By Zoe Taylor
Aloha! -/- Camp Kutomanu
Mom appeared in the doorway, “Robin sweetie. You’re going to be late for school!” She scolded. I sat up and stared blankly at her, so she came over to sit on the edge of my bed.
I threw my arms around her, burying my face in her shoulder, “Mommy! I had the most awful dream!”
“Oh sweetheart, I’m here. I’m always here. I’ll always be with you,” she offered. I pulled back to look at her. I was about to ask her what she meant, when the scene began to fade.
“MOMMY NO!” I shrieked. I suddenly found myself back in my room, in Alpine Springs.
Credit where credit is due: the dream sequence at the start of chapters 17 and 19 are inspired by the events of the movie, The Lovely Bones, a heart wrenching tale with positively surreal imagery.
It's a bit like if Pan's Labyrinth had been written and directed by Tim Burton ;-) Anyway, on with the story!
Chapter 17 - Aloha!
* * *
I stood amid a field as green as my own eyes. Wild flowers of every color and shape dotted the rolling hills for as far as I could see, and the sky overhead was a rich, deep blue. I heard my mother’s voice calling. I suddenly felt a strange pressure on my head, and reached up to touch it.
I pulled an adorable sun bonnet from my head long enough to inspect it, then replaced it. I looked down to see I was wearing a pretty white sundress that hung just at my calves. My bare feet depressed the grass beneath them.
I heard Mom’s voice again, much closer this time. I ran in the direction I thought I’d heard it, but the closer I got, the more everything began to change. The color faded, as though the very life force were being sucked away.
A bitter chill spread over the area, and I suddenly found myself back home, in San Francisco. I lay in bed, in my old room, but something felt different. I pulled the covers back to find I was wearing a pale blue silk night gown.
Mom appeared in the doorway, “Robin sweetie. You’re going to be late for school!” She scolded. I sat up and stared blankly at her, so she came over to sit on the edge of my bed.
I threw my arms around her, burying my face in her shoulder, “Mommy! I had the most awful dream!”
“Oh sweetheart, I’m here. I’m always here. I’ll always be with you,” she offered. I pulled back to look at her. I was about to ask her what she meant, when the scene began to fade.
“MOMMY NO!” I shrieked. I suddenly found myself back in my room, in Alpine Springs. The sun hadn’t risen yet, and only a few faint slivers of moonlight poured in around my curtains, so I slid to the edge of my bed and turned on the plain white lamp on my nightstand. By now I could hear Margie’s rapid footsteps in the hallway. I just buried my face in my hands and sobbed.
“Robin? What’s wrong?” She asked as she moved to sit on the bed beside me. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me to her, letting me bury myself in her embrace.
I started to tell her about the dream, about the beautiful, perfect world turning to a pale, bitterly cold wasteland, and being back in San Francisco with Mom as Robin. She slowly rocked me in her arms as I clung to her. I couldn’t stop sobbing.
“It’s okay sweetie. It’s okay. I’m here; I’ve got you,” she tried to comfort me. We sat like that for what felt like only a few seconds, and the next thing I knew, Allison was standing over me, gently shaking me.
“Hey… Hey, Robin, are we going jogging today?” I heard her ask, through a hazy mental fog. I blearily stared at her, finally sitting up with a groan.
“What time is it?” I mumbled.
“It’s almost nine. Margie said you had a rough night, so I let you sleep. How do you feel?”
I flinched as figments of my restless dreams came flooding back, “Awful. I miss Mom. I kept dreaming about her. Oh, Ally…” I whined, putting my head on her shoulder. She wrapped me in a hug.
“Come on, you: out of bed. You’ll feel better after we jog,” she smiled supportively.
I gave her a slow nod, “Is this what Kelly went through?” I managed to swing my legs over the edge of my bed, my knees nearly buckling as I tried to stand. Allison caught me, helping me steady myself.
“Whoa, careful now. Yeah, this is pretty much it. Only she was lamenting not having told anyone about her feelings sooner. She was a real wreck. Be glad it’s me taking you jogging and not daddy though. I still can’t get those cadences he made her sing out of my head,” she giggled a little and kissed my forehead innocently.
I gave her a warm hug then set about getting ready. I’d never actually changed clothes in front of Allison, or any girl for that matter, and were I not still feeling a little disoriented from last night, I probably would’ve thought something of that fact now, as I stripped out of my lavender pajamas. I stood in nothing but a sports bra and panties, digging through my dresser for a pair of shorts to wear.
Allison, to her credit, occupied her gaze elsewhere while I pulled my shorts up and grabbed a neon green tank top from my closet. While I pulled up my socks, she retrieved my pink-trimmed running shoes.
“Thanks Ally. I’m feeling a little better now,” I offered, as I knelt to tie the laces, “Do you mind waiting just another couple of minutes though? I’m starving. Margie usually leaves something for me.”
She giggled, “At least your appetite’s intact. Can I do anything while I wait?”
“Can you get my workout stuff together for me? My wrist and ankle weights are with my fanny pack in my closet, and my pepper spray should be with it. Thanks Ally,” I tried to sound cheerful, but I think Allison knew it was forced.
A few minutes later, after I had gobbled down the breakfast Margie left in the fridge, I met Allison outside. She handed me my things, and after strapping my weights in place and a few warm-up stretches we were off.
“Hey Robin, I don’t mean to pour salt on an open wound, but what were you dreaming about when I woke you?”
“I’m not sure. I literally was holding onto Margie one second, and I guess I must’ve dozed off again because the next thing I knew I was back in bed again with you standing next to me. I wasn’t talking in my sleep or anything was I?”
She shook her head as we jogged our first block, “Nothing like that. You were just tossing and turning a lot, like you were chasing something or being chased…” She grew silent, and I took that as my cue to stop and catch my breath. It wasn’t to stop and ask if she was okay or anything. Nope.
“Ally, have you been having trouble sleeping?” I asked as gently as I could manage, as I bent over to catch my breath.
She nodded, “A little. I really don’t want to think about it though. I’m hoping some time at camp will help.”
I gave her a hug, then started up at the brisk pace we had going. I think that surprised her because it took her a moment to catch up again. Ordinarily when we jogged, I’d go as long as I could stand then switch over to walking, but today I was determined to keep up with her.
“The last dream I remember was when Margie came to check on me,” I explained my vivid dreams-turning-to-nightmares how I dreamed that I had woken up as ‘Robin’ back home, with Mom yelling that I’d be late for school, and woke up screaming for her. When I finished, Allison gave me a sympathetic smile, but before she could say anything, she got that paranoid look on her face again.
