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The Lost Summer
By Kathryn Williams
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Format:ebook $7.99 $9.99 CAD
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Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Williams All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
Printed in the United States of America
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
Designed by Roberta Pressel
For Novella Thérèse Adams
Day is done, gone the sun
From the hills, from the lake,
from the sky.
All is well; safely rest.
God is nigh.
My foot weighed like an anchor on the accelerator as the entrance came, finally, into sight around the bend. “Camp Southpoint” read the rough hand-lettered wood sign.
As I veered onto the dusty country road that would take me home, like that old John Denver song, a growing urgency twisted my stomach. For nine years I’d bumped over this gravel road and under this tunnel of trees to my favorite place on earth. This year, though, would be different. This year I was coming to camp not as a camper. I was coming as a counselor.
I grabbed my cell phone from the empty passenger seat next to me. Only one bar. Worth a try, I thought. Keeping my eyes on the road, I deftly scrolled through my contacts. When I reached “Katie Bell,” I punched send, but a harsh beep informed me there was no service. I typed a quick text instead: im here!!! I pressed send again, hoping the message would somehow find its way through satellite space, and threw my phone back onto the seat.
With nothing to occupy them, my fingers drummed the steering wheel. The music spilled from my car onto the otherwise quiet lane. IPod, not radio. If you’re from Nashville—“Music City”—Tennessee, like I am, an appreciation for music is pretty much required by state law. Unfortunately, the only stations on the dial in this neck of the woods played country, and I couldn’t stomach the heartsick twang of it since my father left to pursue his “singing career” and Holly, a waitress at the Bluebird Café.
I was thirteen the summer he took off. I’d bawled my head off—puffy red eyes, snot running down my face, the works—through at least four activity periods (even riding and swimming, my favorites) and three Evening Gatherings. One night after the counselor show, Katie Bell joined me on my bunk while everyone else was brushing their teeth before bed. She handed me a ball of wadded-up toilet paper and drawled in her hard-crackle country accent, “All right, Hel, that’s enough.”
That’s when I knew Katie Bell wasn’t just my best camp friend; she was my best friend. My friends from home had tiptoed around my parents’ divorce on eggshells. One “friend” had stopped talking to me altogether, probably because her mother thought I was too scandalous to associate with. But Katie Bell had barely blinked an eye. “I’m sorry, Hel,” she’d said when I first told her. She’d listened to me blubber about it for three weeks, asking questions at the right parts and keeping quiet when I just needed to talk. Then she’d decided enough was enough. She followed it up by saying something so funny I actually peed in my pants. Healthy or not, that was the last time I’d cried about my dad.
I remembered that night now as I bumped down the drive. The ancient trees that lined the road into camp were a pulsating electric green. In stark contrast, I passed the rotting black stump of the tree that had been struck by lightning between camp sessions one year, and was now split down the middle. Shortly after the stump, I took a right where the lane forked and followed the gentle rain-furrowed slope of the road exactly 1.3 miles to the metal gate. Its big rusted arms were thrown open in a welcoming hug. As I slowed to bounce over the cattle guard, a smile dawned across my face. Over the low, horse-spotted hill, I could see the gleaming tin roofs of the Mansion and the Mess.
I was asked once by a friend from home “why do you like camp so much anyway.” I remembered because it had annoyed me how she had her hand on her hip as she said it. But as much as I wanted to answer, I couldn’t explain the happiness and sense of relief I felt when I entered this place. During the nostalgic phone conversations that got us through the school year, Katie Bell and I often tried to put our camp experience into words. We were never quite satisfied with what came out. Our words never did it justice.
Southpoint was so much more than just a summer camp. It was a part of us that was packed up and put away when the days shortened, and the camp sheets were folded and stored in the back of the closet, and “real life” returned. Real life, with its tests and curfews and cliques and everyday dramas like runaway dads, and mothers with an ever-expanding library of self-help books. Nothing was simple in the real world. Nothing was simple like it was at Southpoint.
