It’s camping day! I’ve been counting down this day since I’ve figured the date. All the gear is in the car, my sleeping stuff is packed, and Mikayla came early, as expected.
“Tonight’s gonna be so much fun!” I squealed to her. I haven’t been so excited since the second semester’s school play.
“Calm down, Ms. Barbie,” she joked. Yeah, I kinda did a little leap too, exactly like the blonde doll would do. I parked on the edge of my bed and glared at her.
“I’m not going to tell you. You’re getting your present on your actually birthday.” It’s like she can read my mind. I sighed.
“It’d be nice to know a hint,” I said with puppy eyes.
“Fine. It’s wrapped,” she said sarcastically.
“Oh, come on!” She laughed hysterically at her tiny trick. Obviously it wasn’t funny for me, because for her I have to wait nine days.
The doorbell rang, indicating people have arrived and we can finally go to Lake Benbrook, where the camping site is.
When everyone was here, we all piled into the full car, squished in the seats, and took off. On the way there it was all “I did this, and I did that in the beginning of the beginning of summer” stories, which were very interesting except mine. All I did was sit around and pester people about what they’re giving me for my birthday.
I fiddled with my locket and opened it when no one was looking. There’s Grayson on one side and Alex on the other, both faces smiling up at me. They’re school pictures, but whatever; they’re there. I can’t believe Alex was stupid enough to put Grayson’s picture in. He knew I loved him, so why put him in? Perhaps he was so desperate for me this was his last-minute option. Oh well. It’s a nice locket, with a gold background and an emerald, sapphire, and violet gem resting in the middle of the heart. It sparkled in the sunlight, glistening so beautiful I don’t know why I considered giving it away.
I turned around from the front seat and laughed along with my friends. Seeing their faces calmed me from any stress I had earlier -failure to have a good time, that kind of stuff- and spiked my adrenaline rush to have the best night ever.
Thirteen random songs on the radio later, we’ve reached the lake and everyone poured out, pitching tents and checking out the place. Beth, my stepmom, was going to work on the campfire, so she released us to go explore the shorelines.
“Whoa, look at this!” Cameron yelled, pointing something on the ground.
“It’s a fish skeleton!” Chandler exclaimed. They paired off to go further down, and the rest followed except Alex and me. I took off my flip-flops and let my toes sink in the cold sand, feeling the waves curl up to my ankles.
“First, can I do this?” Alex asked. He picked me up off my feet, brushed the hair out of my face, and kissed me gently. He smiled and put me back down. Why do I keep craving to go on?
“How are you gonna handle tonight? All these people-“ I started.
“I don’t care. They’re not my kind, they won’t tell. I trust them,” he assured.
“Okay…” I’m not too convinced.
“Hey, it’s fine.” He pulled me in for a hug. “Really.”
We walked down the opposite direction everyone else went to, which meant going towards the entrance of the place rather than the site we’re parked at. I, of course, got worried we’d get lost, but manly Alex over here is such an “expert” on camping so we won’t accidently wander out of the area. I laughed at him as he did, indeed, lose our mark. Pointing the right direction, we ventured back, kisses along the water and playful squeezes of our enclosed hands. When we returned, all the kids stared at us with huge smiles plastered on their faces. Immediately I assumed they saw us.
Dinner over the fire was delicious. It was so liberating to hang out with my friends, all of them at once, and to not feel any anxiety about fitting in, because I belong with these people. Laughter echoed, stories resumed from school, humorous teasing about silly things we’ve done during classes. I’m just so glad I broke out of my shell and started communicating with kids that made a difference in my life.
I pulled out my brand new camera that Dad gave me early enough so I’d have it with me for this day. Chandler’s grin, Frederick’s hand covering his face, Cameron’s toothy beam, Marisa and Ali chatting, Mikayla besides me, Alex playing ninja with the whole group were all in my inbox. I took so many awesome pictures of the nature, too. Sherbet clouds, icy blue water, gray pebbles shining, the hazy red moon, cotton candy colored water. Dad’s going to be so glad I put this camera to good use, because I probably took over three hundred pictures.
We all sat on the dock nearby our tents, facing the city lights that are so far away from where we are. Beth took a picture of all of us, looking at the camera, and then getting our backs. The setting sun outlined our bodies, making long silhouettes on the pier. I was living in a dream.