I looked back, and spotted a familiar white vehicle bearing the Connecticut Police logo approaching. “It’s a police car, Ally. C’mon, let’s let them pass.” I took her hand and pulled her off to the side, though to both our surprise the car rolled to a stop. The passenger window slid down, and Officer Garrett poked her head out with a smile.
“Morning girls,” she practically exuded confidence. God I hated her right that second; I was so jealous.
“Good morning Officer Garrett,” Allison and I offered in unison. I thought it was just she and Nicole that did that. She chuckled, shaking her head.
“I swear you two are like sisters. It’s good to see you haven’t stopped jogging because of what happened.”
I nodded, “We thought about it, but and we did go hiking last Saturday just to distance ourselves from what happened, but we ultimately decided we couldn’t just give up because of one incident, even if it was the scariest thing either of us have ever been through.”
She smiled as she nodded, “Well, for what it’s worth I don’t think you’ll have to worry too much. I shouldn’t say anything else though. Innocent until proven guilty, but PERSONALLY,”
Melissa abruptly nudged her, clearing her throat. Jane offered a wry smile as she nodded, “Right, sorry. You girls have a safe jog, now!”
“We should start heading back,” Allison said as she bent down to massage her calves. I nodded in agreement, turning to start our jog home. I tried not to think about the incident, but seeing Officer Garrett again brought back the memories of that day, which in my moody state, did not sit well.
“Come over after your shower, and we can binge on some ice cream. It’s so not good for either of our diets, but we’re going to be away from it for two weeks, so we’re allowed.” She reasoned. I didn’t really need an excuse, though. I was feeling lousy, so after one of my legendary forty-five minute showers, I grabbed my hair brush and headed over to Allison’s.
The rest of the week passed in much the same way. My restless dreams became slightly less restless each night, and jogging each morning became easier to bear. By Saturday, I was feeling somewhere close to normal, which was a good thing because we were due for another slumber party that night, this time to celebrate the coming camp. I’d also finally get a chance to meet Jennifer.
Late Saturday afternoon, Allison and Nicole were giving me a lesson on the Jones’ brand new regulation pool table, and by lesson, I mean I was being schooled pretty badly. It was fun though, and I was quickly picking up on the basics of how not to send a cue ball flying across the room too.
Suddenly someone knocked at the open basement door. The way the stairs were set up, it was impossible to see who was there for a blind wall halfway up. “Come on down! We’re just teaching Robin how not to knock out a light with a cue ball,” Allison teased.
A moment later, a girlish giggle followed footsteps on the basement stairs. A tall, rather well-developed-for-a-fifteen-year-old with flawless dark-olive skin and wavy chestnut hair stepped into view wearing a pretty, dark green halter top with white shorts.
“JEN!” Allison and Nicole exclaimed in unison.
“Aloha girls,” She started. I thought Jennifer’s intense, hazel eyes might pop right out of her head when she saw Nicole, dressed in a peach top and faded jeans, “Jesus. I go to camp for two weeks and you turn respectable!” She laughed, “what the heck happened, Nikki?”
Nicole pointed right at me, causing me to blush intensely, “Robin happened,” she beamed.
Jennifer walked right past the other two, looking me up and down as she approached. I nervously put the pool stick down on the table, biting the inside of my lip. She put both arms around me, then stepped back again, “Mahalo, Robin. I feel like I know you already.
“If Ally and Nikki are any indication you’re going to be a blast to hang out with.” She grinned back at her two friends then slipped around behind the bar to steal a root beer from the mini-fridge.
Meanwhile I was still recovering from the abrupt hug. I just smiled warmly, “It’s nice to meet you too. I’m super-excited about tomorrow, but I’m so nervous!” I added.
She walked back around the bar and delicately seated herself on one of the stools, “You’ve never been to camp before?”
I shook my head, “I was pretty much the punch line to everyone’s jokes at my old school. I always figured camp would just be an extension of that, and I didn’t want to put myself through it.”
She gave an understanding nod, then paused before speaking up again, “So what changed? Other than Ally probably badgering you non-stop to go,” she grinned.
Allison laughed, shaking her head as she sat on the sofa, watching us quietly. I wondered if she and Nikki were waiting to see what I would tell her.
“A lot of things, but mostly I just stopped trying to pretend to be someone I’m not. After that everything else just fell into place. I feel so… so comfortable with myself now, and I guess everyone else just picks up on that.
“I don’t expect not to have problems with people going forward. That’d just be naïve and a little dumb on my part, but at least I have good friends now, and that’s more than I had before.”
“Beautiful and smart; Nikki, hang on to her,” she winked, causing Nicole to blush, which inadvertently caused the rest of us to crack up giggling.
Much of the evening transpired in the same light-hearted atmosphere. We talked about boys, and for Nicole’s and my benefit, girls, did our nails, ragged on about bands and fashion trends, and eventually ended up in a rather epic game of truth or dare.
There’s an unspoken vow of secrecy that what’s said in truth or dare must never be repeated, so I leave that to the imagination, though it was wonderful bonding time for Jennifer and me, and for the other three to reconnect before we’d be spending two weeks in a rustic camp setting together.
The next morning we all sleepily filed out of the den and into the kitchen. The sweet smell of maple-soaked sausage and blueberry pancakes assaulted our senses. Carol stood at the stove with a tall stack of pancakes ready, smiling when the quartet of bed-heads appeared.
“Morning girls! Breakfast is almost ready. We’ve got two hours before we have to meet your bus so make sure you get a shower before then.”
“Wow, Mrs. Jones, are those blueberry? They smell great!” Jennifer sure perked up in a hurry. Allison and I helped set the table then joined the other two in completely wiping out the pancake stack.
After breakfast, we drew straws for who would get the first shot at their shower, with Allison and Nicole winning out. I needed to take my meds anyway, so I headed back to the den with a glass of water. I hadn’t heard Jennifer come down behind me.
“You okay?” She asked, causing me to jump. The two pills I had in my hand went flying. She stifled a quiet giggle, kneeling to pick one of them up, as I scrambled to keep the other from disappearing up under the bar. She stared at it a moment before handing it back to me, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
I shook my head as I washed down the first pill, “It’s okay. I’m just nervous,” I said as calmly as I could manage, downing the second. Truth be told, I was a nervous wreck.
