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The perfect summer
The bright, late-June sun shone through the tinted windows of the bus as we drove through the thick wilderness surrounding us. Cass sat beside me, brown hair in a ponytail that was falling out and hazel eyes closed. She was sleeping like a rock, and had been for the past hour or so. Her backpack was on her lap, open to reveal her favorite hoodie, iPod and a book. Cass always knew how to pack for a road trip. I wished that I had taken the time to pack more than a magazine for this 4-hour bus ride. Everything in the latest copy of GL had been exhausted within the first hour of the trip, with 3 more to go. Left with nothing else to do, I spent that time staring out the window, watching as the thick green pine trees flashed by through the window, their magnificent dark green branches blurring together.
This was my first year at Crossroads Summer Camp, and so far I was dreading it. My mom had signed me up without my knowledge a few months back. She waited to tell me once it was too late to get a refund, and money was tight. We couldn’t afford to waste that money, so I had to go. I was angry with Mom for doing this to me. My rage bubbled up inside me in white hot waves, choking me. Who was going to work part time down at the Pier and bring home that extra paycheck? Who would stop her the next time she got one of her whimsical ideas? Who would cover her with blankets when she fell asleep on the couch with the TV still blaring? Nobody, because that’s my job.
Much as my mother hates to admit it, she needs me to take care of her. I’ve been my own parental figure for as long as I can remember, because she isn’t responsible enough to do it herself. Sometimes I feel like we’re backwards; like I’m the mom, and she’s the teen. I wish it was like that. Mom gets to stay up late and eat ice cream at 2AM. She can go out with friends and leave me home. She works at the coolest restaurant in my hometown, and most importantly, she does not have to go to Crossroads Summer Camp, located in Maine, of all places. She has the ultimate teenage lifestyle. She has no responsibilities, no rules, nothing restricting her, and also no authority. It’s like she’s frozen in her 16 year old mindset while her body keeps aging.
I watched in disgust as the cabins came into my sight. Cass and I were obviously staying on the girls’ side of the camp, along with all of the other kids on the bus with us. The boys’ side of camp was all the other way on the other side of the large lake that separated us. I did not get along with my fellow females. In fact, Cass was the only girl-friend I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Growing up a hardcore tomboy meant two things. One, talking to boys became extremely easy, and two, girls hated you for that very reason. I promised myself that this summer would be different. This summer, since I had to attend Crossroads, I would make the most of it and do my best to make sure I was accepted. I would not have it any other way.
“Lena,” Cass shook my arm, “we’re here.” I blinked. I had been so lost in my own thought that the remaining ten minutes of our trip seemed like nothing. With a heavy sigh, I grabbed the strap of my bag, which was empty except for a magazine, and stood. Our bus was surprisingly calm compared to the boys’ bus, which was unloading ahead of us. While the girls were all lined up single file, waiting to get off, the boys were in total chaos. They didn’t form a single file line, they formed a blob. A messy blob full of flailing arms and objects being tossed back and forth between people; they were LOUD. I could make out distinct voices from where we were, at least 10 feet behind them. The bus driver was trying to gain back control of her bus by yelling, which we could also hear, although she didn’t seem to be having very much success. Our bus driver looked back at us and rolled her eyes.
“We did rock paper scissors for the girls’ bus. Thank God I won.” Cass laughed, and even I, queen of the scowl, cracked a smile. The driver swung open the bus doors with a “swoosh” and we began unloading. Outside, camp counselors were taking luggage out of the bottom compartments of the bus and putting it into a large pile. When a tall woman with red hair and dark-rimmed glasses caught sight of us, she straightened and blew the silver whistle that hung around her neck.
“Oh, fantastic, we’re gonna be called like dogs all summer.” I whispered to Cass. She snorted a laugh. Making Cass laugh was not exactly difficult; she was the most giggly person I had ever met. I turned my attention back to Whistle-Lady.
“Good morning, campers!” She exclaimed excitedly, “My name is Ms. Gonzalez, but you all can call me Ms. G. To get started out, there’s a list of cabins over there.” She pointed to the outside wall of the main cabin, “Your rooming arrangements are listed next to it. You have a few minutes to unpack your things before we begin, but you all need to be in the main cabin by noon for orientation. Any questions?” We all stared at her blankly.
“Alright then. I’ll see you all at noon!” Ms. G stopped talking, so I made my way over to the huge pile of luggage that had been formed. Luckily, my bag wasn’t in too far. I grabbed the strap and gave it a quick jerk. It came out easily, however I noticed Cass was still struggling with hers. It was buried deep at the very bottom of the pile, and she wasn’t exactly the strongest girl around. I watched in amusement for a second as Cass pulled on the strap, trying to free her duffle bag from the mess.
“Need some help?” I asked, eyebrows raised. She didn’t say anything for a second.
“May...be!” with one last strong pull, the bag came free...
and smashed right into another girl’s face.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry!” Cass exclaimed. The girl looked miffed as she pulled her blond hair over her shoulder, deep gray eyes flashing.
