A/N: Reworked and better than ever! I have to say that I'm really pleased with the way this is turning out so far. The story I love to write is even more fun to work on now. And of course, the dedication—To the Snuggies, the Arachnophobics/the Waves, the Water Bottle Warriors, and the Spunicorns. (For those of you who don't know, that is a spider/unicorn hybrid.) Thanks for making Camp '09 amazing! This one's for all of you! R&R
Has there ever been somewhere where you know you can be one-hundred percent absolutely and completely yourself? Not the person you show up for school as. Not the person you are e-mailing a cute girl over the Internet. The person you're not ever sure you are, but you know they're somewhere in you.
For me, that place is sleepaway camp. When you're around people for twenty-four hours a day every day for eight weeks, you can't put on an act. It's either be real or be found out. I've been going to Camp Pine Grove since I was six, with my brother Leo before me and my sister Reese before him, and even my dad went there back during the camp's early days. Now I'm fourteen, the only one from our family left at camp. Leo's starting college in a couple months at NYU and Reese scored a job in the city. Both of them were total camp legends. They never got in trouble as campers, all the counselors loved them, they were stellar CITs, and Reese was even a counselor one summer—a really well-liked counselor. I've been infamous here for eight years. Not by myself. The infamy's all because of Dynamite.
No, not the explosive—I'm pretty sure it's illegal for someone my age to have dynamite. Dynamite isn't even a name we gave ourselves. Six-year-old boys have a way of screwing up any camp activity, no matter how "safe" it supposedly is. In our case, making fruit salad for visiting day. We were sitting in the kitchen, with our counselor chopping up the fruit and us passing around a bowl and taking turns stirring it with a big wooden spoon. But when Todd wasn't watching, Ryan turned around and flipped on the stove, on top of which all the paper plates and cups and bowls for the next day were stacked.
Fire. Angry counselor. Furious head of staff. I think it's pretty obvious what happened. The next day, our last day before getting bunked—the camp equivalent of getting grounded—Liz, one of the girls' counselors, made some smartass remark about how we left damage wherever we went, just like dynamite. The name stuck, and a legend was born. Every year we've managed to do something completely awful that makes Todd have to beg for his job. In the early days it was simple—sneaking into mess hall after bedtime to eat ice cream, going into the pool after midnight and setting off the alarms, just for fun—but last year we started to calm down after Ryan nearly got sent home for being in the girls' bunk after lights out—guys are never supposed to go in the girls' bunks, or vice-versa. I have to admit that it was purely his fault, but if he got sent home, Dynamite would be no more. It was all or nothing for us, and if we lost one then we lost it all. It had always been that way and I hope it always is.
These guys are my best friends. They know everything about me, and I knew everything about them. We tell each other everything—really girly, but for us it works. I never would have guessed that out of all of us, I would be the one keeping secrets this summer, even if it was what made this summer the best one yet.
I walked into the old cabin and dropped my bags on the floor in the middle of the room. Nobody else was in the cabin yet, not even Todd. I went over to the beds and threw my sleeping bag up on one of the top bunks, the bed I've always slept on. I briefly noticed that there were three sets of bunk beds instead of the usual two sets and one single that have always been in this cabin, but ignored it and finished spreading out my sleeping bag and pillow. I sat on top of the bed, feeling like I was king of the world. The first day of camp always made me feel like nothing could go wrong.
"Hello? Anybody here?" The door to the cabin swung open, slamming against the wall and rattling the old windows. I climbed down the ladder and off the bed to greet Ryan, who had a small duffel bag and a sleeping bag in one hand and a pillow in a clean white case in the other. He threw his stuff onto the top bunk next to mine—his bed—and turned around grinning.
"Dynamite!" we both yelled before trying to see who could punch the other in the stomach first.
"Hello, Ryan. Hello, Cam." James walked through the still-open door holding a fat book with lots of sticky notes sticking out of it. Ryan and I glanced at each at each other and raced towards James, accidentally knocking his glasses off as we tried to hit him. He picked up his glasses and went over to the bed below Ryan's to put his stuff down before replacing his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "Where's Todd?" he asked, straightening his glasses. He looked around the little cabin we've shared every summer for so many years. He didn't say anything, but I knew that this place meant as much to him as it did to me.
"No clue," Ryan said. "Maybe he and Liz finally hooked up." Ever since we were eight or nine we've been convinced that Todd and Liz have a thing for each other. We know that Liz does—she's not very good at keeping secrets, especially her own—but Todd never talked to us about girls, claiming we were too young. And every time he said this, we'd all protest, claiming we knew plenty about girls, although Ryan was the only one who was really telling the truth.
Our lack of experience with girls wasn't because we were losers. It was just that we all had a roadblock. See, James spends too much time with his nose in a book to care about girls, Pete is a total disaster around anyone female besides his mom, and no girl took Pudding seriously. For me, girls were different. I'd never found anyone as seemingly perfect as Bella. I've had a crush on her for as long as I've been coming to camp here. And every year I've gotten stupider and stupider around her. But this year would be different. I knew that this year would be the year I'd ask her out—or at least, I hoped that I'd be courageous enough to do it without mumbling or putting my foot in my mouth. Even though I wasn't as disastrous around girls as some of the other guys, I was by no means a Ryan.
