let’s play ping pong.”

We picked up the paddles and began to play. “First to ten wins?” I said. “Yep,” EJ said.  “Just a heads up, I’m not very good at this,” I told him. “Neither am I,” he replied. But he spoke too soon, because he hit the ball zooming past me. “Lucky shot,” he said, smiling. The ball went back and forth forever until I missed the hit and it bounced against the wall behind me. “Two to zero,” he said.  Suddenly, God himself let me have victory by guiding my paddle against the oncoming ping pong ball. It went right past EJ. When he recovered it, it went back and forth once again, until he hit in into the net by accident. “No!” he cried. I chuckled. “You’re going down, and there’s nothing you can do.” It was nine to nine. The ball was going crazy fast between us. “Hey,” someone said, right next to me. I jumped, and the ball hit me in the chest. I turned around to see who it was; it was Davis. “Can I play? You or him?” I shrugged and handed him the paddle. “Sorry Jack,” EJ said. “You’ll be avenged.” “I play loser,” I said.

Nearly ten minutes later, James comes in to watch with me. “Hey,” he whispered. “You remember that kid that blew our operation?” “Yeah,” I said. “Why?” He grinned. “I found him. At the half-pipe, near the gaga ball pit. Did you know he’s only in fifth grade? Apparently, he’s the son of the owner of this place, or something. Anyway, I got him by the hands and dragged him to Reese, one of the guys we were with. He and his friends are doing something with him. Tying him to a tree or something, I’ll bet.” I laughed, but it seemed kind of strange. “You just handed that kid over to the other teens? He’s three grades below us. What if they do something-“ “Bad? Nah, this is Reese we’re talking about!” he said. “Remember? The tall kid with the towel covering his face? He’s in good hands.”

“Winner!” EJ shouted. “That’s ten to six.” “No,” Davis said. “Nine to six.” “Who cares?” James said. “Come on, let’s go to the lake,” and with that, he grabbed Davis and they left. I went over to EJ. “One more game?” “Sure,” he said. “Maybe this time you’ll win.”

Chapter Ten: Lakeview's Lake

With nothing else to do, we bought some sodas at the gift shop and started to walk towards the lake. “It’s so hot,” EJ said. He opened his bottle and drank half of it quickly. We walked for a while before I stopped walking. We didn’t have our swimsuits. I reminded EJ of this, and we laughed at how dumb we were. We walked past the parking lot and gaga ball pit, and a big game was going on. EJ started to walk towards it. “Hey,” I said. “Are we doing this now? I thought we were-“ “Yeah,” he said. “We can do that later. Come on.”

I didn’t move, because I was confused. “The pit is never this full,” EJ pleaded. “Let’s do this.” I half-reluctantly joined in the game. We waited until a new game started, and then we hopped in and started playing. At one point, I went to spike the ball at somebody, but my knuckles missed the ball entirely and they scrapped painfully against the concrete. And wow, that hurt a lot. I tried to finish up the game, and I was part of the final five, but my knuckles were bleeding. After EJ got out, he came over to see. “You need a bandage,” he said. “Does anybody here have one?” Nobody did. I just rubbed off the blood and started to get back in, until EJ stopped me. “These people are ruthless, let’s go to the lake.” While we crossed the path to our cabin, I saw him; the kid James was talking about. Right outside the cabin was the boy being duct taped to a plastic chair, clearly struggling. One of the older boys tying the kid up turned around as we passed and saw us. “You saw nothing,” he told us. “That was really weird,” EJ said.

We opened the door, went to our bunks, changed into swim trunks and left. When we exited the cabin, we were facing the hill that leads down to the lake, which we walked down. Eventually, we arrived at the lake. I mentioned before that it’s wonderfully large compared to lakes I’ve seen at other camps. When we reached the bottom of the hill, we could see a few things by the lake; a zipline over the water, a dock with paddle-boats, and a giant inflatable sitting on the water. It was called a blob, in which one person jumps from up high onto it, crawls to the end, and the second person jobs on the other end, sending him or her in the air and into the water. It was everyone’s favorite, except mine. I never thought it was very fun, to which other boys say I’m just afraid.

“Is it just me, or is the blob somehow smaller?” EJ told me. “We’re just bigger,” I said.

We walked over to a shaded area, where a bunch of towels and shoes laid. We took off our shirt and shoes and started to walk over to the activities. Half way over there, an older looking girl stopped us and said we need to have lifejackets before we do anything. “Right over there,” she said, pointing to a shack. I walked up to the shack and noticed a ton of lifejackets hanging on the wall. I grabbed one for me and EJ and left. Suddenly, I ran into Payton. “Oh, hi,” I said. “Looking for EJ?” She shook her head. “Nope, Cara and I need lifejackets.”

I got out of her way and started to go where EJ last was, but I wasn’t very surprised to find he was already talking to Cara. It sounded like he was explaining how the paddleboat works. “…and you have to keep using your feet too,” he explained. “Got it,” she said. I went up to them. “Hey guys,” I told them. “The line’s getting longer.” EJ turned around to see a crowd of teens going straight for the blob. “Uh oh, let’s go now!” he said. “Follow me.” He took off running, leaving the two of us behind. I turned to Cara, “I don’t really like the blob, like, at all.” She laughed. “Yeah, I hate it. But do you want to try it anyway?” I shrugged. “I guess so.”

We joined EJ in line, watching others get on and off. After one particularly hefty boy launched a scrawny girl nearly twenty feet up in the air, several teens left the line. Even I remembered why this wasn’t fun, and I started to leave, but EJ grabbed my arm. “No,” he said coldly. “We’re going to do this. We’re going to conqueror this.” I just had to stay put after that.

He went up to the end of the high dock we were jumping off of, hesitated for half a second, and jumped off. Seconds later I saw him at the end of the blob. “Your turn,” the worker there said. I shook off my worries and ran start up to the end. As I looked down, I began to actually be scared. So I stopped looking down, and turned to the worker. “This isn’t scary, is it?” “Nope!” I smiled. “Good,” and then I bravely threw myself off ten feet down on top of the blob. It was a rough landing, but I caught myself as I watched EJ fly into the air and hit the water with a splash.

“How’s the water?” I called. “Surprisingly cool,” he cried. I crawled to the end of the blob, sat at the end, and waiting in suspense. It took so long that I turned around to see if anybody was jumping, and that’s when I saw Cara hit the blob. Well, guess what? I flew about ten inches up the air and landed softly in the water below. Apparently she weighs fifty pounds or something. But EJ was right; normally lakes in summer are dark and hot, but this lake was cool. I swam to the shore and waited for Cara next to EJ. I watched her fly a decent distance upward. When she walked up, EJ laughed at her. “You launched Jack one centimeter up in the air!” “Well, I’m tiny!” she cried. “Did you see how far I went up? I won’t do that again.”

“Hey guys,” somebody said behind us. It was Brandon, awake and not wearing any swimming attire. “Cara, I want money.” She gave him an irritated look. “Mom gave you more cash than she gave to me,” she said. “You took half of it for lunch on the way here,” he groaned.

She blinked. “Oh.” EJ suddenly ran back to where he kept his shoes and brought back a few dollar bills. “Take it,” he told Brandon. “Remember this next time you decide to annoy us.”

Brandon looked both annoyed and grateful. He stood there stupidly before turning around and walking back towards the hill. Cara didn’t say anything, I suppose she didn’t know how to respond. “Jack, I’ve got a bad headache,” EJ muttered. “I’m going back to the cabin.” “Okay,” I responded. “I want to try the other things, and if it’s good, I’ll tell you later.” He was silent for a moment. “Well, I suppose I can do the other things first.” We went over to the zipline to be the first in line. EJ went first. He walked up to the worker and she took a stool so he could reach the zipline. “Ready?” she asked. “Yep,” he replied. He grabbed the handle bars and kicked the stool. She took him back a few feet, and ran forward to the end of the dock and let go. However, even though the line went all the way to the other side of the lake, there was a giant knot in the middle of it. EJ hit it and was hanging there loosely. EJ turned around at us. “What’s this?” “Drop,” the worker said. He did.

I walked up, took the zipline, and did the same as he did. I was going pretty fast, but I almost lost my grip when I hit the knot. I was ready to let go, but one look down spooked me. I was probably twenty feet in the air. “It’s fine, Jack!” EJ yelled. Eventually I fell.

When I hit the water, I didn’t go down very far, even though the drop was high, because of my life jacket. The water was refreshing, however. “That sucked,” EJ complained. “Okay, now what?” “The boats,” I said. “Hurry, there’s one available.” We ended up getting in the only available boat which was a kayak. We got in, took our paddles, and started rowing. We were both good at it and it didn’t take us long to get to the middle of the lake. “Let’s stop here,” I said. He nodded, and we rested our paddles to our stomachs. It was peaceful. A cold breeze hit my cheeks, but it felt so good in combination of the hot sun. I heard the gentle waves on the water. “It’s so peaceful,” EJ said. “You know, without the alligators.” I laughed. It was almost every boat ride at camp when we were bumped into by a gator. Either that or we spotted one. And although it was true it made memories, there was something relieving about a peaceful kayak activity.

The two of us sat there for a few more minutes before we decided to go back. When we reached the dock, there were a few strangers waiting to get on. They took our paddles with haste and zoomed out onto the water. “This day has been going well,” I said. “But I’m starving.” “Yeah, me too, that probably explains my headache,” he groaned. “Hey, I’ll meet you at the Smithsonian center after I rest, okay?” “While you’re there, you can reach into my bag and get a fig bar,” I told him. “If you want.” We went to the life jacket shack and took ours off, and then grabbed our things. As we walked back to the hill leading up to the cabins, Brandon was walking down. “Hi,” he said. “Is the water good?” EJ looked at him and then back to the lake. “Not anymore,” he said quietly. He looked at me and grinned.

“Oh, really?” He said. “I guess I should just head back to the cabi-“ “No,” EJ interrupted. “Really. We were joking. Go have fun.” -

Not long later, out of my swim trunks, I was walking into the shade of the Smithsonian’s overhang. There was a crowd of people playing nine-square in the middle, but a few people were sitting on the stage. Two of them, Cara and Payton of course, were talking to a tall man in jeans and a black T-shirt. It looked like he was drawing on their wrists. “What’s going on?” I asked them. “We’re getting marker tattoos,” Payton said. “Batman ones.” “Awesome,” I said. I liked Batman. “Yep,” she replied. “I got a little leaf to represent Poison Ivy, and Cara’s getting a card diamond for Harley Quinn.” The boy looked at me. “Want one? I can give you the logo.” I nodded, and sat down next to Cara. I watched her get the Sharpie tattoo, and it looked a lot better than I thought it would, coming from a teen with a permanent marker. When it was done, I scooted up and he pulled up his phone. “We’ve got lots of logos here,” he said. “The old fashioned one, the newest one from Batman versus Superman, the Christopher Nolan ones…” “The newest looks good,” I said. He smiled and took the cap off the marker.

However, right when it touched my wrist, no ink came out. He shook it over and over again, and even tried it on his own arm, but nothing would show. “Well,” he laughed. “Sorry, but this thing won’t write anymore.” The girls thought this was pretty funny, and I couldn’t help but think so too. It actually wasn’t long after before EJ came walking up. “So this is where you two went,” he stated to his sister and Cara. “Did you sneak off at the lake?” “We pretty much left right away because Payton needed to do…something,” Cara explained. He sat down next to us. “It’s almost time for dinner,” he told us. “But do you want to play what those people over there are playing?” Personally disliking nine square, I said no while he played with them. I was satisfied watching. One by one, people playing it stopped and went somewhere else. “Jack,” EJ called. “Time?” I looked at my watch. “About six. Should we go?” “Yep,” he said. He walked over with Cara and Payton. “After chapel, let’s meet at the half-pipe. It’s a good place to hang out. And Jack, can you bring your poker cards?” I nodded yes. “Awesome. Let’s head to the cafeteria.”

Chapter Eleven: Second Sunset

When I reached the outside of the chapel building, a large group of teens were sitting or standing around, waiting for the doors to open. I looked around for a few minutes when I saw EJ and the girls sitting in the grass. “Hey,” I said. “It turns out that I forgot my cards.” “Shoot,” he said. “Oh well.” I was about to sit down, but I heard a cheer from the group of kids behind me. When I turned around, everybody was rushing into the building. EJ grabbed my arm and started pulling me. We hopped down the steps of the path and went straight through the doors, bumping into lots of people. Eventually we made it through the crowd into the wonderful air conditioned auditorium and ran to find good seats. We did; I was in the middle, with Cara to my left and Payton to her left, and EJ on my right.

“Do you think we could trade seats?” EJ whispered. I smiled and stood up, and he took my position. I was facing the aisle now, with an empty seat to my right, which was later filled up by Brandon. And guess what? He was on his phone half the service, until his phone died. Anyway, the worship was pretty good. I’m not going to go into detail, but the praise team called “Illuminate” did pretty well. However, when they performed last night, they had an extra singer. Alexis, the girl singer, got some sort of sickness and had to drive home, so the band felt kind of empty.

When the music stopped, our preacher began talking about what was going to happen at camp. “As you walk out today, you’re going to receive bracelets. They look nice, and both sides have patterns. However, they’re going to have a number code on them. Every morning and evening, we’ll pick a random number. Those with the number we called will come up to the stage and receive treats and giveaways!” The crowd claps. “Now, we’re doing small groups as well…” The clapping stops almost instantly. “It’s going to be fun, and interesting! Every teen in every church will get a number, and each number from each church will meet up with a leader and will be your small group. For instance, if I went to this church and I got the number ‘5,’ I would meet up with all the other ‘5’s from different groups. You may not get to be in one with your friends, but you’ll meet new ones. And these small groups will only last about forty-five minutes in the morning.” “Also, after we finish up here, we’re meeting at the Rec Center again for late night activities…”

After that, the four of us left. It was dark outside, but we made it back to the half pipe where we planned to hang out. We ran up to it and sat down. “Hey Jack, guess what?” Cara said. “Huh?” I responded. “The guy tattooing us came back earlier. He gave EJ one really quick while you were at the cabin. We wanted him to stay but he left.” “What did you get, EJ?” I asked. He showed me his arm. It looked like a poker card. “It’s supposed to represent the Joker,” he said. “My favorite villain.” “Yep, he’s the best,” I said. And so we went on for a long time talking about Batman. It was something we all liked.

“What should we do tomorrow?” EJ asked. “We could go to the pool,” I suggested. “Sounds good to me,” Payton said. “As long as I get sun block.” “I want to do gaga ball, too,” EJ said. “It’s so good here.” I gestured towards Payton and Cara. “We could teach them how to play.” Cara nodded. “It looks fun, but I don’t know how to do it.” “I’ll show you tomorrow,” he said. I guess I didn’t need to help.

About twenty minutes passed until we were approached by a middle-aged man in a Lakeview shirt, clearly a staff member. He stopped at the half-pipe where we were sitting. “Uh, excuse me,” he said with a southern accent. “What are ya’ll doing?” Nobody answered. “Talking,” I finally answered. He looked back and forth at us. “Nope,” he said shortly, “Ya’ll need to head back to your cabins.” I checked my watch. It read 9:58, which by the way, wasn’t curfew. But this guy looked serious enough, so I slid down and started walking toward the cabin. Cara, EJ and his sister followed. As he saw us walking away, the man took one last glance and then departed. Once he was out of sight, we turned right back around and headed towards the gym. “Hell no, we’re not going to our cabins!” EJ exclaimed. “I bet he said that because of the fight, Jack.” “Oh,” I said. “Yeah.” “Are you guys going to tell us what that was about?” Payton asked. “Hey, look,” EJ said loudly, avoiding the question. “The snack place is open. Did ya’ll bring money?”

We waited a little too long for our 7-Ups and Cheetos, but everything was going well. We found a table and starting eating. I talked a little bit, but I was mostly listening. “I wonder where Ben is,” EJ said. “He normally tracks us down.” “Yeah, you’re right,” Cara said. “I want to see him.” This perturbed me. I felt left out whenever they got together. I tried pretty hard to feel fine, though. “We’ll see him tomorrow,” Payton said. “Well, maybe.” I decided I didn’t want to hold in my feelings any longer. “So, do you think I can hang out with you guys and Ben? He seems really cool.” Nor Cara or Payton answered, but EJ shrugged. “Probably. I mean, unless Ben wants to talk in secret.” “Yeah,” Cara said. I tried hard not to show my irritation. I capped my sprite, got up and threw my trash away, and told EJ I was going to use the bathroom. “We should go soon, though,” he said. “When you get back, we’ll leave.”

When I was done in the stall, I walked up to the sink and fixed my hair, which was looking untidy. But perhaps I took a little too long, because when I exited the restroom and came back to the patio table, there he was: Ben. Sitting in my seat, talking to them. I shook my head and walked over. They were whispering, of course, but stopped when I approached. “Well, c’ya tomorrow,” they told him. He said bye and brushed past me. EJ got up and stood next to me. “And we’ll see you two tomorrow as well,” he told Cara and Payton. “Goodnight. Don’t forget to brush your teeth, sis.” Payton groaned and walked away.

On the way back to our cabin, I asked EJ what happened. “It was kind of funny, actually,” he explained. “As soon as you got up, he showed up and sat down. He was talking about how his church is so conservative and oppressing and stuff, and that the other teens were being rude and making him do things, and that he finally made it out. He was happy to see us.” “Do you think he came because I left?” I suggested. “It doesn’t seem like he likes me.” “That’s what I thought,” EJ said. “But…I mean, I don’t know. Don’t worry, okay?”

When we got back, pretty much everybody was brushing their teeth, showering, or laying in bed. “Jack, you need to shower,” EJ said. “You smell like you ate twelve pounds of rancid garlic. In a dumpster. While-“ I laughed. “Hey, that’s not nice.” “Just kidding, it’s me who smells. But you should shower anyway, or you will be tomorrow,” he said. “Are you, though?” I asked. “Yep, I go first.” I walked over to my bunk and retrieved my sleeping clothes and body wash. I checked my phone; no new messages, except a message from my mom. I opened it and saw it was her checking to see if I was having fun. I responded “yes.” Just then, Davis came running in. He grabbed my phone and landed on the Brandon’s bed. “Got it!” he said. “Hey!” I yelped. I was going to get up and get it, but he threw it back. “Hey, can I hear about what happened with you and EJ?” he asked. I blinked, alarmed. “Uh, it’s kind of private,” I said. “But we got in a non-physical fight about something-“ “Yeah, okay,” he interrupted. “That explains the Europe-sized bruise on your face.” “Oh, yeah!” I said. “No, that was after EJ and I argued. Some kids tried to beat us up for no reason. Okay?” “Okay,” he said. He walked away.

