I have a friend who likes fire.
Naturally, I'm going to let her build the campfire tonight when I go camping with my friends. It's our senior year of high school and we want to do something fun for spring break. Tyler is pitching tents, Marissa is cooking, Bret is cleaning dishes, Nicole and I are taking down the tents and everything, and Tellie, my best friend, is building the fire.
"It'll be the best campfire you'll ever see," she says.
"Trust me," she says.
And I do trust her. Only because I know, and my friends know, she would never hurt a fly. I definitely believe her. Even if she's the definition of loud and spunky, she's also the definition of sweet and caring. Her eyes tell the most amazing stories. Her eyes are like stars. Her eyes are like fire.
Maybe that's why she likes fire so much. She's always talking to me about it; she always asks if I think fire is cool.
I say, "Literally or figuratively?" And then I burst out in laughter like a loser. God, I crack myself up. Tellie hits my upper arm in an act to try and stop me from telling lame jokes. I stop.
"Really," she says with a smile. Then she becomes silent and looks down at the ground. She speaks up again, a slight edge to her voice, "Do you ever have the urge to light something on fire?" She picks at the grass between her crossed legs.
"No, I don't. What are you, some kind of pyromaniac?" I laugh at myself again.
She shrugs. "No, I was just wondering," she says softly. She looks up from the grass, picks up a stone and tosses it into the lake in front of us.
"Oh," I sigh, leaning back on my elbows.
Tellie starts to hum the song from the new Toyota commercial.
The song comes on the radio like clockwork, pulling my mind back to the present, just as I pull up to Tellie's quiet house, ready for our day of camping. I slam my hand down on the horn, pushing there for a split second. A heartbeat later, Tellie is dashing out of the house with a duffle bag and a navy blue pillow. The smile on her face is like the moon's pale, wide grin. She opens the passenger door, tosses her stuff on the seat and runs back to her front door.
She wraps her arms around her brother, Jason, and kisses him on the cheek before running back to my Jeep.
“Let’s go! Vamanos!” She yells, pounding the top of my car. She jumps in beside me, slamming the car door behind her. She leans over and gives me a hug, squeezing me tightly. Her scent envelops me, the scent of vanilla, sunshine, and the orange she ate for breakfast.
She pulls away and pecks me on the cheek, bringing me out of my daze.
“Wow, look at you, speakin’ Spanish and such,” I say with a smile. I rev the engine and pull away from her quaint house, leaving her brother to wave at us on the doorstep.
She nods, rolls down the window, slips her aviator sunglasses on, and tunes the radio to some odd channel I’ve never heard of before. Butterflies start to swarm in my stomach.
“And next,” buzzed the lame college grad, sitting with his ankles crossed up on the table in front of him. He probably was wearing sunglasses inside, and he probably had a short beard. “We’re going to play some lovely French pop music from the 80s.”
I raise an eyebrow at Tellie, curving up a corner of my mouth. She gives me a wide beaming grin back before pursing her lips and letting out a loud wolf whistle.
I laugh. “You’re certainly chipper today, Tels.”
“Jesse, the word ‘chipper’ just ruined the mood,” she snickers, running her fingers through her short, wavy hair.
“You sure?” I smile again; the butterflies in my stomach have now turned to elephants parading all over. I hope she doesn’t hear them stomp their feet.
I’ve had a crush on Tellie for the longest time. Not that she knows or cares. I just think Tellie has witty banter and a hot body. Tellie would never go with a guy like me, though. I’m really short but I have some muscle. From what Tellie has told me, she likes tall, lean guys. Curse my build.
“Yep, I am.” And with that, she props her feet up on my dashboard and cranks up the French 80s hits.
I sigh and shake my head, the crooked smile still plastered to my face. I pull away from her driveway, the elephants in my stomach still running around.
The rest of the drive to the campsite was filled with odd songs, Tellie’s laughter and a strange conversation about Jason, her brother, and how his new girlfriend is supposedly lame.
“Not that I’ve ever met her,” I say, “but she seems like a nice girl. From what Jason has told me, at least.” I smile and glance at Tellie, who was currently twirling a piece of hair around her index finger.
“Yeah, well, she’s not.” Tellie stops twirling her hair and takes of her sunglasses. She turns in her seat her face me, her plucked eyebrows raised and knitted. “Do you even know what she said to me?”