She gave me a reassuring smile as she leaned back against the bar, casually propping her elbows back against it and looking right at me, “If you’re worried about people finding out you’re like Kelly, you shouldn’t,” Cue me with the ‘deer in headlights’ hundred yard stare, “Allison and I have been best friends since like, forever, and I didn’t know until I saw what you were taking.
“Explains why you had problems at your old school though. I couldn’t for the life of me figure why someone so cool could be mistreated like that.” Her smile exuded self-confidence. I hoped I could come to a point where I’d be that outgoing.
I blushed intensely, “Jennifer, I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. It’s just hard for me to know when, and who, to tell. As far as I’m concerned, I AM a girl.” I thought I was about to cry, and Jennifer seemed to think so as well, as she suddenly hugged me, speaking in a comforting tone.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay. Like I said, I didn’t figure it out until I saw your meds. And the only reason I recognized them is because Kelly’s practically my big sister too,” she winked then added, “And Robin? Call me Jen.
“At camp there are so many girls that CITs generally adopt a camp nickname to help us stand out, too. I’m ‘Ginger’ like the spice, and Ally is Cat: y’know, Alley Cat.”
I laughed, “Don’t cats usually eat birds?”
She stared blankly at me for a moment then started giggling, “Cute. Anyway, feel better now?”
I nodded, “Yeah. I’m still nervous though. Ally gave Nikki and me a crash course in camping and some basic first-aid. I’ve also read the Junior Girl Scout guide cover to cover too, but…”
She stared in disbelief, holding a hand up, “Wait, back up. You read the ENTIRE manual already?! Jeeze girl, you’re going to make the rest of us look bad!” she teased, causing me to giggle.
“I love reading. I sucked at sports, and I didn’t have any real friends, so I had a lot of time on my hands to just sit and read,” I admitted sheepishly.
“You know, we didn't actually have any Robins attending this last session; it's such a pretty name. Still, we’ll have to think of a nickname for you. I’ve already got one Nikki’s going to hate,” she grinned rather impishly.
I just had to ask, “As long as it’s as devious as ‘Pumpkin’.” She just stared, so I explained about our day hike last weekend, the Cinderella joke, and how ‘Pumpkin’ had to be back for her appointment. She started laughing.
“Oh, trust me, it’s worse. Like, y’know how the only people who call Nicole ‘Nikki’ are people she trusts enough to allow; to everyone else, it’s Nicole, period. So I was thinking of ways to play with ‘Nicole’ without violating the ‘Nikki rule’. I’m thinking ‘Cola’,” she mused.
Before I could say anything, Allison bellowed in that utterly unladylike way that only she could, from the top of the stairs, “Shower’s free girls! Robin, you’re up!”
By the time we had all had our showers and dressed (Jennifer had brought home matching white-text-on-hunter green “GSC4Life!” camp T-shirts for us to wear for the occasion), we loaded our suitcases into the back of Carol’s SUV.
I noticed Allison’s Baby Taylor guitar’s hard-shell case shoved up against the back seat as I loaded my suitcase and backpack. I had to jump just a bit to grip and close the hatch. By now Allison, Nicole and Jennifer were already piled in, so I jumped in the passenger-side backseat.
“Wait, wait! We can’t go yet!” Allison announced, flashing Jennifer a grin. Jennifer took her cue and reached into her pocket, producing a bracelet braided from multiple colors of string.
“Robin, give me your wrist.” I turned in the seat a bit to offer my right wrist. Jennifer had gotten in on the left, putting Nicole between us. She leaned back just a bit, grinning as she watched Jennifer tie the bracelet into place.
“It’s a friendship bracelet. I make them for all my friends and since Cat and Cola spoke so highly of you,” I should mention at this point that Nicole wrinkled her nose at being called ‘Cola’. It wasn’t her first choice, but she’d vowed to shed the last remnants of her gothiness over the next two weeks, “I went ahead and made one for you in my spare time.”
I held it up, admiring her handiwork. It really was intricately made, with a lot of knotwork worked into it at regular intervals. I hadn’t noticed until now that Nicole and Allison were wearing similar, if older bracelets too, “You guys… Thank you Jen. I love it!”
We arrived at the Alpine Springs High School after about a ten minute drive through town. Apparently it was chosen as the best place for a designated drop-off for the long bus lane and ample parking. About half the parking spaces were already taken by the time we arrived and started unloading our things.
The four of us walked as a group over to meet up with Camp Director Meredith, whom I’d met earlier in the week. She was dressed in a navy T-shirt bearing the words “GSC STAFF” and brown shorts, and I had to bite my tongue to keep from giggling as I spotted a stereotypical metal whistle hanging from a black cord around her neck.
She nodded as we approached her, “Girls, I’m glad you could make it. One of my volunteers is late,” she began, feigning a calm exterior. I could tell she was irritated though, “So your training begins a little earlier than usual. I’m going to need you four to help me wrangle girls onto the busses. Robin. Allison.”
She peeled a sheet from her clipboard, handing it to Allison, “I want you two to take A-F, last name first. Jen, Nicole you’ve got G through R,” she gave Jennifer the next sheet. Apparently she was at least pairing us off experienced girl to inexperienced girl, though.
She continued, “I’ll take the rest. If the other volunteer shows, you’ll be able to ride together, but if not I’m going to have to ask you to stick with your bus assignments and help the other adult volunteers,” she turned to face Nicole and me, “I know this is a tall order to ask of two complete newcomers, and I am truly sorry about this, but I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have faith in you both.”
I smiled, “We won’t let you down ma’am.” Nicole added a “What she said” a moment later, and we split off to our respective duties. I never gave much thought to the old expression ‘herding cats’ until today. We had first-timers. We had girls that had been going for as long as Allison and Jennifer, and we had girls who insisted they stay with their friends, so Nicole and I found ourselves constantly running back and forth between Meredith and our respective scouts to coordinate seating arrangements.
By the time we had everyone on the busses and our own things loaded, I was already exhausted. I noticed one girl hadn’t gotten on the bus yet though. I turned to the other three. “Hey, I’ll be back in just a second,” I offered.
I didn’t realize Meredith was watching when I walked over to talk to her. The girl’s carrot top-red hair hung in perfect little curls from a white ribbon pulling it into a ponytail. Her baby blues nervously settled on me as I knelt down to her level.
“Hey, sweetie, is everything okay?”
She shook her head slowly. I could tell she’d been crying. “What’s wrong?” I offered, as gently as I could.