“Excuse her, she escaped from the mental institution this morning.” I shot a look at Cass, “I’m Lena.” the blond girl waved a little, but it wasn’t friendly. It was in a snobby way that showed how much she obviously thought the world revolved around her.
“Lauren. Hi Lena.” The way she said my name made it sound like she had stepped in something gross. I refused to urge to deck her; this girl was obviously one of the most popular girls in the camp, you could see it all in the way she was dressed, the way she walked, talked, just the general way she held herself. I smiled at her, ignoring the fact that Cass was standing next to me with her mouth agape. She wasn’t used to me socializing... like, at all; that was going to change.
Lauren gave me a once-over, as if checking to see if she could smile at me with no damage to her rep. I was so glad I’d saved all my pay from working at the Pier to go shopping for summer clothes before I came here, after seeing the way she was looking at me. I hoped to God that my denim shorts and black graphic tee were right. A breath of relief washed through me as Lauren stepped back and met my eyes. She returned my smile.
“Walk with me.” She grabbed my arm like we were best friends and practically dragged me to the list outside of the cabin. I quickly glanced over my shoulder and caught a look at Cass, standing alone, with a bag on her shoulder and tears in her eyes.
“Hey Lauren.” A dorky looking girl with dark hair in french braids smiled at us.
“Hi Mackenzie.” Lauren said without turning. Whoever she was, this girl was obviously unwanted. I didn’t turn to look at her, instead focusing my attention on the wall in front of me.
“Hey, look at that! We’re both in cabin 5!” Lauren pointed at the paper and I made myself make eye contact with her. I knew one thing; I did not want to be in cabin number 5. I wanted to be in cabin number 7, where I saw “Cass Sterling” listed neatly right under that number. I didn’t want to leave Cass so alone like this, but I just couldn’t help it. If I didn’t go with Lauren, I’d be an outcast. So, with a fixed smile on my face and one more darting look at Cass, I turned to Lauren.
“Yeah!” I said with forced enthusiasm, “that’s great.”
Later that night, after orientation and dinner, Lauren and I went back to the cabin.
“That was soooo boring!” Lauren flopped down onto her bed. She had quickly claimed the only bunk without any mysterious stains or a foul stench. I brought sheets with me to avoid such catastrophes, however I felt for the girls who hadn’t; those beds were nasty.
“Yeah, I know” I agreed, even though I didn’t think it was boring. I had actually learned a lot from orientation, seeing as it was my first year here. However, it was obviously not Lauren’s first year at Crossroads, so I decided to keep quiet. As I stared out the cabin window, the lake was calling to me. 3 or 4 girls were already out there swimming.
“Hey, do you wanna go swimming?” I asked Lauren. She looked at me like I had grown three heads.
“No! Are you crazy? If I sleep on my hair wet, it’ll be all frizzy in the morning!” She wrinkled her nose like she had just smelled something hideous.
“Oh. Yeah, that’s what I thought too. I was just looking at those losers out there.” I pointed out the window at the girls I envied so furiously and Lauren laughed. I did too, but as I stared back out towards the lake, I sighed. Cass would have gone swimming with me.
“Lena!” I heard a voice behind me and turned in the after-dinner dusk that surrounded Lauren and me. It was Cass. She was running towards me in shorts and a T-shirt, with no shoes. I paused for a second, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay long. Lauren was standing beside me, with one hand on her hip, waiting. I wondered if your face could freeze like that.
“Lena.” Cass said again as she reached me, “you have to come play capture the flag!” I wanted to, I really did. Capture the flag is my favorite game. However, Lauren was looking at Cass like she was scum, I knew I couldn’t go with her.
“Maybe later, Cass. Lauren and I were going down to the lake to hang out with some people.” Cass’s face fell, and I instantly felt bad. I talked her into coming to Crossroads with me because I didn’t want to go alone; now I was ditching her.
“I’ll catch up with you later.” I said in an attempt to clear my burdened conscience.
“Ok.” Cass said quietly. Lauren was already walking away and I needed to catch up. Quickly slipping off my charm bracelet, I gave it to her. She did the same and we touched wrists. It had kind of been our thing since 3rd grade or so, when we got these charm bracelets. Now we get new charms for every special occasion, and switch when one of us is upset and we’re apart.
“I’ll see you later.” I ran to catch up with Lauren, who was a small figure in the distance by now.
“Who is that freak? Why does she keep following you around?” Lauren asked as I got to her side, breathing heavily. Knowing that Lauren thought Cass was weird, It was a given that if I admitted that she’s my best friend, Lauren might not like me anymore. Telling the truth just wasn’t an option.
“Oh, her? She’s just my mom’s friend’s daughter.” I forced myself to roll my eyes, “I’ve practically been her idol ever since we were kids.” I was breaking to pieces with every word that I said. Cass was everything to me, she was practically my sister, and here I was, trash talking her. Lauren’s eyebrows raised.
