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Welcome to Camp Alan-Bridge, for the emotionally vulnerable and unassertive teenagers of North-West California. Building characters since 1975 *** Mercy Reid is being forced to attend a camp after her mother realises how socially awkward her college-aged daughter has become. She has no friends and has no desire to have friends. At Camp Alan-Bridge, she's forced into social situations on a daily basis, meeting people she'd never have looked twice at before. Sometimes it takes more than breaking out of your shell.

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12. 11 - NEW APPROACH

This chapter actually have very little going on but is my longest chapter yet. So I know there's something wrong and I'll need to edit at some point... But happy update anyway - not that anyone reads haha.

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“Have you called your mom today?” Anna asked as she sat across from me at my morning therapy session in her office.

                I shook my head as I became conscious of the plastic lump in my side pocket. I’d barely remembered to pick it up with me this morning. I didn’t need it here. I didn’t need to talk with the outside world. I thought the entire point of coming here was to get to know ourselves and forget about the outside if not just for a few weeks.

                Anna sighed at my reply as she flicked through my fairly spotless camper diary bar one brown patch on the paper cover. I’d dropped it into mud through no fault of my own as I tried to get here this morning. It was Thomas – who was only in Alan-bridge so he could follow John out into the fishing activity organised for today.

                I laughed as I thought back on the morning.

                “Mercy!” Thomas called from behind. I caught his figure waving his arms frantically in the air as he barrelled towards me. No one was around. It was just the two of us on the small dirt track towards the mess hall.

                His figure came to a halt and planted a soft kiss on my cheek. Batting him away in fear someone would see us, my diary then fell from my hands onto the muddy track below.

                I shook my head of the thought and made sure Anna didn’t think I was mocking her. She hadn’t even seemed to notice my changing expression as she looked up from my diary and blindly closed it. “You haven’t filled out your food diary either,” she said.

                I shrugged lightly and pursed my lips before I replied, “but I did fill out some spots. Everything is in there that I’ve eaten.”

                Anna frowned slightly as she opened back up the diary to take a look at my notes. “You only had a piece of bread yesterday and a candy bar from the office?” she asked as her eyebrows raised slightly.

                I looked down as I thought about it. That sounded about right. Nodding slowly in reply, Anna’s expression contorted in frustration. “But,” I tried to explain myself, “that was only because my mom was here. She doesn’t like it when I eat in front of her and I missed dinner because of my parents.” And, I added internally, the selection of dinner foods really was bad. And gross. I may be growing comfortable in camp Alan-Bridge, West-Bridge, whatever-bridge, but I wasn’t quite comfortable with what they tried to feed us.

                “The day before that you ate the same thing,” Anna muttered quietly as she flicked through the days. “All except Sunday when you ate a good breakfast, lunch in town, and a half-decent dinner. What happened on Sunday?” She asked as if there was a connection between the days I ate and days I didn’t. There wasn’t one. She was digging too deep.

                I felt it better to answer than to argue and replied, “Just as you said, I was in town.”

                “With whom?” she question as she taken off her low hanging spectacles and placed them over my diary. “With Thomas?” She added a moment later as she looked at me as if she were looking at a feral wolf.

                “I was with Thomas,” I confirmed as I looked away and at the floor. I just knew she was going to accuse me of something. I just knew it.

                Silence filtered between us as I avoided her gaze. I was probably adding fuel to the fire that was Anna’s suspicions as she put everything together. In combination with whatever my mom had told her, my diary entries, even things Thomas might have told her.

                “Your mom said something about a boyfriend. Is that true? Is there someone here you like?” She suddenly asked. When I failed to react, she added, “It’s fine if there is. It’s not strictly breaking any rules.”

                That caught my attention. I could recall the rules dancing around the subject of camper relationships, especially of the boy-girl kind. When I looked up and met Anna’s eyes, it seemed to give her some kind of confirmation.

                “How sure are you about Thomas? How long have you liked each other for?” She questioned. This was verging of tell-tale territory, in which she expected me to tell all and then she’d tell Julien and no matter what Thomas held over Julien, he’d be in for a punishment. I wasn’t saying a thing.