Her gaze shot straight down as she sniffed, “I’m scared…” she said in a quivering tone that just melted my heart. I’d never dealt with kids before in my life, but I always secretly had a soft spot for them that I never let anyone see.
“Is this your first time?” I asked, then added, “I’m Robin, by the way,” she nodded quietly, so I continued, “This is my first time too, you know. And that girl over there,” I pointed toward Nicole, who was by now standing with Meredith, Allison and Jennifer, “The one with black hair like mine, is new too,”
Her face lit up as she looked up at me, “You’ve never been before either? Really?”
I nodded sincerely, “Really. I’ve never been to any camp before. But my friends have, and you know something?” I paused to see if her curiosity got the better of her.
“What?” She asked as she dried her eyes.
“I’m really excited about it. We’re going to make new friends and meet new people, plus there’s swimming and horseback riding and arts and crafts. I’ve never even seen a horse in real life. Just on TV,” I giggled a little, causing her to smile.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” I asked.
“Amanda. Amanda Greer.” I blinked, slowly glancing over at Meredith, who had a big smile on her face by this point. I glanced back, “So is that why you were scared?”
She nodded, “That’s my aunt. I didn’t want the other kids to pick on me because of it,” she said softly. I couldn’t help myself, and put my arms around her.
“Oh, honey… Girl Scouts aren’t like that at all. Anyone who causes trouble gets thrown right out because we stick together, and take care of each other. I was scared of the same thing for a long time. That’s why I never went. You don’t want to end up like me and put it off until you’re my age, do you?”
She shook her head. By now one of the other girls her age had gotten back off the bus and come over to us. I stepped back a bit and watched the two introduce each other. The other girl took Amanda’s hand and led her to their bus.
Meredith and Allison came up to me, Allison giving me a quick hug, “Robin that was nothing short of amazing,” Allison gushed. Meredith nodded in agreement. I just smiled as I watched the two girls disappear into the sea of ponytails and pigtails, turning after I lost sight of the two, to face Meredith.
“It was nothing really. We’ve both never been to camp before, so I just talked to her about how I was feeling a little scared too, but why I was excited to be going.”
Allison grabbed my hand with a broad grin, “C’mon you. We still need to get you a camp name. The other volunteer finally showed so we can ride together.”
I smiled brightly, “That’s great! So, um… Any ideas?” I asked, as we rejoined Jennifer and Nicole. The four of us moved to the back of the bus where a few other older girls were sitting.
“Yeah, but we want yours to be extra-special,” Jennifer offered in that laid-back tone of hers as we sat down. I could practically feel the other girls’ eyes on me as we took our seats.
“What’s everyone staring at?” I whispered. Jennifer laughed, “They’re checking you out, babe. They’ve already figured out you’ve got the Dragon’s ear and they’re trying to decide if you’re a friend or a threat. It’s all part of being in CIT, but don’t worry. Nobody’s going to do or say anything,”
About this point the short, older girl with layered black-hair that had been a moment ago preoccupied with writing something in a spiral notebook turned in her seat, thrusting her hand out toward me, “Hi there! I’m Rachel!” she offered cheerfully.
I took the offered hand and smiled, as Meredith boarded and began rattling off a list of rules, “Hi Rachel. I’m Robin.”
“Robin? That’s a pretty name. Are you from around here? I’m actually from New Haven myself; I usually go to a different camp, but my step-mom and I volunteered when we heard your camp was short helpers this year.”
“I’m definitely not from around here,” I replied. Allison and I proceeded to explain how I came to be in this remarkable predicament as the busses began to roll away from the school. It appeared I’d already made my first camp friend, and we hadn’t even left Alpine Springs yet.
The five of us talked for the entire hour trip, and when we arrived at the unloading area, Rachel offered for Nicole and I to let her know if we needed help adjusting should Allison and Jennifer be unavailable. I thanked her, and even gave her a friendly hug before we disembarked on our next grand adventure.
Chapter 18 - Camp Kutomanu
* * *
“Alright girls,” Meredith began, as we formed a semi-circle around her, “Bus one go with Counselor Davis,” she motioned to the short, petite blonde that I would have actually pegged as a high school senior when she first approached us, were it not for the now familiar staff T-shirt she wore.
“Bus two go with Counselor Lawson,” a black-haired older woman wearing a white sun visor held up her hand to indicate whom she meant, “Bus three, you’re with Robin,” she said casually. Jennifer and Allison giggled, while Nicole just stared awkwardly at me.
I blinked, staring right at Meredith. She grinned, “Just teasing sweetie. Bus three you’re with Counselor Dunham. From there you’ll be assigned to your individual cabins and counselors.
“Robin, Rachel, Nicole, Allison, and Jennifer stay with me for further orientation.” It hadn’t even occurred to me what Rachel being in CIT meant. Did that mean she knew too? Meredith did say she spoke with the other girls’ parents. I decided not to think about it too deeply for now.
We gathered our things, and Meredith began our impromptu tour of the camp, starting with how we inadvertently gained an extra girl. “Rachel is here on a kind of GSC exchange program. I knew we’d be short helpers this camp term, so I made some calls and arranged for her to stay at our facility for this term.”
We, of course, already knew all this. Rachel told us how she was going into her junior year of high school. She was a second-year CIT going into advanced training, but when word got around that our camp needed an extra hand, she leapt at the chance to help.
“Actually, ma’am,” Rachel offered, “I’ve already talked with them about it. I didn’t realize they were our four CITs though,” she glanced back and smiled at us, “Talk about a lucky break.”
Meredith led us through the camp, pointing out where to find various facilities, as well as the counselor’s lodges should there be an emergency. She explained that, since we would be undergoing more advanced training in addition to regular camp activities, that we’d have our own cabin. Of course, I knew the real reason. Everyone but poor Rachel did. I could only hope our cabin had a private bathroom I could use to change my clothes for her benefit.
“You’ll have your own counselor assigned to help with organizing activities and events, or arranging special events depending on how goal-oriented you’re feeling,” she smiled back at us as she stopped in front of a beautiful log cabin, “And you’re welcome to spend the night in another cabin provided you set everything up beforehand with your counselor,” she paused, nodding toward us.
“Alright, I think that’s everything for now. Orientation is in thirty minutes so feel free to relax or explore before then. Just be at the central pavilion early. I’m going to officially introduce you five as members in training when I introduce the rest of the staff, just so you know ahead of time. And Robin, may I speak with you in private for a moment?”
