Sunday, June 19, 2011
Billy and Karen were the talk of camp for the third year in a row as the couple most likely to get married when they were old enough. Janie stood in line at the camp store. She was Karen’s favorite camper and had heard all the stories of late nights and secret rendez vous’. The smell of the camp store drew her into intimate pondering of what she would purchase. A Lime Rickey and Spree or Cola and a Butterfinger? She would decide that soon enough. It was who to take to the dance only a week away that would take her clearest efforts.
Would Greg ask her? Would they spend the rest of the summer falling in love? Or would it be Tony? She and Mike took diving at 11am every day of the week. Maybe he was the one she wanted to take? The factors were overwhelming. She chose the Lime Rickey and the Spree. She imagined eating one sour Spree at a time as she wrote a letter to her mom and sipped the Lime Rickey on one of the rock’s overlooking the lake in the senior’s section. Karen had shown her the spot. It was perfect for private reflection. She would sort out her connection with one of the three boys for the dance there, and that was final.
Janie told Ilana that she was going off to write her mom. She understood. There were those moments when being alone with a drink and candy was better than any other. She had sheets of rainbow stationary and matching envelopes her mom had given her for that express purpose. She propped herself on the rock with a view 15 feet down over the water lapping against the shore.
Thanks for the package. I got it a couple days ago. The food will last for a while, I’m sure. I especially love the cheese balls and so does my whole cabin. I hope they don’t eat all of them! Camp is good. It’s hot here. How about there? It’s only a couple hours away so it must be the same. I’m excited to see you at parent’s weekend. Say hi to dad for me. Let’s go to McDonald’s when you come, okay? There is a dance in a week and I am deciding who to go with. I’ll also have to decide which outfit to wear too. Anyway, I’m sure it will be good.
She had asked Karen if she could come to the spot for the first part of rest hour. She got special favors and was privy to a private world as Karen’s protégée. She wouldn’t tell her mom about it. She didn’t even think to. Friends, especially Ilana, got jealous sometimes but that was just too bad. Maybe Karen saw herself in Janie. It probably wasn’t going to be Mike. They were friends and they laughed a lot but there wasn’t that special ingredient that made it totally obvious that she wanted to go with him. Greg on the other hand, and Tony, for that matter, did have that special something that made the thought of being at the dance exciting.
She had been to other camp dances. The first was with Paul, the second with Sam. Janie and Sam had walked to the top of the stairs, the one that leads to the main dock after the last song, near the boathouse. They had held hands for a few moments as they walked leisurely out from the dining hall. Janie felt her dress on her body as though it was made of magic cotton that tickled skin. Sam’s hair was dark and mop-like. He was simple and it was like their bodies spoke the common language. They kissed a small kiss, her first, and it was natural and nice. Sam didn’t come back to camp, but maybe they would meet up again, maybe even at Disney World or something.
Tony was tougher than Greg. He was quicker, a good athlete. They had that in common. In fact, they were both captains of their sport’s teams. In Baseball yesterday, Tony led his team to victory. We almost beat them, Janie recalled. It was close and she imagined they could beat them in volleyball. More of the girls on her team liked volleyball over baseball or even soccer. It seemed easier. They felt more comfortable on the court than on the field.
She folded the letter into the matching rainbow envelope and headed back to the Juniors to put a stamp on it. She would spend the remainder of rest hour in her cabin. Maybe even talk to Ilana about her options. Camp was quiet after lunch. Almost everyone except a few counselors and junior counselors were hanging out inside. Some people showered and as Janie walked by the girl’s showers she smelled the dreamy scent of someone’s shampoo. She moved down the path and the woods caught the strong summer light in its leaves and branches. She felt like a normal girl and at the same time like the dirt and the trees and all the buildings.
She opened the creaky wooden door of the cabin to find all her friends on the floor playing cards. The mail had come and a care package lay spread open with tons of candy, snacks and games. For a second, she felt like an outsider; like the girls weren’t her friends at all. That in just half an hour they had formed a bond that she could never join.