Which was why every June, a full two weeks before camp started, I carefully laid out and labeled my T-shirts and shorts, folded my underwear and bathing suits, packed my tennis racket and leaky swim goggles, and, come the first weekend in July, all but skipped off for five uninterrupted weeks of fun with my hundred Southpoint sisters at the southernmost point of a clear, secluded, Tennessee lake.
At camp no one knew what your dad did or if your boyfriend had just dumped you or that you’d won the sixth grade spelling bee. If they did know, it didn’t matter. Everyone was okay here. You could be crazy or quiet—crazy got you noticed, but quiet was fine too. And shivering at ghost stories or belting out the words to campfire songs was still considered cool. The miracle of it, though, the really cool thing, I thought as I pulled up the long driveway for the first time as a counselor, was that I looked forward to camp as much at seventeen years old as I had at nine.
I pulled my car beside an old truck and climbed out, squinting in the morning sun and pushing my sunglasses from my head to the bridge of my nose. As I crossed the Yard, the large grassy area in front of the Mansion, acorns crunched under my feet. Ribbons of conversation floated out from the house’s open screen doors. My pace, at the sound of familiar voices, involuntarily quickened to a trot.
The Mansion was where Southpoint’s directors, Fred and Marjorie Knowles, lived during the summer. “Mansion” was a term of endearment, as the house was a pretty normal-size, squat old lodge with a large, wraparound porch. The first floor acted as infirmary, office, post office, social hub, and general Southpoint center. Before meals and Evening Gathering, girls convened in the white Adirondack chairs that populated the Yard like mushroom fairy rings.
The sudden bang of a screen door at the mess hall next door grabbed my attention. A girl appeared. I squinted (in stubborn denial of my need for contacts during the summer) and waved, even though I couldn’t tell who it was. It didn’t matter; everyone was family here. And I knew it couldn’t be the one person I was most excited to see. Katie Bell wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow, with the other campers.
With her seventeenth birthday not until September, Katie Bell had just missed the cutoff for being a junior counselor. She’d begged Fred to let her, just like he’d always let her stay in the cabin with us, even though technically she should have been in the cabin below, with the girls a year younger. He had heard her pleas sympathetically, but in the end, for insurance reasons, he explained, had to say no. That Katie Bell would be a camper for one more year, while I was a counselor, had been the agonizing topic of nearly every phone, chat, and e–mail conversation we’d had for the past year. It was my job to assure her nothing would change, but as I arrived for the first day at camp ever that I wouldn’t share with Katie Bell, I wondered if I believed it myself.
The metal handle of the Mansion’s screen door was cool in my palm as I pulled it open and stepped into the dusty shade of the old house. I pushed my sunglasses back to their perch above my recently bobbed ponytail. My hair stylist (really my mom’s hair stylist, whom she had recently forced on me, informing me Super Clips was no longer suitable) had been a little overzealous with my summer cut, chopping the hair I had kept long all those years for a reason, so that it barely grazed my shoulders. I hated it. It made me look six, and if I already felt terminally ordinary in appearance—with brown eyes the same nondescript shade of poo brown as my hair—this did nothing to help me out.
“Hello?” I called out, not sure whether I was on the late or early side, and which counselors might already be there.
A plump, ruddy face below a fringe of hair that reminded me of a salt-and-pepper halo poked out from behind the office door.
“Helena Waite!” Fred hurried from the office to encircle me in a bear hug.
I melted into his suntan-lotion-and-Old-Spice smell. It didn’t take a degree in advanced psychology to know that Fred was a father figure to me, as he was to a lot of girls at camp.
“Hi, Fred.” My greeting was muffled in his soft T-shirt.
“We’re so glad you’re here,” he said, stepping back to take in my one-year-older self. Sometimes I wondered if Fred and Marjorie missed us over the school year. I liked to think they did.
“That makes two of us,” I answered, almost dizzy with the reality that another Southpoint summer was finally here.
“There are some girls who’ll be excited to see you. Winn and Lizbeth are working on cabin assignments, if you want to see where they’ve put you.” He nodded toward the back porch.
