Camp (pt. 1)

The Monday after the funeral Jamie’s boss took her into what was called the “executive dining room” on the pretense of making lists of campers for color war teams. It was really just a screened in porch adjacent to a tool shed, with a long narrow table inside. The table nearly filled the entire room, which wasn’t more than seven feet wide, so much so that when they were building it they had to slide the table inside the skeleton of the room first and hang the screens after the fact. It commanded a view of the camp that only a select few had access to, and thus, was considered a special place. It was where the camp administrators ate, and during non-meal times, it was where special meetings were held.

From where Jamie sat she could easily see about half the camp. The wide grassy expanse behind the main office, which was burned from sun in places and sinking in other places where sprinklers had been set to provide relief from the heat, stretched all around. Behind it the woods rose, creating a little valley in which the heart of the camp sat. She looked around as if she were searching for something. A group of kids were heading to Tetherball 5, which was separated from the camp by a wall of fern trees in a little clearing on the edge of the woods. It was Josh’s group. She identified his figure receding across the softball field even before he turned around and urged the stragglers to follow. The hollow, reassuring sounds that tennis balls made were heard almost constantly, as the tennis courts were only about 20 feet away from where they sat. She saw the silhouette of the little boy who was her pet standing distractedly in the outfield of Softball 1—she had taken care of him during a thunderstorm and they bonded.

Josh turned back again. He was standing right in the round opening the trees made at the entrance of the woods. Although the sun was shining hard on his face, he was half bathed in the darkness of the woods. He put his hand above his eyes and made an annoyed herding gesture with his other arm to the slowest camper.

The man who was sitting across from Jamie was called Sack by everyone, although his real name was Jon. He saw her looking over in the direction of the woods. Josh was his nephew, and he could tell him from far away too. “What’s going on with you two?”

She looked at him with a vague expression, drawn suddenly away from her thoughts, although she had been considering the very same thing. She huffed. “I don’t know. He’s kind of—“ She stopped herself, wondering what it was okay to say to his uncle about him. Then again, she thought, Sack is my real friend—the reason I’ve been here for so long. He was the person who had taken an interest in her when she was dorky and sixteen and new here. He was the reason she was the only person her age who ate in the executive dining room.

He surprised her by saying forcefully, “He’s selfish. You know I loved busting you about it, but honestly he’s not a good guy for you Jamie.”

She sucked in her breath and drew herself up a little. “Sack,” she said slowly, “I think I figured that out this weekend.”

“He fucked up at the funeral?”

“He didn’t come.” Sack raised his eyebrows, but she stopped him. “No, it’s not like that. I didn’t want him to come. I wanted to be with my friends and I wanted to think about Amanda and not deal with him. But he just—wasn’t the way I expected him to behave. He was sort of a cold fish about the whole thing.”

Sack was the clown king of the camp, and everyone loved him. Now he shook his head, looking at the table. It was rare to catch him being serious, even for Jamie, who spent all her time with him. Today however, he looked at her contemplatively, seeming to regard her as the person she was right then, not all the different people she had been throughout the six formative years he’d known her. “You know Jamie,” he said, “you sometimes have to protect yourself in life.”

“You’re right. He’s incredibly selfish. I honestly never realized it till this weekend, but it’s all about him. Even down to the first times we went out, during the year, down to the movies we would rent. He always gets his way with me.” Sack laughed. She swatted him on the arm. “Not like that—you’re disgusting.”

He shrugged and looked down at the stack of papers before him, ready to get down to business. “You sure walked into that one.”

Later that night she was sitting out on the dock with Tom. He was standing up, skipping stones, a talent she had never acquired in all the time she’d been there. She was sitting down, her hands behind her, her feet trailing into the cool dark water. It was late in the afternoon, the time before dinner when the campers were freed from their activities and allowed to flirt or play as they pleased, and most of the counselors did the same. The sun was low in the western sky. They heard steps on the dock and both turned around. Josh finally knelt down wordlessly beside her and began to untie his sneakers. He put his feet in the water too and knitted his fingers with hers on the dock. She moved her hand away and he looked at her seriously. “How’s it going?”

She didn’t say anything. Instead, she looked in Tom’s direction, for help perhaps. He wasn’t looking at her, but almost instinctively he started talking. “How can I keep doing this? I’ve been doing this for twenty minutes. And yet it doesn’t lose its appeal to me.” He launched another stone.

She smiled in spite of herself and finally looked at Josh. “He’s a leettle bit stoned,” she said with laughter she couldn’t resist in her voice.

“Are you?”

“No,” she said, mimicking the sternness of his tone.

He looked out at the lake. “What’s up? Why are you mad at me?”

She paused. “Ja-osh.” When she wanted to make a point she said his name with two syllables. But she couldn’t bring herself to say what she wanted to say. She lied down on the dock staring up at the sky. “I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry I’m not throwing a parade every second to be back. You know my friend did just die.”

“I know,” he said quietly.
She put her hands behind her head. “When is your next night off?”

“Not till Saturday.”

“Oh good,” she said lightly. “A bunch of us are going to Jakson’s lake house that night. Tom’s coming,” she said, looking in his direction. Tom nodded wordlessly. “Too bad though.” She smiled at him. “I have tonight off.”