“Where have you been?” Tracy asked. “Linda was really mad that you weren’t here. She went out looking for you.”
“What?” Janie asked as her heart raced.
“No,” Hannah said. “She is joking. Karen told her that you could go onto your rock and think about who you wanted to take to the dance.”
The girls all laughed, even Ilana. Janie felt stupid like a spell of luck had broken. It was the quick turns of emotion between friends that she was never prepared for. Suddenly she felt each girl including Tammy who she knew the least, on her lower bunk reading a book as someone she might have offended or who she might need to make apologies to. She slunk over to her own top bunk, each other girl aware that she was disturbed. Oh well, she was sure they were thinking. It is what she would have thought had she not been at the center of it.
Down at the ultimate Frisbee field for the afternoon sports session, way down past the arts and crafts building and closest to the farmhouse, Janie encouraged her teammates. She was practiced at encouragement from having played sports her whole life. It was easy just like it was to run or throw or catch or hit. It came naturally to want to win, not at all costs, but to win nonetheless. They were playing against Greg’s team, and as she watched his toss she liked him less. He didn’t run hard, or try, or seem inspired by the game. Right then, she knew she really liked Tony.
Karen was the cabin’s junior counselor. She liked to go out, and she sometimes stayed out late. One time she brought back fries from McDonalds for her and took Janie back to the counselor quarters. Janie laid on her belly with her knees bent and listened to stories about canoe rides out on the lake, past the swamps and under the little bridge to town. Even better than the taste of the salty fries was the feeling of mystery beyond the bridge. What was over there? She imagined rowing with a party of boats into the swamp along with Tony, amidst the lily pads. They would laugh, and the anticipation of the penny candy store in town would be like knowing a secret.
At Dinner she sat with her cabin, again in a comfortable place in the shifting circle of friends. Dinner was meat loaf and dessert was ice cream. There were green beans as a side, and always rolls. She looked around for Tony. He lived in cabin 12; about four tables over. He was making large movements with his arms as he entertained his friends. She felt the length of her long, blonde hair. She smiled as she eyed Karen coming toward the table. Karen came up to the back of her and casually touched her head and hair. She addressed them all.
“I heard that boys from cabin twelve are planning a raid on one of the girl’s cabins some time this week.. Maybe even during the campfire tonight.”
“What if it’s ours?” Ilana asked. “I don’t want to get shaving cream or shampoo all over my clothes or in my bed.”
“Oh my god,” Deb said. “What do we do? Maybe just play it cool or maybe we should get them first?”
All ten girls blabbed loudly in smaller groups as they imagined scenarios and planned for retaliations that would or wouldn’t be necessary. Janie was thinking about Tony. She was surprised to be so determined but the dance was closer every minute that passed, and she could feel desire in her to get the relationship underway so as to make sure that all the things she wanted, including a boat ride with a boy would happen before the summer was over She whispered to Karen that she was going to him as she watched Tony move to the buffet table for more food.
She touched his back as she saw Karen do to Billy and said,
“Hey, what’s up?”
He turned around with mild surprise.
“Hey. The meatloaf is good today. Seconds?” he asked as he stuffed a whole roll into his mouth.
“Yeah, right” she said as she rooted around for something that she could possibly want off the buffet table. Yes, a packet of honey for later when she wanted something sweet, maybe along the path in the woods after a game. He turned away from her again and she looked back at her cabin’s table. The girls were still chattering wildly about the possible raid and Karen was busy talking animatedly to Billy. Tony didn’t seem to get what was going on at all. She had to do something. So she hit him on the back to get his attention.
He swung around, and gave her a look like he was choking and then swallowed with a loud gulp. “What the hell? I almost choked. Jesus Christ,” he said, sincerely scared.
“Sorry Tony, really sorry. You want to play tennis tomorrow during free period?
“What?” he said still shocked. Then he seemed to understand that she was asking him for a tennis date.
“Yeah. Sure,” he said as he rubbed his throat. “Senior courts? 4 o’clock. You’re not going to try and kill me again are you?’ he queried comically.