                “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about. Thomas and I are just friends, like Kiana-.”

                “Then,” Anna interrupted quickly, “Is it Kiana? Is she your ‘boyfriend’? Because it wouldn’t be the first time one of the campers have lied and-.”

                I slowly became mortified as Anna went on. “God no! Please, Anna. We’re friends. Good friends.”

                Anna didn’t seem convinced, and I almost considered then just admitting that Thomas and I were verging on dating territory in a weird ‘we-don’t-love-each-other-but-let’s-kiss-anyways’ type thing but then that’d get complicated.

                She seemed to move away from that subject and instead began to talk about friends. “Have you been upset at all? What about your friends?”

                I shrugged once again like the little shit I was trying to be. “Not much. We’re all fine.” Despite what she’d tell me about patient-therapist confidentiality, I knew that whatever I did actually say would be held against whatever other campers in question. I wasn’t about that life.

                Anna sat for a few moments as we butted heads via our eyes in a fight to gain control. She knew she was getting nowhere fast, but I knew she had the lock to the door which Anna’d learned to use whenever I was in her office. “About Thomas,” she began to say. Oh great, she wasn’t done with that yet. “Are you sure he’s your friend?”

                I rolled my eyes as I leaned back and crossed my arms. Anna seemed to be looking for something as her eyes searched in mines, something she wasn’t going to find. “Yes,” I replied.

                Anna cracked her neck to the side and thought for a few seconds. “Have you told each other about yourselves yet? Opened up like how you and Kiana do?” She questioned as if she knew all about Kiana and mines relationship. Based on that comment alone, she knew nothing.

                I scoffed a little at her assumption before I replied, “I think it’s you who perhaps needs a firmer grasp on relationship timelines, because I’ve been here for little over a week. Kiana and I are strangers who share a room and I’m not naive enough to assume otherwise. Thomas and I are the same,” I said. It was true. I wasn’t that stupid to believe we were all now best friends forever. Kiana was likeable, I would be friends with her and I could feel our relationship developing… But we weren’t quite there yet. Or maybe I was making this more complicated than it was.

                “It’s so easy, Mercy, for a girl like you to get caught up with other people-,”

                I spat a laugh. “A girl like me? Like what? Socially retarded or unbelievable stupid?” I had enough of this. I didn’t want to listen to it. This happened every time.

                Anna became desperate as she tried to redeem herself. Her hands shot out for physical contact as she tried to grasp my hands that’d already snatched the diary from in front of her ready to leave – locked door or not. “Oh, no, that’s not at all what I meant-.”

                “I want to go now,” was all I said.

                Anna recoiled her hands and slumped in her chair. Her hand reached up and rubbed her temples before pushing her hair from her face and getting to her feet. “Fine.”

                The twinkle of her keys emitted from her pocket as she made her way towards the door behind me. I didn’t turn to look and instead gazed out the window behind Anna’s desk. Trees. Green. No sky.

                “But be careful with Thomas, Mercy,” she suddenly said as the keys pushed through the lock. “I’ve known the boy for a few years now. Whether he’s your friend, boyfriend, acquaintance – I don’t care – but it’s my duty to protect the campers from not only themselves but those around them. Thomas could become one of those dangers.”

***

                The warning had stuck with me for the next few days all until Friday night at Dinner. And I couldn’t quite figure out what could have made Anna so wary of our relationship.

                Thomas, David, Dead, Kiana, and I had all participated in fishing earlier today – not that any of us had caught anything – but it was fun. Thomas was laughing, he was talking with Kiana, and I was sure he and his roommates were getting along a lot better than usual. Things were only looking up.

                After such a short amount of time together, getting to know one another, we finally were feeling like we could be friends. That was not only a step for me but a big one for everyone else. Friends and relationships were all of our fundamental problems and the reason why we were here – whether a family relationship or those with your peers.