Some scattered back to the tent to play cards, while Mikayla stayed with me to watch the sun continue to lower.
“How do you like the evening so far?” she asked.
“It’s beautiful,” I answered in such a dreamy voice. “I haven’t felt this good since that night with Greg.” For the play we had a month back, I had to hold hands with Greg. That was when I didn’t know what to do about anyone.
“Mhm. I saw you and Alex,” She nudged me mischievously. I gave a shy smile and blushed.
“You’re blushing! That must’ve been some kiss.” I went into details about what he did. “Aw! I wish someone would do that to me,” she lamented wistfully.
“You’ll have your turn, don’t worry. There are two other boys here, you know,” I hinted with a wink.
“Ew, no! Not Cameron, because he’s flat-out annoying, and not Frederick, because that’d be awkward, ha.” I started giggling at the realization of her feelings towards them.
Ali came up from behind us and announced it was marshmallow time. We raced each other to the fire and Mikayla won. After all, she was the one who had P.E. last year, not me.
Chandler’s marshmallow fell in the pit. Cameron was laughing so hard he didn’t notice his own fell off the fork, which caused the rest of us to lose ours. Two bags went empty pretty quickly.
Ghost stories were exchanged; I almost peed myself. I love them, but they freaking scares me. I’m one of those people who actually think they’re true. I gripped Alex’s hand so tightly I think I broke it, but he told me he had worse pain than a twisted hand. Glad he’s not hurt.
Stars covered the great dark canvas of the sky above, pulling me closer and closer to the dock to gaze at them. All the kids urged us to go alone, but I insisted that we’d all go, because that’s the point of the party, to be with my friends. They settled for it, but I’m sure one of them had a plan to split off five minutes after we all lied down on the cold metal and the rest join the leader.
“Anyone need to go to the bathroom?” Cameron pronounced. Of course, everyone gets to their feet and trails after him. I think it’s rather odd that it’s Cameron of all people to have this kind of arrangement since he still hasn’t quite gotten over our kiss yet, but it’s the thought that counts.
“So,” I propped myself on my elbow to face Alex.
“So,” he repeated. He leaned in for a quick kiss. “What are we gonna do now that we’re finally alone?” he murmured mockingly. I love this boy.
“We’re going to look at the stars and tell each other everything,” I whispered. A draft breezed by.
“Okay. Hot dog or hamburger?” I slapped him lightly.
“Alex! You think you’re so funny, don’t you?”
“I’m the funniest person on the face of this planet, what’d you think?” He grinned.
“I think you’re stupid, because I’m the funniest person on the face of this planet,” I countered.
“Oh yeah? Ask your friends, they’ll definitely pick me,” I raised my brow. “Okay, maybe not, because it’s your party and you’re their friend, so they’d have to pick you.”
I turned my attention back to the sky, and pondered about the vast inky print of stars. One of these days I’ll be up there. Can’t wait, it seems so serene.
Back to seriousness, Alex was stroking my hair and said softly, “What are you thinking about?”
“Home,” I unexpectedly replied. I haven’t been thinking about that at all, but now that I said it, it’s crossing my mind in every which way.
“Oh? What about it?” His fingers were now on my cheek, sliding smoothly along my jaw.
“I remember nights like this. There was a huge hill by the middle school, and on summer nights my family would grab a blanket and look up in peace, no fights or screams. It was before the divorce, clearly. I miss my family. My real one, the first one. I can’t believe it’s been nine years since then,” A tear crept down and Alex swiftly wiped it away.
“I promise you, when you get married and start your own family, you won’t treat them the way you’ve been treated,” he guaranteed.
“Thanks,” I sniffled. Oh, this is so embarrassing. Crying because offamily. Especially in front of Alex.
His warm lips met mine for the last time that night. I lied in his arms, secured from harm, feeling the same feeling like the last time we saw each other, but this time it’s different. I’m so sure this is the boy I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’m not even thinking about Grayson. I’m not thinking about anything but the boy who gives me complete freedom. He has reached the surface and I’m finally allowed to breathe as much as I need.
I fell asleep in his arms and the last thing I remember is the sound of a zipper opening.