After about three minutes, EJ returned. He threw his old clothes to the side and climbed up to the top bunk. “EJ?” I said. “You’re wearing clothes? We’re not going anywhere” “I sleep in the next day’s outfit,” he said. “Remember?” I went to go shower, but they were occupied. I waited until one of them left and then I went in. It smelled like years worth of different shampoos and body washes. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I’ve smelled better. I turned the water on and it blasted me with freezing cold water. It’s a good thing I was hot, or I would have been very much not okay with that. I began to cleanse myself like normal until two campers in the other showers started talking. I actually stayed in the shower longer than normal to listen to it all. It all started when somebody yelled. “Ow,” somebody said. “Hey, is that Brian?” Another voice said. “Uh, yeah,” the first voice replied. “Wait, are you Dustin?” “Yeah, man, it’s me!” “Hey bro, what’s up?” “Nothin’,” Brian said. “Hey, want to finish that rap?” “Not really feeling it, though,” Dustin said. “Just do it,” Brain said. “Make your dreams come true!” “Okay, okay…”

I would transcript the whole rap, but that would take up too much space and time. From what I gathered, they took turns beat-boxing and “roasting the nuts” out of some person they met prior to the showering. They used minimal proper English and lots of colorful swear words to illustrate their point. It was pretty funny. After they were done, I heard them exit, and I felt safe to leave the shower and my clothes on. When I got back to my bed, EJ and Brandon both greeted me as I climbed into my bunk. I managed to change the air conditioner, too, so it wouldn’t feel like Greenland.

“Lights out,” Pastor Craig said, and then he shut the lights off. A few teens mock-screamed. And no, we didn’t go right to bed. We stayed up for quite a while talking in the darkness.

Chapter Twelve: Tag

I woke up. I had no idea what time it was, though. I pressed the light-up button on my watch but it wasn’t turning out. So I had to get out of bed to see if anybody was showering, because people start doing that at about six-ish. There was one person in the shower when I walked over. I could feel the warmth of the hot water hit me when I entered the bathroom. When I walked over to a stall, I heard whoever it was cough. It sounded like an adult. That mean all the other teens were sleeping, and that means I could too. When I finished on the toilet, I washed my hands and left the bathroom. When I was getting into my bed, I heard the rustle of a sleeping bag from behind me. I turned around to see EJ getting up. He rubbed his eyes and then saw me. “You’re already awake?” I sat down on my bed. “Yeah. I, like, just woke up.” He nodded. “What time is it?” “I don’t know, let me go into the light. I can’t see my watch here.” “That thing lights up,” he said. “Right?” I shook my head and walked into the light of the bathroom. It said ‘6:43.’

I came back to tell EJ what time it was when I saw Brandon peeking above his sheets. “I was still sleeping,” he said. “You talk too loud.” “Be quiet,” EJ groaned. “You’ll wake everyone up.” “It’s twenty ‘till seven,” I said. “I think we can go if we want.” “Let’s go brush our teeth first,” he mentioned. -

EJ and I waited in line for our food. They were serving tiny pancakes this time, and EJ didn’t know what they were at first. They were apparently blueberry, but the berries themselves had morphed into the cake and turned them a dull grey. “I’m not eating that,” EJ said, peering down at my plate. He walked over to where the salad bar normally is and grabbed a container of yogurt. I took a cup of Dr. Pepper and sat down with him in our usual spot. Not one minute passed before Brandon came in with a bowl of granola and sat across from us. “So,” EJ said, “what are we going to do after this?” “I don’t know. We could go do the archery tag event they’re doing in a few hours,” I replied. EJ tilted his head in thought. “Jack,” Brandon said. “Do you know who Master Soulishi is in Paper Mario? I’m about to fight him…” “Uh, no,” I said.

“I’m done. Ready?” EJ asked. I nodded. We got up, got a refill on our drinks, and began to exit. On the way out, EJ saw Ben, Cara and Payton sitting at a table, talking. I would of liked to keep walking, but of course, we walked over there. There was one seat available, which he took, and I stood at the wall beside them. “Hey Cara,” EJ said. “Were you going to go to the archery tag thing later today?” “The what?” she asked. “I had no idea there was archery.” “Jack says there is,” he said. “What time is it, Jack?” I shrugged. “I’ll have to check.” “Eh,” Payton said. “I don’t want to.” “We probably won’t,” Cara said. EJ took a sip of his drink and leaned in towards his sister. “Hey,” he said. “You aren’t going to sit around and do nothing. Mom said you need to do stuff this yea-“ “Shut up,” Payton said. “I can do what I want. Leave me alone.” Cara forced back a laugh. It was completely obvious. EJ smiled. “I’m serious!” he exclaimed. “Last year she stayed in bed. I mean, that’s-“ “That’s not even true, Ethan!” “HEY!” EJ yelled. A bunch of heads from different tables turned to look. I jumped. “Why can’t you respect my name?” EJ moaned. Payton yelped in laughter. “Respect your name? What? You just like to go by EJ!” “And you like to go by Payton!” he said. “Should I remind everybody what your real name is?” “No!” she squealed, slamming her fist on the table. “Alright-y, then,” EJ said. He laughed and got up from the table. “Let’s go Jack.”

We were walking out, finally, when Ben came up to us. “EJ, let’s talk,” he said. “Sure,” he said. We started to walk with him away from the building when EJ noticed I was coming too. “Oh, uh Jack…” he began. I realized I wasn’t invited. I can be really ignorant. “Uh, yeah,” I said. “Sorry. I’ll wait over here.” I walked over to a tree and leaned on it, watching Ben and EJ talk. For aging out of a youth group, Ben was only a few inches taller than EJ. Ben also hunched a bit, so it made them seem the same height. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they were only a few grades apart. The longer I waited, the more upset I became. I wondered what special thing EJ, Cara and Payton had with that guy that made them able to whisper and talk about stuff without me. Whatever Jack, I thought. Don’t get mad. When they were done, EJ came over and we walked on. “Can I at least get a decent idea of what he’s after?” I asked. “I can’t tell you,” EJ said. “I know you want to know, though. So I’ll tell you this much; it’s about another person.” “I don’t know him or her, I’m sure of it,” I proposed. “Maybe so, maybe not,” he said. “Anyway, what time is it?” I checked my watch. “It’s almost ten. Where should we go?” “Well, what time is the archery tag? Text Craig and ask.” I took out my phone and texted Pastor Craig and asked. Within a minute he responded. “It’s already started!” “Crap,” I whispered. “EJ, it’s going on right now.” “So we’re too late?” he said. “We could watch, I guess.”

We walked over to the soccer field where it was taking place. It was a long walk, and we could see it minutes before we arrived. It looked quite fun; big inflatable barriers, kids with bows shooting foam-tipped arrows, people screaming and running… but I thought it was entertaining enough to spectate. I saw a few people from our group playing; two of them I didn’t know the names of, but I also saw Joshua, James and Davis all on the same team. They were doing great, or as far as I could tell they were. EJ and I sat down on the grass next to some other people we didn’t know. There were two girls next to lying down on the grass. I tapped one of them on the shoulder. “Do you know when they started this?” “Uh, what time is it?” she asked. I looked down at my watch again. “Ten eleven.” “I think it started at nine forty-five,” she said. “Okay, thanks,” I said. She smiled and lay back down. I looked back at the game to see a horde of kids running from the left side of the field to the right towards one guy. The big group was on the red team and the singular guy was the last remaining person on blue. “Are you seeing this?” EJ said. “That guy is getting destroyed.” I heard the kid scream as multiple arrows from the opposing team hit him. He flew back and hit the ground. “Oh damn!” EJ yelled. “He’s dead!” I looked back to the field. The poor kid in blue was literally crawling away from the game. James was doing some sort of victory dance, Davis behind him taking a video. The rest of the team was fist pumping. Once an adult said it was over, the other teams went back and began to play again. But I had seen enough. “Honestly, this is kind of boring,” I said, looking at EJ. He watched the game for a few more seconds and then he stood up. “Let’s go,” he said. “The game’s over.”

We walked down the field again towards the parking lot area near the recreation building. EJ wanted to play nine square again. “You really should try it,” he said. “I’m not in the mood,” I responded. When we reached the shade of the Smithsonian center, there was nobody around but this one guy at the nine square. Nobody on the little stage, nobody at a vending machine. I sat down and watched EJ walk up to the guy. “Where is everybody?” he asked. The boy kind of looked around and shrugged. “Probably getting ready for lunch,” he guessed. “But it’s not for an hour.” He walked around the square, tossing the ball up and down in his hands. “I don’t understand,” he said. “The food here sucks.” “Really?” I said. He looked over at me. “Yes, really,” he said, eyes widened. “Their meat is vegetarian. They don’t tell you that, but it’s true.” “I call bull,” EJ said. “Where’s your proof.” “Hey man, I know as much as you do,” he replied. “I’m just trusting my taste buds, dude. Today they have hot dogs, and you tell me if it tastes a little funny.” I stood up and walked over to them. “You aren’t going to eat, are you?” “No way,” he said. “All I eat is salad, and any carbs if they have ‘em out; bread and other things, y’know?” EJ snorted. “Don’t you need protein?” He stopped throwing the ball. He squatted down on the ground and sat on it. “What’s your name, kid?” “Uh,” he began. “EJ.” He nodded his head slowly. “Does that stand for Eric Johnson? Or Eric Jones?” “’Doesn’t matter,” he said. “But… yeah, actually, it stands for Ethan Jackie.” I laughed really hard. EJ turned around and glared at me. “Yeah, ‘cause it’s a girl’s name, right?” I stopped laughing. “I’m sorry, it’s just…” “Funny?” he said. He smiled. “Yeah, it’s funny.” He turned back to the teen. “What’s your name?” “Stan,” he said. He stuck out his hand and they shook. “That’s Jack,” EJ said, gesturing at me.” I reached forward and shook his hand.

“Anyway,” Stan said. “I get my protein from that little place over there.” He pointed behind him towards the snack area at the recreation center. “The snack bar?” EJ questioned. “When does that place open?” “During church service, around seven,” he said. “I know a guy who works over there. He says not only is the food quality of the hot dogs and hamburgers slightly better, but it’s about seventy-five percent real beef. He doesn’t know what the other percent is.” “That sounds like most fast food places,” I mentioned. “The only downside to the snack bar is the prices,” Stan said. “But if you’re careful about your cash, you can afford a burger. And it’s not great, but better than any meat product at the cafeteria.” “Thanks bro,” EJ said. “We’ll try the food first at the café. In fact, I think it’s time, isn’t it?” “Yes, it is,” I answered. - I felt a drop of sweat fall from my head as we climbed up the small hill towards the cafeteria. The only downside, which really isn’t that bad, is the shortage of trees at Lakeview. Don’t misunderstand me, there are plenty, but compared to other ‘camps’ there is a lack of rustic feel. Like I said before, it seems a lot more taken care of and new. Part of the reason there’s less trees is because we’re in the complete other end of the state, which is more desert than forest. Anyway, there’s less shade. There’s less bugs, too, and less humidity. Walking into the hallway of air conditioning in the café was refreshing. I could instantly smell hot dogs coming from ahead. It cleansed my senses. When we got to the front of the line for food, we had a plate of curly fries, a hot dog and a cookie. It all looked great. We found a seat at our normal spot and sat our plates down. When we walked over to the fountain drinks, there was literally only one available; “King Cola?” EJ said, disgusted. “This is a disgrace to Coke.” “I think it’s different,” I said. “Like, not even similar. Just try it.” I wasn’t afraid of any soda. I got a full cup full of it and sat down. I enjoyed my food up until when I got an aftertaste of something strange when I swallowed my last bite of hot dog. “It’s different,” EJ said. “Very different.” “Yeah, it has a weird aftertaste,” I said. “Like it’s not real beef.” EJ was quiet for a moment. “Jack, I’m talking about the soda. What’s wrong with the hot dog?” I looked up to see that he hadn’t even touched it yet. “It’s fine,” I assured him. “But it tastes like some sort of green vegetable at the end.” “Well, okay,” he said. He took a large bite and swallowed it quickly. “So, have you had a girlfriend yet?” I didn’t answer at first. We both knew what my answer was. “Uh, no,” I said. “That’s sad,” he said. “Oh well. Dating isn’t everything.” And he continued eating. “In fact,” he said, after only a second of silence. “Are you done? Let’s talk outside.”

Chapter Thirteen: EJ's Goal

I took the cookie off my plate and carried the dish to washing area. When I turned around to go to the exit I saw Cara, Ben and Payton sitting at a table. They waved as EJ and I left. When we were outside, we walked into the wooded area near a firepit and sat down. “I’m friendzoned,” EJ said. “I need to get out.” “I assume you’re talking about Cara,” I said. “Who else?” he said. “Her brother?” “I know, stupid question,” I said. “So… what’s going to happen?” He took a stick and started messing around with the ashes in the pit. “I don’t know, there’s a conflict. Ben’s getting in the way.” “I agree,” I said scornfully. EJ lifted his head. He looked at me for a few seconds and then started moving the ashes again. “I bet if you talked to him, you guys would be cool,” he said. “If you don’t want to, that’s different.” “I don’t not want to,” I said. “I don’t want to get to know him either. I just want to be closer to that group.” EJ threw the stick into the forest. “You are part of the group,” he said. “Whether you feel like it or not. Does that make you feel better?” I thought about that for a moment and didn’t answer.

He cleared his throat. “So, I haven’t been around that much. What does she like?” “Anime,” I said. “That’s about it. I’m not sure which bands she likes.” “Ah,” he muttered. “Well, I’m getting closer to her. I think she likes you more than me.” “What?” I said. “No. She dislikes me to some degree. I get the feeling.” “I don’t think so,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me, though, because you’re not going to make a move. Are you?” “No,” I said. “I don’t like her enough. If at all.” I felt like he was going to continue, but Brandon came and sat down next to us. I don’t know why, but everything feels kind of awkward when he arrives. I guess it’s not his fault. “Anyway,” EJ finished. “I’m supposed to see Cara and Ben about something.” “Do you have any idea what?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. And then he walked off. “I’ll see you later at service. Meet me at the entrance.”

So I waited at the doors on the building, watching people go by. Not a single one was EJ, or anybody I recognized. I would normally listen in to what people were talking about, but so many people were speaking at once and I couldn’t make out anything. So I simply sat down against the wall. I was hungry again. It wasn’t even twelve yet. About ten minutes passed. There was no sign of him. I couldn’t even see anybody from our church. Ten more minutes went by. It felt like they were intentionally not letting us into service. I wondered if they were waiting for something. I ended up messing around with an empty Dr. Pepper bottle out of boredom. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait any longer than that; EJ finally came into square looking around for me. I waved him over. “Sorry I took so long,” he said. “They wanted me to stay.” “Ah,” I said. “Was it… fun?” “No way,” he answered. “He kept going on about how bad his life is. All I could say was ‘sorry.’” “That wasn’t all of it,” I pried. He sighed. “No, not of all it. I’ll let you know, just not right now.” It made me feel a little bit better than he was planning to explain, but I felt like he wasn’t going to at all. “Why not now?” I said. “I don’t mean right at this moment, I mean today or in the next few hours.” “Honestly, I’m still confused about it,” he said. “I think he wants this thing, but then he goes on and on about this thing, and then he starts whining and then starts going on about the thing again. If I told you everything he told me, you wouldn’t be able to trust anything I said” “I don’t get it,” I said.

“See?” he said. “But I’ll tell you this much; he likes somebody. A girl.” I smiled. “It’s your sister.” “No,” he said, shaking his head. He laughed. “Thank God it’s not.” “So it’s Cara,” I said. “He’s seventeen, though.” “Exactly,” he said. He was quiet for a moment. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he does.” “Wait,” I questioned. “You don’t even know? Was that not the secret?” “Like I told you, he didn’t give me any truth,” EJ explained. “Just a bunch of different things.” “So he likes her, then,” I said. “That’s his secret. Why’d you tell me?” “If he’s going to load all this stuff on to me, he needs to explain it all better,” he said. “Besides, screw that, I like Cara. And we’re the same age.” “Do you think he’ll ask her out? Giving he’s way too old?” “He won’t,” he said defiantly.

We went on a different subject about various, unimportant things. You know, friend talk. Then, finally, they let us into the building. I grabbed EJ’s forearm and guided him through everybody towards our seats. The mid-morning services are always shorter than the evening ones because otherwise it will run into the timeslot for lunch. That time they only worshipped a bit and talked about forgiveness, which was the subject for small groups. “So, the group leader will hold up a sign with a number on it. You know what to do. Go,” said the preacher. “See you later,” EJ said. Since the number on my band was four, I went over to the man holding the four sign. He waited for all the other kids with four to get there and then we set off. The group leader was planning to go to a large picnic table outside, but it was taken by a group. So we went down to the firepit but that was taken too. So where did we end up? In the grass, near the half pipe. There were ants everywhere. I had to squat so that the bugs didn’t get in my shorts. And while we were there, I got the chance to look at the other boys; There was a red-headed boy who couldn’t be older than twelve, a dark skinned kid who was very tall, a muscular blonde guy that looked the oldest out of all of us, and finally, a nerdy looking kid with brown hair. “So,” the group leader began. “We have some questions for you guys. Please answer them adequately.” The blonde kid raised his hand. “What does adequately mean?” he said. “Just answer them well,” the man said. “The first one is; have you ever held a grudge?” Everybody in the circle nodded. “Does anybody want to give an answer?” “There are bugs in my butt,” one of the boys said. Everybody laughed except the kid who said it. “It hurts,” he said. “Can I go get some water?” “Hey,” the group leader said. “How about we just get on with the questions?” They all settled down. “Now,” he began. “God wants us to forgive everybody…” “Oh!” a kid yelled. “There’s a vending machine over there!” “Please stop,” the man said. “Anyway…” But the kid got up and ran towards the machine.

I’ll stop there. You get the idea; pretty terrible. I felt kind of bad that everybody was acting like idiots, but it happens. Luckily it ended pretty quickly and I was able to go straight to the cafeteria for lunch. Of course, I had to wait for that too. They were still preparing the food. Hurray. I wondered where EJ was and whether I should go look for him or just wait at the door of the lunchroom. If I went looking, I probably wouldn’t find him or he would arrive at the building once I left. I got impatient. I started to walk away from the building when EJ came up behind me. The two of us only had to wait a minute or two before we could enter. Shuffling through the crowd, we got to the front of the line. They were serving chicken tenders and French fries. They were decent. I got a cup and got more soda. I needed the caffeine, I was already getting tired. When we got to our table, Payton and Cara were both there. “Oh, hi,” EJ said. “S’up,” Cara said. “Why are you sitting over here?” I asked. I tried really hard to make it sound curious and not irritated. “Why not?” she replied. “Payton has something for you, EJ.” Payton reached into her purse and took out four dollars. “What’s this for?” he asked. “Mom gave us each twenty dollars but I had some extra.” “She gave me sixteen,” he said, eyes squinting. “Why’d she give you twenty?” “You idiot,” she said. “I took your extra. I literally just said that.” “So,” I said, changing the subject. “Do you want to play gaga ball after this?” “Sure,” EJ said. “I’ll try,” said Cara.

I ate my food extraordinarily fast due to my hunger, and gulped down my drink pretty fast too. I probably looked like a pig, but it was fine. I took out a little paper I had in my pocket that displayed the camp schedule to see what was next when I was reminded of something; tomorrow was trash day. We had to drive to the highway and pick up trash for two hours. I told the others about this and they weren’t enthusiastic about it either.

When we got to the gaga ball pit, it was packed. There must have been ten people in the ring and ten or more people waiting to get in. “So much for having extra time for practice,” EJ said. “We’ll be lucky to have space to move two inches,” I said.

