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“So, er, I see that you found my hat.”
Alex looked up from her gooey piece of pepperoni pizza and recognized Brandon, the tall blonde guy from the group that had walked into the Red Cross training just before she bolted into the bushes. Alex gave him a quizzical look and then remembered that she was still wearing the green ball cap she’d stepped on hours earlier. She also remembered Jason saying something about her regretting the find later. For a moment, she was afraid that this Brandon kid might be some sort of a loose cannon who was about to freak out on her, but once she noted the hands jammed into his pockets, the sharp blue eyes darting toward his green checked Vans, and the flushed cheeks, she realized he posed no threat and was probably just a guy who wanted his hat back.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, pulling the cap from her head and shaking free her strawberry blonde layers.
“Oh, no, no, don’t give that back to him,” Jason called from his spot on the leather sectional on the opposite side of the lounge.
Bill, a bulky blonde introduced in an informational briefing as Camp Edson’s Sr. Counselor, stopped plucking at his guitar long enough to shake his head in agreement. “No, you don’t want to do that.”
“Yes,” Brandon turned to Alex, nodding vigorously. “Yes, you do want to return my hat.”
“Brandon, you probably don’t even want it back at this point,” chimed in a guy with dark curly hair that they called Steve.
“Oh, man, what did you guys do to it?” Brandon demanded. “Where has it been?”
“Pretty much everywhere,” Jason laughed.
“I stuffed it in the freezer after breakfast. It stayed there until Anna pulled out the popsicles after lunch.” Offered Pete, a shaggy-haired guy with black rectangle glasses.
“I tossed it in the recycling bin,” Bill said, continuing to strum a catchy riff.
“It did some hard time in one of the sketchier areas of the boys’ cabin bathroom,” Steve called from an overstuffed armchair.
“Really?” Brandon said. “So not mature.”
A big-boned girl with a boisterous laugh, short layered hair, and bright brown eyes sneaked behind Brandon and tousled his wavy blonde hair between both hands. “Come on, Bran-Bran, you don’t need that silly hat covering up all this great hair.”
“My point, exactly, Bran-Bran,” Steve mocked. “Jenna's speaking for the ladies here. We’re just doing you a favor.”
“Here’s the thing. I like my hat. It’s green. I like green. It keeps the sun off my face, and I don’t get burned. I like not getting burned. Ergo, I wear the hat,” he said, taking it from Alex and placing it back on his head.
“After the ten layers of sunscreen you’ve sprayed on yourself today, there’s no chance of burning, my friend. It’s like you’re living in a plastic shell,” added Pete
“He makes GI Joe look real,” quipped Jason.
“Awww…stop picking on poor Brandon,” said Suzy, in a voice almost as delicate as her porcelain skin. In fact, Alex was pretty sure she was the only one who heard the words over the laughter rippling through the room. Even Brandon couldn’t withhold his amusement, but Alex did catch the gratitude in his eyes as he caught the wink and sympathetic smile Suzy gave him as she tied her dark curly mane into a ponytail and grabbed the last slice of pizza, just before Glitch, the lovable black and white lounge dog approached the box with her big, wet tongue.The lodge was a large L-shaped cabin that served as the hub of activity at Camp Edson, and the lounge, where they were currently enjoying a pizza dinner, was the cavernous space in the heart of the cabin where the staff hung out during down time. Separated from the kitchen by a large countertop that Anna, the cook, kept constantly laden with leftovers and snacks, the lounge was a cozy place with overstuffed chairs, a vinyl sectional, and a fireplace. A long hall trailed off the end of the lounge, providing access to the ten dorm style rooms that were available for off season retreats. Branching off from the kitchen in the other direction was the dining hall, which was also separated from the kitchen by a long counter from which camp meals were served.
The interactions among the teens on the Camp Edson were easy and fun. Sure, they joked around with each other, but it was good natured banter—nothing like the competitive, mean-spirited teasing Alex saw all too often at school. Although most of the counselors had been at camp for several seasons now, they didn’t seem cliquish or snobby. Several of the girls had introduced themselves to Alex and tried to make her feel at home. Alex appreciated their efforts, but still found herself hanging back, learning about her surroundings before she settled in and became comfortable. She’d learned a lot already just by observation. Brandon had been a CIT his first year, two summers before. He’d missed last summer while on a cross country road trip with his family, but was back this year as a full counselor. Kristin, the deeply tanned blonde with the southern drawl met Pete the previous summer and they had been dating for a year. Dee, the other female CIT had actually been a camper last year, but something had happened involving a former counselor who was also Meg’s niece—Alex didn’t catch any of the details—but whatever happened ended with Dee being adopted by Meg and her husband, Michael. Two other male CITs, Jack and Josh, were new to camp, but seemed seemed to know each other from school.
But the person Alex wanted most to learn more about was the one with whom she dreaded speaking. She knew at some point—sooner rather than later—she’d have to explain her earlier behavior to Jason. She also knew that her response would probably make or break whatever possibilities may lie ahead in the “whole summer” she’d been so excited about just a few hours earlier. And the worst of it was she had absolutely no idea what she was going to say.
Pizza eventually morphed into video and board games that eventually dissolved into silly camp songs and late-night craziness. Jason mixed and mingled, but never strayed too far away from Alex, and made a point to pull her into a spirited wii tournament they dubbed the “trivium,” featuring the unlikely combination of wakeboarding, bowling, and darts. Finally, the crowd began to dwindle as people began to slowly disappear down the hall toward the dorm rooms. “Hey, Alex, you’re rooming with me, right?” Kristin asked in her rich southern drawl.
“Um, I thought so,” Alex answered, “but when I put my things in the cabin, it was empty.”
“Oh, dear,” Kristin laughed. “We aren’t moving into the cabins until the campers arrive. We’re living in style here in the lodge for now.”
Jason turned from the water skiing game he’d been dominating on the wii. “Oh, Alex, you took all your bags down to the cabin? I wouldn’t have given you all those bags to carry down there by yourself if that’s where you were supposed to go, silly girl.”
Of course he wouldn’t, Alex realized. She was interested in the Good Manners Poster Boy. Which was why she was totally prepared for the next words out of his mouth.
“Come on, Alex, let me walk you to the cabin so you can collect your stuff.”
Alex nodded, simply because she didn’t trust herself to speak. Ever again.