Then Fred glanced at his gold watch, the one he’d worn as long as I could remember. “We have a staff meeting in thirty minutes,” he said. “A lot to get done before the campers get here tomorrow—but you probably have time to settle in.”
The word “staff,” applied to me, rang in my ears like the bugle calls that guided us through the camp day: Reveille . . . Flag Raising . . . First Call . . . Soupy . . . Tattoo . . . Taps. I realized with a buzz of excitement that those bugles wouldn’t order me from place to place anymore. I was a counselor, and this Southpoint summer wouldn’t be like any other.
On the back porch, the one facing the lake, Winn Matthews sat curled in the seat of an Adirondack chair. Her feet were tucked up under her as she chewed on the end of a ballpoint pen. Lizbeth Waller (not Elizabeth, but Lizbeth—a name I’d always thought was slightly glamorous for its omission of the first letter) sat on the top step of the porch with her back to me. They were both staring out at the lake, and when they heard my footsteps, turned.
“Lumberjack!” Winn jumped up from her seat and rushed to hug me.
“Hey!” I hugged her, then Lizbeth.
Lumberjack was a nickname she’d given me the summer before, when I was a cubby (short for “cub counselor,” or what we called the oldest campers) and Winn was my counselor in Cabin Nine. She said my snoring sounded like a chain saw, and did a pretty hilarious impression of these huge, snurfling wheezes that sounded like they should come from a middle-aged truck driver with sleep apnea. I guess I shouldn’t have been all that surprised by the nickname. On an overnight one year, I’d snored so loudly the counselors made me move a few paces outside the circle so the other girls could sleep. Of course Katie Bell had joined me, and we’d stayed up half the night joking about our “exile.”
Winn was only a year older than me, but for some reason she’d always seemed a lot older. She was the living, breathing, brochure-perfect epitome of a South-point girl. She was pretty—or pretty enough to win “prettiest” in the counselor superlatives last year—but not so freakishly pretty that you immediately had to hate her. And she did e-very-thing well. Riding, sailing, sports, riflery—name an activity and she had a plaque somewhere at camp with her name on it.
But far more important, she did these things with a laid-back ease that suggested her successes were a result of her very nature rather than any serious effort. She knew the words to every camp song ever sung, which from some girls might be annoying, but from her was awe-inspiring. And she was funny, a quality especially prized at camp. Girls secretly pleaded to be assigned to Winn’s table at the Mess. She was like the cool older cousin you were glad was still forced to sit with you at the kids’ table during holidays.
We’d bonded last summer. I wasn’t sure when exactly we’d become friends, but that one day I’d crossed the line to being on her side of the joke. She’d sit on my bed before Taps, before she headed down to hang out with the other counselors at the Mansion, or borrow my iPod at rest hour. She could be unexpected and crazy at times, busting out into a funny dance or playing loud music while we cleaned for inspection. There was just something magnetic about Winn, something that drew people to her. I had a total friend-crush on her.
“You just get here?” Winn asked now.
“Yeah. Fred said you’re doing cabin assignments.”
Winn glanced back at two printed lists in her chair, one of campers’ names and one of counselors. She sighed and said, “Unfortunately,” rolling her eyes.
Southpoint’s nine cabins were organized by age. Cabin One housed the youngest girls, the nine- and a few eight-year-olds, and Cabin Nine the sixteen-year-olds. Each cabin was also divided into two sides, East and West. I guess it was confusing to outsiders to hear us rattle on about Six East and Eight West—my mom still consistently misaddressed letters to “Helena Waite, Cabin Five North” or “Helena Waite, Cabin Thirteen”—but for us, it was a second language.
Lizbeth scanned the counselor list for my name.
“We put you in One West,” Winn said, without having to check the list. “Hope you’re okay with that.”
“That’s great,” I answered. Truthfully, Winn and Lizbeth could have put me in the barn with the horses, and I would have been enthusiastic. Just to be back at camp—and as a counselor finally—was enough.