                At dinner that Friday night we were getting along well too at our table closest to the door. I hadn’t mentioned to Thomas what Anna had told me – mostly because I felt Anna had probably been exaggerating and hadn’t meant to tell me in the first place. I wasn’t about to start anything.

                Suddenly that thought began to change as I saw Anna step into the front of the mess hall, papers in hand with a smile on her face but with that nervous look in her eye that cried for job security in a role she was failing at. Anna wasn’t fit to be a camp therapist for rowdy, unwilling teenagers.

                I chased the food around my plate that suddenly looked unappetising in the face of whatever was going to pour out Anna’s mouth. Today was Hamburger day, which in all actuality appeared to be a slab of meat between dry, thick bricks that they called buns. No salad, no pickle. I was stabbing it with my fork as I lazily scooped a small amount of yogurt at a time from the pot to my right.

                No one but me seemed to notice Anna until she began to talk. “Alright, guys!” she yelled, “Quieten down!” But it didn’t seem to work as she’d pleased when a large group at the opposite side of the hall broke into fits of giggles among themselves. All it took though for everything to fall silent was the bark of an unimpressed Julien who glared every one of us down.

                Everyone curiously looked at each other.

                Anna coughed before her face transformed into a false happy grin. “Alright, great! We have awesome plans for the camps this year. We would have done this sooner if -,” she began to say before pausing, then muttering quietly under her breath, “if we’d thought of it sooner… BUT, I’m confident this will go down a treat and be just what all you misunderstood individuals are needing!”

                John and Kendra stood awkwardly to Anna’s left as if they themselves had no idea what she was going on about. Julien loomed in a corner, uninterested. “I-I think we should just get to the point,” John suggested quietly, but not quiet enough for all of us to miss.

                Anna rolled her shoulders uncomfortably. “Roleplaying!” she suddenly announced. “How many of you like roleplaying?”

                You could have heard a pin drop as her gaze scanned the room, lingering hopingly on individuals she thought might save her bacon. She even hovered on me for a second longer than necessary as if she thought I’d raise my hand and encourage the masses of teenagers to follow suit. They were more likely to throw their plastic forks at me.

                Kendra seemed to remember what Anna was talking about and tried to take control of the situation. She stepped forward, revealing her outfit of choice for the day – blue overalls and a white shirt, for some odd reason missing her camper uniform. “Did any of you do theatre in school? No one at all?” she urged for someone – anyone – to engage and encourage the rest of us.

                “I did!” Dean yelled enthusiastically out of the blue. We all turned to stare at him. Thomas nudged his roommate in the side, warning him to back down. He was about to commit social suicide for the both of them.

                Anna beamed enthusiasm out of every orifice as she clapped her hands in glee. David, sitting across from Dean, muttered quietly, “what the hell, man.” I seconded that.

                The woman beckoned Dean up to the front, waving a pile of papers around, but when he stubbornly shook his head in protest Anna sighed exasperatedly and began to hand them out herself. “See, I knew you guys liked Roleplaying and theatre. Romeo and Juliet anyone? Hamlet? Les Miserables?”

                “I saw our school’s production of The Wizard of Oz last year!” someone said from the other end of the hall.

                Anna couldn’t have smiled any bigger as she bathed in pride at her wonderful idea. “Oh really, how was it?” she asked as she came to our table and laid down multiple leafs of paper. I picked up curiously and had to shake my head when I read the title, ‘How We Feel Inside: A Camper Show for the Parents’. Wonderful.

                A group snickered immaturely somewhere in the hall before the same voice called out, “I wanted to pour bleach in my eyes and stab my ears!”

                The entire hall exploded into fits of laughter, including those around me. I, however, was too preoccupied with the sheet to find anything funny at that moment.

                I could have advised Anna against this and told her honestly how much of a bad idea it was. She was a teenager once too, surely?

                ‘Campers! For the next two weeks until your parents arrive back here on the 6th of July for their next visit, we’ll be organising a show for all of them to come see. You all might not have a stage role, but don’t worry, you will all be important in the production of the show!’

                I couldn’t help think that Anna had taken her lessons during her therapist training a little too seriously. She spat out at us a reiteration of her therapist guide book as if she’d inhaled the god damn thing.