I glanced back at the other girls and nodded, “Ni—I mean, ‘Cola’, can you take my suitcase in for me?”
Nicole nodded as she reached out to accept it, “Sure, no problem.” I kept my purple backpack with me, though. I still had my medication in it, which I knew I needed to hand over before I forgot it.
“Thank you,” I offered. Meredith turned to walk away, so I hurried to catch up to her.
“I just wanted to thank you again for talking to Amanda. And I’m not only saying that so I can give you something to say when they ask why I pulled you aside,” she winked, continuing, “I also wanted to let you know that your shower arrangements are taken care of. You’ll be allowed to use our private staff shower whenever you like.”
“About that,” I hesitated, gathering my thoughts, “Rachel,” I paused. “Does she know?”
Meredith froze in her tracks, looking down at me, “Oh, Robin, I am so sorry, I didn’t even think about that. I can move her to another cabin right away.”
I shook my head, “No, it’s okay. She’s already been introduced. It’d only raise more questions if we just abruptly kicked her out. Plus I’ve been talking to her , and she seems really nice. I just have to be careful. I’ll change in the bathroom and just not look when she’s changing, just like I do with the others anyway.”
She smiled as she put a supportive arm around me, continuing down the path. “That sounds like the best way to handle this for now. If you change your mind, or run into any problems though, just let me know, and we’ll all sit down and discuss it.”
I nodded, “Oh that reminds me, I need to give someone my medication. I have the dosing instructions and everything, but Dr. Ketz said I’d need to give them to the medical staff to administer to me for privacy’s sake.”
“In all the fuss this morning I forgot to ask if you were taking anything that needed to be stored securely. Come with me and I’ll show you where you can put it. Technically all of our staff are trained in advanced first-aid, but we also have a registered nurse on hand.”
I didn’t know what to expect from the nurse’s station, given the rustic atmosphere of the rest of camp. To my surprise it was actually an ultra-modern facility unto itself.
It wasn’t like a clinic or anything, but they looked like they could handle most emergencies that could come up in a camp setting easily enough.
“Yes, can I help you? Oh! Hello Meredith!” A cheerful young woman in her mid-twenties wearing black shorts and a ‘GSC STAFF’ T-shirt stepped around a corner, holding a bottle of headache medicine in one hand. Her rich auburn hair hung in a tight, high ponytail that bounced when she bobbed her head toward us in greeting.
“You don’t need that already do you, Bree?” She teased. The other woman laughed.
“Oh no, just preparing for the inevitable. Well hi there,” she turned her attention to me.
I smiled, offering my hand, “Hi,” I said timidly. After she’d shaken my hand, she turned to put the bottle of pain medication on a shelf.
“This is Robin. Robin, this is Brianna James, our on-staff registered nurse.”
“Robin?” She quite literally did a double-take when she repeated my name, and here I thought people only did that in the movies.
I giggled a little, “Yes ma’am.” Before she could ask, I reached a hand into my backpack and produced two bottles, handing them over. Her ponytail bobbed as she looked down, slowly reading the labels.
“Wow. So you’re the one? Well, don’t you worry. If anybody asks, we’ll just say it’s allergy medication, hey?” She smiled cheerfully.
“Oh, I like you already,” I admitted, causing her face to light up with a grin. “I’ve already taken my morning dose before I left, but I’ll stop by again when it’s time for the next one.”
“Oki doki,” she responded. She didn’t strike me as the nurse type, but she was willing to tell a little white lie for me, so I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Robin, I have a few more things I need to discuss with Bree. Why don’t you go ahead and get settled in? Don’t forget to be at the pavilion though,” she reminded. I nodded, giving both a warm smile before turning to make my way back to the cabin.
“Everything okay?” Rachel asked, before I could even get in the door of our cabin. I gave her a small smile as I repeated what I’d practiced saying to myself all the way back.
“Yeah. She just wanted to thank me for talking her niece into going, and show me where the nurse’s station was so I could drop off my medication.”
“That’s really sweet what you did for her niece. It shows that you actually care about your fellow campers, and that kind of attitude’s going to go a long way toward getting other girls to do the same.”
High praise, indeed! I blushed, causing her to laugh. “Oh hey, we drew straws for who gets what bunk. Since you were unceremoniously pulled away against your will we went ahead and drew for you.”
She held up a short straw and grinned. “I hope you don’t like heights,” she teased.
I had to laugh. “Heights don’t bother me. It’s the sudden stop at the bottom. Bottom bunk, I guess?”
“Sorry Robin. I’ll trade if you want though.”
“Noooo thank you,” I began, turning to step inside. As beautiful as it was on the outside, the inside was pretty bad. The sheets looked clean enough, but everything else had a thin layer of dust, like it hadn’t been used in awhile.
“I’ve been having a lot of problems sleeping lately. I toss and turn, so I’d rather have a shorter fall if I should roll off or something.”
I expected her to laugh at that, but she gave me a somber smile and patted my shoulder, “Yeah, Allison told us you might say that. Just say the word if you need to talk, okay?”
Allison emerged from the cabin’s half-bath a moment later. “Who said what? Oh hey Robin, how’d it go?”
“Okay. Meredith wanted to thank me for talking to her niece, and showed me where I could take my meds.”
I didn’t feel comfortable calling Meredith ‘the Dragon’ for some reason. She had done so much for me that it just felt wrong somehow. I’d just begun sorting my clothes when someone pounded heavily on our door, causing the brass doorknob to rattle.
“This is the GSC camp inspection team! Your cabin has been selected for random drug inspection. Open the door and vacate immediately!” a gruff female voice barked. We all looked nervously at each other.
“I’m clean, I swear!” Nicole held up her hands, eliciting a giggle from Allison and me, though Rachel gave her a funny look.
When we pulled the door open, a tall, decidedly thin woman with hair as bright blonde as Allison’s, dressed in the now-familiar ‘GSC STAFF’ T-shirt leaned in the doorway, grinning at us. She giggled, piping up in a much more bubbly tone.
“Sorry, girls; I couldn’t help myself. I’m Alice Mason. I’ll be your resident camp advisor, counselor, organizer, and should you need it, den mother.”
Rachel and I groaned in unison, though I managed a chuckle as I offered her my hand, “I’m Robin. That’s Allison - Alley Cat, or Cat, Nicole, aka ‘Cola’, Jennifer, aka Ginger, and Rachel,” I motioned to each girl and went back to sorting my clothes.