I hold back a chuckle. “What’d she say to you, Tellie?”
Tellie scrunches up her nose and crosses her eyes. “Your brother is so nice; I can’t see how you two are related.”
I don’t hold back my laughter this time, my grip tightening on the steering wheel. I look over at her, my left eyebrow cocked up in question.
“Stop laughing, jerk. She really said that!”
I shake my head and turn my focus back to the road.
After a few minutes of driving, a song I knew came on the odd radio station. Tellie and I started singing it at the top of our lungs when suddenly, Tellie hits my upper arm and points to a sign not too far away from us.
“Jesse, look!” She starts pounding the roof of my car again. “We’ve arrived!”
“Finally,” I say, turning into the park.
We slowly pull up to a booth. A young woman comes to the window. Her black hair cascaded down her shoulders and her lips were full and pink. She smacks her gum, speaking slowly. “Hi, do you have a reserved campsite?”
“Yes, we do. I think it’s under the name Mallory.” Mallory is our friend Bret’s last name.
The woman disappears inside her booth to retrieve some things. Tellie puts her sunglasses back on and says while putting her feet back up on my dashboard, “We’re twenty minutes late but who cares? We’re still cool.”
I laugh quietly to myself, a big smile spread across my face. “Well, aren’t you Mrs. Cool.”
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”
“I won’t,” I laugh, louder this time.
The lady returns to hand me some stuff. “Your campsite is number 73,” she says, pointing to something on one of the papers. She then moves her finger to point in the direction of the road. “Two other boys and a girl already drove through here.”
“Thanks,” I say, and drive off in the direction she showed us.
“We’re missing a girl,” Tellie says. She flashes a face of slight disappointment but cheers up suddenly when she asks, “Who do you think is missing?”
I think for a second before responding. “Marissa,” I answer, slowly.
Tellie nods in agreement.
I don’t think Tellie knows I saw her look of disappointment, but I did. Tellie doesn’t like to show a lot of sad emotions because she says she doesn’t like getting people worried or down for no reason. I don’t see why there would be no reason but whatever, she’s just being Tellie.
As we pull up to the campsite, I honk the horn.
“Yeah, Jesse and Tels!” Bret yells from the picnic table.
Tellie opens the door to the Jeep and leaps out, sprinting for Bret. He envelops his arms around her and spins her around. Tellie goes around and gives Tyler and Nicole giant hugs, too.
The first thing I notice about the campsite is that it’s not that big. In fact, I’m a bit saddened with the size of it. I pictured it to be much bigger. But what do I know about the size of campsites, I’ve never been camping before.
The second thing I notice is that the tents themselves are small. We have three tents in all, two people per tent. I don’t understand how you fit two people in that small, confined space but I guess I’ll find out.
I hope I share a tent with Tellie, although I don’t know if that’ll happen.
Suddenly, the car door beside me is thrown open and someone wraps their arms around me, pulling me out of my seat.
“Let me unbuckle!” I shout, smiling while my limbs flail around helplessly.
When I unbuckle my seat belt, me and the person hugging me stumble back a few steps. “Bro, how’ve you been?” It’s Bret.
He lets go of me and I turn around. “Hey, dude,” I say, the smile still on my face. “I’ve been good. How’s the girlfriend been? Did you, you know?” I wiggle my eyebrows and elbow him slightly.
“Nah. We’re too good for that. We decided that we’re going to wait until marriage.”
“Marriage my ass,” I hear from behind me.
I turn and see Tyler and my face lights up. “Hey!” I shout as we embrace in a short hug.
“You’re just mad because Peyton won’t put out,” Tyler continues. Peyton is Bret’s girlfriend. She’s prissy and uptight.
“You guys are pigs,” Nicole says. She gives Tyler a frown before turning to me and hugging me softly. Nicole and Tyler are twins. But they don’t look alike, at all. Nicole dyed her hair fire engine red. It’s really a trip. She looks drop dead gorgeous, but only at second glance.
“Well, that makes you a donkey,” Tyler shoots back at her.
Nicole gives him a disapproving look. That look could kill anyone if you stared at it long enough. You know the saying her eyes are like daggers? Well, in this case, the phrase is basically literal.