“It’ll be a little bit hectic,” EJ said. “It’s still fun.” We waited for the round to end, and then everybody climbed in. There were way too many people in at once; normally there’s room for every person to have enough space to lean against the little wall before the game starts, but that wasn’t the case this time. When it started two people bumped into my shoulders and ran towards the  ball. I didn’t even have a chance. I went ahead and finished the game with EJ I was in the final five, but I tripped and lost. EJ was in second but he couldn’t hop out of the way in time.

I sat out and drank from my water bottle while the others played. It was a hot day, probably the hottest yet. While I was baking in the sun, I decided to go and but sunscreen on so that I didn’t get burned. I got up and walked to the cabin. Did I mention that our cabins aren’t that far from the area with the gaga ball, Smithsonian center and halfpipe? It’s pretty neat. It reminded me of an old cabin I had that was right about the cafeteria and across from the pool. I wasn’t surprised to see Brandon in the cabin. A few other boys were there, one of them was Jordan, an older boy. I knew him sort of well. We’re not friends, of course, but he’s like a brother. I guess. “Hey Jack,” he said. He was sitting on the end of his bunk sipping iced tea. “It’s hot, isn’t it?” “It’s a scorcher,” I said. “I need sunscreen. “Yeah, I think it’s gonna be even hotter tomorrow,” said he. “Hurray,” I said sarcastically.

I also went to the sink and fixed my hair. It was sitting in a dorky manner. “Looking good so far, Jack,” I said to myself. “Let’s keep it that way.”     

Chapter Fourteen: Straight Ballin'

So when I came back to the gaga ball ring, half the people were gone. Cara and EJ were both out already, standing by the tree. And guess who was there? Ben. It was him, EJ, Payton and Cara all having a chat. I came up to see what they were talking about and I had no idea. I figured it was an anime show I didn’t know about. Instantly I became upset, but I shrugged it off and stood there with them. Multiple games came and went, but they never went back in to play. “Yeah, I like that show too,” said EJ. “I’ve watched at least two seasons.” “Uh, what’s up?” I said. “We’re talking about Heart Forcer,” Cara said. “Hey Ben, do you have Netflix?” “Yeah,” he replied, smiling awkwardly. “It’s all I do.” “Same,” I said. See? I was trying. But it wasn’t really working, connecting with them. It seemed like they had formed clique I wasn’t invested nor invited too. “Hey EJ,” I said. “Let’s play already.” He turned around at me. “Um, okay,” he said. “Come on guys, let’s play.” - “Ga,” EJ said. “Ga… ball.” I took a quick step forward to look like I was going straight for the ball. I fooled a boy next to me into retreating his movement towards it. I suppose he was intimidated. But a girl across from me ran straight forward and slammed the ball towards my legs. I avoided it by jumped up in the air. The ball ricocheted from the wall behind me right back towards the girl who hit it.

She side-stepped out of the way before it got her out.  EJ bravely went ahead and hit the ball against the fence. He kept on doing it, which is called getting possession of the ball, until the ball earned enough force. Once the same girl came forward to take it, EJ spiked it and hit her in the kneecap. “Ooooh,” said a bunch of players. A tall boy with dark, long hair hit me on the shoulder. I turned around. “Truce?” he said. I nodded. I wasn’t going get him out, and he wasn’t going to get me out. EJ saw us and ran over. “I’m with you two,” he said. “And Cara too.” He beckoned her over. Then it was the four of us, moving together around the ring, seemingly strangers to each other. We were like a pack of wolves. I searched for the person who had the ball; it was a young looking boy, and he had just hit it towards the tall guy we were truced with. He swept the ball into his possession and rebound it to the left, hitting an unsuspecting girl. I had to say, I was lucky to be friendly with one of the best players. “What do I do?” Cara squealed “Go get the ball,” EJ said. I saw her frantically look around for it seconds before it flew right by her head and over the fence, rolling away into the grass. “Somebody go get it,” I said. EJ hopped over and ran to get the ball. While he was doing it, I gave a thumbs up to the boy in our truce. The ball came bouncing back into the arena. Someone hurriedly said “Gaga ball,” and hit the ball at me. Panicked, I threw my fist into the ball as it was coming in, full momentum. It hurt my hand slightly, but the ball went half speed in the opposite direction.

It didn’t hit him. But I hit two other people. Not one, two. When it hit the first person, he swung himself over the fence, but his foot nailed the ball and sent it towards another. Sure, it was an accidental double out-age, but who cares? The original person who hit the ball at me discovered that the four of us were the only people left. Still, he hit the ball at Cara, but she stepped out of the way and hit it towards EJ. I guess it was a pass. EJ took the newfound ball and spiked it at the boy. Spoiler alert; he didn’t make it. So it was the four of us left, our truce was now over. I bravely ran in took the ball for myself. I saw the tall teen advance forward but I hit it at him. It missed and hit the wall behind him. EJ ran over and hit it really hard towards the same boy. He jumped in the air, evading it, and then turned around and hit it back at EJ. That time, however, he couldn’t avoid it. “Ah, man,” he mumbled. “Ya’ll can do it!” “I’ll try,” I heard Cara whisper. I patted her on the back. “Act like you’re going for the ball,” I whispered back. “I’ll come in from behind.” Miraculously, she did what I asked. She went towards the unaccompanied ball, catching the boy off guard. When he turned towards her, I ran to the right behind him. I motioned for her to hit the ball to me, which she did. It went right under his legs, and when it got to me, I got the guy out. “Whoo hoo!” EJ yelled. “Nice!” A few other teens cheered too, while the boy angrily exited the arena. Then it was just me and Cara.

“I’m gonna lose,” she said, worried. “I’m bad,” I said. “Come on, hit me!” “Hit ‘em!” said EJ.  And she almost did. It went past ankle and bounced back into the middle of the ring. We both went forward towards it, and we both swung. But the ball rolled slightly to the left and our fists hit each other. “Ow,” Cara said. She shook her hand and hit the ball with her left. I let the pain of my hand fuel the power, and hit it right back. She dodged it. “Are you okay?” EJ said. She looked at her hand. “It hurts.” “I’m so sorry,” I said. As I said it, the ball came out of nowhere and hit my foot. I lost! A bunch of people came in, but I got out to be with the others.

It turned out I hit her hand pretty hard. She was bleeding. EJ, Ben, Payton and Cara were sitting on the ground near the tree, and I was standing up a little farther away. “I’m really bad, aren’t I?” Cara said. “No,” EJ said. “You’re great.” She smiled and looked down. “Hey Jack, quick, get a bandage?” he said. I nodded. I turned around and ran towards the cabin. I was happy that I would be able to help her rather than him. When I reached the building, I went to my bed and looked around in my bag for a Band-aid. I found one near my body wash, and went out the emergency exit right by the bunk. When I arrived at the gaga ball, out of breath. EJ was sitting close to her. He saw me and stood up and walked over. “It turns out she had one in her purse,” he said. “But she only had one.” Great. “Okay, well, take it anyway,” I said. I gave it him and he gave it to Cara. It seemed like when I came back, the circle had gotten more compact. I didn’t even have room to sit down with them. “I’m clumsy,” I said. “Sorry, Cara.” She didn’t answer. None of them did. They didn’t even look up. And it wasn’t like they were talking; they were just sort of sitting there. That was my cue to find something else to do. I got up and left.

Of course, I got less upset the further away I got from the gaga ball pit. Like EJ informed before, I was apart of that little group. But it didn’t feel like it. I stopped by an outdoor bathroom area near the path and refilled my bottle with water. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was; I drank all of it and then refilled it again. I kept forgetting that it was so hot outside in the midst of the stuff I was doing it. I wondered where Brandon was. I remember him not being in his bed or in the cabin at all.  But maybe he was in the bathroom or something. -

It was ten minutes before I decided to go back to EJ and the others. I had looked around the campsite, but I was bored. So I went down the path I set off on to return. When I arrived, they were still there. Except there was one more person. Since I couldn’t sit in their circle, I seat behind them and listened in. “So yeah, Tiffany is the only real friend I have in my group,” Ben was saying. “It sucks we can’t be in a cabin together. We’re best friends.” Tiffany, the new girl, looked Hispanic and sort of short, but I couldn’t tell sitting down. She was smiling constantly. “Yeah,  Ben is ignored,” she said sorrowfully. “I’m nice to him! And you guys are as well.” “We try,” EJ said. They all laughed. I must have missed something because I had no idea how she got there, or why they were talking to her. I wasn’t exactly upset, but I was puzzled as to how she was introduced. They talked about plenty of things, most of which I only half listened to. I was pretty bored. I was tempted to ask if they wanted to play again, but I didn’t want to interrupt. Eventually, I decided to go get another soda at the gift shop, and maybe some candy.

This I asked EJ about. I leaned in, since I was behind him. “I’m going to the gift shop for a snack. Do you want a drink or something?” He turned around. “Uh…” he muttered. He looked back at the others and then stood. “We’re going to go get some food. We’ll be right back.” “Get us something too,” Payton said. EJ scowled. “You have money.” “Now that I think about it, I’m craving some tea,” Cara said. “Let me check my money bag.” “I’ll get you some,” EJ assured her. “Pay me when I get back.” “You’re my brother!” said Payton loudly. “Why can’t you just pick me up some-“ “Okay, sis, I will,” he said. And then he turned around and started walking towards the recreation center.

“What were you guys talking about?” I asked him on the way. “I mean, I heard some of it, but… you know.” “Lots of random things,” he said. “Where did that Tiffany girl come from?” I said. “I don’t know, she was walking by,” he explained, “and Ben was like “Oh hey guys, that’s my friend!” and then she sat down. She’s super friendly, she doesn’t even know me but she hugged me multiple times.” “EJ,” I said. “Were you guys ignoring me? Or, was Cara at least?” He stopped walking. “Let’s sit down for a bit,” he said. He went to a curb and sat down. “I don’t know if she was,” he started. “I doubt she was.” “I said I was sorry and she didn’t answer.” “When?” he asked. I blinked. “You were sitting right there.” “I guess we didn’t hear you,” he said. “You need to talk louder, man, and be more confident.” “I know,” I grumbled. He stood up again. “Let’s get some snacks, okay? I’m getting something from my sister and Cara. You can get whatever you want.”

Inside, I looked in my wallet. Since I managed my money well, I deducted that I had four bucks left to spend. So I spent two-fifty on a Dr. Pepper and a bag of Cheetos. Meanwhile, EJ was deciding what he wanted to get. He was looking in a vending machine. “I’ve got six dollars to spend,” he said. “I should get one for Ben to share with his friend.” “One of what?” I asked. “Soda,” he said. “And Cara wants a tea.” He turned to me. “Did you see me? The two us are getting close. I’m happy you’re not taking her away from me.” He laughed. “You like her more than I do,” I assured him. “A lot more. Like, it’s creepy.” “Are you joking?” he said, smiling. He put some quarters into the machine, and after a while, he had all he needed.

We got back to the gaga ball pit. Everybody was gone except for the little group we were in. Ben, to EJ’s displeasure, didn’t want the soda EJ bought for him, so he gave it to Cara. “Are you sure?” she said. “I’m fine, I mean, EJ got me tea. Right?” “They were out of tea,” he said. “Sorry.” “Oh,” she said. “Okay, I’ll take your soda, Ben. Thanks.” “It’s good,” Ben said with a smile. EJ bought lemonade for Payton and 7-Up for himself. We all drank together. And I did get to chime into some conversation that time, so that was good. I still felt left out, though, but it was okay.

At one point, I checked my watch and saw that it was four in the afternoon. I remembered that EJ and I wanted to go the pool today, so I told him and the others this. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he said happily. “Let’s go, guys.”

Chapter Fifteen: Lonely Waters

It turned out that EJ was going to hang back with Cara and Ben while they got ready. “See you at the entrance?” he said. I agreed, but I hoped they didn’t take too long. I wanted us to go together. The two of us went back to the cabin quickly and changed into our swim trunks and then parted. This is random, but I have to say that there was something in the air at Lakeview that no other camp had. It made you feel cozy or something. Aside from the usual air of the place, I could detect an unusual smell when the wind hit my face. Maybe it was the smell of cedar or a far off scent from food or perfume or something. I couldn’t identify what was on the air, but it smelled good. And then it hit me; it was dinner cooking, I was sure of it. And that’s when I got really hungry. Luckily, I had a bag of Skittles from earlier that I was saving. I eat them as I walked. I walked past the soccer field all the way to the pool. I’m not sure if I told you that the pool was pretty far away from the rest of the campground. Not that far, it was fine, but it was something I noticed. I reached the entrance to the pool, hearing splashing and screaming. I smelled chlorine. I was about to walk in through the open gate when I saw a sign; it listed a few rules. They were things “don’t run” and typical pool rules. Except for one of them. It said “do not enter the pool alone if you are under 18.” At first, I was confused. Why was that a rule? And what about all the other teens in the pool already? Surely they didn’t all come in groups of two or so. I’m sure a few got in alone. Or what if the sign didn’t apply for camp? I was conflicted. So I decided to wait for EJ and them to come. I went against the wall and sat down.

It turned out to be a very long wait. I didn’t know what on earth they were doing, but I did know they probably weren’t in a big rush. Was I being blown off? Maybe they decided they didn’t really want to go and forgot I was here. Or perhaps they knew I was here and they wanted to get away from me. No, it wasn’t that. I just needed to be patient. I looked back towards the pool. It was stupid. It couldn’t be possible to have to be eighteen to enter because then you wouldn’t be allowed at camp in the first place. At that moment, Brandon walked up the pool with a towel, trunks and everything. “Hi,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here.” “Does your sister?” I asked. “Or EJ?” “Um,” he said. “I don’t know. Why?” “He’s supposed to meet me here with Cara, Payton and Ben,” I explained. “I’ve been waiting for…” I stopped and checked my watch. It said “4:32,” and since I arrived at

Four ‘o nine, I had been waiting for... “…a bit more than twenty minutes.” “Are you sure they’re coming?” he said, leaning against a pillar. I shrugged. “Well, no, not really.” “Go into the pool, then,” he said. “If they come, they come. I pointed at the sign at the gate. When he read he nodded understandingly and then started to walk away. “Well, I’m going to the cabin. I don’t feel well enough to swim anymore. C’ya.” He walked for a few seconds, and then came back up the path. “I’ll tell you later if I see them. I’m going to cabin, though.” “Um, okay,” I said. As he walked, he kept looking back as if he wanted me to follow. But I wasn’t going to. Not until they came.

Finally, I became upset. I decided that if they didn’t come by four-twenty that I would leave. Sadly, I really wanted to swim, and I couldn’t keep my promise. By four twenty, instead of leaving, I did something bold; I got up and walked in the pool. I was prepared to be told to leave, but nothing happened. I didn’t know what I was afraid of. I looked around at all the people, nobody even looked at me. When I discovered everything was fine, I set my towel and wallet and such on a chair and jumped in the water. I thought that the water would be so cold that it would feel bad, but it was just the right temperature. When I surfaced I was hit with claustrophobia. There were people I didn’t know bumping into me. Their flesh against mine! Okay, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I swam in the regular pool for about two more minutes and then exited. As I was exiting, I saw them: EJ, Cara, Payton and Ben. They finally came. I walked over to them as they set their stuff down. “Yo,” I said. “What took you so-“ “I know,” said EJ. “Sorry. I’ll tell you later, okay?” I sighed. “Fine. Want to go on the slide?” “Of course,” EJ said. “Want to come, guys?” “Nope,” Cara said. “It’s way too big. It probably won’t feel good.” “It’s just a slide,” EJ said. “but okay.”

The slide was more like a long tarp held together with poles. I watched people go down it and it seemed normal, so I didn’t worry too much. EJ and I were in front of a girl and a boy who clearly didn’t agree on something. “I don’t care, Randy,” the girl was saying.  She was our height, but somehow she seemed older. The boy was taller than us, but he had a really high voice. “It’s the truth,” he said loudly. “I’m sorry if-“ “If I’m upset?” she squealed. “ EJ tapped me on the shoulder and leaned it. “What do you think she’s pissed about? Did he cheat on her?” I looked over at him. “I think they’re our age,” I whispered back. “I know,” he said.

After way too long of a wait, we climbed up a tall set of iron stairs to the tower where there slide was. A lifeguard was there to make sure things were going okay. EJ, since he was in front of me, went first. While we were on top of there, I got a point of view from the tower down the pool. It was a long ride down. If I had known it would be like that, I probably wouldn’t have gone. “Can I go?” EJ asked. The lifeguard nodded, and EJ jumped down into the slide. I watched him roll all the way down, the sound of water rippling, before he flew forward at the end and caused a giant splash. There was a little area ribboned off for people coming off the slide. He surfaced, gave a thumbs up, and got out. “My turn?” I said. “Actually, it’s this man’s turn,” she said. I turned around and saw Joshua, the punky boy from before, step in front of the slide. I thought he was behind me, but who knows, maybe it looked like I was behind him. He went down in a different fashion; as he slid down, he rolled over, causing him to corkscrew the whole way down. When he left the slide, he spun around in midair before hitting the water. When I was able to go, I jumped in normally. It wasn’t very comfortable, but I was going really fast. When I got the end, I plugged my nose with my hand and hit the water. It took a while to get to the surface.

After that, I wasn’t really interested that much to stay at the pool. I had cooled off and hit a little fun, but it was time to go. I walked over to one of the tanning chairs and sat down, looking for my friends. There were so many people in the water that I had a hard time spotting EJ. Eventually I found him near a poolside volleyball area, watching a game. There’s one, I thought. I looked nearby and found Cara and Payton bobbing up and down a few feet away. To kill time while I waited for them to be done, I rested my head against the back of the seat and began to get tan. The sun felt good against my skin, and there was a slight water mist hitting me every once and a while. In fact, while I was there, I almost fell asleep. The sound of people laughing and having fun was some sort of sedative for me or something. Right when I was about to doze off, EJ came up beside me and flopped onto the adjacent chair. “Were you going to sleep?” he said. “Totally not,” I said, sitting up. “Don’t fall asleep while you’re tanning,” he warned me. “You’ll get too dark.”

Payton and Cara came up to my right and sat down on that chair too, and soon we were all just sitting there. “So where’s Ben?” I asked. “I thought you guys were together.” “I was just wondering that,” Cara said. “I haven’t seen him since we got in.” “I bet he left,” EJ said. “He looks like a cat, therefore he doesn’t like water.” Cara gasped. “He doesn’t look like a cat!” EJ looked at me. “He does to me.” We both laughed. After that, I asked them if they wanted to leave, and they said yes. I grabbed my towel, money and phone and began to walk out. While we were exiting, Payton noticed Ben walking out of the bathroom. “You were in there the whole time?” EJ said, astonished. “What were you doing?” That’s when he noticed his eyes were red and puffy. He definitely had been crying. “I’m fine,” Ben said. “I’m just working through some stuff.” EJ slapped him on the back. “It’ll be okay, man,” he said. “Let’s go.”