She stepped inside, stamping her foot and causing a thin cloud of dust to waft up. She coughed, waving her hand to clear it away. “When was the last time someone cleaned in here? I’ll have a word with Meredith about the last girls to use this cabin.”
Jennifer and Allison exchanged a nervous glance at Alice’s comment. Jennifer just shook her head slowly and went back to unpacking, causing Allison to nod.
“So, Robin and Rachel, you two don’t have a camp name yet?”
I shook my head while Rachel smiled, answering. “Actually the girls at my last camp voted to call me Holiday, ‘Holly’ for short,” she chuckled, “But I was thinking of using Rose this time.”
Allison chimed in a moment later, “Ooh, I like Rose. We want Robin’s to be something special because… Well, you’ll see,” she giggled, causing Jennifer to start giggling as well, while Alice and I exchanged an ‘I don’t know what that’s about’ glance.
“Riiight. Well, if you girls are ready, we should start heading over. You’re CITs so you’re going to be the center of attention too. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but it’s basically part of a trust-building exercise. You girls learn to rely on each other, even as the other campers learn to trust and rely on you as relative strangers closer to their own age groups.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” I offered.
Alice smiled cheerily. “That’s the spirit!”
“Hey, Spirit!” Rachel echoed, “That’s perfect! Robin, you are without a doubt the most spirited girl I’ve ever met, and I’m a cheerleader for Heaven’s sake!” She laughed.
“It beats the heck out of ‘Cola’,” Nicole teased, shooting a playful glance at Jennifer.
“Spirit…” I giggled, “I like it.”
Together the six of us made our way down through the camp to the aforementioned central pavilion. The pavilion itself was much larger than I was expecting, though I supposed it had to be given the size of the camp, which I later found out actually serviced several other area communities in addition to Alpine Springs, making the lack of CIT signups all the more distressing for Meredith.
Most of the terrain and layout of the camp was hilly and heavily forested, but the area around the CP, as we came to call it, was cleared away, resting on a hilltop.
It was little more than a massive, concrete slab polished smooth, with an enormous roof built overhead supported by metal beams, with metal picnic tables set into the slab.
We at least weren’t the first ones to arrive, but we were certainly close. By the time everyone was present and accounted for there was barely an empty bench to be seen. Meredith blew her whistle, causing a wave of silence to surge over the area almost immediately.
“Alright, can everyone hear me okay?” She began. We could hear her just fine from where we sat at the front, but I glanced back to see a few older girls in the back nodding, so she continued, “I’d like to welcome everyone to Camp Kutomanu on behalf of the Girl Scouts of Connecticut.
“Some of you are new here, some of you attended our last session, and some of you have been attending for years. I assure you you’ll all find challenges to help you excel.” She went on to give her speech about how the scouts build trust and self-confidence, reminded us of the camp rules, and the punishments based on severity of the infraction.
She then moved on to the introductions. She had each counselor come up and stand as she introduced them, then Nurse Bree and the camp staff, and finally, she turned to our table, motioning for us to join them.
“We’re extraordinarily fortunate this year to have five girls who’ve expressed such strong interest in our Counselor in Training program, or CIT for short. They will be participating in some of the same activities that you will be.
“They’re here to have a fun camp experience just like the rest of you, but they’ll also be training as leaders. If you have a problem, and you see one of these girls, feel free to approach them. You may also of course, talk to any of our staff or myself, but understand that these five are here to help as well.”
She nodded to us, “Girls, why don’t you introduce yourselves?”
Allison spoke first, “Well, I’m Allison. You can call me Cat.” A round of quiet giggles followed. “I’m from Alpine Springs, and I’ve been a Girl Scout since I was little, so I can answer just about any question you might have.”
Jennifer followed suit, “Jennifer, call me Ginger or Jen. Some of you know me from last session, frantically trying to keep up with counselors and girls, so I’m extremely happy to have these four here. Oh, and I’ve been a scout since I was a kid. I’m also from Alpine Springs.”
Nicole spoke next, “Nicole, uh… I guess you can call me ‘Cola’, since that’s what my bunkmates have settled on for me,” she chuckled good-naturedly. “I’ve never been to girl scouts’ camp, but I just went to music camp a couple of weeks ago so…” She paused, then elbowed Rachel, causing another quiet round of giggles.
“I’m Rachel, also called Rose: whatever you prefer to remember me by.” She grinned cheerfully, “I’m from New Haven, but I volunteered for the GSC exchange to help out my fellow campers here. I’m also a varsity cheerleader at my high school, if any of you are going to a cheer camp later and want some pointers.”
I gulped. Every set of eyes now settled upon me. I inhaled, “I’m Robin, also called Spirit, and I’m from San Francisco,” the entire scene exploded into hushed whispers as I pressed on.
“I’ve never been to camp before, let alone Girl Scout camp, but I’m really excited for the experience, especially the chance to learn to be a better leader. Like Director Meredith said, if you have a problem, and maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking to the staff, come find one of us, and we’ll act as a go-between.”
Everyone clapped as I finished. My heart was pounding, and I thought I must have been sweating bullets.
“This concludes our orientation for now. Girls, you may return to your bunks with your counselors. Staff and CITs,” she turned to us, “We’ll have a staff meeting tonight before lights out.”
Alice approached me with a ridiculous grin on her face as everyone else began filing back out, “Nice touch on the end there.”
“What?” I had no idea what she was talking about. She chuckled as she turned to start herding us back toward our cabin.
“Letting them know you’re willing to be a go-between with the staff. That’s a great first step toward building their confidence in you.”
Jennifer nodded, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. I’m glad one of us is on the ball,” she giggled, causing me to blush. I gave her a playful raspberry as we walked.
Several times I had girls from other cabins stop and say hi, and one of the older girls actually walked with us for a minute, asking what it was like back home, how I got to attend a camp so far away and such.
I gave her the abridged version, that my mother was sick and that I was staying with my sister, and how ‘Cat’ had roped me into coming. She admitted she was glad I came, ‘how cool’ it was to have a California girl here, then jogged off again to catch up with her group.
“… What… was that about?” I asked.
Alice grinned, “A lot of girls have never even seen an ocean, let alone lived so close to one,” she advised. It made sense, but it was still a little bewildering. It wasn’t like I was from another country or anything, was it?
“So is that why you introduced yourself as being from Alpine Springs, Jen?”