Janie laughed as she backed away, and a stunning tingle ran through her body. As she got to Karen back at the table Janie launched into all the nuances of the event. Halfway through Karen closed her eyes and tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Billy and I just broke up,” she said as she got up, walked out of the dining hall and out of sight. Janie looked at the table of girls. They were completely unaware of the heartbreaking event that had just occurred. The hall was emptying; her table of girls scattered and found their way casually to the exit while Janie was left to decide what to do. She barely believed what she felt she must do. She had never really talked to Billy. He was older and handsome and she was just a kid, but it now seemed crucial that she find out what was happening. Karen’s life was at stake.
She looked frantically through throngs of boys, old and young. He was a head counselor of a cabin in the midgets. She headed out on the dirt road that led there as she eyed the groups moving that way. Maybe he was with her now? Is that how it worked? Do you separate immediately once you break up or do you pour over evidence together of what happened and why once you decide to break up? She intuitively felt that it was the former and so she ran. Ilana spotted her right as she was heading out.
“Where are you going this rest period?” she asked snidely.
“Somewhere really important. Trust me,” Janie shouted, but she could tell that Illana didn’t understand, was jealous or something, even from the running distance.
She moved down the hill, through the Midget’s tetherball court and came to cabin 6, Billy’s cabin. She walked around to the back where the counselor’s quarters were. She moved a spare wooden block to just under the window and peaked inside. She nearly fell over but then steadied herself, using her arms to prop her chin up on the outside sill.
Janie saw hairy legs and sneakers and then heard the loud springy movement of the bed. It was Billy, that was for sure. His head suddenly came into view and she heard a moan like that of a whale she had heard on a CD of under water sounds back home. His hands were over his face and he looked like he was crying. Could he be? What was he doing, she wondered. She had never seen a man cry before. But that would explain the whale tone. It was a deeper, stranger cry than a girl’s.
There was action mounting throughout the midget’s section and she was no longer certain that there was anything for her to do. She slowly retracted her face from its peaking position and like a gymnast lowered herself down. Janie felt naked knowing that boys cried and felt emotion like girls. Once off the wooden block she felt like she couldn’t just arrive out from behind the cabin. She would have to make her way through the woods that connected the midgets and the juniors in order to avoid being questioned or seen.
In pink shorts and a matching pink and green striped shirt Janie waded into the dark green forest. In her white Keds she slid down the hill made of layers of wet leaves from previous seasons. The sound of kids playing became softer. The woods were temporarily her own. It felt like when she would walk into the area of the outdoor chapel before eleven on Sundays but this time there was no one else around. She thought for several hard minutes about the campfire tales of the crazy man with a hook for a hand. Could he be here during the day? Maybe he was sleeping. She kept extra quiet.
As she came nearer to the juniors she regained a sense of safety. Janie saw the open space of it, the cabins arranged like in a village. Maybe she could stay in the woods for the rest of the summer, get someone to bring her food from the dining hall everyday. A sweet sadness distanced her from her body as she stared out from the woods. She liked being alone, seeing the bigger picture from afar. She wandered out from the woods behind the bathroom and spent a few minutes inside.
She looked in the warbled image of herself in the mirror and wondered about how it would go with Tony tomorrow. Maybe she should abort the mission of going to the dance with him in light of what was happening with Karen and Billy. Could she really hope to create something better than what they had? When she returned to the cabin there was no one there. She was not entirely shocked by it. Everything had been turned upside down and it was likely that everything crazy happened all at once.
She sat on her bunk, and swung her legs. There was a roughness in her, up at the surface. Was she really going to sacrifice her hopes for the perfect dance for someone else’s circumstance even if that person was Karen? In the stillness of the smell of the empty wooden cabin she got up, went outside and circled around back, toward Tony’s cabin. If she got caught she could pretend she was looking for Linda or Karen. She now had a little practice at being sneaky and felt newly adept. She wondered if it was right. Maybe she should be less determined?