And so we walked back from the pool trying to get something out of Ben. It seemed to me like he just wanted attention, but I wasn’t sure. Cara asked Ben if he could just tell us what he was sad about, but after glancing at me for a brief moment, he refused. I guess he didn’t want to reveal anything while I was there. That made me angry somehow. And apparently, EJ sensed this. “Jack isn’t going to do anything bad, dude,” he told Ben. “He’s good. He listens and understands, and doesn’t spill secrets.” “Yeah, you are,” Cara said, looking at me. I smiled. “Well, if he doesn’t want to say, he doesn’t have to.” “Sorry,” Ben mumbled. “I don’t even want to tell any of you. It’s very private.” “Well,” Payton said. “This is going to sound rude, but if you’re going to cry and be sad about something around us and not tell us why, you shouldn’t really be like that. If we can’t help you, you’re just bothering us.” “Sis,” EJ said, turning his head. “You can’t say that.” A few seconds of silence passed. “But she’s right.”

It was a dreadful walk from the pool to the cafeteria, but Ben’s mood seemed to have lightened. And so did mine, I suppose. When we got the cafeteria, my stomach started to gurgle. It’s like my hunger bell began to chime as soon as it sensed food. And speaking of food, I was smelling barbeque before I even entered the building. “God is good,” said EJ as he entered the line for brisket. “This is going to be great.” He said yes to the mashed potatoes, corn, and beef, and even begged for one more piece of brisket, to which the employee complied. When I got my tray, I just asked for brisket. I didn’t feel like potato, and I never felt like corn. And when I went to get a drink, I was worn out from the swimming and activity so I had caffeine. “You naughty dog,” EJ said. “You said you can’t have Dr. Pepper at night.” “It’s not even seven yet,” I said. “But yeah, you’re correct. And I’m dragging, I can barely walk.” “Same,” he said, taking a big bite of food. “We need our rest for tomorrow.” My heart skipped a beat. I forgot that we had the public service thing the next day. “Crap,” I said. “I need to remember to bring water.” Suddenly, Brandon came out of nowhere and sat down next to us. “My phone died,” he said, with an angry tone in his voice. “And I can’t find my charger.” “What a shame,” EJ said sarcastically. “Yeah, it sucks you have to pay attention the campgrounds,” I said with a smile. “Yep, it does,” he said, poking his food.

I spoke to EJ for a good while as we ate. After we were done, we took our plates to the front and EJ swung wide to set with Cara. I patiently waited  by the door until he was done, and then we headed to service. Or at least, we headed to wait for service. You’ll see.

Chapter Sixteen: Nightfall

Leaving the café would immediately bring you down a path to the chapel building where service was held. It was a short path, too, probably only 10 yards. Since the café was slightly uphill, there was a short stairway down the path. And that’s where we were sitting while we waited. I did a lot of waiting the whole camp. Waiting to arrive, waiting for people to see, waiting to get places… it was so tedious. But somehow I didn’t mind. Because it was camp, it was all so fun. I was sitting on one of the steps next to EJ and Brandon. EJ was talking about a snake he saw that morning. “I didn’t know what kind it was,” he said. “Maybe just a regular garden snake. But it was huge.” “Well, I’m not a snake expert,” I said. “I don’t think I can determine what kind it is unless I saw it.” “It was a dull green with brown stripes,” he said. “At first I thought it was a young bushmaster.” “So that big, huh?” I said. “Well, maybe.” “Speaking of snakes, do you know what the most dangerous snake in the world is?” I shrugged. “I don’t know, the anaconda?” “No, they’re easy to catch,” he said. “It’s the black mamba.” “Oh,” I said, nodding my head. “I watched a documentary on-“ I was about to continue when Brandon turned over to us, looking away from his phone. “I don’t like snakes,” he said shortly. “Great,” EJ said. “Anyway, so black mambas aren’t very lethal without their venom. It’s about twelve times more toxic than….” He stopped talking. “You know what?  I forgot.  But yeah, it’s pretty deadly.” “There isn’t any around here, though,” I said. “Well, of course!” EJ said. “Not in Texas!”

“I said I don’t like snakes!” said Brandon, frustrated. EJ glared at him. “What, are you scared?” “No,” he said loudly. “They’re stupid!” EJ stood up. “Look who’s talking,” he said. “You know, you’ve really been annoying me.” “Be quiet,” he said in a orderly tone. “What?” EJ yelled, raising his fists. “Come at me, doofus, we’ll see who’s quiet aft-“ I jumped up. “Quit it, man!” I said. “It’s not worth it. We’re going to get in trouble again.” He started to look around at all the people looking at us and lowered his fists. “Dude, see what I’m talking about? I’m so violent.” “No, you’re fine,” I said. We both sat back down. Eventually Cara came over. “Were you fighting my brother?” she asked. “He was going to beat me up,” Bradon whined. “No he wasn’t,” Cara said. “I mean, were you?” “I was thinking about it,” EJ answered honestly. “I don’t really care,” she said, sitting down between me and EJ. “He can be super annoying, so I agree,” she whispered to EJ. He smiled and nodded.

I was watching the glass doors of the building to see what was taking so long. I said before that I didn’t mind all that much but even I had my limits. We had been waiting for thirty minutes. I was deep in thought when EJ asked what I was looking at. I said nothing, but he was certain I was looking at a group of passing girls. It was really hard to convince him that I wasn’t, and I still knew he didn’t believe me. “Hey EJ,” I said, standing up again. “Want to do the slapping thing?” “Huh?” he said, looking puzzled. “Oh, I know what you mean.” It was one of the most fun things do; one person would pretend to slap the other, but their hand would be close enough so that it looks like contact is made. At the same time, the person being “slapped” claps their hands down by their waist to make a slapping sound, and said person jerks their head around and groans in pain. Trust me, it fools a lot of people. So EJ and I walked up to the door of the building and did it. “Ready?” EJ whispered. I nodded, and he yelled and threw his hand at me. It wasn’t even close to hitting me, but I subtly clapped my hands together and pushed myself backwards. I hit the ground hard, grasping my face in apparent agony.

Gasps went out to all who saw. It was pretty funny. And more would have happened, but that moment the doors to the building and everybody rocketed in.

We walked in and received a blast of air conditioning and the sound of worship music playing. All was well again! We found our seats and then a few minutes passed before the band came up to sing. When they got to the stage, they announced that the next day would mark the three year anniversary of Lakeview. About half of the teens cheered, the other half probably clapped out of politeness. It didn’t mean anything to me, but I thought it was cool. “So this place is pretty new,” EJ said. Service was as good as usual. But there was one thing I noticed; the first day there were four male band members and one female singer, though then day after that she was missing. The day after that the bass player was nowhere to be found. Today, it wasn’t that a member was missing, but they seemed to be really worn out. The guy singing, Brad,  seemed out of breath and he had resting dead face.

Still, even though the singing was strange, the lesson the preacher was trying to convey was nice. It went on for a long time, however, and I started to zone out. Brandon actually got up and left half an hour before it ended and never came back. It was curious, but I knew where he was; in the bathroom, hiding and playing Super Mario. I longed to do the same. But I pulled through the service and soon I was walking out the doors with EJ and the other teens in our group. EJ and I didn’t walk far, though, because Pastor Craig called us into a circle right outside the building, near an air conditioning unit. “What’s going on?” I whispered to EJ as the circle formed. “I don’t know,” he answered. Once everybody was there, Craig began to speak. “Okay, so tomorrow is the day of community service,” he said. “And I want to go over that. We’re leaving at one o’ clock exactly, so right after lunch, we’re going to meet at the vans.” Easy enough, I thought to myself.

“By the vans,” a boy in our church group said. “Got it.” “Yep,” Craig said. “Wear shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, of course, because it’s going to be wicked hot. And bring anything else you might need, including a good attitude.”


EJ and I were walking down the road in the darkness towards the snack area near the gift shop. Notice how I saw in the darkness? It was so dark. You’d think they would put lampposts along the paths and roads at Lakeview, but nope, all us teens going to the late night activity at the recreation center were walking the hot, dead night. Well, perhaps that’s not a bad thing. There’s something appealing about nightfall. As we walked, I saw Davis and James run past us at the speed of light. “I’m going to get her first, dude!” Davis was yelling. “That sounds funny,” Cara said. “I wonder what that was about. “I can’t see you,” I said. “It’s so dark.” “Really?” she said, laughing. “I have to wear contacts and I can see both you and EJ just fine.” “Hurray,” EJ said. “Speaking of which, where are we going again?” “Rec center, man,” I said. “To get a cheeseburger.” “Ow,” I heard EJ say behind me. “I just stepped in a hole.” I hung back a bit so that EJ and I could walk side by side, and then went down the road past trees, cars, cabins… And then we were there. The reason it took so long to get to the center is because we went by the path directly where we had our little group meeting, which is a few minutes longer than our normal route.

When we got the snack area, going past the patio area with moths swarming about a lightbulb hanging, we walked straight into a horde of people again. “Oaf,” EJ mumbled, his face in the back of a tall, sweaty boy. “This sucks. It’s way too crowded.” “Grab my wrist,” I told him. When I did, I dragged him down the hallway and past the ping pong table, towards a regular table in the corner. “Oh hey,” he said, looking at it. He was probably shocked that it was empty, because normally there’s a group of people sitting at these tables taking up space and being lazy. It’s rude but true. We sat down while EJ, Payton and Cara sorted their money. “I’m out of cash,” Payton said. “EJ, can I please have a dollar?” “Why?” he said, shuffling through bills. “You had plenty of money.” He looked up with an unbelieving expression on his face. “Tell me it’s no gone.” “I bought a necklace and bracelet,” she said. “That was plenty of money.” He pointed his finger at her. “Sis, you need to manage money better.” “It was a souvenir!” she said. Cara looked up at EJ and began to argue too, which caused EJ to just shrug half-heartedly and began to count again. “I have twelve bucks to spend,” EJ said. “Let’s go get it, Jack.”

Shuffling to the front of the line at the bar, past girls and boys of all ages, I told the man at the front that I wanted a cheeseburger. And he looked pretty upset. So did the teens around me. “It’s gonna take a few minutes, is that okay?” the man asked, a look of cold fury in his eye. “Yep,” I said with a grin. When I got my burger and soda, it rang up to quite a total, but I was sure it would be worth it. I was wrong.

It tasted like a frozen burger you could get at a grocery store. I’m talking bad. When EJ came back to the table, he thought the same. “What was that guy’s name from the Smithsonian center again?” “I don’t even remember,” I said. “but he’s got something wrong with him if he thinks these are good.” I put down the last portion of it and crumbled it up in my napkin, and drank the cold, citrusy soda. Ah, the wonders of a cold beverage on a hot night. “Hey,” Cara asked. “Where’s Ben? I haven’t seen him since dinner.” Luckily, he never showed up that night. It was the four of us talking and eating. Well, I didn’t talk very much, I was listening to them speak. I was at peace with that, I figure. When we were done, I checked my watch; it was ten, which meant it was pretty much time to head back to the cabins.

I opened the door the bunkhouse and made sure that I went to the air conditioning unit and turned the heat up a little bit. I knew it would be cold in the morning if it blew full blast all night. Nothing really happened that night. It seemed like everybody wanted to get sleep for the next day. Everybody brushed their teeth and everything and went almost straight to sleep. I did my business, and crawled into my bunk. “I hugged Cara today for the first time” EJ said. “It was kind of awkward. I guess she’s not a toucher.” “You just haven’t found the right spot,” I said, smiling. Yes, that was a joke. But it was funny how he started to bug me and get me to tell me where the spot was. “It’s just a joke man,” I said. “Your life’s a joke,” he said. “Roasted.” “Your mom’s a joke,” I said. “Wrecked!” “Good night,” he said, zipping his sleeping bag. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I rolled over on my pillow, pulled the sheet up, and almost instantly fell asleep.

Chapter Seventeen: Pleasant Parting

When I awoke, EJ was shaking me awake again. I looked over in the dark to see him. “Get up. Let’s go. We’ll be late.” “We’re always early,” I mumbled, shivering. It was still cold; not as cold, but not the preferred temperature. “Not this time, amigo,” he said. “It’s seven.” “Oh,” I said, now sitting up. “Well, I need to get dressed and brush my teeth.”

I pulled on shorts and a tank top, perfect for hot weather. Then I grabbed my bathroom bag and went to the sink. EJ waited for me while I applied deodorant, combed my hair and brushed my teeth. I turned around when I was all done and started to walk away. “That wasn’t two minutes,” he said, scowling. “You’ll get cavities.” “It was around two minutes,” I said. “Sure,” he said, clearly not believing me. “So, let’s go get some food.” As we went towards the door, I noticed an AXE body spray bottle lying forlorn on the floor. I pushed it aside with my foot. We swung open the cabin door as were greeted with surprisingly cool wind. It wasn’t fall or winter weather, but it felt like a nice seventy degrees. “And this was supposed to be the hottest day this week,” I said, breathing in the morning air. “Just wait,” EJ said. “The heat will come.” We walked down the dirt road towards the cafeteria, looking around at the surroundings. There was a mist low toward the grounds, as far as the eye could see. It was pretty. I heard the distant sound of laughing and turned around to see a few people long down the road. I looked past the trees and saw a few other groups. We weren’t the only ones awake. I mentioned it to EJ and said that we should have left earlier. “It’s not that big of a deal,” I told him. “Wait,” he said. “Do you smell that?” I sniffed the air. “Smells like morning dew.” He shook his head. “It smells completely different. Come over to where I’m standing.” I stepped over and sniffed the air again and then it hit me; the overwhelming smell of AXE. “It’s body spray, all right,” I said. “Where’s it coming from?” My question was answered; A group of teen girls came speed walking out of one of the cabins we were by, followed by a few coughing adults. “Okay, everybody get out, leave the door open,” they were saying. EJ started to laugh. “I think we both know what happened here,” he said. I smiled. “I think they were bombed.” If the smell was sickening outside, I couldn’t imagine what it was like inside the cabin. One of the girls was holding the AXE can, while it was spraying, and threw it away into the grass, running back to her group. “I wonder if it’s mine,” I said.

We made to the café just in time. They were serving hash browns and bacon, which I took an extra helping off. I grabbed an apple from the fruit basket and walked towards the drink station to get coffee. I walked with EJ towards Cara’s table.

“Good morning,” he said, setting his tray down. Cara and Payton said good morning back. “I have to tell you what happened,” said Cara to EJ. “Ben was outside our cabin.” “Whoa!” EJ said. “Call security.” “No, it wasn’t like that,” said Payton. “He just wanted to talk since he never saw us at the recreation center.” “But he kinda wouldn’t leave us alone,” Cara said. “He said he really liked us.” “Sounds creepy to me,” EJ said. “It’s too bad he has to stay here on the grounds when we leave, eh?”

As they were talking, I enjoyed my food and got up when I was done. I didn’t need to stick around. A few more minutes passed of me waiting outside when EJ came walking out with Cara. They walked right past me, Payton following. I didn’t say anything, I just followed them. “You can tell Ben to leave you alone,” EJ said. “That’s rude, though,” Cara complained. “And he’s not bothering me.” “If he does,” he explained. “Tell me.” “Uh, okay,” she said. How cute. He was going to protect her. But I don’t know why he would bring it up; like she said, I didn’t get a feeling that Ben was aggressive or anything; but he was definitely lonely, and maybe a little bit needy. As we walked up the hill away from the cafeteria, I noticed they were going towards gaga ball. “Are we going to gaga ball?” I asked EJ. He turned around. “Oh, uh, yeah,” he said, and he turned back around. “What kind of phone do you have?” he asked. “iPhone five,” Cara said. Yep, I was salty that they forgot about me. But I got even madder when… “Hey look,” EJ said, pointing out towards the path ahead. “There’s Ben.” I audibly exhaled in an exasperated manner. I was already being ignored, I didn’t need this Ben kid to get in the way even more. So they went up to Ben and started talking about something, but I didn’t care. I sped walk ahead of them towards the gaga ball pit. I was going to play. “Hey Jack,” EJ called. “Where are you coming? Don’t leave us!” I stopped walking and turned around. I stood there until they walked past me so that I could walk next to them. I was glad EJ wanted my company. We made it to the circular ring to find nobody there. We looked around the area, but nobody wanted to play, it seemed. “Alright,” Cara said. “I guess we can play nine square.” You know me; I don’t like that game. So instead I sat on a bench near the gaga ball area and waited for people to come. Immediately I was overcome by heat since the sun was on me. It felt good until I became thirsty. I walked past the parking lot all the way to the recreation center and went inside. The contrast between ninety-five degrees a seventy degrees is drastically different. And surprisingly, the building was half empty. I walked past an almost vacant hallway and gift shop down near the gym and turned toward the vending machine. There were a lot of choices but I settled on a mango tea. I got it and left. I walked outside and sat on the patio table, sipping the ice cold drink. I could actually hear the nine square game from the Smithsonian center, and since there weren’t walls, I could even see it. Shortly afterwards, I decided to get up and walk over to see up close. So I capped my bottle and ran over.

When I got over, I couldn’t see EJ anywhere. Where did they go? That was the only reason I went over there, so clearly I had to go somewhere else to look. But when I was walking away I saw a decent sized group of people playing gaga ball. So I walked over there. -

It was a mistake. I had no idea that all those people were a group of friends, and that they were all against me. I’ve heard of truces, but that was ridiculous. Should I go look for them?, I asked myself. I didn’t even have to answer my own question because I looked far off and saw EJ, Cara, Payton, Ben, and his friend Tiffany all leaving the recreation center. I looked left and right to see what else there was to do, and then chugged the last of my tea and walked over to them. “Jack,” said EJ as we met. “I just did the rock wall thing in the gym.” “How was it?” “Pretty good,” he said. “Really short, though. Did you wonder where we were?” “Yes,” I said, maybe a little too bitter than I thought. “Sorry dude, but I didn’t see you.” Cara came over and looked down at my arm. I noticed and asked her if she wanted to know the time. “It’s eleven,” I said. “Oh wow, where did the morning go?” “I’m not sure but I want to go to the lake again,” Cara said. “How about you guys?” “That sounds great,” Tiffany squeaked. I don’t know why, but she annoyed me. She was so cheerful that it made me wonder if she was sane. I know, I should have been happy that she was happy, but it’s hard. Also, she was hugging virtually everybody she met and acting like they were best friends. But had she said anything to me? Nope. And I didn’t mind at all.

We walked down paths and down a hill towards the lake. We didn’t go to do the activities, we were just enjoying the view. It was quite blissful watching the midday sun reflect upon the water. While I was resting my head on the grassy hill, I heard heavy footsteps behind me. I looked up to see Reese, the boy I met when I was about to AXE bomb, and his brother who I didn’t know the name of. Reese, sporting his bandanna once again, looked at all of us and then pointed a finger at me. “You,” he said. “I know you.” I stood up. “Um, of course,” I stumbled. “You’re in my cabin,” he said. “Did I leave any body spray cans behind?” “Uh, yeah,” I said. “Yeah, actually, there was one lying on the ground. “What did you do with it?” he said, lowering his finger. “I just kind of kicked it aside.” He nodded and then crouched down. I laid back down on the grass. “My friend was bombing another cabin,” he explained. “Early this morning we snuck out and got a few girl cabins, but that was me, James and Davis. My other friend was alone, and he had busted through the door when he noticed he only had one can. That’s not enough to overwhelm a cabin, that’s enough to make a few feet smell like deodorant.” “So,” I said. “It’s not my fault, is it?” “No, kid,” he said, walking away. “I was just wondering.”