Tellie pops up in between Nicole and Tyler, her short stature only bringing her up to Tyler’s shoulder. “I’m so happy the gang’s all together,” she says, her voice carrying on in a sing-songy way. “I just can’t wait until night falls and we can tell scary stories around the campfire.” Bret makes lame ghost noises and we all laugh.
I suddenly pipe in, “Well, we’re still missing Marissa.” I shrug slightly.
Nicole and Tyler exchange a short glance.
Bret yawns for a split second before answering. “Um, I think she said she was picking up a few groceries.”
“Right,” Nicole says, her mouth a straight line. She nods briskly.
“Groceries,” Tyler trails off slowly, his eyebrows heavy over his dark eyes.
“What?” I question, slightly confused. “Where is she?”
“None of your beeswax, Jesse.” Tellie says, hitting my upper arm. “Who wants to go swimming?”
My friends around me cheer and make jokes the whole time we got dressed and walked down to the lake. They were more excited about this than I was, and I was pretty excited.
My mind still wondered about Marissa. I hope she didn’t ditch us for some guy; it seems like something Marissa would do. She hasn’t done anything like that before, though.
When we got to the lake, the sun was setting and the water was a bright shade of orange. There were green streaks from the rippling lake water and the color combo set a nice mood as the five of us dashed into the water, the only ones there.
We had chicken fights, Tellie on my shoulders and Nicole on Tyler’s, while Bret was the referee. We yelled and splashed until the sun sunk completely behind the silhouetted tree line. The air started to get colder and we decided to towel up and head back for the site.
My toes squelched in my blue rubber flip flops my mom bought me last summer. She insisted I needed a pair even though I told her I could fend for myself in the big wide world of “what to wear to the pool.”
“We are taking showers, yeah?” Bret asks, nodding slightly. He threw his towel over his shoulder.
“Tellie and I are,” Nicole looks at Bret like he was implying they weren’t to take showers. Nicole is a strong believer in the theory that everyone must shower every day.
“I guess the guys and I will, too,” Bret adds after a pause. We walked in silence for a second. “Right, guys?”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Tyler nods, scratching his bare, scrawny chest.
I eyed his scratching and started to scratch my own head. “Yeah,” I mumble.
“Jesse, you okay?” Tellie asks, touching my slightly on my shoulder.
I jump a bit and my hand flew from my hair. “Uh, yeah. I’m fine.” I say. I chew on my lip afterwards and Tellie narrows her eyes at me.
“Whatever you say, Jesse boy, whatever you say,” she let her thoughts trail off quietly. I can hear Tyler start to snicker.
I shoot him a look and he puts his hands up and walks over to the other side of Bret, now another person away me.
We arrive at the campsite, the crickets chirping from all around us. The last orange light circled the horizon and faint stars started to peep out from their hiding spots.
“We need to pick tents,” Bret announces, pulling a flashlight and some other stuff from his bag on the picnic table.
“Nicole and I will be together,” Tyler suggests. Nicole shoots him an “I’m too old for this” look and Tyler shoots back an “it only makes sense” look.
“Okay, Nicole and Tyler are in the blue tent. Um, are we doing boy-girl or does it matter?”
I glance over at Tellie but she’s looking at her nails.
“No, I don’t think it matters,” Nicole adds, still staring at Tyler. I could tell their telepathic argument was getting pretty heated.
“Tellie and I could share a tent,” I say quickly, looking back at Bret. He raises his eyes in question. “You snore loud,” I add, coughing slightly. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Tellie look up.
“Okay,” Bret says slowly. “Tellie and Jesse are in the red tent. I guess that leaves me in the green tent.”
“What about Marissa?” I ask, again.
Tyler shakes his head, “Dude, she’s with David Shbosky.”
“The lacrosse player?” I stifle a laugh.
“Of course.” I shake my head, as well.
“You know, I did notice she had an unusual interest in lacrosse,” Nicole starts to curl a piece of her honey brown hair around her index finger. “She called it ‘hockey in the sky.’”
“Wow,” Tyler raised his eyebrows. His sarcasm was heavy.
Bret stuck his thumb out over his shoulder. “Guys, showers?”
“I think I’m going to stay here,” Tellie says, quietly.
“Um, I’ll join you!” I blurt out with haste.
Tellie nods and keeps staring at her fingernails which seem to have a big interest to her. I smile at her even though I know she doesn’t see me. My heart starts to thud as the elephants start to rampage through my stomach again.