                “Oh, well that’s a pity,” Anna replied to the camper who wasn’t a fan of stage shows. “I can assure you all though that this show will be fantastic! All you guys will get to talk about yourselves and share some emotion. How about we talk about the first stage of production?” Anna rounded the top of the hall, standing back where she’d stood to begin with. Everyone in sight held a white piece of paper.

                When no one replied, Anna seemed to recoil slightly as she realised a response, if any, wasn’t likely to be a good one. “I’m going to separate you all into 3 different groups and in those groups you’ll talk about yourselves to one of the three other supervisors. They’ll all be in charge of that group and then go on the produce a sub-show involving only your group. In the week after it’ll all be assembled into one show.”

                I felt sorry for whoever was sent to Julien’s group.

                “The show itself is… still in planning. For now we’re just note taking and we’ll figure things out in a few days time. And you’ll all be glad to hear that all other activities are suspended until we have this show perfected! No day off on Sunday to go into town, I’m afraid.” The hall collectively groaned in protest. This was a terrible idea.

                John and Kendra seemed to agree with the campers, going by their expressions, but who were they to question the expert Anna claimed to be?

                Anna began to call off names for those under team Kendra as everyone began to talk among themselves. Kiana rolled her eyes as she sat across from my and folded her arms across her chest. “She’s put me right off my food. No campfire, swimming, or sunbathing for a week. Instead we’ll be put inside during sweltering heat to talk about our feelings. How ridiculous.”

                David spat a laugh and replied, “Tell me about it. I go to West-Bridge – I don’t need to talk about my feelings. Alan-Bridge, perhaps-.” David winced as Thomas violently hit David’s shin from under the table with his steel toe capped desert boots. His expression wasn’t nice, and David seemed to get the idea. “Sorry.”

                Thomas pushed his empty plate away from his body and leaned back. “Whatever their plans, just stay quiet and do as they say. Hopefully that way none of us will get chosen for any ‘stage role’, whatever that means.” Thomas looked pointedly at Dean who’d drawn attention to himself earlier for no apparent reason.

                Anna began on the list of Julien’s campers at the front and called off the list of names.

                “I feel sorry for whoever is assigned to Julien, he’s a right tyrant-,” Dean began to say just as Anna interrupted him with the calling of two familiar names.

                “Dean and Thomas,” she called. It appeared people were being assigned in the pairs from their cabins.

                David burst out laughing but not for long before Anna called out his name and his cabin mate. He sunk quietly into his seat. Now that was some karma.

                It was Kiana’s turn to laugh as she complacently let her head swing back as she laughed up at the ceiling. Then, of course, just so the world could laugh at our collective misery we heard our names as well.

                “And finally, Kiana and Mercy. That’s all for team Julien. Off you go!”

                It was the boys’ time to laugh as they watched us both freeze before we both realised what being on his team met.

                We were all going to die.

***

                On a normal day we might have been forced to run track or had a campfire, but now this project had taken priority and here we were in a group of 10 filled with people Kiana and I didn’t really know, forced to talk about our feelings.

                I could only assume we were with Julien because of our new cabin was situated within the vicinity of West-Bridge. Because of that, we were stuck with an emotionless brick who laughed in the face of our petty emotions.

                Right now, we were all together sat on the floor of the main west-bridge cabin office – presumably where Julien stayed during the night – with Julien sitting at the head of circle looking like he’d rather play tennis with his own eyeballs. Kiana and I tried our best to remain quiet.

                “Right boys,” he yelled, “let’s get this over with so we can shut that therapist up. I’m adding ten minutes onto your track later tonight for every 5 minutes over 7 o’clock.” What a good example he was proving to be for troubled boys of West-Bridge. Julien was also clearly enough of an asshole to forget that Kiana and I were there, as well as the only other two girls in West-Bridge who I’d never talked to before.

                Julien grunted as he snatched up the sheet of paper we were all given each and smoothed it out as he read. He rolled his eyes.

                “Let’s just say we had this group discussion and decided on a theme together. We need to pick a theme about something that makes us feel better. Well, I’ve decided that for you – fitness. Running laps for hours makes you all feel like good, law abiding citizens. Isn’t that right?” When no one replied, Julien smiled. “Perfect.”

                I looked down at my own sheet and glanced over to my left at Thomas who stared off into space. ‘Within your chosen theme, pick one further activity you get the most benefit out of. Remember your reasons why’. What in the world could I pick within fitness? I enjoyed walking to the shower block every morning with the thought of being scrubbed clean. Football, soccer, badminton? No thanks. Was sleeping an activity?

                Julien left us to our own devices soon after to fill out the sheet with only half an hour to spare before seven pm with a parting insult. Everyone seemed to ignore him.

                “This is stupid,” a tall brown haired boy muttered from across the circle once our supervisor left. Several people muttered in agreeance.

                “Just write what they want to hear,” David inputted in the conversation and that’s then what they all appeared to do.

                The questions on the sheet were uninteresting and I had no idea how they translated into a stage show. I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t an actress by any stretch. I also wrote any old answer, in hopes Anna would read it and think better of me… And then hopefully let my parents know how well I was getting on here.

                Time seemed to slip away like sand between our fingers and before we knew it, it was ten to seven. Everyone appeared to be done when Thomas turned to me quietly and said, “You want to go somewhere?”

                I peered over at Kiana who looked like she was having an interesting conversation with both David and Dead who went together like bread and butter. I signalled for her attention and pointedly glanced towards the door. A small smile fell over her face as she got the idea and tried to untangle her legs to stand up.

                Thomas and I began to follow but not before someone called out Thomas’ surname. “Blakely, where you going?” We both paused before we turned quietly to look at the many eyes looking up at us from the floor. Before camp, this would have made me nervous. Now I didn’t even bat an eyelid.

                Is this when everything gets confrontational and there’s a big fight and we all get in trouble?

                Thomas turned on his heel and stuck out his chin and said, “We’re escaping before Julien returns.” No intention of returning until later tonight.

                The other boy staggered to his feet, shaking life into his legs as he gained balance and suddenly began to smile. “Awesome. We’re leaving too then.” That seemed to trigger a cue for the others to get to their feet – well, the handful of people that remained. Together we made just less than a dozen.

                David to our right began to look worried as he flicked gazes between Thomas and the other boy, hoping Thomas would tell them all to just get lost. “But Julien will be back soon, Chris, and -,” David tried to say.

                Chris, the other boy, rolled his eyes. “I never said I was going with you,” he said as he used his hands to signal for the others to follow him like lost puppies as they all eagerly made their way towards the door, shoving our own small group out the way.

                “But if Julien sees we are all gone, he’ll be real mad!” David boldly yelled at their backs disappearing into the darkness, obviously not intimated by Chris’ muscles that looked like they could take us all on at once and be done within ten minutes.

                Kiana laughed a little and said, “We can still leave, what’s stopping us?” She hooked her arm cheerfully through Dean’s and tried to pull him towards the door.

                Dean resisted and replied, “Oh, no, you don’t know what Julien’s like. He’s as stupid as he looks and wouldn’t have noticed we were gone if some people stayed behind. He’s not so stupid not to notice all his campers have run away…”

                I could hear some of the west-bridgers having fun in the distance but invisible to the eye. If they didn’t quieten down or run further away, they’d be caught instantly by Julien. I could imagine him now chasing after them like a raging bull. They’d only torment him by waving a red blanket in front of his face.

                Thomas was having his own internal rage as he said, “They’re so selfish. Let’s not care what Julien thinks.”

                David nodded his head in agreement. “What’s the worst he could do?”

                Dean seemed to have a good idea of that and grimaced at the question. I’d have grimaced too if I had even the slightest of idea, but I could certainly imagine. What would he make the West-Bridge kids do this time? An extreme assault course? Set up a camper fighting ring? He would do it all.

                “Where are we going?” Kiana asked.

                Thomas shrugged. “No idea.”

