Read Chapter One HERE
Another year. That's the only thought that ever seemed to go through Liz's head as she boarded the bus for another journey into what felt like an oddly familiar alien world. Another year spent listening to Big Al tell stupid jokes, Carol act overly excited for anything going on in the camp, and that stupid "unity bash" at the end. I hate all of it, Liz thought. She walked down the cramped bus aisle, laughing at the yet-again chipping and in need of a paint job interior. The bus driver always claimed, "He'd get to it after he dropped them off at camp." It never happened. The driver was just a lazy jackass, Liz had surmised. Probably not far off given his faded “Class of ‘89’” T-shirt from what must have been high school.
Even with the chipping paint, Liz probably would have been disappointed had there been a fresh coat of paint present for nostalgia’s sake. It was all part of the package and the routine of it all. Summer camp was just such a routine in and of itself that even the things she used to hate about going became things she looked forward to. She just had to go through fits of annoyance with the process to get there. Going to Watanka had become such a big part of Liz's life that she stopped complaining to her parents about it long ago. It didn't matter what she said anyway. They were sending her and that was that. Oddly enough she couldn't help but be a little grateful about the whole ordeal. The idea of staying around her parents was more torture than spending 36 days at Camp Watanka.
Taking her seat, her eyes scanned the crowd on Bus 2, trying to see if she spotted any familiar faces. Was that the cute boy from Bunk Barracuda last summer? No, he said his family was moving back to Arizona. Oh wait, Liz thought, that's definitely Molly Austin near the back. Her hand quickly rose to greet her but stopped the moment the realization came to her that Molly had a very distinct mole on her left cheek. This girl had no mole. Fuck. That girl always would sneak in whiskey. So much for that, Liz sighed. Her eyes continued to scan, trying to figure out if this would be another summer she had to completely start over with friends.
It wouldn't be the first time that she had to start anew. Outside of the Belar Twins, she was the only consistent camper that Camp Watanka had. And that was probably for good reason. Summer camps had their hey-day in the 1980's and had casually fallen off ever since. Nowadays, the only kids that went were those that either A) wanted to try it out once or B) their parents wanted them out of the house so they were going to be leaving for the summer regardless of their own opinion. Didn't exactly leave the ripest friends for the picking but Liz made do.
No, what scared her more than the prospect of new friends were the counselors treating her like she was the teacher's pet. Given that the Camp only had three consistent campers, it was hard to not be labeled as such when every counselor and the big boss knew your name. Early on Liz had even begged her parents to let her just go to a different camp. Anywhere that would help out her social standing. They refused, despite intense whining and rebellion. Didn't matter to them. Not like they wanted a daughter to begin with.
Another year she tried to convince her parents to sign her up under a different name, and surprisingly she succeeded. Her new wardrobe, haircut, and voice lasted all of two seconds; the illusion shattering the moment she stepped off the bus. Crazy Carol was able to sniff her out in a heartbeat, making an even bigger deal about her appearance and odd trickery. She didn't make any friends that summer. In fact, that summer was definitely the worst.
Not having learned her lesson, two years ago Liz made a scene during the opening speech, cussing out Big Al in front of the entire camp. It wasn't Liz's finest moment but she thought it would prove a point. Instead, Big Al took it upon himself to treat her as a pet project. His grand plan was to make Liz fall in love with the camp and all it offered, just like Carol did. He had her do all sorts of things: set up game nights and arts and crafts for other campers, helped serve food during all three meals, and lead the campfire songs, most of which consisted of non-participation and one person singing -- usually Carol. Liz just saw it as Al training her to be the next Carol, something all campers wanted to avoid.
While this clearly wasn't the end result, it did help Liz gain an apathetic approach to her feelings on the camp. Instead of hating everything about Watanka on the outside, she just hid those feelings on the inside, rather than ruining the time for other campers. The camp would do that job on its own.
Liz found an empty seat near the middle of the bus that wasn't completely falling apart or covered in old gum. She sat down on it with a grunt, bringing up a cloud of dust that joined the mixture of body odor and "country air" that filled the bus. Other kids, ranging anywhere from nine to eighteen, congregated towards the back, which prompted an "I've got my eyes on you back there" from the bus driver. Staring out the window, Liz looked through the crowd of parents, searching for her own mother and that ridiculously large hat of hers. Nowhere to be found. How the hell can I not see her in that -- Just when she was going to give up the search, she spotted her mother's car speeding off down the road, blowing up dust behind her. The other parents looked at the car, then at each other, clearly disapproving of her mother and her actions. Liz just shook her head, If you only knew.
Hearing more ruckus from outside, Liz looked out, seeing another vehicle, driving extremely fast as well, and coming directly towards the bus. The car skidded to a halt, some of the parents backing away a little, as a disheveled teenage boy stepped out. The driver didn't even get out, yelling something out that Liz could only catch part of: "Jeannie." Odd name for a boy, Liz pondered, wondering if she even heard it right.