Oh, forget it! Janie thought which she didn’t often. She was a good girl but the dance was close and the summer short. She should just go for it. She approached the side of his cabin so no one who passed could see her. It was the nearest cabin to the lake in the Juniors section and she could hear the rough tumbling of the waters against the rocks. A line from her camp song played in her head.
“On the shores of Quacumquasett, deep among the pines...” The side of the cabin was low into the lip of the land and she didn’t need a prop for peaking. She silently gasped when she realized that Tony was directly in front of her, reclined as he threw a tennis ball against the ceiling of his bunk and caught it. The cabin was full of the boys talking. Janie convinced herself she was no different than a rustling pine as she remained naturally unnoticed, and listened.
“We’ve each got a can of shaving cream. Cabin six, baby!” said Arthur Rich. He was the tallest boy in the juniors and a natural ringleader of naughty behavior.
Janie couldn’t believe that she was getting information about a raid on her own cabin firsthand. To find a way to prevent it was her first thought. Was she more of a help listening to all the details or in the cabin blowing their cover?
“Just the outside off the cabin or inside also? In between sheets, inside food? Let’s make a decision,” stated Greg.
She was unable to see what to do and felt her best move was not to make one at all. The boys bantered back and forth about the possible details and throughout Tony just bounced the ball against the bed like in a trance. Janie momentarily lost her balance and stepped deeper into her left foot and onto a crackly twig. Tony’s ball slammed into his palm one final time and he jerked his gaze to the window. Janie dropped to the ground one hundredth of a second later. He had definitely seen her, she thought. Their eyes had locked for a fleck of a second, she was sure. She made her way on her belly underneath the cabin to restrict the chance of being caught.
Oh shoot, shoot, shoot, she thought as she heard footstep against the wooden floor above. She heard the heavy door slap shut as feet trotted down the wooden steps. Janie pulled her legs further in against her body and on a whim she gathered a damp, green tarp close to her to as she scooted up against a cement structure. Under the wet plastic covering, her mind cleared. Several other sets of feet came out of the cabin and in her stillness she could hear the shuffle of boys against stony dirt. There she was again, alone.
“Tony, was it a spy? Arthur asked. “Was it someone from cabin six or what man?”
“I just looked under the cabin and I swear...Oh, well, I was wrong,” Janie heard Tony say.
“We have to do this soon before something goes wrong,” said John. “ Tonight,” he said in a strong whisper.
She wondered if Tony was protecting her. Maybe he hadn’t seen her. She was completely covered. She realized that she might have to scramble down the hill toward the water and then go back to her own cabin in order not to be spotted. This was not her normal camp day. She didn’t even realize that spending time outside of the allotted schedule was possible. Despite no one being aware of her, she felt easily at the center of something. Under a tent, wet, and hidden in the play between cabins, Janie felt pure.
Once the boys had returned to their cabin she crawled slowly and quietly out from underneath. She stayed low to the ground until she had reached the edge of the hill that led down to the lake. She had a feeling, as she looked though trees and to the movement of the water, that she was older. It was both instantly familiar and new like she was a baby. Her skin prickled and some sensation low in her body waved through. It felt both lonely and wonderful, and as she side slid her way toward the shore, the fishing pier nearly in view, brightly colored row boats dragged away from the water, and she noticed Tony coming out from behind a tree.
How did he get all the way down there? She was shocked by the way he was walking toward her, rushing like he had to pee.
“C’mon, let’s go,” Tony said as he reached out his hand for hers. “I saw you under the cabin. I saw you. You can’t fool the Tonester.”
“I thought I was perfectly hidden. Darn it. I was afraid you saw me.”
“Well, you can’t get past Tony, but you were great.”
There was something in his tone that she loved. Like she wanted to kiss him sometime? It was odd, even a little scary.
“How did you get down here so quick?” she asked.
“I ran. None of the guys saw me if that’s what you think. Let’s go into the boat house to make a plan.”
Janie had only been there during their cabin’s special night when they had gotten pizza. What would her mother think? There was a confident swell to the blue water of the lake. She had never seen it move in such patterns. Janie let him grab her hand and they ran across the waterfront. There were a few rest period swimmers with their heads down as they gathered laps for the end of camp swimming awards.
He was tall and his ears stuck out unashamedly from his head, she noticed for the first time as they mounted the white wooden steps of the beautiful boathouse. There was scuba gear along the back wall of the lower deck and she remembered a dream she had of using that kind of equipment to play a sport on the ultimate Frisbee field. As they passed the first window of the office room with their hands apart they saw that the waterfront director Todd was inside at his desk. Tony signaled Janie to get onto her knees and they crawled toward the rear stairway on all fours to the backside of the boathouse. The area was swampy. It was a side of camp she had never seen before.
“What are we going to do now? I think our planning session backfired,” she said.
“Well...” Tony said as he paced in the mud. “I don’t know. Let’s see...my cabin is raiding your cabin...and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“What? Is that why you brought me here? You think I would just let my cabin get raided? I’m not your captive if that’s what you think. I’ll just run in there to Todd and tell him everything that’s going on. It’s just that easy.”
Janie was not one to be pushed around and, in fact, she found it easy to talk to boys in that tone.
“My captive? What do you think this is? Survivor? For whatever reason, being here with you seemed more interesting than planning a damn raid.”
“Oh,” she said.
Janie looked down and noticed her Keds in beds of mud. The sound of lake reeds along the back bank were loud against the silence between them.
“Well, I’ve never been around this side of camp. We have about fifteen minutes left in rest hour. She checked her Swatch. Want to explore? We can pretend we are on Survivor if we want.”
They looked at each and laughed.
“I hate that show. How about we pretend we are on Gilligan’s Island or something,” Tony responded.
“I’ve never seen it,” Janie said as they walked along the sometimes wet and mushy, alternately rocky shore at the backside of camp.
“I’ll take you through it. You be Ginger and I’ll be the doctor.”
“No, let’s pretend we are ship wrecked but not based on a show or anything. You are a famous baseball player and I am a country western singer.”
“So, what do we do?” he said as he pointed his pretend rifle and shot a rabbit. “I’ll pretend I just got a rabbit and we are going to eat it,” Tony said as he scrambled out onto a comfortably rocky shore that jutted out unexpectedly. “We can build a fire and cook the rabbit. You get the herbs and stuff.”
Janie looked around, entranced by the invitation to pretend, but also struck with anxiety. No one knew where she was. What was happening with Karen? Maybe she needed her to be there, a shoulder to cry on. The raid was nothing in comparison to what she might be experiencing. Then again, it was Janie’s chance to explore on her own. Still mixed, she bent down and pretended to find herbs and such in the shrubby material at the edges of the outcropping. She noticed the distinct firmness of lichen on rocks against her fingertips.
Then there were voices, and Janie froze as a deer might. Tony was bent down in the faux preparation of a fire for the rabbit roast. The voices were coming further inland, almost above them, and they made a quick decision to move behind a rock set in the water. The water was up to their ankles and they both sat into the water against lapping waves. Janie couldn’t hear much but she saw two seniors, Sheryl Thomas and Dan Dode as they scrambled down the bank.
She and Tony peeked around the rock on one side, one at a time and saw the two as they fumbled for one another.
“What are they doing?” Janie asked.
Tony was suddenly stiff and odd. He avoided eye contact as he responded.
“They are making out,” he said.
Janie looked at him and he scrunched up his face and said, “Let’s go.”
He openly walked out from behind the rock. Their pants were dripping wet. Sheryl and Dan unlocked from one another with a shock.
“Excuse us,” Tony said as he grabbed Janie’s hand and announced to them that he and Janie had just been snorkeling. He turned them back toward the boathouse and marched forward.
Sheryl and Dan continued to look surprised by the two juniors who had appeared out from behind the lake rock. Janie looked back and gave them a quick, innocent smile and wave.
“A lot of really interesting fish,” she assured them.
They snuck back over the steps of the boathouse. Nobody noticed. As they trudged up the long stairway toward the dining hall, on the last few steps, she breathed heavily and her hair, stringy and long. Janie noticed the two of them: enthusiastic, a little dirty and wet from having sat in the water. She felt the thrill of being connected to a boy, and then a pang of loss sprang forth like a fire when she thought of how it could end.
“Hey, you want to go to the dance with me on Friday?” Tony asked casually as he made it to the upper deck of the stairway.
Janie smiled, breathed in as her eyes opened wide. “Yes,” she said with no regrets.
“Cool,” Tony answered. “I guess we should get back. Check out the damage.”
“Yeah,” Janie said like her mother might, as she eyed him for having been involved in something naughty.
She knew the possibility of a raid during the bonfire still loomed. Maybe it was just what everyone needed. Shake things up. She bit the sides of her nails at the thought of it, and then under the canopy of trees along the path she saw Karen. She sat in the newly installed wooden gazebo with the red stain.
“You go on ahead, Tony. I’ll see you at the volleyball game later...and Tennis at 4pm. I’m gonna talk to Karen.”
They looked at each other and slapped hands awkwardly and laughed again as they crossed paths to move forward. Bare ground surrounded the canopied benches and made Karen look little or young. Janie ran to her, and as she approached the opening, became shy, like she didn’t know what she was hurrying for. When Karen saw her she smiled, red faced, and patted the seat beside her.
“Why aren’t you at the cabin?” Karen asked.
“It’s a long story,” Janie replied with a smile. Karen looked over her shoulder to get a last glimpse of Tony as he trotted down the path to the junior’s.
“Well...” Karen said with an encouraging curiosity, “You’ll have to tell me all about it sometime.”
“Are you okay?” Janie asked, “He’s probably not doing too well either,” she added, as she pulled her lips in on each other to emphasize the lowness of the moment.
“Hey, we had a lot of fun, you know? Three years of dating during the summers,” Karen said; a little lilt to her tone.
“That’s good,” Janie said, again unsure how to proceed.
“I am okay, you know,” Karen said convincingly, a familiar warmth to her tone as she moved a little closer to Janie, even pulled her close. “I told him I thought it might be better that we see other people, make a little space for new things and eventually he agreed.”
Janie pulled out from the bright colors of Karen’s warm summer skin.
“You mean, you broke up with him?” Janie said with a shock. “How could you do that?” she asked, disgusted by the idea that Karen would hurt someone as she remembered the sound of Billy’s cries.
Karen was very still, looked up as though to heaven, and said, “I don’t know. It just felt right.” Karen rested her chin on her hand and eyed Janie.
“But isn’t love forever like you said Karen,” Janie asked, still very hurt by the monumental disturbance one woman could create.
“I guess. I don’t know. I just know that something told me it was time for it to end.”
Janie could then see that Karen felt guilty or sad but not fully. Her eyes continued to sparkle.
Janie flashed to the thought of her mother coming for parent’s week-end the following Friday and was relieved to realize that the sensibility of her mother would be near. Her mother had never caused such a stir. How could one girl be so bold? Had she herself ever been that? She looked around at the surrounding trees, felt the wind, and knew she had and would be again, often.
“It’s okay,” Karen said.
“We are probably getting raided tonight,” Janie said.
“Well, what should we do? What can we do?” Karen asked.
“We’ll figure it out,” Janie answered.
In the dining hall, toward the end of dinner, Janie savored her fruit cup. The little cherries were her favorite. With one in her mouth she watched Ilana show Karen a complex lanyard she had made in arts and crafts. Ilana had been the only one to finish, and Janie saw the pride in her face at having done something special. She liked seeing Ilana happy but only when she had something special going on herself. It was true. But could it not be true? Could she simply be happy for friends? Janie scanned the activity of the dining hall. With the cherry still sweet against her tongue she noticed the special quiet that could come from watching everyone at camp all at once. Even with all the noise and the anticipation of things that might or might not happen, Janie felt entirely at peace like she was all alone in the woods.