I watched him as he walked away. “Weird,” I muttered, resting my head again. Then I noticed EJ and the others were looking at me. “That reminds me,” EJ said. “We need to sneak out. Tonight.”

Chapter Eighteen: Road to Labor

Once EJ and I were alone, going to get lunch, he told me about it again. “This is our last full day,” he said. “Pastor Craig is going to be too tired to notice, and we haven’t done anything nuts yet!” “Why should we?” I said. “Why shouldn’t we, though,” he said. “Come on, you got to do risky things to have as much fun as possible.” “It’ll be fun, I’m sure,” I told him. “It’s the consequences I’m afraid of.” “Consequences aren’t a problem if you’re good at it,” said EJ. “And I am.”

We walked to the gift shop since we some time before lunch. There wasn’t anybody in there, and the lady at the counter was missing as well. “Maybe she quit,” EJ said. The gift shop was actually pretty nice. It had a good selection of shirts and accessories as well as things like visors, battery powered fans, and miscellaneous things. We didn’t look at that much last time, but we did a more in-depth viewing that time. I ended up buying another dog tag necklace that said “LV” on it. EJ bought a plain brown bracelet.      “It’s rustic,” he said, throwing money on the counter and walking out. “Whoa, hey,” I said. “We should probably talk to that woman first.” He looked around. “She’s nowhere,” he said. He strapped on his new bracelet and walked away. I couldn’t argue so I put my money down as well and walked out. By that time, it was time to go to the cafeteria. So made a beeline for that location, but EJ said he wanted to find the others. “They’ll be there,” I said.

And so they were. The lunch workers weren’t actually letting us into the cafeteria yet because a whole different group of, uh, groups were dining. So all of us special people were crowded in the wide hallway right outside the lunchroom. Our faces were practically smacked against the glass doors, peering inside. “Looks like chicken tenders,” the teens were saying. I was standing right next to Brandon, who was currently resorting to drinking coffee creamer cups that were next to the water fountain nearby. I really couldn’t tell him not to, all I could do was watch him. He drank six.

Finally, we were let in. Nothing special, though, we just got our food and sat down at our normal spot. I had no idea what I was eating, though; there were apple slices and chicken tenders, but there were little fried green things on my plate. “What’s this?” I asked EJ. “Uh,” he said, picking it up. He popped one in his mouth. “Oh, I know what this is; it’s okra.” “Oprah?” I said, confused. EJ laughed. “No, okra! The vegetable.” I had never heard of it. I ate my chicken first before trying the okra, and when I did, they were getting cold. And it didn’t taste good. “What do you mean, it’s bad,” EJ said, eating the last of the fried okra. “It’s green, it’s crisp…” “It’s cold,” I said, picking up my plate. At least it was healthy.

After a quick lunch, I checked my watch; it said “12:46.” But what time were we supposed to leave? I didn’t worry about it at all because I assumed that pastor Craig would send out a text and remind us all. What I did decide was that I didn’t want to be responsible for worrying where EJ and Brandon were when it was time to go, so I made sure I was with them when we went to explore the camp. Yep, that’s what we wanted to do. We walked down a path we hadn’t gone down before, a little bit far away from the lake. It was the road below the road, almost, as the main path that led everywhere was uphill, right above us. We found a fenced off bridge that led to a heavily wooded area, but I could spot an iron fence. “Looks like a bunch of power units,” Brandon said. “What’s that?” EJ asked. Brandon shrugged.

“Let’s go in,” said EJ. “Just real quick.” We went over the small bridge and up some stone steps up the fenced area; It was a bunch of humming metal boxes. Boring.

All we did after that was a bunch of boredom induced wandering around. We were going  back to the cabin when my phone vibrated in my pocket. I checked and saw a new text from the teen group chat; “Jack, it’s time to leave. Are Brandon and EJ with you?” it read. “Time to go, guys,”’ I told them. I typed back “Yes.” “By the vans, right?” EJ said. “Aren’t our vans by the cabins?” I nodded my head. “Yep, let’s go.”

They were not by the cabin. Where the church vans once were, right outside the bunkhouses, they were now missing. “Now what?” Brandon said. “We look around, I suppose,” I answered. Then I got another text. That one said; “Outside the REC CENTER. ASAP!” I started to walk again. “Come on!” We were walking to the parking lot to the recreation center when I saw the line of vans right outside the door. I waved and we started walking towards it. Pasto Craig stuck his head outside the window. ‘Come on, run!” We ran all the way to the vehicle and one of the guys inside opened the wide door for us, and we climbed in. Cara and Payton were sitting in the very back, so EJ and I went and sat over there. Meanwhile, Brandon sat on the end of one of the front seats. “What took you so long?” Cara asked. I explained that I had no idea where the vans were, and they laughed. Craig turned around in his seat and said that they were in front of the cabin, but he moved them since the girl cabins were on the other side of grounds. “Yeah, we checked that area, but they weren’t there, so I was confused.” As it turned out, the boy named Joshua was in the bathroom, which made Brandon have to get up from his seat and sit in the back row with us. Obviously there wasn’t enough room for five of us, so one of us had to sit on the ground next to the seat. EJ agreed to do it. As we drove away, I expected to get a blast of air conditioning since the vent was up above me. I had forgotten that the cooling unit was broken, and a sad drop of sweat came down from my brow. “We’re leaving Lakeview,” Cara said, looking out the window. I sat up and looked out myself to see us driving past the big sign out front and pulling into the busy road right outside. Looking back at the exterior of the grounds, you really couldn’t see inside at all. There were a cluster of tall trees everywhere that blocked you from seeing inside. I mentioned this to EJ and he said it was like a prison camp. “You hate it that bad, do you?” I said. “I was kidding, bro,” he said. “Although they do technically trap us in there…”

“Okay, so this is what’s going to happen,” Craig said from the driver seat. “When we get there, you’re going to pull out neon vests and put them on. Then you’re each going to take a few trash bags and get into pairs.” EJ hit my arm to signify that we would be partners, and I heard Payton and Cara do the same behind me. He continued. “Once you do that, we’re going to walk to the nearby neighborhood area and start to pick up garbage. There’s a lot of litter, folks, I don’t know how long we’ll be there.” “How big is the vicinity?” one of the older girls asked. “Not too big,” said Craig. “But enough to keep you busy for almost two hours.”

We drove for another half hour. A half hour of us talking lightly and people asking if we were there yet. I didn’t know it would be so far away; I had pictured us going out to the first street we saw. Apparently they had mapped out a certain area for us to trek to for this project. “Where are we goin’, Craig?” a boy asked. “Helco,” he answered. “A town. “Not a town I’ve heard of it,” EJ said. “And also, Jack, do you think you can have a turn sitting on the ground? My rear is really starting to ache.” “I guess,” I said. I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed down to the ground. If I had to go another thirty minutes on the ground of that stupid van, I was going to go nuts. “We’re seven minutes away, folks,” Craig said cheerfully. Suddenly, we hit a curb. We hit very big curb. Want to know how I knew? I felt it, more than anybody else. You see, all the people with seatbelts on jumped up into the air when we hit it and landed down safely. But not me; I didn’t have protection. When we hit the curbside, the van jerked all over the place and I was physically thrown into the air. Time seemed to stop; I was floating in midair. There was a yell from somewhere inside the car. Then, everything unfroze… and I flew so high that I hit my head against the top of the van. Right before I had time to say “ouch,” I landed back down on the floor and hit my tailbone. “Whoa!” EJ yelled. “Jack!” “Are you okay?” Craig said. I grabbed my head and my butt. “I guess,” I moaned. “Did you guys see that?” “Yeah, man,” EJ said, helping me up. “You flew to heaven. You were flailing all over the place. You didn’t hit your head on the ceiling, did you?” I laughed. “I did.” Why was I laughing? It had literally been seconds after I had let EJ take my seat when we hit the curb. A few moments more of him sitting there would have sent him to heaven.

The moment came, though; the vehicle came to a stop. I looked out the window and saw that we were parked in a sunny area outside an elementary school. “Get out, everybody,” Craig said.

We exited the van and I was hit with heat once again. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was terrible. “Grab a vest and a bag,” EJ said. “You’re my partner.” We went to the back of the car and took from a big box of supplies. I was sort of hoping that we would get those sharp sticks that people use to grab pieces of garbage, but I guess those were cut out of the budget. I took a trash bag and shook it around to get it open. “I’m ready,” I said to EJ as he put on his vest. “Let’s go.” “Also,” Craig called, “Our wonderful co-pastor Ms. Alisa will be driving her car around with a bucket of water as well as a water sprayer, since it will be very hot out here. We don’t want you guys to overheat.” “I get overheated so easily,” I whispered. “I’m not worried about that,” EJ said back. “I’m going to get sunburned. I’m pretty pale.” Payton walked up. “I hope you put on sun block, EJ.” “Of course,” he answered. “Did you?” “I think so.”

Cara came up to Payton and the two of them walked down the sidewalk. “Everybody!” Craig called. “Follow me!” All of us teenagers trudged along after Pastor Craig. “God knows where we’re going,” EJ muttered, already wiping his forehead. “And I wonder how messy these people are.” I tried to look ahead to see where we were going, but I couldn’t really see anything. We were walking along the sidewalk and we had just passed the school, and we were headed towards what could have been a neighborhood community.

I walked for a few minutes more and then we stopped. We were in a neighborhood now; there was a big field right in front of us, but to the right and left of us there were streets going down for quite a while. I could tell it was a somewhat ghetto place, and not because there was a whole lot of trash everywhere.
Pastor Craig told us to not bother going down the left side of the road because that side was clean enough, so we went down the right road and began to look around. “EJ,” I said. “That first house has a backyard with no fence and I can see a whole lot of garbage in the weeds and tall grass. I say we go there first.”
He agreed. “This is going to be rough.”

Chapter Nineteen: For the Better

We walked over to the grassy area and looked around. It was awfully trashy. EJ and talked about who was going to hold the back and who was going to reach down and pick up the trash. Clearly neither one of us wanted to the latter, so we took turns holding the back. It was my turn first to hold the trash bag. He leaned down into the grass, swatting away flies, and picked up a smashed beer can. “There it goes,” he said, dumping it into the bag I was holding. He walked over a few feet and took two hands to get a cluster of chip bags. “These people need to buy some of their own trash bags,” I said. “Maybe we could donate.” “They just don’t care,” EJ said, bending down to grab more. “Kind of like in Mexico. You heard about that?” “Yeah,” I said as he put more in the bag.

After a few more minutes, we switched. I began to reach down to the ground and pick up trash. There was an enormous amount of Dortios bags for some reason, and a lot of Budweiser cans. “They’re simple people with simple taste,” said EJ, smiling. “And a below-average sense of cleanliness.” As I squatted down to pick up pieces of broken Styrofoam, I began to get sore. It was just a sign of what was to come in the next hour. At one point I picked up a milk jug with fluid still in it. It was one of the most horrid things I had ever smelled. I gave it to EJ and he gagged. “Dude, lemmie go find my sister,” he said. “Come on.” We walked across the street to see Payton and Cara on the curb. Cara was kneeling on the concrete picking up a bunch of dirty toothpicks while Payton held the bag. When we approached her, we told her to smell the jug and she refused. “I’m not stupid,” she said. “I am,” Cara said, sitting up. She sniffed the jug and fell right back down the ground.

The milk that was left inside had the consistency of spoiled pudding. “Don’t put it in our bag,” EJ said. “Set it by the sidewalk. We’ll get it when we’re done here.” We finally finished the grassy spot we first went to and moved on to sidewalk where a few people were already. I gathered as many pieces of rubble and trash I could in my arms and dumped them into the bag, but a few pieces fell out and I had to crouch down to get them again. That’s when I noticed how hot the sun was on my neck. When I stood straight again to put a cigar wrapper in the bag, my vision got hazy and I began to feel fatigued. “It’s so hot,” I said, wiping sweat from my chin. “Tell me about it,” he said. “It was the wrong day to wear a dark shirt.” I looked towards the field nearby the houses. It didn’t look like a park or sports field, it was just a huge proximity with grass and hay bales. From where I was standing I could see the litter hidden away. EJ and I spent five minutes going up and down the sidewalk picking up any garbage we could spot, and when we were satisfied, crossed the street to the second sidewalk.

When we got there, a car pulled up. Pastor Craig had a huge bucket of ice water with a hosed attached to it. He aimed it at us. “Want a spritz of water?” EJ said yes and we both got sprayed with cold water. It was awesome. Then Ms. Alisa came out and gave us water bottles, and drove up the street towards the other teens. I uncapped my bottle and hurriedly gulped a quarter of it down, and then smashed it into my pocket and took the bag from EJ. When we were cleaning up the area, I noticed that not a single person was going out into the field. “We should probably go over there and pick it up,” he said. “Not a single person is.” “It’s going to take a while, though,” I warned. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said, and walked over into the grass to pick trash up.

It took twenty minutes or so to clean up as much trash we could in the large field. Under the blazing sun, it felt like hours. When we were done, we looked up to see half the teen group had moved yards away from us down the street. We ran up and began to work again. I was picking up a big bottle of cola when we noticed our bag was full. “Alright, let’s get another one,” I said. I walked over to Ms. Alisa’s car, which was parked at the time, and asked for another. She gave us one and I turned back to EJ. EJ was talking to Cara. I walked over to see what they were talking about. “Is it a rat?” she said, peering down at the street. “What’s goin’ on?” I asked. EJ pointed at the street. Lying on the pavement was some sort of dead animal, but it wasn’t fresh roadkill; it had been there for a long time. There was a little bit of fur left on the road, but ninety percent of it was skeletal. “This is pretty cool,” I said, looking down at it. EJ agreed. I came to the conclusion that it was a small squirrel. The curvature of the fossil looked rodent like but the size said otherwise.

After that, we realized we still had work to do. I was sweating so much that I took my water and poured it down my front. “Really?” EJ said, seeing what I had done. “You won’t have any to drink. “It feels good,” I said as the water dribbled down my chest. “Trust me.” He poured a good amount over himself and grinned. Then he shook the trash bag in the air to open it and walked past me. “Let’s go.” I began to pick up torn bags in the middle of the road and found it odd that not a single car that wasn’t our own had driven down. Come to think of it now, I don’t remember ever seeing a person outside their house in that neighborhood. Either they weren’t around or weren’t out for a reason. “’Cause it’s so hot,” EJ said, trying to hold the bag open.

Garbage really says a lot about a person. You might think someone is a total pig who never does anything about their body but find packages of spinach, kale and vegetable smoothie bottles in their trash can. And vice versa; what you thought was a family of health-freaks might actually turn out to be junk food addicts, once you find constant candy wrappers and chip bags outside their house. And buy cleaning up bags upon bags worth of trash for that street, I could tell these people were pretty diverse; although leaning towards the unhealthy side. “These people like their booze,” EJ said, holding up two beer bottles. “It might have came from the same guy,” I said. “Probably,” he said, throwing them into the bag. “Down they go.” “Hey look!” Cara yelled, coming towards us. She was holding something in her hand up. When she closer, I saw that it was a necklace. “You didn’t find that on the ground, did you?” I asked. “I did,” she said, looking at it. “It’s perfectly good.” “Take a good look around,” EJ said. “This isn’t a good place to get a necklace. They have nice ones at the gift shop…” “I knew you wouldn’t appreciate it,” she said, putting it in her pocket. “I’m going to keep it.” Do you know what was weird? That she was really sweaty, but she didn’t look bad. EJ and I were red and drowsy but she looked good. Even Payton looked like she had been spending five hours working in the heat. And I knew that EJ would agree with me if I told him, but I never did. I drank some more water, adjusted my vest, and bent down to start working again. Part of me was really upset that we had to do this, but another part of me knew that we were doing these people a favor. Nobody else was going to do this, but we were. And I think that says a lot about us Christians.  Of course, I would’ve much rather been hanging out at Lakeview, though that thing that I did made me feel important; not just some kid. I helped clean up a poor street. I even told EJ this. “I agree,” he said. “There aren’t many opportunities to give back to a community like this. I’d much rather be hanging out at camp, but we’ve never done anything like this at Trinity Pines. Remember?” “That was a children’s camp,” I brought up. “They don’t really want kids doing that.” “It’s not the point,” he said, tying up the second trash bag. “It’s not about who’s able to.”


Then, after another forty-five minutes, we were told that it was all over. We were done. Pastor Craig called from a megaphone to bring back the trash bag we had currently and come back to the vans. I crunched the water bottle I had between my hands to get the last bit of water that was left, and then I tossed it in the trash. We went over to the back of the van and put our trash bags into a large container, and then we were told to climb into a seat so we could head out. As I was entering the van, James came up to me, his blonde hair drenched. “Dude,” he said, stopping me. “Can you go put this bag away for me?” “Sorry,” I said. “But no.” He swore at me and walked away to take his bag back. Davis walked after him. “He’s only kidding,” he told me. “He calls me that all the time.” I laughed purely out of pity.

I sat down on the soft seat in the van, next to EJ. This time Brandon sat on the ground, and I was on the window seat with EJ to my left. He was sitting next to Cara and his sister. “Is everyone here?” Craig called from the driver seat. An array of ‘yesses’ came out and he nodded and drove away. As we pulled around the corner, we just barely missed the curb. I was hoping Brandon would get to experience it, but I guess the pastor was a little too conscious this time. “We’re going to Beckham’s!” Pastor Craig called out. A few teens cheered, but I had no idea where that was. “What’s Beckham’s?” One of the boys turned around. “A great ice cream parlor,” he said. “Not too far away as well.” EJ stretched his arms. “I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “But I hope we don’t stay too long.” “Why not?” Payton asked. “We have to shower, Jack and me,” he responded. “Don’t we?” “Yep,” I said. I stuck my nose in my shirt to see how I smelled. I didn’t smell bad, but I was moist with sweat. It’s too bad those church vans didn’t have air conditioning.

I checked my watch to see what time it was; it was almost four. Our afternoon was devoted to that. Perhaps not my favorite thing to do, but by far the most productive. The four of us chatted the whole way to the ice cream place. When we were they, we exited the van and went straight to the building. There colorful posters of the different flavors on the windows. When I entered, it was incredibly cold. It wouldn’t have been acceptable in any other situation. Luckily we were all hot, and many of us let out relieved sighs. Pastor Craig told us that we could order anything that was five dollars or less since he was paying for us. I got in line with EJ as we decided what we want. “I’m getting vanilla,” he said. “Plain vanilla?” I said, bumping him on the shoulder. “I thought you were the wild one.” “Well what are you getting?” he said. “Mint chocolate chip,” I said. “In a cup.” Payton and Cara squeezed in between us. “I’m getting orange sherbet,” Cara said. “And EJ, Payton doesn’t know what to get. You should help her.” “Sis,” he said. “Get cookie dough. It’s the only thing in the world you eat.” “I hope you’re getting,” Payton said. I snickered.