“Awesome.” Winn smiled. “Just watch out for Ellie. She’s a sprinkler.”
“Let’s just say you might want to put her in a bottom bunk,” Lizbeth explained, laughing. “She had some bladder control issues last summer.”
Winn perched casually on the chair’s armrest. Her tan legs extended like long stalks from her green shorts. “By the way, I heard Katie Bell can’t be a JC with y’all.”
I nodded, confirming the eminently crappy fact that Katie Bell and I wouldn’t be junior counselors together.
“That sucks,” said Lizbeth.
“She’s not happy,” I said. It was an understatement.
“Yeah, but she’ll be fine,” Winn assured me quickly.
For a reason I never totally understood, there was an unspoken tension between Katie Bell and Winn that had taken root last summer when Winn was our counselor and we were cubbies (me for the first and last time, and Katie Bell, apparently, for the first of two). I asked Katie Bell once why she didn’t like Winn. She could only say that she didn’t trust her. “Winn just wants to be liked,” she’d scoffed. I personally didn’t understand why that was such a bad goal (who didn’t want to be liked?). But for someone like Katie Bell, who prided herself on telling it like it was even if it meant pissing you off, this wasn’t just offensive, it was wrong. And Katie Bell was stubborn. If she made up her mind that something yellow was blue, you’d have better luck painting it blue than convincing her it was yellow. So I kept out of it.
Suddenly my butt vibrated. I jumped, forgetting that I’d slid my phone into my back pocket, and quickly flipped it open. One new message from Katie Bell: so jealous. c u 2moro!!!
I smiled. “Speak of the devil.”
“Careful not to let Fred see that,” warned Winn, pointing at my phone. She’d picked up her two lists again. “He’s on a rant this year about all the kids wanting to bring their cell phones to camp. Some parent called to see if her daughter could have special permission.”
“Really?” I glanced around and quickly deposited the phone back in my pocket. I’d turn it off and keep it in my car. It was the last thing I’d need these five weeks.
“I think Pookie and Lila need help sweeping out the Craft Shop,” Winn said, talking about two other JCs. She frowned down at her list.
“Which campers should we put in Three East this year?” she asked Lizbeth. “Janie requested to be with Lizzie, but Lizzie wants to be with Kate, and Kate and Janie don’t get along. . . . Maybe once you’ve dropped your stuff at your cabin you can help them at the Craft Shop?”
I realized Winn was talking to me again. “Oh! Sure.”
“’Kay.” She smiled. “See ya at the meeting.”
I skipped off the porch steps as if the sound track to The Sound of Music was on a loop in my head, down the path that circled the Mansion—The hills are alive!— and back to my car to take my trunk to Cabin One West. It was good to be home.
It seemed the other counselors weren’t quite as enthused as I was about all the work that had to be done before the campers arrived the next morning. It probably indicates some deep-seated psychological issue, but I get pleasure out of chores. I’d been making Katie Bell’s bed for inspection for years, hospital corners being a secret fetish of mine. My mom was thrilled when I first came home from camp wrapping the corners of my bed like origami. Then she started worrying I might be OCD. I realized this when I found Dr. Wong’s Guide to Understanding Your Child with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on her bedside table.
I’d never thought to consider what went into opening a camp after three intervening seasons had had their way. There were cabins to be unlocked and mouse poop to be swept, flypaper to be hung from the rafters with care, and bathrooms to be cleaned. There were musty mattresses to be aired and bunk beds to be accounted for, floating docks to be moored, stalls to be mucked, sailboats to be taken out of dry dock—not to mention two counselor meetings, the one that had just ended being a three-hour marathon.
Some of the exhausted counselors had stuck around the Mess after the meeting ended, but by eleven thirty the only brave souls who remained to raid the Mess pantry were Winn, Lizbeth, their friend Sarah, and myself.
The conversation had turned from an all-out bitch session about chores, and a unanimous decision that fly paper was invented by a sadistic and severely disturbed man, into a brainstorm for pranks to pull on our brother camp across the lake.
