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Alex bit her tongue as she fell into step beside Jason. If she couldn’t speak, she reasoned, then she couldn’t lie, and not lying meant not making her life any more complicated than it already was at this exact moment.
“Hey, Lexie,” Jason began. Alex cringed at the sound of her alternate name—not because she didn’t like it (because she actually did, very much) but because she took it as a cue that the conversation was about to take a swift turn into the Danger Zone.
“Mmm?” Alex answered, without actually opening her mouth.
“I was thinking. Tomorrow’s a big work day here, but we’re supposed to be done in the late afternoon. I was actually going to go home for the evening, and come back Sunday. I wanted to know if you’d like to come with me. You seemed to hit it off with my mom, and she’s an excellent cook. You could stay in my sister’s room.” Jason’s voice trailed as he waited for a response.
That was it? No inquisition? It’s too good to be true, Alex thought, pausing to take it all in.
“I mean, think it over—” Jason quickly added.
“Oh, of course I’d like to come,” Alex said, feeling sorry she’d made him feel awkward. “Yes. Definitely. Thank you.”
Jason’s smile was something Alex heard more than saw in the darkness of the trail. “Great! I’d like that a lot, and I think Mom would, too. She’s happiest when the house is full.”
“Really?” Alex said. “It’s completely the opposite at my house. My mom is a nurse, and when she comes home after a 12-hour shift, she’s all about crashing on the couch in her slippers and a pair of sweats. I honestly don’t remember the last time we had company. Or a meal that didn’t come from the freezer.”
“Well, a 12-hour shift sounds exhausting to me. And your mom’s single, right?”
“Yeah,” Alex said, suddenly on guard.
“Well, we’ll cut her some slack on the company and cooking scene then,” Jason said.
Seriously? Alex’s thought. If someone would have told her this morning that guys like Jason were real, she would have suspected that the news was coming from someone who also believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and probably Linus’s Great Pumpkin from the Charlie Brown Halloween special, for good measure. She wondered, briefly, if he was just a skilled poser looking for the fast track toward a good time, but she somehow knew that wasn’t the case. Jason was different than the guys from her school—the ones who seemed charming until they thought they could get you alone behind the bleachers on the football field or in the backseat of a car. Jason seemed to genuinely care.
It only took a few moments for Alex to gather her things from the bare mattress in the cabin. Jason shined the beam of his flashlight toward the cabin’s wooden steps as she descended, taking the plastic shopping bags from her hands as soon as her Converse sneakers hit the ground.
On the way back to the lodge, Jason filled her in on the people she was likely to meet at his house tomorrow. His older sister, Katy, would be home, likely with her boyfriend, Doug. His dad would be there, as would his little brother, Mark, and Nanook, their Siberian Husky puppy. On the possible list of house regulars was their mildly senile neighbor, Mrs. Pritchard, and any of a half dozen or so of Joanna’s students who were staying at the university for the summer to whom she had extended the standing offer of home cooked meals and a place to do free laundry.
Alex was fascinated as she imagined the scene. “How big is your house?” she asked.
Jason laughed. “I dunno…sort of normal sized.”
“No, no, you don’t get it,” Alex said. “I live in a three bedroom apartment with a wrought iron balcony overlooking the parking lot. Even if we were into company, we couldn’t have more than three extra people before we’d have folks sitting on people’s beds.” Alex laughed. “Even at my dad’s, I kind of feel like a guest they’re squeezing in for the summer. They say I have my own room, but it’s Angela’s office 10 months out of the year, and I think she kind of misses it. She has to set up shop in a corner of the dining room whenever I’m around.”
“It’s ok, Lexie. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few months, it’s that the best laid plans can crumble in an instant anyway. You just have to learn to roll with what you’ve got. Plan B, that’s what life’s all about.”
“I can’t believe you said that,” Alex answered. “That’s pretty much the guiding principle by which I live. Lemons to lemonade.”
“We just might be doing a lot of that around here one the campers arrive,” Jason laughed. “But for now,” he said glancing at his watch, “it’s definitely time for some sleep.”
Jason helped Alex find her room on the girls’ side of the hall, and said goodnight. Alex expected to find her roommate already asleep, but Kristin was wide awake and ready to talk as soon as she hit the door.
“Not bad, not bad,” she said from her perch on the edge of one of the room’s two wood-framed twin beds.
“What do you mean?” Alex answered.
“You’re here less than 12 hours and you’ve caught the attention of Camp Edson’s most eligible bachelor,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Alex answered. “We don’t really know each other yet,” she responded, thinking that what she really meant was that he didn’t know who she really was at all. And she was pretty sure he wouldn’t be at all interested in her if he did.
Alex set her bags down on the quilted comforter of the empty bed, and began organizing her few supplies for the second time that day, wondering, suddenly, where her bag was and if she’d ever see it again. The airport seemed like a lifetime ago.
“You’ll find that we get pretty close pretty fast here at camp,” Kristin laughed, grabbing a brush from the nightstand and pulling it through her straight golden hair. “”And you guys have been talking all day long. At this rate, you’ll know him like the back of your hand before next week.”
It was true. Alex had known Jason for about 12 hours and they’d already tagged-teamed a covert mission, been on a shopping trip with his mom, and shared a midnight heart-to-heat. It was pretty much the meaningful portion of every previous relationship she’d ever had, condensed into a single day. The problem? Just the fact that she was here to meet him in the first place meant any relationship to follow would be based on a lie.
“I think the biggest thing I learned about Jason today is that he’s probably too perfect for me,” Alex said.
“Nonsense! Sure, he’s got great manners and a good heart, but nobody’s perfect,” Kristin laughed. “I mean, he wouldn’t be homeschooled right now if he were perfect, right?”
The look on Alex’s face made Kristin’s cheeks flush. “I mean, it’s no secret…he told everyone all about it when we introduced ourselves the first night,” she spoke quickly, as if defending her slip. “I just assumed he told you already. He will. Don’t worry. It’s no big deal.”
“Relax, it’s ok.” Alex said, pulling back the warm bed quilt and sliding beneath the thin sheet.
“Well, I just don’t want you to worry. Jason’s a great guy,” Kristin said.
Worry? Alex smiled to herself. On the contrary, the thought of Jason having a possible secret was the best news she’d heard all day. She not only hoped it was true, she kind of hoped it was big. For the first time that long day, Alex actually believed that she might have a chance with Jason after all.