"Ow!" I looked up and grinned as Pete tripped over the bags I'd left in the middle of the room. I laughed, wondering how someone so athletic could be so clumsy, and he glared at me and picked up the bag he dropped. I dragged my bags into a corner near my bed and Pete set himself up beneath my bunk.
Once he put all his stuff down, I slugged him in the stomach and cringed as my fist hit his t-shirt, realizing why Ryan hadn't tried to hit him first. His stomach was hard. He's always been the athletic one—he could run a mile in five minutes flat, he was a baseball prodigy and a soccer star, and he could walk onto any field and play any sport like a master. I was jealous.
He grinned and patted his flat stomach. "Maybe it was a good thing that Coach had us working extra hard." I glared and rubbed my fist.
"Oww!" I yelled as his fist connected with my soft belly. I bit my lip and tried not to keel over. He could punch really hard. The room was quiet for a minute.
"Chaaaaaaarge!" Pudding hurtled through the door and ran into Pete, sending him towards the creaky wooden floor. Pete gave him the finger and Pudding laughed crazily before dragging his bags over towards the beds.
"Hey, where'd my bed go?" Pudding asked suspiciously. He went over to the bed and put his bags down on the lower bunk of the only unclaimed bed. "What happened to my single?"
Ryan snorted. "Like we know anything about it." Pudding opened his mouth to reply, but closed it when we heard footsteps on the porch. A second later, Todd walked in, wearing his green staff polo and holding a clipboard in one hand.
"Oh no, not again!" He fake-grimaced and we all punched him. He's gotten our cabin every year, mostly because Steve says it was his fault we set the kitchen on fire and because he's the only one who can deal with us. "No, seriously, it's great to see you guys. I have to take attendance, though, so hold off on the punching for a minute. Pete Bass?"
"Here." Pete scratched his neck.
"Here," James said without looking up from his book.
"Winston Garth?" We all snickered, and Pudding turned red.
"Here," he mumbled.
"Here." I always loved hearing my name called. It just makes me feel like they want me here, even though if Steve had his way we'd have been kicked out long ago.
"Here." We all waited for Todd to pull off the sheet of paper and go give it to Steve, but he continued, albeit looking confused.
"Lars Wood?" What kind of name is 'Lars?' And what the hell is he doing in our cabin? He's not in Dynamite. My stomach sank, and I knew that something was up and I didn't like it.
"Who the fuck is Lars?" Ryan spat. He was the color of a boiled lobster and looked ready to kill. Dynamite was his thing. If it wasn't for us, he'd have been kicked out long ago, but we're always there to save his ass.
"That would be me." We all turned around to see a kid our age lugging his bags into the cabin. He was about an inch taller than I was, with his hair gelled into thick blond spikes.
"Okay, Lars." Todd wrote something on his clipboard and looked up. "Welcome to Camp Pine Grove. I'm Todd, and I'm your counselor this summer. If you have any questions you can ask me or any of the boys. They've all been here as long as I've been a counselor, and they know just as much about this place as I do." He pointed to us. Pete, James and I grimaced, Ryan glared, and Pudding just ignored him, looking pissed about losing his single. "Okay, so you guys start unpacking. You each get a cubby—"he pointed at the small wooden squares built into the wall—"and a shelf." He pointed to the wooden planks nailed above the cubbies. "I'm going to give this to Steve." Todd walked out of the cabin and we started to silently unpack. Our cubbies and shelves would be organized for the first two days before they became the hell holes that they remained for the rest of the summer. We silently unloaded our clothes into the cubbies and put our bathroom stuff on the shelves, then sat down on our bunks and silently watched Lars unload seven…eight…nine…ten bottles of hair gel onto the shelf, which creaked under the weight. We watched as he unloaded enough shower stuff to keep a girl happy for a year, a fat case of toiletries, and three combs onto the shelf along with the hair gel. Ryan glanced at me and we both snickered. What a pretty-boy.
"Hey, Cam." I looked down to Pete. "Check out who's outside." I hopped off the bed and crossed to the window. Six girls were on the porch of the cabin across from us. My stomach churned as I saw Bella, laughing at something some blonde girl I'd never seen before said. I walked through the door and out onto the porch, Ryan at my heels.
"Whoa, Bella is hot." I glared at him. "What? I know you like her. Chill out." I relaxed, and watched her for a couple minutes.
"I'm such an idiot. This year I'm asking her out, I swear." I heard footsteps behind me and turned around to see Lars. He went to the edge of the porch and stood next to me, and followed my gaze to the girls standing on the porch of Cabin 4.
"Ah. Who do you like?" I didn't like the know-it-all tone in his voice, that was for sure.
"Bella. She's the short one with the brown hair standing next to the blonde girl." Did I really just say that to a stranger? Shit.
His face hardened. "Bella," he repeated.
"Do you know her?" I asked carefully. Maybe the new kid wouldn't be so bad.
"She's my girlfriend."
This was bad.