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Alex pressed her back against the side of the log cabin and slowly slid into a crouching position. She could actually hear her heart thumping in her chest. It was good, in a way, she reasoned. Realizing that her stepmother was here to teach a First Aid course meant that in an hour, she would be gone, back home to the twins and tofu sandwhiches. Even more importantly, it meant that her presence had nothing to do with Alex. As important as those pieces of information were, the fact that she was on the other side of the wall about to teach a first aid certification course raised an equal number of questions. What was behind her stepmother’s apparent career change, and, more urgently, how could she possibly complete her required safety course? Waltzing right in there and participating in a class her stepmother was teaching stretched the hiding in plain view concept past its limits. It would never work.
Alex sidled up to a nearby window to get a visual on what was happening inside the lodge. About 20 teenagers were sitting in folding chairs facing a small stage with a podium, a limp human form Alex took for a crash test dummy, and a large screen.
Whap! Alex jumped at the noise from the window, and became even more startled when she realized her view of the room had been replaced by vast stretch of emptiness. Then it hit her—Angela had pulled down the blinds. She must be showing slides or video clips. To Alex, that meant just one thing—darkness. And with darkness came a whole new realm of possibilities.
Alex went around the back of the lodge in search of an alternate entrance. She paused as she approached a screen door which appeared to lead straight into the back of the open area where everyone was gathered for class. She tip-toed forward, hoping to slide, undetected, into the back of the room, preferably behind a floor-to-ceiling support beam, or a freakishly a tall kid. Alex’s foot hit something soft and meshy as she took her final step toward the door, and, looking down, she couldn’t believe her good fortune. She had just stepped on a green ball cap lying abandoned on the stoop as though someone had tossed it out the back door as a much-needed lifeline. She stuffed her hair in the back of the cap and pulled the bill down low on her forehead.
Alex made eye contact with no one as she slid into an empty chair in the middle of the unoccupied back row of folding chairs. She slouched low enough to see only the bottom half of the translucent images of bruises, bites, and bumps projected on the screen. Angela was waving a long wooden stick over an angry-looking lesion in the center of the screen.
“The most important thing is to remove the stinger as quickly as possible,” she said, swirling the stick around a black protrusion at the nucleus of the raised, red bump. “Once the stinger is out, twenty minutes with an ice pack is all the treatment a typical bee sting will require.”
From stings and scratches, Angela guided the program into an overview of various skin irritants, including Poison Ivy and Oak, which Alex knew from any number of movies to be the number one threat of summer camp. She touched on snakes, and then slid quickly into allergies and asthma, relying heavily on stock images and the occasional demonstrational video. Alex was pretty sure Angela hadn’t looked out into the audience once. Clearly, she was new and had allowed nerves to get the best of her. Alex couldn’t believe her good fortune. Angela would be gone in no time and then she would be breathing easier herself.
“OK, so that concludes the lecture portion of our class. In order to get your completion certificates, you must successfully complete the hands on portion of the training.”Angela announced as she flipped the light switch.
Alex felt the color leave her cheeks. Hands on training and certificates were bad news. One would require Angela’s personal scrutiny and the other Alex’s full name. She mentally took back her wish for credentials. In fact, she knew when she was beat. It was time for a speedy exit.
“Green hat, back row, could you start us off?” Angela asked.
Start them off! Alex’s thoughts began to race and she felt the room start to spin. Oh, no, no, no, I can’t pass out at a first aid training class! What am I supposed to start?
“I’m sorry,” Angela laughed. “I guess I wasn’t clear. We’re counting off by 2s. So we can work in pairs. So go ahead.”
“One,” Alex croaked in a feeble voice she didn’t recognize as her own.
“Two!” She was sure it was Jason, but less certain that his response made sense based on where he was seated in the row in front of her, but everyone just seemed to go with it.
Seconds later Jason was sitting in the seat beside her. “You OK?” he whispered.
“No, I’ve got to get out of here,” Alex stammered, trying to stand so she could use the last few seconds of the “pairing up” confusion to make her exit, but her weak knees failed her.
“Woah,” Jason said gently, “Just have a seat. If you’re going to pass out, you picked a great place to do it. You’ve got all the help in the world here.”
Jason misread the panic in Alex’s eyes. “OK, let’s get you down on the ground and get your feet up, and I’ll get the instructor.”
Alex grabbed Jason’s hand. “No!”
“Alex, what’s going on here?”
Angela had begun demonstrating some compression techniques using the dummy on stage. “You and your partner will take turns attempting these movements,” she said. “I will come around and verify that you have done them properly. I’ll be starting in the back this time.”
“Please help me,” Alex mouthed.
“You know this woman, don’t you?” Jason asked.
“I tell you about it later. Another time. I promise. Just trust me.”
“Get down on the ground, dummy.” It took a second for Alex to process Jason’s words, but when she realized that Jason wanted her to play the role of the victim, just like the dummy lying prone on the stage, she didn’t hesitate.
“Throw your arm across your face,” Jason hissed.
Alex flung her arm across her face with enough dramatic flair to assure observers that she was relishing the role.
“Wonderful!” Angela’s voice rang down from above. “Good compressions, team one! And you are?”
“OK, Jaaason,” Anglea stretched out his name as she wrote it down on her clip board. “And?”
“Lexie.” Jason supplied quickly.
“Great. OK, I want you to switch. Lexie, you’ll be giving Jason compressions when I return.”
Alex peeked over her arm and into Jason’s eyes as Angela walked away.
“You’re doing great.” Jason laughed. “Who is this and what did she do to you? Mild mannered life saver by day, blood sucking vampire by night?”
“Please. Not now. I have to figure out how to give you compressions.”
“No worries,” Jason said. “Just follow my lead. And where did you get that hat?” he laughed.
“It was a gift from the heavens,” Alex said, kneeling over Jason as he stretched across the floor.
“You probably won’t be saying that later.”
Alex began mimicking the compression movement that Jason had modeled on her moments earlier. “What?”
“Never mind. Just look straight into my eyes.”
“Good work, Lexie!” Angela said.
Jason held her gaze and tipped his chin almost imperceptibly, cueing Alex to nod in response to Angela, as though she was absorbed in concentration.
And so the next half hour went, through the Heimlich maneuver, a splint simulation, and, ironically, proper procedures for assisting someone who had passed out. Jason found clever ways to conceal Alex’s features or divert Angela’s attention at every check point. Alex was almost tempted to relax, but she knew there was still too much that could go wrong.
Until, finally, there wasn’t. “OK, good job, everyone!” Angela was saying. “Give yourselves a hand! You’ve all earned your Red Cross Safely Certification. I will leave the certificates with your director to fill out and give to you later. You are dismissed.”
Jason ushered Alex outside, through the back door. “I’ve got to go do some IT wizardry in the office for Meg. But—you owe me big time, my friend. At the very least, I want a nice, long story over some campfire s’mores,” he said with a wink as he turned down the same trail Angela’s taillights had blazed moments before.
With Angela gone and unlikely to return, Alex knew her camp adventure began here and now. She imagined this moment would fill her with happiness, but, in reality, she never felt worse in her life.