She laughed, “Hey, I am technically from Alpine Springs. I was born in New Haven but grew up there.”
I did kind of enjoy the positive attention, admittedly. Alice interrupted my train of thought as we arrived at our cabin, “Say, that reminds me, how many of you know how to swim?”
Of course Rachel, Allison and Jennifer’s hands shot up, leaving Nicole and me. Alice gave a teasing ‘tsk-tsk’ at me, “A Bay area girl and you never learned to swim? Did you bring a swimsuit?”
I nodded, “I went shopping for one thanks to Nikki—,” I cut myself off, “I mean Cola’s awesome mom,” I conveniently left out the part about acquiring some medical grade adhesive tape to help in the hiding of a certain increasingly undesirable body part when wearing it.
She glanced at Nicole as the others headed inside. Nicole shuffled her feet nervously, “I haven’t been swimming in years, but I did buy a swimsuit. I’m a little body-conscious though,” she admitted with unease.
I turned to put my arm around her playfully, “Come on Nikki. If I can do this, you sure can. Besides, you have a great figure. I’m like a short beanpole.”
She giggled, squeezing me back, “Oh please. Give it six months and you’ll have every guy in school drooling all over you.”
Thankfully, Alice interrupted before I could say something I might regret later, “Well I’m going to have to certify you both before I let either of you near a canoe,” she grinned, “But don’t worry. I can arrange for some private lake time.
“I don’t expect you to be mermaids, but I can work with you both on how to keep yourself afloat before we start teaching you how to save someone else. For now, let’s head inside and we’ll discuss everyone’s schedules,”
We followed Alice into our cabin, Nicole and I sitting on my bunk while Allison, Jennifer and Rachel sat next to each other on the next bed over. Alice handed out laminated pocket-sized camp maps to each of us then pulled over a wicker chair from one corner of the cabin. She sat facing us and proceeded to give us each a copy of our CIT schedules for the first few days.
“Since it’s just the five of you, you’ll also be able to sit in and participate in any of the other activities for your age group as well as some of the younger girls’. The idea is for you to shadow counselors during this time, while also allowing you to just relax and be girls,” she explained.
“Also, I promised Cola and Spirit I’d arrange for some private lake time if you three want to help with that. It’d just be the six of us.”
“I’m alright with other girls joining us, if there are others who feel uneasy about never learning to swim,” I offered. Nicole quickly nodded her agreement.
Alice smiled brightly, “That’s a wonderful idea. Seeing you two out of your element and not afraid to learn something new will do wonders for them too. I’ll bring it up with the other counselors at our meeting tonight. In the mean time are there any questions?” No one asked anything, so Alice ‘adjourned’ us to go have fun.
The first day of camp was apparently more about just meeting the staff and learning your way around. Several times that day I had girls approach me and ask if I could help them find where they were supposed to be. I certainly didn’t know the camp any better than they did, but I was more than happy to break out the pocket map Alice had given out.
For my part I sat in on leather tooling and woodworking orientations, and tried my hand at assisting in a basic first-aid lesson. To my chagrin it was how to treat a possibly broken ankle.
I told them the story of how I got lost in the woods a mere few yards from a major hiking trail, and how Allison had joined the Search and Rescue efforts to find me, leading to an impromptu discussion about situational awareness.
The afternoon passed quickly, with a proper advanced first-aid lesson and the beginnings of CPR certification for the five of us. Allison, Jennifer, and Rachel already had their certifications, but participated anyway in order to renew it.
Following some private lake time (And a few playful cat calls from the girls, who had never seen me in anything skimpier than shorts), we broke off again for our showers, followed by a trip to the mess hall.
You’d think I’d have become accustomed to the hushed whispers of “Spirit, ohmygosh” and “The Cali girl?” from the younger girls by now, but it was still jarring. ‘I am so not deserving of all the extra attention’, I thought.
“So how’s your first day been?” Allison asked, glancing between Nicole and me. I’d just shoveled an unladylike amount of mashed potatoes into my mouth, so Nicole answered first, rolling her eyes at me.
“It’s been great. I forgot how much I loved going horseback riding when I was a kid,”
“You ride?” Jennifer gave her a surprised glance, “How come you never mentioned that sooner?”
She shrugged, “I don’t like to think about the past. Anyway, it was just when I’d visit my grandpa’s farm, before he passed away. Robin you should come riding tomorrow!” she quickly deflected the subject back toward me.
“That sounds great. I was just telling Amanda this morning that I’ve never even seen a real horse.”
Both girls giggled. I caught sight of Alice approaching us with a tray of food, and cleared my throat, nodding in her direction. “Hi Ms. Mason,” I spoke cheerfully as I scooted over to make room.
She smiled warmly, “Hi there Spirit. Hey girls,” she said, joining us.
“I thought counselors all ate at the lodge? Y’know, with the caviar and goose liver pie,” Jennifer chided with a cheeky grin, causing Alice to crack a giggle.
“Oh, yes, I believe they do, but I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat anything with a face,” she winked, then continued, “So, Cat, was that a guitar I saw you carrying in this morning?”
Allison nodded, “Yeah. I thought it’d be fun to break out one night this week.” She glanced down at her meal, apparently pondering the ‘eating anything with a face’ crack. It wasn’t enough to stave off her appetite for long, though.
“Well, how about tonight? We’re planning to have a big bonfire and marshmallow roast. Attendance is optional of course, but our regular musician had a family emergency and won’t be on site until tomorrow.”
Allison blushed, “Really? Nicole’s the serious musician though. I just play for fun.”
“Hey now, I’m a bassist remember? Anyway, I’m not really the campfire song type,” Nicole teased.
Allison rolled her eyes, “Oh please. I know you haven’t forgotten how to play. Just one song? Then I’ll take over for you.”
Nicole’s gaze softened as she nodded, “Alright, but just that one song, then it’s your turn girlie.”
Alice glanced between the two of them, wondering if she should ask. Nicole turned back to Alice, “My grandma was the whole reason I fell in love with music. The very first song she taught me to play was ‘Kumbaya’. I used to spend the summer at their farm just to get away from my parents,” she added.
Tears welled up in Nicole’s eyes, and Allison and Jennifer hugged her. “I haven’t played it since I left Louisiana behind, but I guess I need to stop holding onto that grief and let her go.” She heaved a sigh. Alice suddenly looked like she regretted saying anything.
She offered Nicole a sympathetic smile, “I’m so sorry Nicole.”