“Shh, she’s sleeping,” I heard Alex whisper, but I’m still half-unconscious so I’m not sure if it was his voice or not. But it seemed like a guy’s voice.
The girls nodded as he gently let me down onto my sleeping bag and tucked me in, then kissed my forehead and murmured, “Goodnight.”
When I was sure he zippered the tent back up, I widened my eyes, letting the girls know I was awake the entire time.
“I was only pretending, just to see what he would do. At least he didn’t drag me, ha!” I explained.
“You’re so lucky,” Marisa gushed.
“I wish I had someone like that,” Chandler yearned. Mikayla had already agreed before.
“He’s so wonderful,” Ali complimented. I blushed at the thought that he actually did all that for me. I mean, it takes at least three minutes to reach the dock, and possibly more just to carry me back. I’m not exactly the lightest feather around.
“Seems like a dream,” I sighed. “He’s very sweet; I don’t know how anyone like him could love me. I’d thought some jerk would be my first boyfriend, but no, I get the best. Too bad we’re not dating just yet,”
“What?” Ali, Marisa, and Chandler shrieked. Mikayla knows the story, so that’s why she’s silent.
“Technically, I’m not allowed to date until high school. However, since we keep doing all the couple-y stuff, we might as well be official. The only thing that’s holding us back is that,” I exhaled. “And Alex’s reputation as popular boy.”
Their eyes flickered in recognition about his status.
“Well, that shouldn’t matter!” Chandler cried.
“I know, and he knows. We’re going to work it out.”
“Aw, you’re not even a couple yet and you have work to do,” Marisa grieved.
“It’s fine, really. He’s going to surprise me with how he’s going to ask me out. Said it’d be super original.”
“Ooh! He’ll do that in ice cubes!” Ali guessed, and we all giggled like girls do at sleepovers.
“Yeah, she’s a great deal cool,” Mikayla punned. I love these kids.
“We were gonna have you open presents, but you went off with your future husband,” Marisa revealed.
“I told you I shouldn’t have gone,” I scolded. “And he’s not going to be my future husband.”
“So, you’re going to open them tomorrow after breakfast,” she finished, ignoring me.
“Oh, hey guys? If we want to catch the sunrise, we’ll have to get up at five forty-five,” Mikayla alerted.
“Right,” Ali confirmed. What? We’re waking up early?
“You okay with that, Michelle?” Mikayla questioned.
“Yeah, it ought to be fun to wake up at like six in the morning in the summer. What time is it?”
Marisa pulled out her phone. “Almost two.”
“Crap! Goodnight everyone,” I said. The covers are over my head, my I-pod turned on, and the glow from our cell phones are off.
But I can’t sleep. I can still feel his arms wrapped around me, his lips touching mine, his finger on my cheek, the chills I got when that tear disappeared. I can still feel the waves crashing delicately against the pier, rocking it softly. But most of all, my heart is still pounding, more alive than it’s ever been before. My soul has finally woken.
The boys in Alex’s tent badgered him for details.These guys aren’t so bad, he thought. I can trust them.
“Have you ever felt so complete, so whole?” Alex asked, and they half-nodded. “That’s what it’s like to be with her. She’s so different from everyone else, like the girls in my…” He’s not really friends with them much anymore. “The popular girls,” he changed. “When we first met, I accidently pushed her into a pond and she didn’t scream at me when we got out. She was chill about it even though I ruined her drawing that she worked on for hours. We didn’t talk much after that, since she had to go and my friends were looking for me. But I didn’t stop thinking about the girl. No, I thought about her every second of the day. And when I got to school, finding out we had choir and advisory, I was ecstatic.
“The year blossomed into the best year ever. I hung out with her, because the public didn’t really care back then, we were only sixth-graders. She was irresistible. She was so beautiful, even more now. I love her because she’s unlike a normal person. Extraordinary, actually. Nothing at all like my past girlfriends. They got upset over the silliest things, and only Michelle did that on important stuff. She’s just the most amazing person I’ve ever known,” he concluded.
Cameron’s eyes are downcast, looking sad, probably because he knew he should’ve had Michelle first. Well, too bad, buddy. She’s mine.
At dawn, the girls woke them up by shaking their tent. Groggily, he stepped out into the chilly air in just his shorts and no shoes and padded down to the dock with everyone who was just as tired as he is.