“Wow. That must be, like, so annoying. She’s so weird.” I gritted my teeth. It was killing me to listen to Lauren talk about Cass that way, but she was the key ingredient to my perfect summer.
“She is.” I said it in a way meant to close the conversation, but Lauren didn’t take the hint.
“What kind of stuff does she DO?” She said it like she expected me to say that Cass beheaded squirrels and kept them in a tupperware container in her closet.
“She’s just... weird. She follows me everywhere.” Lauren nodded knowingly.
“I totally understand. This girl named Mackenzie follows me around EVERYWHERE. She is SUCH a dork.” I cringed. Not being much of a two-faced talker myself, this conversation bothered me immensely. Fortunately, we were at the end of the winding dirt path that led to the lake and the conversation was over.
Three girls were standing on the dock by the lake. Although I was new to Crossroads, and hadn’t talked to them officially yet, I wasn’t so dumb that I didn’t know who they were. Lauren and her friends might as well have been on Hollywood’s “Most Hot” list; everyone wanted to be them.
The tall one was Ashley. She was a darker blond than Lauren, and her hair was wavy. She had deep violet eyes and freckles. Ashley was known as the more down to earth of the 4. She was quiet and calm, usually the type Lauren wouldn’t surround herself with; however she hung out with Ashley because her father was filthy rich and Ashley has all sorts of cool things. Since Lauren wants access to the indoor pool and the constant flow of gifts Ashley gets from her father, she puts up with her.
Next in line was Jen, who was exactly the kind of girl Lauren liked to hang out with. She was stuck up, snobby, and she loved to cause trouble. Right now she was looking at me with a smirk on her lipgloss-coated mouth, as if she just couldn’t wait to get some dirt on me. Even though Jen was ugly from every aspect on the inside, she looked like a model. She stood tall at about 5’9” with dark eyes, thick black hair and tanned summer skin. I began to feel like a little kid in my cut off shorts and T-shirt.
If you looked too fast, you might miss Nicole, who stood next to Jen. She’s shorter than me, and I’m 5’1”. Everything about her was wispy, even her body type. Nicole was petite; I could probably put my hands on her waist and almost have my fingers touch in the middle. She has long, thin brown hair and silvery gray eyes that dart everywhere, never seeming to settle on one spot.
“Hey.” Lauren waved as we drew nearer to them.
“It’s about time you showed up. Are we gonna go?” Jen asked. Confused, I glanced at Lauren.
“Go where?” I enquired. Lauren didn’t tell me we were going anywhere. All she said was that we were meeting up with a couple of her friends to hang out at the lake.
“To the boys’ side of the camp.” She said. I watched in horror as Nicole and Jen started pulling a canoe out from behind a tree.
“You stole a canoe?!”I asked, alarmed.
“Don’t be such a drag.” Jen said, “this is gonna be fun.” They shoved it into the lake and held it as Ashley and Lauren stepped in.
“Are you coming?” Lauren asked, looking up at me from the boat.
“No! You guys are gonna be in so much trouble if you get caught!”
“Wow, Lena. Nobody’s getting caught. Don’t be so uncool.” Jen said as she held the canoe and Nicole hopped in.
“You guys go right ahead, but I think I’m gonna stay here and not lose games and party privileges.” I stood with one hand on my hip, finally feeling like the Lena Desroses that I knew.
Lauren rolled her eyes.
“I thought you were different, Lena.”
“I am. That’s why I’m leaving to go hang out with Cass. Who is not an annoying pain in my butt. She’s my best friend, and I have never felt more proud to say that than right now.”
I didn’t stick around to hear what they had to say. I knew right then that I was finished with Lauren Santinos and her little crew of fakes. I didn’t know what I had seen in them to begin with. In trying so hard to create my perfect summer, I had created the start of my worst, but it didn’t have to finish like that. There it was, in sight. I ran through the woods and up the stairs of cabin number 7.
“Cass!” I yelled as I knocked loudly on the door. It opened a second later, revealing an angry-looking Cass.
“What do you want?” She asked as she leaned against the door frame and stared me down.
“I... I’m so sorry Cass. I never should have ditched you for Lauren. She’s completely fake. I promise, I’m not going to be hanging out with her anymore.” Cass tried to keep her face straight, but she cracked a smile.
“It’s okay.” It was always just as simple as that. No matter how big my mistake, Cass didn’t hold a grudge. It just wasn’t in her nature.
“Thank you!” I ran up to her and gave her the biggest hug. We both laughed as we pulled away, and I looked down the long dirt path that lay in front of the cabins. Cass and I had a lot to talk about.
“Hey, do you want to take a walk?” Cass grinned.
“Sure. Just let me get my shoes.” The cabin door closed temporarily and I stared down through the woods where I could see the sunset peeking through the trees, knowing that this was the start to the perfect summer.