When I got the front of the line, I told the lady want I wanted, and then I waited by a second counter for my ice cream. A moment later, EJ came up behind me, followed by the other two. “I can smell the cream,” EJ said. “That’s me,” Cara said. He turned around and he looked like he was going to reply, but he just laughed and turned back around. For some reason, he got his first, even though I was in front of him. “This place is rigged,” I told EJ as he passed. He didn’t even hear me; he was already shoving his face with ice cream. “So,” Cara said. “Do you know Brandon is?” I shook my head. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen him since the car.” “That can’t be good,” she said, looking around. The employee gave me my cup of ice cream and I walked away. I went to go sit with EJ, but when I got there, Brandon was sitting in the other chair. Each table only had two seats. I stood next to the table, and EJ noticed and made Brandon get up. “Your sister was looking for you,” I told him. He said he didn’t care. When I sat down, I dug into my ice cream. It really soothed the soul. It was cold, minty, and sweet. I was about to strike conversation with EJ, but he was turned around and talking to Cara and Payton, who were at the other table. “Go sit with them,” I told EJ. “Take the chair.” “No, it’s okay,” he said as he noticed I was looking. “I just wanted to say something.” I took another bite of ice cream. Right after, EJ leaned in really close across the table. “I’m doing it tonight.” “You’re what?” I said. “Making the move,” he said. “With Cara.” “I thought we were sneaking out tonight,” I said. “But okay. Good for you.” “Wait, you remembered?” EJ said. He laughed. “So you wan-“ He stopped talking. He slowly turned his head to the left. I looked over and saw both the girls listening. “I’m sorry, but what the hell?” EJ said. “What is it? We’re talking!” “A little less defensive, bro,” I whispered. “Uh,” EJ said, correcting himself. “What’s up?” I could feel the tension. I didn’t know what would happen if Cara found out EJ was into her, but I didn’t want to find out. I buried myself in my ice cream. Payton had a look of hatred on her face. “You’re getting in trouble,” she said. “I can’t let you.” EJ sighed, as if he was holding his breath. “We’re not actually sneaking out.” “Sure,” Cara said. She went back to her ice cream. Once it looked like they weren’t listening anymore, EJ turned back to me. “You couldn’t cut that suspense with a knife,” he said. “For a minute there, I thought she heard me.” “I did hear you,” Payton said. EJ’s head hit the table. “I’m done,” he said. “If my own sister won’t keep her head out of my business-“ “I’m your older sister,” she said. “It’s my business if you’re going to get in trouble!” “Let it go, my friend,” I said. Payton looked at me, then back at EJ, and then started eating. EJ nodded at me in an approving way and then took another bite. “We’re doing it,” EJ mouthed. “Whatever,” I mouthed back.

Chapter Twenty: Connecting

We finally made it back to camp. The van pulled up to the boy’s cabins and Craig asked all the boys to exit. “See you later,” EJ told Cara. We all got out and the van pulled away down the road. “Now what?” I said. “Let’s just go rest for a while,” he said. We went back to the cabin and walked to our beds, flopping ourselves down on them. I reached into my bag and pulled out a Gatorade I had brought. I offered one to EJ and he reached down from the top bunk and took it from me. Brandon followed a few minutes after and got in his bed too, playing on his phone again. “Who were you partners with, Brandon?” I asked. “Nobody,” he said. “I didn’t want anybody.” “And nobody wanted you,” EJ said. Brandon rocket up from his bed and looked at EJ. He didn’t say anything, he just glared. And then he laid back down. “Probably.” “EJ, that isn’t nice,” I said. “Sorry,” he said. “Hey Jack, come up here.”

I climbed up the ladder to his bed and sat down. “I got some peanuts from earlier. Have some.” He gave me a packet of peanuts and we started eating.  “It’s nearly five,” I said. “Two at night,” he said. I groaned. “Really? I’m not sure if I want to leave.” “Look Jack,” he said. “I’m going with or without you. It’s your choice whether you want to make sure nothing happens to me.” “You can take care of yourself,” I said. “Definitely.” “Fine,” he mumbled. “I thought you’d want to.” I did kind of want to. But I was so scared of getting caught that I didn’t want to do it all. And what would we do? We would just go out for a few moments, laugh that we got out successfully, and then go back in. But I never did anything exciting, and it seemed like he really wanted to do it with me…. “Ok,” I said, already regretting it. “Let’s do it.” He threw down his peanuts. “Really?” he said. “Awesome. So I’ll have extra soda at dinner so I have caffeine to stay awake, and then I’ll wake you up. I think the fastest escape would be through that emergency exit.” I looked over towards the door, right between a few bunks. “The alarm goes off,” I said. “I’ll show you.” I jumped the bed and walked over to the door. I pushed the door open, revealing the outside, but there wasn’t a sound. “That Joshua guy fixed it,” EJ said. “It’ll be a smooth escape. From there, we’re gonna do whatever we want for however long we want, until it’s time to go back.” “We both know it doesn’t open both ways,” I said. “We’ll have to go in through the main door.” “But is it locked? I think they keep it locked at night. If that’s the case, I’ll have to slip over and unlock it,” he explained. “And then we’re good.”

We were there for ten minutes or so, in the cabin, chilling. Then we got up and left the cabin to go play gaga ball. When we arrived at the location, there were about five other people playing, so we waited until they were done and we hopped in. The game began like normal, and everything was going smoothly. EJ went in to hit the ball but somebody else came in and got him out. “Wow,” EJ said, exiting.” I crouched down to hit the ball as it came towards me, but I got a huge amount of pain in my thighs. Still, I played the whole game until I got out, and then I sat down on the ground by the tree. “My thigh muscles hurt,” I said. “From earlier.” “Mine too,” he said. “But I’m going to keep playing. One more time, I guess.”

I watched EJ play a few games, and I could see the soreness affecting his play. He was playing defensively and not running towards the ball. When it came down to him and one other person, EJ didn’t hit the ball fast enough and he lost. As a bunch of kids came in, he came out and we walked over to nine square. He instantly got in line, since there was a big game going on. I walked over to a nearby vending machine so I could get 7-up, but when I checked my wallet, I only had five dollars left. I thought I had more money than that. I figured I should walk to the outdoor bathroom area where there’s a water fountain and just drink that instead. I walked away from nine square down the path when I saw Cara, Payton, Ben and Tiffany all coming towards me. “Oh, Jack,” Cara said, coming forward. “Where’s your friend? What’s his name again?” I laughed. “You don’t know his name?” “No, I forgot,” she said honestly. “Do you know where he is?” “Yeah, at the Smithsonian center,” I said, pointing behind me. “Why?” But they went past me. I guess I didn’t need to hear it after all. I went over to the water fountain and took a few sips. As soon as it touched my tongue I spit it out on the ground. It was warm and tasted distinctly like rusted metal. As much as I didn’t want to buy a drink, I walked all the way back to get one. Hopefully I’ll have enough for tonight and tomorrow, I thought.

When I got back to the game, EJ wasn’t playing anymore and he was sitting down with Cara and everybody else. When I walked up, they stopped talking and dispersed. Ben and Tiffany stood up. “I’ll talk to you later,” Ben said, and they both walked away. I sat down on the ground with the other three. “So, what’s up?” “Nothing,” Cara said. “Anyway, I’m really tired after today.” “Same here,” EJ said. “And so is Jack.” “Uh, yeah,” I said, clearly suspicious as to what they were talking about. I got up again to get my drink, which was one dollar and a quarter, by the way, and turned around to see EJ walking to me. “Ready to go?” “Where?” I asked. “Dinner,” he said. “It’s five minutes until six. Let’s go.” “Oh man,” I said, walking. “I had just bought a 7-Up.” “You could save it,” he said.

We walked down hill and then uphill again, reaching the cafeteria. A crowd of people were moving towards the door. “What did Cara and Payton and them talk to you about?” I asked. “Nothing special like you think,” he said. “Ben said he wanted to meet up with me and Cara after church, though. Payton and Tiffany were wondering why they weren’t invited and that’s when Ben left. “I understand them,” I said. “Payton and Tiffany were probably like “wonder what’s wrong me?”” “I don’t know,” he said as we entered the building. “I think it’s because Ben likes Cara and he wants to talk to me about it. But then, why would she be there?” “And also, I know you like Cara too, but there’s know way she’s picking between the three of us.” I stopped walking. “First of all,” I said. “How do you know Ben likes her?” “He told me,” said EJ. “Not directly, but, you know….” “Second,” I continued. “You know what I said. Cara doesn’t like me. I don’t think she does as a friend. And besides, I don’t want to be with her.” “You two are friends,” he said. “Come on. And what makes you think she dislikes you? I mean, it’s great for me that you don’t, but you can’t be sure.” “She doesn’t like me,” I said. “I don’t know why, she isn’t friendly to me.” “Who?” Cara said, suddenly appearing from nowhere right aside us. EJ jumped. “Oh,” he yelped, nervously smiling. “Uh, nobody.” “It’s me,” she said blatantly. “Isn’t it?” “Yes,” EJ said, defeated. “Hey!” I exclaimed. “Well it’s true,” EJ said. He turned to Cara. “Jack says you dislike him.” She turned to me. “Who said that?” I immediately blushed. I couldn’t help it. All these sudden attention towards me was taking me off guard. “I, um,” I stumbled. “Well, uh, I just got the idea. You’ve kind of ignored me a little bit, I mean, up to this point in time.” “I didn’t,” she said. “Sorry you thought that.” I gulped as she walked away through the crowd. “Come on, you three, dinner time.” I turned and saw Payton was walking past us. EJ beckoned me to come along and I followed him inside, trying to evade all the people pushing against me trying to enter too.

I got a serving of ham and mashed potatoes and walked over to the table. EJ followed me and we sat down, eating only seconds after sitting down. “I’m starving,” EJ said, gulping down his food. I put my spoon in my food but didn’t eat just yet. “Come on, man,” I said. “You didn’t have to tell her.” He looked up. “I didn’t have to,” he said. “But now you know.” “Yeah,” I said, “But now she’s going to be weirded out by me. “She won’t,” he said, drinking from his cup. I kind of nodded and began to eat. Even though I had a bunch of ice cream not long ago, I was still really hungry. All that work tires you out. EJ and I talked about a bunch of stuff that I don’t need to repeat, although I must say, it felt kind of empty only talking to one person. In previous camp adventures, I had a group of friends that I hung out with. But since a bunch of my friends had birthdays after summer, they couldn’t come to teen camp. Except for EJ. And the week was ending and I was having a fun time, even though half my friends weren’t there. It was just EJ and I, it felt quieter. Partly because my best friend is rather loud, but that’s not the point.

We threw away our Styrofoam cups and took our plates to the washing counter and then threw open the door to the outside. The heat came upon me again, but accompanied by a cool breeze. “Hey EJ,” I said. “The weather has been really good this week. So much better than Trinity Pines.” “You’re right,” he said. “It hasn’t been muggy or humid at all.” “You mean, not like you?” I laughed. “No,” he replied, also laughing. “I meant like your mother.”

I was lying down on the grass outside chapel, looking at the sky. Time really flies. It didn’t seem like four days had already gone, and it wasn’t that fast at other camps. Was it because I was getting older or because I was having more fun? I still don’t know. Anyway, I was preparing for the last evening, and I hoped that I wouldn’t go to sleep that night feeling unproductive. “What are you doing?” EJ, coming into my vision. “Just... lying down?” “Do you remember last year?” I asked. He just stood there for a moment. “Well, yeah,” he said, sitting down.

“It was our last time at children’s camp,” he went on. “We did a lot of cool stuff. Although, remember that one kid? He was super annoying. But it was fun bugging the hell out of ‘em.” “His name was Nathan,” I said, smiling. “What a little sucker. And remember that marching rhyme we said?” “Only “I don’t know what I’ve been told,” he said. “The rest is history. “And Bier would get it wrong,” I said, sitting up. “Hey, I wonder if Cara remembers anything from last year.” “I would be surprised if she didn’t,” EJ said. “You asked her out.” “No I didn’t,” I said, looking at him. “You wanted me to, though.” He laughed. “You wanted to as well.” “Maybe you’re the one who has the bad memory,” I said, stretching my neck. “I barely said a word to her, it was you who-“ “Hey,” he said, suddenly stopping me. “Here she comes.”

Cara came over with Payton and sat down on the grass next to us. “What are we doing?” Payton asked. “Jack was lying down as if he was dead,” EJ said. “I was about to step on his face.” “Liar,” I said, resting back down on the ground. It looked like the sun was setting. “No, you’re the liar. Get it?” he said, forcing a laugh. “’Cause you’re lying down?” “Hey EJ, that was so funny, I think I’m going to shoot myself,” I said. Everybody started laughing. It wasn’t more than twenty minutes before they let us in. I pulled out the paper schedule that was in my pocket because I was curious as to why they were letting us in early. Sure enough, the service was supposed to be about twelve to fifteen minutes longer because it was mean to be meaningful. Also, Craig had told us beforehand that they were giving us t-shirts today, so that was bound to take up time. You see, each camp has a theme. For instance, previous ones were ‘Epic,’ ‘Shine,’ ‘Let Down Your Hair,’ and ‘Best Ever.’ Regardless of how weird they sounded, they all had some tie to the overall lesson. Anyway…

We walked into the auditorium once again, the cold air conditioning blasting us, as we sat down. Pastor Craig stood up from his chair and looked around to see if everybody in our group had arrived. We waited a few minutes and then the last of the people walked in the doors, and the band walked up on stage. At the point, Brandon came and made room for a seat next to me. The band members started. “Everybody stand up!” The songs were good, but like I said previously, the quality of the main singer’s vocals were going down. It’s like the sickness that overcame the female singer had taken over the male singer, and I felt that even the instrumentals were lackluster. Nevertheless, I worshipped. Suddenly, they started a song that was a lot more different compared to the other slower ones, and a bunch of people went to the front of the stage and started raising their hands and jumping up and down. Cara and Payton went by me and EJ to go up. “What are they doing?” I asked. “I think it’s a mosh pit,” EJ said. “Strange.” I didn’t bother going up, but it was cool to watch. Everytime the music would ramp up and drop, everybody jumped high in the air in beat with the music. But I wondered; what was so special about this song compared to the others? I guess it was the spirit of camp. The song ended and all of us applauded. Then the band went down and we all sat back in our seats.

The preacher came up on stage. “Good evening,” he said. And then he went on about the usual service. He talked about a few miscellaneous things and then he mentioned the camp theme. He began to speak; “I’m proud to announce that the theme is…”


Nobody said anything. “Ordinary what?” I whispered to EJ. Then, a slideshow picture came up on the screen above the stage. It said in big letters, “Ordinary.” “Oh,” he whispered back. “That’s uh, the theme.” The preacher on stage began to explain. “I know what you’re thinking, since it says ordinary, but it’ll all make sense when I teach you this lesson…” And then for the next two hours he explained why it was called that. Broken down, we learned that to us, our ordinary, everyday lives may seem meaningless to us, but to God, it’s our offering to him. It all seemed pretty nice.

“And now, we’re giving out shirts,” the man said. “The shirts are a blue color with the aesthetic words “Ordinary” on them,” I stifled my laugh, and I heard EJ, Cara and Payton all do the same. EJ looked at me. “What, Jack, you don’t want to wear a shirt that has “Ordinary” on it?” “Anyway,” the man went on,” You can come up the stage and pick from small, medium or large sizes right now. Come one!” We got up from our seats and walked into the rows, toward the stage. Unfortunately, everybody in the room, of every church group, did the same. It was a struggle trying to get past the crowd. EJ, who was in front of me, looked behind him at me and told me to just use force. And I did; I put my broad shoulder out and pushed through everybody. I made it to the front of the stage and took a medium sized shirt and made a maneuver back to my seat, which was equally as challenging. I sat down and looked at my shirt. It looked nice enough, although EJ was right; I didn’t want to wear a shirt that labeled me as ordinary all that much. But all who judged me wouldn’t know the meaning behind it.

“Why are they explaining the theme towards the end of camp?” I heard Cara say as she sat down. “Why not at the beginning?” “I don’t know,” EJ said. “Maybe a buildup,” I said, smiling. Then I looked down at my watch, since it seemed like this service should be over. Sure enough, it was nine-fifty at night. It should be wrapping up any moment, I thought.

Chapter Twenty One: Sneaking Away

As I suspected, the service ended very soon. They released a bunch of balloons into the crowd and they all started hitting them around, similar to the first night there. Since we were able to leave, Pastor Craig called everybody to follow him outside. “What are we going to do after this thing?” I asked EJ. “I have no idea,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.” Our group walked out of the left exit by the stage, walking into the humid night. I accidently walked into a group of moths that were hanging around the light above the exit. We headed over to the path leading all the way to recreation center, but instead of following it we crossed it and went down a small, grassy hill. At first I had no idea where we were going, but then I spotted a little concrete square in the grass with a firepit in the center. We walked over to it and got in a circle. Pastor Craig took out a lighter and paper and began to light the fire. When it was burning, he stepped back into the circle. “I thought we’d stay here to talk about some things,” he said. First, I would like to mention that I’ve had a really good time with you guys this camp. It’s my first time, but I’m glad you came.” “We’re glad you came too,” one of the boys said. Craig smiled. “The other thing is that… well, I just wanted to talk about what happened during service. I felt like that was a really special time for us all. There were some good songs and a great lesson, and I could tell that many of you were touched.” When he said this, I actually heard somebody sniff as if they were tearing up. I looked around at all the people in the circle and then back down at the fire. “I don’t want to hold you guys up, but I want to ask you guys something; if you have anything to say about tonight, please say it.” I was pretty confused by this, but apparently a few people actually did want to say stuff. One of the girls spoke up about her family. Her mom was in the hospital and the girl was really worried up until that service. She began to feel really peaceful about it after that. “That’s great,” Craig said, nodding his head slowly. “Anybody else?” One of the boys I knew, named Eric, began to speak. “As ya’ll know, I’ve been really stressed out about my college plans, so much that I’ve been drifting away from faith. But tonight, during the last song, I really reconnected and I feel fantastic.” “I love it,” Craig said, smiling. “Anybody else?” Surprisingly, I heard Cara talk from a few feet down the circle. “Um,” she began, “My family has been through a lot lately and, um, it was pretty bad. And I knew that if I came to camp that it would be really good for me and my brother. And it’s really good, and I hope that this spirit can come with me back home.”

She actually kind of cried a little bit, but she tried to hide it with a nervous laugh. EJ moved from aside me and walked over to Cara, coming up behind her and embracing her. I felt really uncomfortable, and maybe even slightly envious, but it instantly left my mind and I looked over at Craig. He himself looked close to tears. But he said he was proud of Cara and then he talked about that general thing for a few more minutes. “Let’s pray before we set off on our own ways,” he said. He began to pray for all of us as I lowered my head, looking into the fire. It was really good. I didn’t feel a single special thing in the service, like all these people did, but I felt something completely different hearing that it touched others. Once we were done praying, he told everybody to be back in their cabins in about an hour, and then we all walked separate ways. I looked over at EJ who was walking over to me. “I know you wanted to do something,” he said. “but I just remembered that Ben was going to meet Cara and I at the little playground area. Can I see you at the cabin in about twenty minutes?” He put his arm around me and we walked down the path, towards our cabin. “It won’t take long,” and then he hit me once on the back and jogged away. Alone on the path, I solemnly walked. I thought about a lot of things, but mostly about Cara and EJ. Did she like him back? She didn’t resist going into his arms, but then again, she could have thought it was friendly. Or maybe she didn’t want to make fuss in such a moment. Judging she forgot his name once showed that maybe she didn’t think twice about him. And what about me? Do I even register? After all, I was wrong about her disliking me, what about the opposite?

My doubt came in and said no. And I figured that I couldn’t even trust my feelings. What I thought was a crush could be something completely different. I figured I shouldn’t bother with her at all, I should just focus on other things. She was for EJ. But the year before that, he was pushing me to go talk to her because he thought I liked her. When I said I just wanted to be friends, he gave up and started talking to her himself, and then he would comeback and say “See? It’s easy. Just go talk to her and boom, you’re friends.” But I wouldn’t because I thought she disliked me. Isn’t that a dynamic?

At that instant, Brandon jumped-scared me coming up beside me. “Rah!” he said. I jumped a little bit. “Did I scare you?” he said. “Yeah,” I said. “That mask is scary.” “I’m not wearing one,” he said slowly. “Oh,” I said, fighting back laughter. “Funny.” He followed me all the way back to the cabin until we walked in the door. Almost every boy was back, lying in bed or doing something in the bathroom. I opted not to shower because it was so busy, so I just changed into my sleepwear and flung myself on the bed. I took my phone out of my pocket and plugged it into my shower, and reached over to my bag and pulled out a granola bar I was saving. I ate comfortably. Brandon came in his pajamas and curled up in his bed, looking at his phone. I went and checked my own phone for the first time that week to see I had one message from my mom. She wanted to know if I was having a good time. Although it was from that afternoon, I replied saying that I was and that I loved her. Then I put my phone down and went to go brush my teeth.

I entered the bathroom and saw Davis talking on the phone in front of the sink. He saw me with my toothbrush and stepped out of the way for me, and I began to brush. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation. “No, this isn’t James,” he was saying, clearly exasperated. “His number ends in five-four-six, not four-five-six. Four-five-six is mine. No, he’s not here. No, leave me alone.” When I was finished, I heard EJ walk up behind me, and I turned around to greet him. “Yo,” I said. “That wasn’t too long.” “Wait ‘till I tell you,” he said. We walked over to his top bunk and I sat down in it with him. “Ready?” he said. I said yes.

“Alright,” he said. “So I see Ben standing by the bench outside the gaga ball area. I go up and say “What’s up?” and he just says “Where’s Cara?” So I tell him I have no idea, but just then I see Cara herself walking up. She says hi and then we all sit down.” “Okay,” I said. “And?” He started again; “He started talking to her about how they just met but he was glad that he found another person to talk about, and they just went on like that for a while. She seemed kind of awkward. And then, while I was wondering what I was doing there, he says it.” “What?” I say, leaning forward. He looks down and shakes his head laughing. “He asks her to be his girlfriend.” It’s a good thing I didn’t have any water in my mouth, because otherwise I would have spit it all over him. Did I mention that Ben was almost five years older than her? I laughed myself. “Tell me she said no.” “Well, of course she refused,” he said. “She explained she was barely thirteen and then asked why he’d even ask, and it seemed like Ben hadn’t really thought about it. And that’s when she got up and walked away, and I did the same. Did you know that I told him that I liked her, and he asked her out anyway? Man…” “I didn’t know anything,” I reminded him. “But it’s cool you told me.” “It’s so ridiculous,” he said. “Hey, maybe she’ll be willing to date me now.’ “Don’t get carried away,” I said. Then somebody yelled “Taco time!” I looked down from the bunk to see Pastor Craig walking in with a bunch of tacos. “Where’d you get those?” EJ asked. “I got them for you guys,” Craig said. “It’s your reward for cleaning up today. Here.” He gave us the box and we each took two, and then he walked around the cabin dispersing them to the others. “Cheers,” EJ said, holding his taco up. We dinked them together and then we both ate.

The rest isn’t important. Eventually I climbed into my own bed and fell asleep.

I woke up suddenly, having been in deep sleep. EJ was shaking me awake. “Come on, man,” he whispered. “Let’s go.” I put the sheets down by my feet. EJ was standing in front of me. “Ready?” “It can’t be seven yet,” I said. “It’s like I just fell asleep.” “Seven?” he said. “No, it’s two. We’re leaving, remember?” I rolled my eyes and flopped down onto my pillow. “I’m not sure we should do this.” He hit my side. “I didn’t stay awake this long for you to think twice. Come on.” Shaking my head, I climbed out bed, groping for some clothes. It was still cold. I eventually found the clothes from yesterday on the ground and pulled them on. I had no idea what the purpose of sneaking out of the cabins was, but if he wanted to do it…

When I was dressed again, we were both standing in the darkness. “I have the flashlight. Slowly go towards the emergency exit,” he told me. We both walked over, and then he stopped right in front of the door. “When I open the door, hurry through.” He stayed still for a few seconds and then swung open the door. We both swiftly went through, and then the door closed. And that was it. We were standing outside of the cabin, in the dark. “Cool,” EJ said, looking around proudly. “We did it.” “Great.” I said. “By the way, did you ever unlock the other door so we could get in?” EJ stood in silence. “No,” he muttered. “That isn’t good.” I hit my head against the wall. “Well how are we going to enter again?” “I don’t know,” he said. “But for now, let’s just look around.

We walked along the row of cabins with no real goal but to explore. There were almost no lights and we couldn’t see the lake. “It’s not so bad,” EJ said. “This is all I wanted to do. We can go back now.” “You don’t want to go anywhere else?” I said. “Like, the cafeteria?” He looked at me. “Are you crazy?” he asked. “And I thought you were against it.” “We’re already out,” I said. “No, let’s go back in,” he responded. “Wuss,” I joked.

We walked up the door of our cabin and tried to open it. Of course, we couldn’t get in. The windows didn’t open and had no locks, so we couldn’t go that way. The only other entrance was the emergency exit, but there was no handle on the outside. We sat down on the grass in front of it, thinking of what to do. We got distracted, though. “This is much better than children camp,” EJ said. “There’s a lot of freedom. And it feels better.” “Totally,” I said, throwing pine cones around. “I can’t wait for next year already.” “Yeah,” he said. “But really… I have a plan to get back in.” It turned out that the plan he was thinking of was to scratch the door until somebody inside the cabin woke up and opened the door to see what was making the sound, and when he’d see there was nothing, he would go back in but we would catch the door as it closed. It was risky. “Here we go,” EJ said, stick in hand. He put the stick at the top of the door and began to push downwards. As expected it made a scratching noise. “Do it faster,” I said. He stroked up and down, over and over again. It seemed like it would never work. We were just two stupid kids locked out of the cabin, scratching the exit. But then the door rattled. EJ grabbed me by the arm and we ran around the wall to the other side. We heard the door open. Somebody grunted and then we heard footsteps disappear. We peeked around the corner of the wall to see the door closing. EJ rushed forward and grabbed it at the last second, holding it centimeters from the hinge. “Hurry,” he said. “This is heavy.”

I went over and helped him hold it. After a minute, he said that whoever opened the door was in bed again, so we could enter. We opened the door all the way and snuck inside. We smiled at each other and got back in bed, happy at we did. Well, he was happy. And I guess I was too. I broke a rule. But it wasn’t very special. Because I was so tired, I immediately fell asleep again.

Chapter Twenty Two: The Last Morning

I slowly opened my eyes; I was looking at the wall near my bunk, and I was awake. Shaking from the cold, I rubbed my eyes and sat up in my bed. Almost everybody was up, talking and rummaging around in the beds and in their bags. Then I realized that everybody was packing their backs; it was the last morning at Lakeview, and that was just too bad. I rose out of bed, pulling on a longsleeve shirt and looking around. EJ didn’t wake me up, did I wake up before him? I stood up from my bed and looked up into the bunk, pulling myself up. Nope, he wasn’t in his sleeping bag. I even looked at Brandon’s bed, although he was still in deep sleep. As I was standing there, EJ walked around the corner to the beds. “Oh,” he said as he saw me. He was already dressed. “You’re awake. Craig says to get packed and pile our bags at the door.” “This early?” I said, reaching down into my duffel to get some clothes. “Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t like it either. But I’m ready to go.” I didn’t have to do that much. I grabbed my sandals, some water bottles I had outside of my bag, and a bunch of other things and shoved them in. The hardest part was stuffing my bedding things and dirty clothes into the trash bag that I had brought. But after a few minutes, it was all together. As I walked to the bathrooms to groom myself, I got a wave of hot, humid air due to the showers and an array of different body wash and deodorant smells. It was sort of a relief after waking up to Greenland.

I did a quick teeth brushing and then wet my hair and moved it around in my hands. My hair looked good enough after that, so I didn’t need my brush. I cleansed my face with cool water and then left the bathroom. As I walked by the door, I looked the nearby window and saw it was pretty light. I checked my watch and saw that it was ‘7:49,’ which is normally around breakfast time. When I walked past Pastor Craig, I asked him about it. “They gave us extra time to pack,” he explained. ‘Breakfast is at eight.” He turned to everybody in the cabin. “Hustle everybody,” he yelled. “And get your luggage to the door.” He turned back to me. “Can you and EJ do me a favor and take all those bags at the door to the van right outside?” Did I want to? No, they weren’t my bags. But I agreed and he slapped me on the back as he passed. I found EJ just zipping up his bag. I told him what Craig wanted us to do and he hauled his pillow and bag over his shoulder and walked away. I quickly got dressed and then grabbed my duffel bag and other things and walked to the door.

Swinging it open, I felt the morning wind hit me; warm, but not too hot. Yet. “Let’s take our own things first,” said EJ. “We can come back.” We walked around the bunkhouse to the two vans parked right outside and dumped our bags there, and then promptly turned around. We went back and forth, taking at least six trips to get all the bags from the cabin, all while teens walked past us. When we were done, we stretched our arms and walked down the road to the cafeteria. “I’m so hungry,” I said. “You?” “Same,” he said. “Let’s run.” I shrugged. After all, why not? It was the last day. So we sprinted at top speed past all the people passing, down the trench and up it again, reaching the cafeteria in record speed.

Out of breath, we rested against the wall outside the entrance. We looked and saw a ton of people crowded around. I assumed they weren’t letting us in yet. “Well, it’s five minutes until eight,” EJ said. “I need to find my sister too, but I don’t see her.” “Why?” I asked. “She has a habit of not doing what she is supposed to,” he said, smirking. “I bet she’s still asleep.” He spoke at the wrong time because Payton and Cara walked around the bend towards us. “Hey,” Cara said. “Can’t get in yet?” “No, not yet,” EJ said. “They let us in at eight, and it’s only seven ‘o six.” “Oh,” she said, walking more towards the door. “’Kay.” “Did you get your bag?” EJ called to Payton. “What do you think?” she yelled back. EJ laughed and looked at me. “She could have just said no.”

When the doors opened, it was mad trying to get inside. But after effort we made in the building and into the line. They were serving giant breakfast burritos, but I had no idea what they were stuffed with. I got one anyway with a side of eggs. We sat down at the table and I got some orange juice. I normally get Dr. Pepper, but I was feeling orange-y. When I came back to the table, EJ had taken a bit of the burrito. “It has sausage, cheese and salsa,” he said. “You know, the camp food here is nice.” “Yep,” I said, taking a bite. It wasn’t great, but it was good. I guess.

“I hope the drive home doesn’t take fifty days again,” he said. “That really wore me out.” “You slept seventy percent of the time,” I said. “I plan to do it on the way back,” he said. “If you don’t mind.” “Well, I don’t mind,” I admitted. “But you’ll miss everything.” “You mean broken A/C and cramped close quarters?” I blinked. “Yeah!” He snickered. “We’ll see how tired I am. I wonder if Cara will sleep on my shoulder.” “And you can sleep on your sister’s,” I said. “She doesn’t let me,” he said through a bite of egg. “She thinks I’m disgusting.” “That’s one thing we agree on,” I laughed. He threw a crumb at me. Brandon came through the door with a cup of yogurt and sat down next to us. “Hi,” he said. “I’m happy this is the last day. I can’t wait to go home and play on my PlayStation.” EJ looked at me. “Seriously?” he mouthed. I looked over at Brandon. “Why don’t you like it here?” “It’s hot and there’s nothing to do,” he said. I didn’t answer, I just took a huge gulp of juice and finished my food.

After EJ was finished, I followed him out the exit and we walked over to a benched area near chapel to wait. We sat down and propped our feet up on a rock. “Hey Jack, remember when Anthony was gorging himself with pancakes?” “Uh, which occasion are you referring to?” I said. My friend Anthony, a big eater, would eat big meals just for the fun of it. “Last year at camp,” said EJ. “And then he reached for ketchup and accidently got hot sauce?” I smiled to myself. “He ran over to the ice machine and stuck his hands in trying to cool his mouth.” We both began to laugh. “It wasn’t even that spicy.” As my smile faded, I began to feel a little bummed out that camp was pretty much over. It’s something I wait months and sometimes all year for, yet it seems to go by so fast. But it wasn’t over yet. “Do you have any sunburns?” EJ asked me. I looked around my body. “Nope,” I said. I didn’t have to ask if he did; parts of his arms and legs were red. Even though he put on sun block, he still had to pay the price for having fair skin. As I thought, I seem to remember Payton being burnt too because she had skin like EJ. However, Cara had darker tan skin like me, so we barely had to wear any. As I thought about the sunburns, I began to realize I didn’t have any mosquito bites either. In fact, there weren’t any mosquitoes and Lakeview. It was too hot, I guess. And not enough water.

We waited around for half an hour until they let us into the chapel. The pair of us hurried through the doors and rushed in the cool gym to our seats. Cara and Payton came in late and sat next us. Pastor Crag, who was sitting a row in front of us, suddenly held up his camera; I could see he was talking a picture. I and everyone around me posed, and then he snapped the picture and put his phone done, just as the service began. The man preaching went to the front of the stage and pulled down the microphone. “So, before we get started with our final service,” he said. “I’d like to do two things. First, we pray…” He prayed for everybody in the building and then we all raised our heads back up again. “Second,” He began again. “We’re going to be giving out t-shirts that have the logo of our sponsor; Dair Academy.” A bunch of people cheered all around the room, as two of the band members came alongside the preacher carrying giant t-shirt blasters. With a ‘poof,’ shirts came firing from the stage into the crowd. Everywhere one went teens would stand up and grope around in the air. As soon as people saw shirts flying, we all stood up with our hands to the sky. One came right at our group, and Cara caught it. She cheered and sat down, looking at it. It was a red shirt with the fancy looking logo on it.

The ‘service’ was short. It was really just a prep talk if anything, and a thank you for all the kids who came to Lakeview. It was only an hour before everybody was dismissed.

When we left the place, Craig got everybody’s attention. He said that we all had to be at our cabins at twelve thirty, which was right after lunch, so we could start the drive home. Since it was ten, that meant we had a good two and a half hours to do what we wanted. When everybody went their own way, I asked EJ what he wanted to do. “Let’s go to the lake one last time,” he said. “Before we go, let’s get Cara and my sister.” “I’m right here,” Cara said from behind me. “But I don’t know where Payton is.” EJ turned around. “Where did she go? Like, what direction?” She shrugged. “Uh, I don’t know, I think I saw go near the cafeteria again.” And so the three of us walked around to the cafeteria. I looked behind me to see Brandon following us from a yard away, looking down at his phone.

When we got the cafeteria, we spotted Payton coming around the corner. “Over here,” Cara called. Payton saw us and instantly ran over. As she came, I saw Ben coming from the same corner, except instead of walking towards us, he walked away down the other path. “Where did you go?” Cara asked her. Payton’s face became red. “Uh,” she said. “Well, right after we were released from service, Ben pulled me aside and said he wanted to talk.” “And?” EJ said, leaning in. Payton looked at him in a dirty way and then looked at Cara. “Let’s go over there and talk,” she said. She and Cara walked to a nearby tree, clearly wanting to talk in private. “What’s the deal?” EJ said, sounding offended. “Well, not that I care. I don’t really want to do anything with Ben. I don’t like him, really.” “Me too,” I said, looking over at the girls. As I did, Cara gasped and ran over to us. “EJ!” she said. “That Ben guy kissed your sister!” EJ, who had been sitting on the railing of the stairs, fell off and hit the ground. He rocketed back up. “What!” he yelled. “Cara!” Payton screamed. “Why?” She giggled. “Sorry,” she said. EJ walked over to Payton. “Why did you let him kiss you?” “It was his idea!” Payton said defensively. “And you shouldn’t care about that! Its my business!” I admired EJ’s care for his sister, but she clearly was bothered. I didn’t say anything, though, I just listened to them argue as we walked through the grounds all the way to the lake.


On the way there, we stopped momentarily at the gift shop and picked up a few Gatorades. Then we made a beeline for the lake. We missed the sun rising over the water of the lake, but it still looked pretty. We didn’t really have anything to do there but just look, so we walked over to a shaded area and sat down. “The blob is lame,” EJ mentioned, sipping his orange sports drink. “The one at the other camp is better, somehow.” “I don’t like it,” Cara said. “It makes me feel panicked.” “Yeah, well, you and Jack should get together,” he said. Then he realized what he said, and it got pretty awkward. “Anyway,” EJ said loudly, “it’s been a fun week. It’s too bad we have to go.” “I told you teen camp was better,” Payton told EJ in an ‘I told you so’ tone. “And you were worried.” “You were worried?” I asked EJ. He sighed. “A little,” he said. “I was worried too,” I said. “I was worried it would be terrible, or I wouldn’t fit in.” “Me too!” Cara exclaimed. Relieved I wasn’t the only one that was finicky about going to teen camp for the first time, I relaxed a little more.

An hour passed. We were just sitting there not doing anything, but it was super relaxing sitting there by the lake. The weather was perfect. All things get tiring, though, and we all got up and walked up the hill again so we could go play gaga ball.  After a lot of walking, we made it there and saw a lot of people in the pen playing. I was hesitant to join in because I was sore, but since it was the last day, I decided it couldn’t hurt; I was wrong. It did hurt. Every step towards the ball ached my thighs, but I still played. A girl almost got me out early in the match, but I swooped out of the way and hit it back at her. When she tried to spike it back at me, she hit it too hard and it flew over the fence. Luckily, Brandon was walking by at the right moment and walked over to get it for us. Slowly but surely he came back over and threw it back in. Shortly after that was when Cara and EJ both got out; the ball bounced off her and hit him. How unfortunate.  And I did so well that I got second place; the guy I was up against got a lucky strike on me and it hit my shin and top speed. “Good game,” he said. Everybody got into ring again but I stepped out, deciding it would be better to watch. EJ was doing good as usual, and I noticed that Cara was doing pretty well too. She got out pretty early, though, and soon she was hanging out with Payton outside the game. I kept watching EJ as he played up until he got out in the final five. “I got reckless,” he said.

He went over to where Cara was sitting on the ground and sat next to her. I went over and sat next to him as he talked. As I watched, it was clear to me that EJ was a lot more interested than Cara was. I wondered if he realized that. Somehow, that lasted a while until it was time for lunch. Time went remarkably fast.