The icy water shot through his veins as he dangled his feet over the edge. Once he thought a fish swam up to him but it was Michelle’s foot instead. He chuckled at his heart-stopping reaction and took her hand. All eyes were on them, the center of the attention, and he could feel it. Again, he could care less.
Michelle took out her camera, snapped a few pictures of the group, and then directed it to the rising tangerine sun, the golden waves, the purple clouds. He peeked over her shoulder to see, and they were good, almost professional.
Looking at her woke him up. Lightning running through his body, jolting his brain to stir, his eyes finally opening completely. Her fingers were tracing letters onto his palm, which tickled a little. He got the message: “I love you”. Not even checking to make sure if the coast was clear, he kissed her. He heard a camera shutter click behind them.
“Time for breakfast,” Frederick signaled.
At the tables, pancakes and bacon was passed around, being gobbled up rapidly. Guess the marshmallows weren’t enough.
Once the plates were cleared away and the trash in bags, Chandler handed Michelle her gifts.
Smiles were placed on her face as she received gift cards, a hair curler, gummy worms, letters, some book she claimed was awesome, and money. Then she picked up the heavy rectangle package that Alex brought.
“Wonder what this could be,” she speculated. The shiny purple wrapping paper comes off and a polished wooden frame showed up.
“Awww!” the crowd sighed. It’s a couple holding pinkies by a tree, and the words are in the heart-shaped carving. Michelle doesn’t wear bracelets or a ring, and Alex doesn’t even own a watch, but whatever, she loves it.
“’I've finally found my one true love, as true as one can be. And now you're all I'm thinking of, forever stay with me’. Thank you, Alex.” She kissed his cheek. More joyful sighs.
“Y’all are so cute,” Mikayla commented. She stole Michelle’s camera and took a shot.
“Okay, who’s ready for swimming?” Cameron interrupted. Leave it to him to disrupt a perfect moment.
Swimsuits on and sunscreen lathered on every inch of their body, they all jumped off the high pier and into the warmed water, making a huge ripple that probably scared all the fish away. The day was spent in the waves, having a splash war, racing to the other side of the lake, sharing floating noodles with Michelle. During lunch they all sat on the dock and munched on chips and drank water.
Taking a break, Alex sat next to Michelle, who was lying down to get a tan. They were on the other side of the dock from the kids, who were playing verbal games and charades.
“Feels nice out here,” Alex began.
“It is,” she agreed. “Did it cost much for the frame?”
“No, I don’t think so. My dad bought it, ha. I didn’t look. But it’s from Target, so it can’t be terribly expensive.”
“Good. Don’t waste your money on me,” she grinned at him. He bent down and gave a quick peck on her lips.
She turned to lie on her stomach. Alex stayed sitting up, massaging her shoulders while staring off at the blue lake. Glittering waves rolled, the clouds scattered, birds flew overhead. What a great way to spend an afternoon with the one you love.
“Hey, guys!” Marisa called from the other side. Alex turned his head to the voice and Michelle flipped over. “Smile.” They did so.
“Stand up,” she ordered. Another click.
“Now!” Frederick and Cameron came in from either side and pushed them into the water. Michelle came out laughing; Alex was slightly mad that they ruined the relaxation time. They stayed in, though, since the heat was overwhelming again.
‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ is so extremely true, in Alex’s opinion. Before he knew it, the tents were down, sleeping bags rolled up, and everyone was in the car. A movie played on the way home since everyone was so exhausted they couldn’t talk. One by one a person left, and the people in the car diminished to only him and Michelle and obviously her stepmom.
At his dad’s house, she got out with him and walked to the front door.
“I had a really good time,” she divulged.
“So did I,” he beamed. “That was the best party I’ve ever been to.”
“Aw, come on. I’m sure there were better ones,” she teased.
“Nope, this was one hundred percent perfect. I’m glad I came.” For some reason there’s actually butterflies flitting around in his stomach.
“Yeah. Thanks, you know, for everything.” She stood on her toes and kissed him, then walked away, smiling widely. He waved goodbye, following her eyes until she got in the car, and waited until she got off the street to go inside.
After he closed the door, he turned around and found terror.