“Okay, dude. Whatever you say,” Bret nods for Tyler, Nicole and him to start the trek to the restrooms up the hill. They switch their flashlights on and walk away, their shoes still squeaking from the lake water.
When the squeaking and the yellow of Bret’s flashlight disappeared over the hill’s hump, I turn to Tellie.
“Hey Tels,” I say. I start to head for my stuff, unzipping the bag in a single zip and pulling out my lantern. “What’s going on?” I switch the lantern on and a soft glow lights up Tellie’s shiny eyes.
“Oh, nothing,” Tellie snaps her head up, rubbing her palms on her jeans. “Should I get a fire going? Yeah, I should. I should get a fire going.”
“Need help collecting firewood?” Before I could finish, Tellie was already crunching her way into the woods. I let out a sigh and bow my head. At times, I didn’t know what to do with her. She just got this new boyfriend, Travis. I haven’t met him yet and she hasn’t spoken much of him so I don’t know what he’s about so much.
I grab my bag and sleeping bag, heading for the red and gray tent labeled mine and Tellie’s. I set the lantern up in the doorway to the tent, making sure to zip up the flap to keep bugs out. I unroll my sleeping bag and splay it out on the right side of the tent and I thump my bag down at the foot of it. I sigh and smile. I spent the next five minutes figuring out how to get jeans off and sweatpants on without standing up.
When I left out tent, I saw a nice orange fire glowing in the bottom of the fire pit. Tellie had her arms crossed and the frown on her face scared me for a second. I didn’t say anything, only stared.
“It’s pitiful, isn’t it?” She asked, looking up at me.
I smile, “Yeah, yeah it’s pitiful.” I flop down in one of the chairs I guess one of my friends set up earlier.
“Let me add more wood.”
I twiddle my thumbs as I watch her throw in two more logs. A couple of sparks flew up in the air but nothing else happened. The fire reflected on her glassy eyes and she started to chew on her bottom lip, a nervous habit of hers.
“Let me add more.”
She threw another log onto the fire but nothing happened. If anything, the fire seemed to dim down.
“This isn’t right!” She suddenly yelled.
I quickly stood up, panic rising in my throat. “No, no, no, no,” I repeated, rapidly. “You’re okay.” I wrapped my arms around her from the side, bowing my forehead onto her shoulder.
“Calm down, shhh,” I kept saying. I continued over and over and all Tellie did was stare. I was saying it more for my benefit; my heart kept thudding in my chest.
“I’m adding gasoline,” Tellie whispers.
My heart skips a beat.
I swallow hard, “W-why do you want to do that?”
“It’s not a want, it’s a need.” Tellie shrugs me off her shoulders and closes her eyes. I stand there and watch her, my eyes huge with horror.
What is my friend doing?
Tellie’s eyes flutter open and she casually strolls over to her bag. Bending down, she unzips it and rummages around for something. I see her take out something round and black. She walks away from her bag, leaving it unzipped.
Fear churned in my stomach, my throat closing quickly. I try to say something, not knowing what I’m saying, but it comes out as a mix of garbled sounds.
Tellie stands next to the fire, her head looming over the small, flickering flames. She twists the red cap off with ease, clenching it in her fist until her knuckles turned white. She drops it and at the same time, turns the can upside down on the pit.
Then everything happens at once.
The flames jumped to life, making Tellie scream. She staggers back, watching the fire lick the dark sky. The fire continues to climb in height, embers floating down from above.
Our friends show up at the campsite, running in their pajamas.
“Tellie, what the hell?” Bret yells, throwing his stuff down on the overcrowded picnic table.
“Don’t ‘what the hell’ me!” Tellie screams back, whipping her head to look up at Bret. I could tell Bret was taken aback.
All I did was stare and I continued to stare.
Tears rolled down Tellie’s face and off her chin. “What I did was good.” She says, her teeth clenched. “What I did was relaxing.” Then she proceeded by throwing another log onto the fire.
Her eyes were ablaze. With what, I don’t know. But they were on fire. It was roaring and spitting, too. Her chest heaved as she let out a final sigh. Her shoulders relaxed as she sank onto the ground, crossing her legs and staring up into the flame-licked sky.
And I continued to stare.