“Well Miss Jamie, I am on, and anyway I have to have dinner in town with my mother.” He looked down at her and patted her on the forehead. Josh’s mother was the art director there.

“Ah. Well, your loss.”

“Yes indeedy,” he said matter-of-factly. Tom laughed at him. This allowed Jamie and Josh to laugh too, which was a welcome feeling for both of them. “Okay you two, go get high in the woods, I have to go to dinner.” He leaned down and kissed Jamie quickly before hopping to his feet.

“Don’t tell your mom,” Jamie said, trailing him with her gaze.

“Bye,” Tom said vaguely without turning. Josh wasn’t yet off the dock when he heard him quietly ask Jamie if she wanted to go into town for pizza. She groaned and started laughing. The lake seemed to distill and preserve all human sounds, and Josh could hear notes of their conversation even when he was at the door of the dining room. He walked in and was overtaken by the din of conversation. A quiet person in general, he was always surprised by how quickly his own thoughts could be overtaken by the voices of children.

He was disturbed by their closeness, he allowed himself to think as he took his seat among the campers of his bunk. He made Julian, the boy who was sitting by the window, give up his seat. From here he could watch them sitting on the dock with impunity. Tom had given up throwing stones, and they were both sitting cross legged facing each other. He had difficult feelings towards Tom. They had gone to high school together and always been friendly, although Tom was always a cooler guy than he had been. They had both discovered Jamie last summer when she was dating another guy they had gone to high school with who also worked at the camp. Before last summer, although she had been a fixture at the camp for years, neither of them had ever really known her. Josh and she had bonded over their shared interest in literature; Tom had warmed to her when he realized she was a stoner. Josh remembered the first time he noticed her. She was sitting in the front office with a little boy named Jonas who was sick. They were both sitting on swivel chairs upholstered in retro orange fabric. She was playing something good and new to him on the cd player, and as he was checking his mail box he turned absently to ask her what the name of the band was. She was sitting perfectly still but making a funny face at the boy when she realized he was watching her. She smiled at him self-consciously. “He’s sick—just trying to cheer him up,” she said, poking Jonas in the belly gently with her pointer finger. He brushed her hand away grumpily and looked forlornly out the front window of the office. “Uh oh,” she said to Josh comically, “guess he doesn’t like that.” She brushed his hair out of his face. “I’m sorry Jo—do you want me to get you something?” The boy shook his head.

“Ok,” she said half to Josh, half to herself. She hadn’t meant to pick on the little boy and she felt bad.

“What cd is this?” Josh asked, rifling through his mail.

“The Actual Tigers.”

“Actual Tiger” he repeated appraisingly.

“Actual Tigers” she corrected. He nodded.

“What’s that you’re reading?”

“Oh,” she smiled at her book thoughtfully. “It’s actually this book my friend’s dad wrote. It’s about this American guy who moves in with his long lost family in Greece. It’s good.” She looked cautiously from him to Jonas, as if she were checking on the child’s condition. She looked back at Josh. “I’m Jamie, I guess we’ve never really been introduced.” She stuck out her hand.

“I know who you are,” he said, good-naturedly shaking her hand. “You’re dating Ben.” Then, by way of explanation, he said quickly “I know him—we went to high school together. Go way back.”

She was happy to have been called Ben’s girlfriend by one of his friends. That meant he had told them about her. “He told me. I’m a little intimidated by the old boys’ club thing you guys have going on.”

He laughed. “We don’t bite.” She smiled. He looked around. Neither of them had anything to say. She turned back to her book and he, ostensibly, to his mail. His eyes lingered on her white shoulders. He had heard some other counselors talking about her the other day appraisingly, but joking about how pale she was. True, she was the one counselor who had not developed even a hint of tan by now, half way through the summer. She had walked by right when they were talking about her, just off the water trampoline with a troupe of little girls. “Hey, Jamie,” a guy named Justin called out in a sing-song voice.

“What is it now,” she turned sassily, already sensing the joke in his voice.

“We thought there was a ghost out there on the trampoline before. All we could see was your bikini going up and down.”

She smiled broadly, hands on her hips. “Hah-Hah.” She turned away, heading back to her group. “Gotta run, some of us have work to do here.”

Josh had been on the outskirts of the conversation already, and hadn’t been drawn in. Now he noticed that she was just the kind of girl that Ben always dated. He was always getting someone who was a little too charming or pretty for him. All his girlfriends were sharp girls and it never failed to mystify Josh who secretly considered Ben to be a little moldy. “I guess I better be getting back,” he said.

“Okay,” she said, “well I guess I’ll see you tonight at Ben’s thing.”

“Oh, oh yeah right. Well, I’m not really supposed to be off tonight, but my mom cut me a deal that I could go after my bunk goes to bed, so I’ll be driving up with some people later on. You’ll probably all be off your faces by the time I get there.” He wondered as he was speaking why he was telling her all this.

She smiled. “Let’s hope.”

“Okay, see you,” he said, patting the doorway as he exited.

“Nice to meet you,” she called after him out the screened in window.

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