Southpoint and Camp Brownstone shared a boating program and weekly dances, during which we alternately ignored and fell in love with Brownstone boys and, more often, their counselors. My personal Brownstone obsession was Ransome Knowles, the son of Brownstone’s director and Fred’s brother, Abe. Ransome (even his name was hot) had been the object of my affection from a time before I even knew what you did with boys (not that I was exactly an expert now).
“Brownies,” as we called the Brownstone counselors, and “Pointers,” as they called us, also shared a longstanding prank war.
Cross-legged on top of one of the Mess’s long wooden tables, Winn dipped a large serving spoon into an economy-size jar of peanut butter. “What about a good old-fashioned panty raid?” she asked, drawing the spoon from the peanut butter and licking it like a lollipop.
“Eww.” Lizbeth crinkled her nose in disgust.
“The idea of Brownie panties or my peanut butter?” asked Winn.
“Both,” said Sarah. “And do you have to use the word panty?”
“Panty, panty, panty,” Winn chanted, laughing. As she did, Lizbeth mashed the spoonful of peanut butter against Winn’s mouth, smearing the sticky brown stuff over the bottom half of her face and chin.
Winn jerked away, still laughing, with her eyes closed and her mouth hanging open, a melting glob of unswallowed peanut butter inside. She reached into the jar and made a retaliatory swipe across Lizbeth’s face. Lizbeth shrieked in disbelief before cracking up.
Noticing my amusement and relative unstickiness, Winn wiped some peanut butter from her own face and lunged at my my hair. Just barely, I dodged her, and Winn’s outstretched hand landed instead on Sarah’s bare forearm.
“Hey!” Sarah protested, but just as she was about to return the favor, Winn hissed a sharp “Shhh!” and cocked her ear to listen.
We froze, trying to stifle our giggles and listen at the same time.
“Did you hear Fred?” I whispered. The last thing I wanted was to get in trouble my very first night as a counselor.
For a moment, there was a strained silence. Then Winn broke it.
“Ha-ha!” She laughed. “Gotchy’all.”
“You bitch!” Lizbeth cried. She screwed the top onto the peanut butter and went to put it in the pantry. I heard the spoon clatter in the bottom of the kitchen sink.
“But seriously,” said Winn, cleaning her face with a paper towel she had grabbed from the top of the milk dispenser we called “the silver cow,” “we have to focus. I know Buzz and Nate are already planning their first prank on us. Disaster preparedness is the first line of defense.”
Buzz and Nate were two Brownies who worked on the waterfront with Ransome. (I was sadly way too aware of any and all things Ransome-related.)
“I know,” said Sarah, “but we have the same problem as last year. How do we get over there without the campers seeing us?”
“How’d you pull it off last time?” I asked. The previous summer, Southpoint had buzzed with the news that the counselors had replaced Brownstone’s Stars and Stripes with a bright pink flag featuring a unicorn and a happy rainbow.
“We dressed as guys from the cleaners that pick up their laundry,” said Winn. “They leave their laundry bags at the base of the flagpole. They didn’t realize what had hit them till a JC took the flag down that night.”
“Aha.” I nodded thoughtfully. “Undercover.”
Lizbeth suddenly started laughing as she remembered something funny. “One of the campers even walked up with a laundry bag he’d forgotten to put out and handed it to Winn.”
Winn gagged. “It smelled like dirty feet and olives.”
The wheels in my head had already started turning. The Parent Trap was my favorite movie as a kid—the old version, not the one with Lindsay Lohan before she got boobs and discovered leggings. I used to imagine I was Hayley Mills and, for lack of siblings to torture, would try to play pranks on my parents. Sadly, they always failed, and my dad grounded me more than once for putting Saran Wrap over his toilet seat. But the point was, I’d been in training for this mission since I could say the words “duct tape.”
“What if we sneak over while they’re here for a dance?” I asked.
- On Sale
- Aug 26, 2010
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers