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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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5. 4 - SOAKED TO THE BONE

Anna hadn’t given up insisting that she had meant nothing by her comments, now telling me my mother hadn’t told her a thing. I couldn’t – no, I wouldn’t believe that for a second. If I knew my mom as well as I did, I knew for a fact she’d been the most overbearing of all the campers’ mothers in ensuring Anna was suited for the job

                On the Tuesday, the day after the incident, Anna had caught me going for my night shower slot at 8 till 9 where she ‘caught me for a chat’. She couldn’t stop apologising which I thought had more to do with the safety of her job than wanting a clean conscience.

                It’d been two whole days, and now we were onto day 3. I couldn’t be more honest when I said I was counting down the days – because I literally scored each one off until I’d reach the pickup date – still nearly two months from now. Nearly 60 days away.

                It was Wednesday, which meant swimming for most campers in the creek. Starting straight after lunch, although the strict dress code dictated swimming must occur with full clothing and supervision. I couldn’t see camp West-Bridge obeying those rules, although surprisingly they had calmed down since day one. Maybe the rigorous routines had taken a toll.

                Kiana was putting her stuff together for the swim – including her own towels and a bag of now outdated magazines. “Why does my psycho appointment have to be on swimming day,” she grumbled.

                “Psycho appointment?” I replied, knowing she was referring to her session with Anna.

                Kiana nodded. “Surely she could take a morning off too and join us by the creek. Not that I care, but I really don’t want to miss half of the day in her office.”

                I shook my head and rolled over on my cot, thinking back to my own appointment. “You’re not in there that long, really.”

                “How would you know? You stormed out five minutes into yours,” she replied, before following that with, “just take my bags with you to the creek so I can head straight there once I’m done?”

                I sighed, scribbling down some illegible sentences into the diary open in front of me. “Sure.”

                She grinned in response, shouldering her long locks of dirty blonde hair out the way. “Thanks, Mercy. Owe you one.”

***

                The creek was a half an hour stroll in the direction west of Camp Alan-Bridge. We had to cross the bridge itself the two camps were named after which warranted a large story from John about the history of the area. I’m sure it was interesting, but I wasn’t listening. Camp West-Bridge met us before we set off, as they were situated east of our camp.

                Julien, as lovely as he was, also joined us, citing the need to supervise his campers as apparently they were a ‘rowdy bunch’, and that John was unlikely able to handle them – disregarding Kendra’s ability completely as they switched gazes between each other. As long as he was preoccupied, I didn’t care much.

                The creek itself ran a large distance of flowing water, opening up at a certain point where we’d spend the day. When we arrived, sometime later, cheers erupted as everyone grabbed the driest spot to place their towels.

                I looked around and realised I had no friends but Kiana – who wouldn’t be here for a while. Being the person I was, I wandered off alone in the distance as the creek necked off into a thinner stream and placed my own stuff there. I was only just in earshot of everyone else, shrouded by the large bushes.

                I grumbled quietly to myself, still feeling as pissed off with life as I had been when I first arrived. I realised if I were at home right now, my mom would probably be standing in the middle of my room dismantling my fort of pillows, trying to find her daughter who she hadn’t heard a peep from in about 36 hours. There she’d probably find me, face first in an open book – probably having not slept straight for about 30 of those hours she’d not seen me. I liked to think I couldn’t see a problem in the way I lived, but I at least understood her frustration with me… Sometimes.

                See, I had times I could be reasonable.

                “Mercy?” I heard my name, mumbled gently in my direction.

                I whipped my head around, finding the source of the noise. Thomas was behind me. Startled, I turned my full body. He’d arrived in the direction of the main flow of campers, but didn’t seem to have anyone else with him. “Mercy, right?” He repeated.

                A small smile crept up my lips. I realised a little late that this was the first time he’d said a word to me since that incident a few days ago. “You remember my name,” I replied, bemused.

                “What, and you don’t remember mines?” he replied, taking a hand from his red hoody and wiping the back of his palm across his damp forehead.

                “You might have to remind me, Thomas,” I replied with my usual humour. He didn’t appear to get it, or if he did, he didn’t react.

                He silently took a seat on the ground close by away from the main group of campers. “Where are your friends?” I asked, although at this point I didn’t expect anyone to have any solid friends anyway.

                He shrugged lightly, the action muffled by his loose hoody. “I don’t talk to most of the campers from West-Bridge.”

                “Not even your cabin mate?”

                “He’s a bit preoccupied.”

                Maybe it was that that acted as our conversation killer, or both of our social awkwardness but conversation seemed to dither from there right before it even began. Campers around us began to make splashes into the deepest part of the creek.

                “Thanks for handing the blankets back, by the way,” I said, finding the silence more awkward than my conversation. “I was using them to block a hole in our cabin wall, and it was a bit cold without them.”

                Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say. He visibly grimaced and looked in my direction. “And you gave me them to sleep with?”

                I laughed in response, but he didn’t seem to find it funny. At least his frown lessened. He began to unzip his hoody as I finished laughing, setting it on the ground behind him. Today he wore a light blue polo shirt with jeans.

                “I don’t suppose you’ll be dozing off next camp fire, then?”

                Before he could reply, Kiana arrived on scene as she herself called my name from a further away distance. I could hear John pointing her in my direction.

                “Oh, there you are-,” she began, but paused when she realised I already had company. “Oh, Thomas.”

                His closed eyes gently pried open and squinted up at Kiana. “Do I know you?” he asked tiredly.

                Kiana seemed surprised and stuttered for a few seconds. “Oh – um, I don’t think so.”

                He muttered something under his breath and sat upright like something was bothering him. “But you knew my name-.”

                I realised where this was going. If Kiana told her I’d been talking about him, not only would I go the colour of his hooded jumped, but I’d also probably die of embarrassment – especially with considering how Thomas was turning out like. He really didn’t seem friendly.

                I jumped to my feet and laughed as hard as I could, earning some pointed stares from the other far off campers. “Hahaha, this is really funny,” I said, giving Kiana a side eye, motioning for her to come with me. “Want to have a swim, Kiana?” I asked, although that was obviously code for shut the hell up and come with me.

                Kiana grimaced and nodded quickly. “I’ll be right there.” She grabbed the bag I’d taken with me and pulled the towels from it and placed them over her shoulder. Thomas behind her shook his head and let his body fall back onto his sweatshirt behind him.

                As Kiana joined me knee deep in the water, I glanced back at Thomas’ peaceful figure and elbowed her in the ribs. “I can’t believe I’m acting like this. And you, what were you going to say? ‘Yes, Thomas, you’ve become a hot topic in our cabin since Monday’. Oh my god, Kiana!” I whispered frantically, close enough to her ear for her to hear.

                “Mercy, I’m not Amish.” I laughed at her reply and decided I was overreacting. I couldn’t say I was the best at socialising or interacting with people in general – never mind boys. Okay, maybe I was being overdramatic, but this was foreign to me. Totally. Unless I had a drink – totally not referring to my first and last party which began all this mess – I was as backwards as backwards got.

                Kiana and I began to splash around in the water, eventually soaking each other up to our elbows as we waded deeper into the water – entering slowly into midday. Eventually, the towels Kiana had stupidly brought with her over her shoulders slipped into water too, and then we were both soaked with no means of drying off.

                I’d screeched as I made a lunge for the towels that I’d accidentally knocked from her shoulder. They billowed through the air and gracefully landed on the surface of the water, sinking deeper as seconds past. Thomas, still unmoving on the banks, sat up lazily to inspect the noise.

                I covered my agape mouth as I watched Kiana grab the towels – but it was too late. Despite this, we both burst into laughter again just as we’d been moments before.

                Just behind us, Julien made his presence known. “That’s us, campers. Time to return and dry off. We’re leaving in ten minutes.” Meaning all of us. It’d already been three hours.

                Kiana and I made our way out the water to our own little area. Thomas was getting up from the spot he’d situated all morning and stretched his arms far above his head. He got up, grabbing his red jumper from the ground. When he realised we were standing close by, he peered in our directions and took us in. We looked like drowned rats but neither of us seemed to care at that moment.

                Kiana went ahead and grabbed up all our things she’d put a little further from the water and left me to it, suddenly feeling the cold air itch at my skin – the lack of sun provided by the thick trees above.

                Silently, Thomas held out his jumper. I looked between the outstretched hand and his face in a fraction of a second before he said, “take it, you look cold.” He didn’t look me directly in the eye, but I knew this was in return for the blankets.

                Knowing that any decent human would accept in this situation, I tried to be polite. I took the jumper from his hand and smiled thanks.

                Coughing awkwardly, he turned on his heel and walked away.

***

                Dinner that Wednesday was just like every day, except on Wednesday the main option was sausages and mashed potatoes. I wasn’t the biggest fan, but it was getting to the point when my stomach was beginning to make obnoxiously loud grumbling noises in quiet situations.

                Kiana and I made our way there at the dinner slot of 5 to 6. We’d only just managed to dry off but we both stank of dirt – definitely not in a good way.

                “So hungry,” Kiana commented, but I wasn’t surprised – she always seemed hungry.

                I still wore Thomas’ red jumper and I did have thoughts of returning it. If there was ever a time to return it, it’d probably be about now. Once we had both filled out plates from the stale selection that I had no doubt wasn’t as fresh as the camp leaders were making it out to be, I tried to pick him out amongst the twenty odd campers already seated.

                I saw him at the end of the furthest table sitting with a few of the other guys from his camp, but he didn’t seem to be talking or having much input in the conversation. I wondered what his deal was.

                Kiana got the hint when she saw what direction I was staring in. “You want to sit over there?” she asked. She got her answer when I silently began to walk in that general direction, clutching my barely filled plate.

                Most of the campers we were familiar with sat at a different table entirely, so we did get a few side eyes when we avoided them and walked into the lion’s den. We also had to pass Julien, who seemed too engrossed in feeding Kendra to notice us – not that he’d discourage us from being social, I’d hope.

                Seconds later I stood by the empty spot right on the end of the bench directly beside Thomas. I put my plate down before I made my presence known and Kiana had already sat herself down on the other side directly opposite me beside someone we both didn’t know. Kiana began to dig in without a word or a glance at anyone.

                Their conversation ceased and their heads turned curiously in our direction. I noticed the pinch of red on Thomas’ otherwise smooth cheeks which I might have taken as a hint of embarrassment. “I have your jumper,” I finally spat out when they all seemed to wait for me.

                One of the others who I didn’t know – slightly taller than Thomas with dark black hair, wider shoulders, and black skin – commented, “We can see that.”

                Silently I began to take it off, preparing to hand it back and suddenly rolling in the embarrassment that came with talking to anyone I didn’t know. Before I could take off the second sleeve, Thomas’ hand reached up and placed it over my hand that was grabbing at the others arms cuff. “Keep it. Give it to me later.”

                Did he really want me to leave that bad that he was willing to surrender his jumper? I had taken that as my hint, but Kiana didn’t look like she was going anywhere.

                As I turned on my heel to leave, suddenly so flustered I forgot the food I’d left behind. I hadn’t moved a step before he began to say, “Are you not going to eat?”

                I felt like everyone was watching even though I knew better that no one was bored enough to watch the situation unfold apart from those involved. When I turned around to face them again, I realised It was only Thomas and his two friends bothering to watch me act like an idiot… That somewhat relieved me.

                I sat down immediately, knowing I’d probably morphed into a tomato and slapped myself rhetorically across the head at the way I was acting. Never in my entire life did I have to interact with other people like this. The most I’d said to classmates of over ten years back home was maybe a brief hello in passing. One or two people I’d maybe ask a ‘how are you?’ I’d never approach someone on purpose.

                “You left out the fact you’d already made friends with two others from the other camp, Thomas,” his friend began to say – although I wasn’t sure which one as my plate seemed more interesting than the surroundings.

                Thomas repositioned himself in his seat and awkwardly glanced at the both of us from the corner of his eye. “Remember the night I didn’t make it back to the cabin?” he asked, “Well it was Mercy who helped me out.”

                “I guess you’re Mercy then?” One of them asked, meaning I actually had to make eye contact. I looked up through my hair and saw the blonde one of the two and he had a welcoming smile on his face, although I wasn’t exaggerating when I say he was the definition of mischievous… Although I did doubt he could spell it.

                I nodded slowly. “And this is Kiana,” I said, hoping to divert attention. I pointed in Kiana’s direction and found her cheeks stuffed full, eyes wide startled at the mention of her name. A few of us laughed, but Thomas wasn’t one of them.

                “My name’s David, and this is Dean.” Okay, got it – blondie is David and Black haired guy is Dean. Not like I’d remember that in five minutes time.

                Everyone began to eat, but suddenly in front of them I didn’t feel hungry anymore – mostly because I felt too shy that butterflies were forming in my stomach filling the void. Kiana had already got up for seconds.

                To my right, Thomas nudged my arm as gently as he could about ten minutes later breaking me from my thoughts. “You’re not eating.”

                It was a statement more than a question. “No, I’m not.”

                He didn’t prod any further, probably not expecting such a blunt answer. I was hungry, but not hungry enough to catch a disease or eat in front of strangers. I was sure I’d be able to eat a few bags of chips when I got back to my cabin later tonight – that’d be fine.

                John rattled a large wooden spoon off a pot up front grabbing everyone’s attention in seconds. “I hope you’re all having a good supper. I’m just going to run through the announcements for the next few days to give yourselves some time to prepare.”

                Announcements never meant anything good. Most of us at our end of the table turned in the direction of John to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

                “Firstly, tomorrow there’s only one activity on the agenda and that’s raft racing using the ones we made yesterday. Sound good? I hope so.” The rafts looked ready to sink, never mind float a person or two down a stagnant pond. “Secondly, Sunday is the day we rest so there’s no activities then and you will be permitted to leave the camp on a trip to the nearest town if one of the instructors, whether myself, Kendra, Anna, or Julien is heading in that direction. We have a lounge room set up on Sunday with movies playing from 9 till 10 PM. No curfew!”

                That received some cheers from the rowdier of campers who were obviously done with the 8PM lights out on regular days. I know I was.

                “Lastly, in one week from now there’s an open day for your parents. They’re allowed to visit every two weeks on the dedicated day. There will be no organised activities then either.”

                That wasn’t met with such joy. I could tell it wasn’t only me going through a rough patch with my parents right now. “Is that all?” Anna asked, who made her presence known from the furthest point of the mess hall. John nodded in response and muttered something in return. Everything seemed to resume back to how it was…

                But all I could think of was my parents. Never mind the water that I’d imminently fall in and soak myself with tomorrow. I could deal with that. One thing I couldn’t deal with though, was my parents.

                When Kiana returned, she looked concerned obviously noticing my expression when no one else did. I made a signal to her to talk later, because all of a sudden everything felt useless now.

 

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