***

                Laying back on my cot in my cabin, I suddenly began to feel very tired. We couldn’t have chosen a better place to hide from our tyrant instructor, and I didn’t think Julian would think to find any of us here – especially not Thomas, Dean, or David.

                Thomas’ hair brushed my exposed ankles as he sat on the floor at the bottom of my cot and leaned back with a sigh. His eyes were closed allowing me to study his face freely. He was a confusing one, he really was.

                I was getting the knack for understanding other people. I would maybe go as far to say I understood Thomas, too. The misunderstood 19 year old who probably dropped out of high school and couldn’t get his life together. The spontaneous, thoughtless guy who lived in the moment and didn’t think of the consequences. That’s what he’d made us do now. We weren’t thinking of the wrath of Julien.

                Thomas was the 19 year old that I’d made friends-and-some-kissing with, warranting a warning from my own therapist about his company. The guy, I’d realised, was still clouded is masses of mystery.

                That was perhaps the most frustrating thing.

                “What are we all doing tomorrow?” Kiana asked from her own cot.

                I glanced across the room at my roommate, curled up on her side. She was exactly like Thomas. I thought I knew her but I knew nothing. I wanted, no, I have to make it my mission to know them by the end of this summer. I wanted to know everything about them.

                “No clue. I imagine Anna will have us all doing this again,” I muttered. “I’m not getting up on that stage and acting like I want to in front of my parents. No way. I’d take coming here for a second year to avoid that.”

                “I think one of us needs to be real with Anna and actually tell her how we feel. Maybe use our diaries. Write some truths in it so she sees what we’re really all about,” Kiana said. I found myself agreeing, because I knew for sure that anything I stuck in there was what she wanted to hear and not how I felt. Maybe we were part of the problem.

                Dean fidgeted around by the door as he tried to get comfortable, and irritably replied like a child we’d awoken from a nap, “Please do. The rest of us are suffering because of it.”

                Thomas kicked him, he himself looking half asleep.

                I quietly slid up my bed and leaded over to get out my bag. The ring binder of my diary was peeking out the top. Leaning over, I fished it out alongside a pen. “If I’m writing truths in here, you have to as well, Kiana.”

                What was there to write other than what we thought was the obvious? This camp is a piece of trash and isn’t doing a single bit of good. But I knew writing something along those lines would anger Anna more than anything else. We weren’t even being constructive with it.

                Kiana sighed to herself as she tiredly began writing silently. I didn’t ask what she was writing, because I knew it’d be the obvious. I then began to write my own in the correct day slot, except today I wasn’t going to be writing about my day.

                ‘I’m sorry for not telling you sooner but your approach to camp therapy is rather counter productive-‘ Was that not a little, cheeky? Rude? No, at least I was being honestly. I continued to write, ‘Firstly, this camp stage show about our feelings is a terrible idea. The West-Bridge campers are hating it more than anyone else, including me and I’m probably the biggest critic. Please fix this.’

                I glanced over at Kiana who was sniggering quietly under her breath as she wrote down god knows what. I hoped silently she wouldn’t make things worse as I scribbled down a few more things, ‘you’re trying too hard. We don’t need therapy sessions, we want to do what we want and figure things out for ourselves.’ That wasn’t too much to ask.

                I figured Anna would ask me to elaborate on it when she read the diary at our next meeting, so didn’t bother writing down anything else – not that I would have had a chance anyway when suddenly our lights shut off leaving us all in darkness. Then, Julien’s voice screaming outside.

                “Sorry, I flicked the switched. Didn’t want Julien getting suspicious,” Dean whispered as teenager screams and shouts echoed outside as Julien roared after them. Maybe it was a good idea not to go out after all.

                Thomas laughed tiredly and changed positions. I couldn’t see his face but I could imagine a small smile sitting on his lips.

                It was that thought in the silence that sent me off the sleep. The noise outside of Julien yelling in the distance after teenagers who just wouldn’t give him a break, taunting him because they knew he’d explode. I hadn’t felt so satisfied in days.

 

 

               

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