Nicole smiled in return, “Hey, it’s ‘Cola’, but you and Rachel can call me ‘Nikki’ around the cabin.
“And It’s okay. I don’t like to talk about the past, but this place is supposed to be all about bonding and trust, and maybe even healing. We can talk about it after the meeting if you want,” she offered.
After dinner, we filed out, heading downhill to a small clearing surrounded by split-log benches. At the center of the clearing, several counselors had begun piling wood. This was going to be a huge bonfire.
As Meredith struck a piece of flint and chunk of metal together, sparks flew into the kindling, igniting the beginnings of the blaze. I sat with Nicole and Jennifer, while Rachel sat close by.
As more girls began to join us, Allison appeared from the far side of the clearing. A chorus of claps and cheers began, growing louder as she came closer, the others realizing she was carrying a guitar case. As more and more girls trickled in, she opened her case and passed the instrument to Nicole.
Meredith stood up in front of us, grinning at Allison and Nicole before she spoke to the assembled, “Campfire songs are one of our most cherished traditions, and tonight is no different. Unfortunately our resident musician had a family emergency and couldn’t join us tonight; however CIT Cat and CIT Cola have graciously volunteered their musical talents for us.”
She nodded toward Nicole. She strummed a few notes then started playing a few bars from Hendrix’ repertoire. Meredith shot her a glare, causing a chorus of giggles.
“Sorry, sorry!” She offered then switched to a much more gentle, and camp-appropriate, ‘Kumbaya’. I don’t know quite how to describe the experience except to say that it was all incredibly surreal.
Allison, Jennifer, Rachel and I sang along with Meredith, and by the middle of the second verse the entire assembly was singing and swaying back and forth.
When she finished, a chorus of cheers and applause followed. She wiped her eyes, handing the instrument off to Allison. I put an arm around her waist and smiled, as she rested her head on my shoulder, whispering “Thanks Spirit. I needed that.”
We wiled away the rest of the evening in much the same way, enjoying the warm fire and the good company. Around nine or so, the fire had begun to die down, so Meredith stood and announced lights-out in an hour.
“Counselors and CITs, once your cabins are in order please come to the staff lodge.” She smiled, whispering a ‘Great job girls’ to Allison as she passed. Allison went back to the cabin to put away her guitar, while the rest of us went with Alice.
The staff meeting was really more of an informal status report at this point, which I imagined was just because this was only the first day. We all sat around in comfortable chairs or on sofas arranged in a large circle in the main lodge room.
It was a lodge in the true sense of the word as well, with a huge fireplace at one side. Various awards, photos, and certifications decorated the walls like a three-dimensional scrapbook.
I was roused from my silent reverie by a hand on my shoulder. “Mm?” I blinked. “Sorry, what?”
Alice smiled, “Spirit had a wonderful idea today that I wanted to run by you all,” she deferred to me. I smiled sheepishly as I tried to remember what she was talking about.
“I did? OH! Right, sorry. Um… Well, basically Alice asked me if I had ever had swimming lessons, and I told her I hadn’t. She offered to arrange for some private lake time for Cola and me to get some training in before we have to do any rescue swim training.
“I mentioned that if there were any other girls interested in a more private swimming lesson, that had either never taken lessons like me, or that hadn’t been swimming in a long time and wanted a refresher, that they’d be more than welcome to join us.”
Counselor Davis’ eyes lit up, “Spirit that’s a wonderful idea!” She practically bubbled, “I have a girl your age who confided that she has a nearly deathly fear of water that she wanted to overcome. She’ll be excited to know even one of our CITs can’t swim.” She grinned.
I giggled a little, “Glad I can help… I think.” I teased.
After the meeting, I walked with Nurse Bree and Nicole back to the nurse’s station for my last dose of the night. On the way back to our cabin, I rather abruptly gave Nicole a warm hug. “How are you holding up?”
“M’okay,” she offered quietly, “Exhausted and a little emotionally drained, but I feel better than I have in years, actually. Anyway, we’d better get back before they send out a search party.” She grinned. I just rolled my eyes, walking with her back toward our cabin.
“Hey, can I ask you something?” I asked hesitantly as we drew closer. I normally wouldn't pry into Nicole's privacy, but she did mention wanting to talk about her past earlier.
She shrugged, “Sure, what is it?”
“Well, the other day this social worker came by wanting to interview me about becoming Margie's temporary ward. She sort of slipped about a ‘Morgan incident’ that happened a couple of years ago,” I waited to see if she'd pick up from there.
She squeezed my hand as we approached the cabin. “Yeah. My birth mother decided to cause Bob and Gina grief,” she began.
She pushed the door open, and all eyes settled on us. We were still holding hands, but I didn’t care. This wasn’t a ‘girlfriends’ thing, as much as a ‘girl friend needs my support’ thing right now. I walked Nicole over to my bunk and sat with her.
“So what happened?” I offered, trying to keep the conversation going.
“Somehow, and this part still isn’t clear to me exactly, my birth mother came into a little money. Rather than using it to, say, improve her life just a LITTLE bit, the vindictive witch tried to bribe some social workers into testifying against my adopted parents.
“See, the whole reason I was placed in foster care is because my real father abused me pretty badly,” she spoke those words so casually, and yet, I still cringed. I leaned over to hug her.
By now Allison had come over to sit with us, putting her arms around Nicole from the other side.
“Nikki, I had no idea,” she offered softly. Nicole smiled a little as she nodded.
“I know, Ally. That’s the whole idea. I didn’t want you, or anyone to know. That’s why I never called Bob and Gina ‘Dad’ and ‘Mom’ before Robin came into my life though. To me, ‘parents’ were people who hurt me. Bob and Gina though…
“It’s like the harder I fought them, the more I did to rebel against them, the harder they loved me in return. I guess it took hearing Robin and Kelly talking for me to realize what real, unconditional parental love is, y’know?”
Rachel, having remained silent through the conversation, leaned over from atop her bunk above us and smiled.
“Absolutely. My step-mom is only human, and she could never replace my real Mom, but she’s still the closest thing I’ve had since I was little. Anybody can have a child. It takes love to make a Mom,” she advised with a sage smile.
Nicole laughed, “Nicely put. Anyway, I’m about to pass out,” she offered, hugging Allison and me as she stood and crossed to her bunk. She paused, glancing back.
“Thanks for listening, by the way. It feels good to just get this crap out in the open and finally just … let it go, y’know? Anyway, sweet dreams.”
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