Just as quickly as it had arrived, the car sped away, leaving the boy and his bag of luggage behind. Those may be worse parents than mine. Maybe. The boy made his way onto the bus, his eyes looking down at the floor. He was clearly close to Liz's age, so that was a plus, and his messy brown hair, parted to the side, reminded her of that cute boy from a couple years back. Liz scanned the seats around her, mostly full up. Those with one free seat had a bag next to them, sending a clear anti-social message. Liz, on the other hand, had her bag snugly between her legs, and plenty of room on the seat next to her.
It didn't even seem like the boy was paying attention when he plopped down in the seat next to Liz. She greeted him with a smile but his eyes darted right down to his lap, holding tightly onto the phone in his grasp.
"I doubt you're really gonna to need that," Liz laughed. The boy's eyes darted up at her, defensive before he even got a word out.
"What?" he proclaimed, even though he clearly knew what was happening.
"They don't allow cellphones really," she stated, "They started it a couple years ago. I think some kid got his MacBook dropped in a lake or something. The parents sued, and the camp almost went under. Now they just don't let people bring expensive electronics. I think Al just really hates technology and doesn’t want us all on our phones throughout the summer. It all gets locked up in the main office. Two years ago this girl brought a vibrator and Carol thought it was a massager so she just kept it locked up with the laptops and the iPhones. Yeah . . . Al wasn't too impressed with that."
"Uh…" before the boy could even answer, Liz was at it again.
"Oh sorry, yeah, of course you don't know names. Marion is head counselor and Al is the owner. You'll randomly see him all the time. He's cool though. Just likes to get drunk and hit on the older counselors. Typical lonely bachelor stuff but he's really harmless. And Marion is pretty much the coolest person on the planet. She's the big sister you always wish you had -- do you have a sister? Doesn't really matter, she still fits that role. She's super cool. As long as you don't do something too stupid, she'll be your best friend. One summer when I had a boyfriend back home, she let me sneak off and text him at night. May not seem like much but it was the world then. That lasted until Carol tailed me and tried to get me kicked out. Sometimes I wish I had just let her. Oh and --" Liz stopped, realizing just how much she had been going on about stuff that was clearly, judging by the blank look on the boy's face, of no interest to him. She tried to make up for it with a, "Sorry, I talk a lot," but the boy still just stared at her blankly. Trying to avoid any second further of awkward silence, Liz asked quickly, "I'm Liz. In case you couldn't tell I'm kind of a veteran."
"Yeah, I think I sherlocked that myself," the boy squeamishly said.
"And you are…" she asked, not knowing whether she'd even get a straight response. Everything about his body language was awkward and uninviting.
"Oh, sorry. Chase! My name is Chase. Chase is . . . yeah, that's my name." He was uncomfortable and stumbling over his words. Liz couldn't help but be drawn to it, as she could relate.
"You sure about that?" she smiled as Chase had seemed to finally be a little more social, even in an unconventional sense.
"According to . . . mother," he blushed a little as he struggled to even get out the words, which he didn't manage fully.
"Mother? What are you, Norman Bates?"
Chase looked over at her, turning his head and smiling sadistically; he was a carbon copy of the ending shot of Psycho and Norman Bates' terrifying gaze into the camera. God, I fucking love that movie, Liz thought, but was careful not to say. She had to bust his balls more than that. How else would she test him?
"That is beyond creepy," Liz said.
"Sorry, people don't really get my sense of humor..." Chase trailed off towards the end, looking out the bus, away from Liz, clearly embarrassed and wanting to focus elsewhere.
"Hey, I got it. I still found it creepy though. Don't worry, funny to the max. Just, you know, in that non-laughter sort of way," Liz joked with him. She's not sure he got it though, as it was immediately met with a turn of the head and obvious signs of ignorance: eyes down, appendages facing away, and bad vibes aplenty. Liz didn't care though. She liked a good challenge.
"We're about to spend the next two hours on a bus together, do you really want to spend it acting like I'm not here? I promise, I can be a lot cooler if you don't act self-conscious about everything," Liz said, trying to convince him of anything, "Quit overthinking anything I’m saying. Just react accordingly."
Chase waited a moment, not really knowing what to do. Didn't seem like many people called him out on his bullshit, a specialty of Liz's. And just like that, he broke out of his shell, "Sorry, I guess I just have a sort of defense mechanism where I try and test people. Don't really put myself out there until I get a good idea of who they are. Make them prove that they're worth putting the effort into for a friendship. I'm an introvert, so I go to the extreme to see how they react. See if they can handle me at my worst – annnnd I just randomly spilled my guts out to a random stranger. Good start to camp."
Liz smiled wide the entire time. It was hard not to.
"You and I are gonna get along all right," Liz said smiling as she finally had it confirmed: Chase passed the test.
END CHAPTER TWO