When we got the lunchroom again, we had apparently been late because everybody was inside already, pigging out. We got in line though and saw they were serving cheese pizza and curly fries. Normally when camps try to serve pizza, it tastes really bad. But it was pretty tasty, more so than I thought. EJ agreed with me. We were sitting with Cara and Payton at their table. I wondered why Ben was sitting there anymore, but I guess he was scared off by Cara denying his request to date her. Or maybe some other reason, I had no idea. I slurped down a Dr. Pepper and ate my slices of pizza really fast. “I want to sit in the back again,” EJ said. “You know, in the van?” “Me too,” Cara said. “That’s where I belong.” “I think it’s the least hot back there,” I said. “Somehow.”

When we left the cafeteria, I checked the watch; it was twelve twenty. That meant it was nearly time to leave. I didn’t want to, but I knew it was time to go to the van. I told this to EJ and we walked back to our cabin. “It’s been fun, Jack,” he told me. “These are our last steps at Lakeview.” “Don’t say it,” I said. “Tell me it isn’t true!” I meant for it to sound more meaningful than that but it came out as really dramatic. We both laughed at that one.

Chapter Twenty Three: Going Home

Before we arrived, we went over to a vending machine nearby to get a last minute snack. Only having three dollars, EJ let me borrow two bucks so I could get a fruit punch and a bag of chips. Then we continued. We walked up to the vans that we had put all the bags near and saw all the teens standing around them. “Is everybody here yet?” one of the older boys said. “I think so,” another one said. EJ and I walked around the van and saw Cara and Payton sitting on the ground, backs to the vehicle. They had their own luggage in their laps. EJ went over and sat down, and I followed. “So yeah,” Cara said. “This was fun.” “Yep,” EJ said, stretching his arms and leaning against the van. “And only three hundred and sixty or so days until next time.” Brandon walked up, with giant sunglasses on his face. “My phone is on low battery,” he said. “It might die on the way back.” “That sucks, dude,” I said, trying to sound like I cared. “Yeah, but I have a car charger,” he responded, holding up a long cable. Around that time, Pastor Craig walked up and clapped to get everybody’s attention. “Okay, all of you guys can’t fit in one van. We’re going to have to go another one too. So, we’ll take half of you in this one,” he said, slapping the van we were at, “and the rest of you will have to walk over to the girl cabins. The other van is there.” “I’m not walking there,” EJ whispered. He discreetly stood up and moved over to doors of the van. I followed him, and Cara and Payton followed me. “Alright?” Craig said. “Uh, go. Like, go now.” Most of the teens ran over to the van door, but we were already climbing in. We walked to the end seat and sat down, and a bunch of people piled in after us. I was sitting on the far right, near the window, while EJ sat to my left and his sister and Cara to the left of him. The slow teens couldn’t get in fast enough and turned around to walk to the other location. Poor them! At least they got to walk a bit more before a long drive.

Inside the van, air began to get hotter as we waited to leave. Craig was putting everybody’s bags into the back, which took a few minutes. Once he was done, he got in himself and started the car up. He backed it up and drove up to and down the road, going past the other cabins and past people walking down the paths. “I hope that everyone got everything,” Craig said. “It’s too late now.” “I think I forgot my phone,” somebody said. “Very funny,” said Craig, slightly laughing. “Seriously, though. We’re going to stop outside the camp and take a picture in front of the Lakeview sign, so don’t get too comfortable.” Unlike most people in the van, I didn’t have a pillow to lean on. Also unlike most of the people, I had my shoes on. They had already begun to take theirs off and everything.

We got to the entrance of the camp. I turned around to look out the window and see any last glances, but we had already turned the corner of the road and the trees were blocking what I could see. “There it goes,” EJ said. We drove a little bit more and then stopped in front of the big sign out front of the grounds. “Alright, get out, ya’ll,” Pastor Craig said. “Wait ‘till they all get out,” Cara said. We patiently waited for everybody up front to exit before we got out. The other van pulled up behind ours, with half the group exiting that one as well. We all walked into the grass towards the big sign. “Wanna get on top?” I asked. “Of course,” EJ replied. Walking up to it, we found a way up to the top. We climbed up the bricks while holding onto a flag pole for support. Getting to the very top, we walked to the edge and sat down, feet dangling. I was afraid of heights, so I was eager to stay for long. The other people in our group came up too, but most of them were on the bottom, near the letters. Pastor Craig and a bunch of other chaperones  went to the bottom with their phones out, ready to take a picture. “Should I pose?” I heard Cara say. EJ turned towards her. “Yeah, lie down like you’re dead.” “Got it!” Craig called. EJ and I spun around. They had already taken the picture. “Wait!” EJ yelled. “I didn’t know it was being taken!” “Me neither,” I yelled. Craig held up his phone again. “Three,” he yelled. “Two, one…” A few seconds passed. “Okay, I took it. Good?” “Good,” we all cried out. We stood up slowly and carefully and climbed all the way down to the grass. At that instant, one of the teens held up his own cell phone and started to take a selfie. Sadly, I didn’t make it into the picture. When we got back into the vehicle, I started to get comfortable. I had no idea how long the trip back would be, but if it was as long as the way there, it was going to be long. It was almost one in the afternoon. We started to drive away, down the streets. That was when I saw Lakeview for the last time.

“Should I even buckle?” Cara said. “It’s not like I fly all those feet out the window, we’re so far back. And we won’t move for hours.” “You need to wear seatbelts,” Pastor Craig said. She sighed. “Alright.” Feeling thirsty, I went to drink from my fruit punch. But it was all gone; there wasn’t a drop left in it. “What?” I said, astonished. “EJ, look!” He took my bottle. “Uh, it’s not even open,” he said. “Where’d it go?” He looked at it for a few seconds and then discovered a small puncture on the side of the bottle. It was wet and sticky from when all the punch came out. But there wasn’t any mess on me or in the van, so somehow it all came out before then. I still don’t know how it happened. “Well, maybe we’ll stop by somewhere on the way,” he said. I hoped so.

We began to recount all the things we did over the week. All the bad things and all the not-so-good things. It all made life more fun. What wasn’t fun was the ride back. You can talk however much you want, but it gets boring pretty fast. “At my school,” EJ started, “We only get one field day every season. And when we do, my friends and I make it really fun. We do a bunch of stuff. But the last time it started thunder-storming.” “And?” I said. “Well, we had to back in,” he said. “I think this camp makes up for it, though.” “We get four field days!” Cara said. Payton turned to look at her. “What school to you go to?” “River tree middle school,” she said. “What about you two?” “Discipline county,” EJ said. I laughed. Cara and Payton stopped talking. They had earphones plugged into one of their phones, listening to music. I remembered that I had plenty of tunes to listen to on my own phone, but I had foolishly left my pair in my bag which was currently at the bottom of the trunk. So I just started talking to EJ again. “Do you skate? I asked. “Because if you did, you could bring your board next time.” “I have a board but I hate skateboarding,” he answered. “I always fall off. And if I hurt myself before soccer games, I lose. And I don’t want to lose.” “Oh,” I said. I turned back to the road to see how far we were going. It seemed like we had been driving for a while, but I checked my watch and saw it had only been about fifteen minutes. “Hey, they’re distracted,” EJ said, eyeing Cara and Payton. “Let’s play with them. On the count of three, we’ll switch seats.” “Okay,” I said, smiling. It sounded fine to me. He counted down to three and then we quickly changed spots. I slid over the seat and he went over my lap, and then I was sitting next to Cara and EJ was against the side of car. We waited a few moments, but it was clear they didn’t notice. We snickered to ourselves.

It was literally five minutes before they took the earplugs out of their ears and looked up. Cara turned around from her seat and saw me now next to Payton. “What?” she said, taken aback? “Wait a second,” she whispered, leaning over. She saw EJ sitting on the other seat. “Did you guys switch seats?” “Yes,” EJ said. She grabbed her head. “How?!” We laughed again. “You didn’t even see us! I knew you wouldn’t!” he said. “EJ, you’re going to get sunburnt by the window,” Payton said. EJ ignored it. Cara eventually went back to her phone. I looked up at all the other kids in the car and saw that everybody was trying to go to sleep. Well, not everybody, but a lot. People were leaning on each others’ shoulders, pillows in hand. I admit that I was really sleepy myself, but I had plenty of time. I could just take a nap when I arrived at my own house. Apparently EJ didn’t think about it, because a few minutes later his head landed on my shoulder. “If we stop, wake me up,” he mumbled. “Got it,” I said. At that moment, Cara leaned over to Payton and whispered something, and then they did the same thing we did; they switched seats. They giggled a lot more than we did, for some reason. And then I was sitting next to Cara, and Payton was on the window seat. Our seating plan had been reversed in under an hour. I was fine with, though, because the seatbelt was a lot more uncomfortable near the window seat. “Just wait ‘till he notices,” Cara said. “He’s asleep?” “I think so,” I said.

I checked my watch again; another twenty minutes passed since I last checked it. My feet were getting cramped inside the close quarters. To kill time, I took out my own phone. I unlocked it and surfed the apps; nothing. No games except one: Inside Out Bubble Blaster. I didn’t want to play it. I didn’t even know how to delete it from my phone. It was there since my younger cousin installed it by mistake. But alas, I was desperate and started playing it. And guess what? It was fun. The goal of the game was to take control as one of the Inside Out characters from the movie and shoot colored bubbles from the bottom of the screen to the top. The colors have to match and then they blow up, leaving less and less bubbles on the screen. You probably know what I’m talking about.

Boy was it a time waster. Minutes passed faster than normal. The levels themselves were terribly silly and childish, and it made my masculinity gag, but what else was I going to do? Then I noticed Cara look over. “What’s that?” she asked. I was tempted to turn my phone off to hide it, but I figured it was fine. “Inside Out Bubble Blaster,” I said, laughing at the name. She scooted over a little bit to look closer. It was bad spot, too; I was in the Dreamland stage. It looked like somebody barfed candy all over my screen, but nope; it was just the game. I began to play through the level some more as she watched me. After I finished, she was interested. “Can I play?” she asked. “My phone died, and Payton is hogging her phone.” “Nuh-uh!” Payton said. “I just need to look for more pictures.” “She’s looking at pictures of celebrities,” said Cara. “So can I?” “Sure,” I said, giving her the phone. “But go to the first level.” “Um, how?” she asked. I laughed. “You don’t know how?” “I don’t know anything!” she said. “Oh, nevermind, I got it.”

“We’re stopping at a gas station in about half a hour,” Craig called. Everybody said ‘okay.’ Meanwhile, I decided to wake EJ up to tell him this. He nodded and started to go back under. Cara had been through two of the levels already. She was doing okay. “Oh, is that Sadness?” she asked, pointing at the blue-sweatered character on the screen. “Yep,” I said. “She makes your bubbles half power, though.” She laughed. “Useless again, I see.” Payton hit her on the arm. “Don’t be so mean to her!” she said. “She’s the best character.” “No, Fear is,” I said. “He’s hilarious.” “I like Bing Bong,” Cara said, clearing another level. “Too bad he died.” Suddenly, EJ got up from my shoulder. “Okay, I was about to drift to sleep, but I just wanted to say that Bing Bong’s little death scene was really sad.” “Yeah,” I said. “Totally.” “Agreed,” Cara said. “I cried the most at the scene. Well, actually, it was the opening scene I teared up the most for.” “Huh?” I said. “Why?” “I had a speck of wood in my eye,” she said. We laughed.

Half an hour passed. The van slowed down and we pulled into a gas station to the left of the road. “Okay everyone,” Pastor Craig said. “If you want to get something or go to the restroom, now’s your chance.” “I’ll come,” Cara said. “Payton?” “Me too,” she answered. I shook EJ awake. He rubbed his eyes and looked out the window. “Oh, we’re here,” he said. “Uh, I’ll just have some chips I brought. I want to save my money.” And so the three of us got out of the car. When my feet hit the ground, It felt amazing. I stretched my legs and walked into the convenience  store. The air conditioning hit me like a truck, it was so cold. It felt great after being in a stuffy vehicle with no air, though. The building smelled like bathroom cleaning supplies. I walked over to the freezer area to see what kind of drink I could get for under two dollars. I saw a medium sized can of cherry Pepsi for ninety-nine cents so I grabbed that, and then I went over to an aisle and grabbed a large bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

A few other people from our group were buying stuff, bigger in quantity than what I was going to buy. But come on, I only had three dollars With tax, it was just enough. I got five pennies back in change and then I left to get back in the van. I sat down and EJ and I began to share some of my Cheetos as Cara and I played on my phone. “Dude, those are so spicy,” he said. “I love the taste but my tongue disagrees.” “I learn to ignore it, man,” I said. “Can I have a bit of your soda?” he said. “It won’t touch my lips.” I let him take a drink and then he returned it and began to sleep again. Cara bought a big bag of dill pickle flavored chips. Apparently she had thought they were Limón flavored. I tried them and they were pretty gross, and I liked pickles. I ate the whole bag of Cheetos, and with my mouth engulfed with heat, drained the last of my soda. It was sweet and refreshing.

I turned back to Cara to see her eyeing my can. “Oh man,” she said. “I forgot a drink.” “Oops,” I said. “I just gulped it down.” “No, no,” she said. “I didn’t want any. It’s ok. So anyway, how do I get those little emotion balls?” I started to help her with the game when I noticed that EJ was sound asleep with no intentions of getting up until we got back. Didn’t he want to spend time to Cara? He liked her very much, but he didn’t want to stay awake. Did he figure it didn’t matter? I was sitting up close next to Cara to the point where our skin was touching and he didn’t even care. And what if he found out? Would he be upset? Of course not, I thought. It’s not like you’re making a move on her or anything. It was nice sitting next to Cara. I clearly didn’t think her as hot, like EJ, but I liked her company in a different way. But I couldn’t understand why EJ didn’t want to sit next to her. I shrugged it off, though. Maybe he didn’t really like her enough to persue her. Maybe it was just a flirtatious crush. “Jack?” Cara said. “Hello?” I shook my head. I had zoned out. “Oh,” I said. “Sorry, I was thinking. “Your mom texted you,” she said, giving me the phone. I checked it to see what it said; it was a new message from Mom, saying “What time will you guys get back? Love you.” I checked my watch; it was almost three. Time went by a lot faster than I thought it would. I looked up to the road to see if I recognized anything; Sure enough, we were driving past a really big Matress Firm building that I knew was about thirty minutes away from the church. I typed back “About half an hour. Love you too!” “We’re almost to the church, right?” I asked Pastor Craig. “Well, less than one hour,” he said. “So yeah, I suppose.” “Aw,” Cara said. “Camp’s over.” “Speaking of that,” I asked. “Did your brother even want to come?” “Yep,” she said. “Why?” “He said he didn’t like it.” “Oh,” she said, turning back to my phone. “Well, Brandon is moody. Did he bother you?” “Nope, but he didn’t like EJ very much,” I said. “Does anybody?” Payton said.

EJ shot up again. “Huh? What?” he mumbled. “Oh, I’m still in the car. I heard somebody say my name.” Cara buried her mouth into her shirt. “Nothing,” she said. He leaned in towards her. “What did you say?” he said. “It was your sister,” said Cara. “She said she loves you,” I told EJ. “Don’t you just love your siblings?” EJ didn’t look interested. “Um, got it,” he said. “So Jack, how long have we been driving?” “A long time,” I replied. “But it didn’t seem like three hours.” “It was like three seconds for me,” he said.

After a little while, we were pulling into the parking lot of the church. The other van was ahead of us with teens leaving the van and stretching their limbs, taking bags out of the back. We went up to the curb and then the van stopped. “How many are awake?” Craig called. A handful of us answered. “Wake everybody up and let’s get out,” he said. “I’ll take out all the bags from the back.” “Oh man,” EJ said, shaking his head. “I’m going to sleep all day tomorrow.” “EJ,” Payton said. “We have a dentist appointment early tomorrow.” He swore loudly. I laughed. “And I thought I was the one who never slept all week.” He shrugged. “I don’t know, man,” he muttered. “Anyway, let’s get out of here.”


I waited for everybody, including Cara and Payton, to get in front of me and leave. After that, EJ and I got out. Stepping onto the parking lot again felt great. I stretched my arms and leg muscles. “Alright then,” EJ said. “Let’s go find our bags.” We went over to the back of the van where Pastor Craig and a group of teens were already digging around for their stuff. I patiently waited until everybody was done before looking in. I found my bag and other things at the very bottom, though they weren’t dirty or anything so I didn’t care. After that, we went inside the building and sat down on some leather chairs near the entrance. Dumping the bags down, I exhaled deeply and sunk into the chair. What a tiring week.

EJ came over to sit down in a nearby seat. “So,” he said. “I guess I’ll see you next time.” “You don’t mean next year,” I said, slightly worried. He shrugged. “I’ll try coming to church,” he said. “But… you know, it doesn’t happen sometimes.” He really didn’t have to say more. For whatever reason his family didn’t come, it didn’t really matter. I did believe I wouldn’t see him for another twelve or so months. I saw my other few friends often, but like a seasonal flavor of food, Paton was becoming a summer camp friend exclusively.

“Dude, are you going to go talk to Cara before you leave?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m not sure if I like her all that much anymore.” “Really?” I said, leaning forward in my chair. “After everything? I mean, there’s nothing wrong, but you made such a big deal out of it.” “No I didn’t,” he said. “Well, I mean, yeah. She’s just cute. But after hanging around with her I noticed we’re pretty different.” I smiled. “Yeah.” “As for you,” he began again. “You two are pretty alike.” “I suppose,” I said, looking out the window. “Nothin’s gonna happen.” My phone vibrated. I lifted my legs to get it and when I checked it, it was a text from Mom again. She had arrived. I stood up and looked out the glass doors of the building, looking past all the people with the bags. There it was, our  car, coming down the street. But when I turned around to EJ, he was getting up too. “I see my parents,” he said. “Mine too,” I said. “Let’s go.” And so we walked out the doors to see a beige SUV pulling up to the sidewalk. EJ walked over to the back of it and put his bags in, and then walked over to his mother who was walking out of the driving seat. He hugged her quickly and then turned to me as he climbed into the backseat. “See you later,” he said. “Bye man,” I said. Then he shut the door and the car drove away, through the parking lot and down the street.

Looking forward again, my own parents were driving up. Both of them got of the car and embraced me. They immediately asked how the trip was, but I gave a brief answer. I knew that I’d be telling them all about it that day, and the day after that, and days and days after. Because even the camps that I didn’t do that much at were filled with stories and memories. And here I am now, writing this in my room. I’m looking out the window by my desk. It’s a great day outside; not too hot, not too windy. I guess you could say I’m ready for the heat of summer. After all, it was a cold fall and winter, and I could use a little heat. The true question, however… am I ready for camp again? As of right now, I’m a day away from my second camp experience. Last year went smoothly and wonderfully and the time since has flown by like nothing. I’m a different guy; I’m wiser, stronger, and almost fourteen. So sure, I’m not an expert at all of this yet. I’ve only been once. I’ve only had five days and four nights of teen camp. So why do I feel like I know it all? Confidence. Just Like EJ said. Last year I was so nervous that it took forever for the time to come, but sitting here waiting was great. I’m definitely prepared. My bags are at the door, even though I don’t leave until tomorrow. I know what I’m supposed to bring, and I know it’s going to better then the experience I’ve written down. And who knows, if this year is as pioneering as last time, I’m in for a big, long ride. Well, hopefully not as long as the way there.

But like somebody said once… The journey is half the adventure.

The End.