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Crimson Summer - Chapter Seven

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“Chase”
Chaos. That's what this was, pure chaos. It was like all the campers went right back into school mode on cue. The dining hall, if it could even be classified as such, was an absolute mess. Over a hundred kids crammed into an area that should have only sat fifty. Everyone was elbows to assholes and, given his slight claustrophobia, Chase wasn't looking forward to the next month of meals in here. That was before even seeing the food itself.
"This place is always such a fucking madhouse," a familiar girl's voice said from behind. He turned to see Liz, the cute girl from the bus that had talked to him. He had been looking for her since they'd all been herded into the dining hall but had no luck until now.
"I feel like I'm going to be touched inappropriately just by taking my seat," Chase jested.
"Just pray that it's just a camper and not Al and you'll be golden," Liz said, Chase hoped jokingly.
"I don't think there's even any place to --"
Before he even knew it, the decision was made for him as Liz grabbed his arm and lead him towards a spot away from the counselors, who were stationed at the head of the chaos. There just happened to be a handful of spots here, clearly out of view of the others furiously searching for any possible place to sit.
"Is this place usually so cramped?  Did they forget to open the other dining hall or something," Chase asked.  There had to be some kind of explanation for this. Chase wasn't even sure if this was legal.  Liz just laughed.
"You may need to drop those expectations a little bit. Watanka is definitely no five star resort."
"Well, yeah, I get that. But . . . do you seriously see this?" Chase asked, pointing around him.
"It'll settle eventually. Especially since the cabins aren’t open till after dinner. Once everyone drops into their routine it won't be nearly as crazy. You just happened to have kids on a bus for, some of them, up to nine hours," Liz said it all rather calmly, but the news shocked Chase. I wouldn't spend nine hours to come to this shithole.
"You're seriously fucking blowing my mind right now. How in the hell is that even possible? Jesus, why are people coming from all over to this shitty place? Is there some kind of hidden charm I'm just not seeing?" Chase asked.
"Not many summer camps left nowadays. Especially not any that take your kids for a whole fucking month. That right there is good business for any parent . . . not wanting to be a parents, which I think is most. So I guess you could say that's the charm," said Liz as she peaked up at the line, seeing if it was getting shorter. It wasn't.
"You know, some parents actually like being around their children."
"Oh those poor people. Just not understanding what bitches and bastards we can all be," Liz said with a big smile.
"I take it you weren't hugged much as a child?"
Even if Liz was right, Chase still couldn't believe he'd be placed into such conditions. His mother made Watanka out to be much nicer than it actually was. The pictures on the website were clearly from a late 80's remodel that hadn't been touched up in the years following. He would have loved to have come to the place that the website claimed it to be. He was now certain that place didn't exist.
Waiting five more minutes for the line to go down, Liz and Chase finally went up to get food. Chase grabbed a tray, bringing with it another tray attached to the bottom. He pulled them apart to reveal something sticky connecting the two together. Gum? Chase wasn't sure if he even wanted to know. Liz just looked at it with a gag then a smirk, taking a different tray instead. They moved towards the counter where Carol and the lunch-lady, her name tag reading Marjory, served the meals.
"Spaghetti or Chicken?" said Marjory.
"Chicken?" said Chase, not entirely sure which he should choose or if it was even real chicken.
"Hey Marge.  Got any vegetarians left?" Liz asked with smile.
"Of course I do. You're the only one that actually eats them. Damn vegan and your morals," said Marge. Taking some bread and a chocolate milk -- Chase quickly doing the same -- Liz walked over to their spot near the back, which had now been taken over. Entering the search again, their eyes scanned, looking for an available spot. Liz seemed to see one as she guided him over to a table with two twins. Before reaching it, she whispered back at him, "The brunette is Nancy and the blonde is Alice. They can be a tad . . . bitchy."
"I thought for sure we wouldn't see you again," Nancy said on cue.
"Can we sit?" Liz asked, trying to ignore the rude comment.
"Sure, who's the boy toy? Very unlike you to pull a Pattie Nelson." Alice may have been the nicer of the two, but not by much. Chase quickly said his name as he and Liz tried to squeeze onto the bench. There was barely enough room for one person, let alone two. They managed to squeeze in but just barely, with Chase immediately apologizing to the hunched up guy next to him.
"You two fucking wish," Liz shot at them, pissed they'd even accuse her of such a thing.
Liz clearly knew the two twins, but Chase was having trouble finding where the friendship part actually began. Their reunion in the camp felt more like they were feeling sorry for each other for having to come back to there for yet another year, and not genuine joy for seeing long lost friends. Being the nostalgic person he was, this astounded Chase. How could they not be at least a little happy to see each other? They must be holding it in.
"So what's the deal?  Thought you had some lifeguard thing lined up to get you out of this?" said Alice. Lifeguard thing? Chase thought. She made it seem like she never had a choice.
"You know how things go. Just didn't work out," she said, evidently annoyed she was reminded of her past plans.
"And you fucking love this place," said Nancy, her voice reeking of sarcasm.
"Oh you know I’m just glutton for punishment. Plus I heard that after seven years you get an eighth one for free." Liz was quick with her words. "So you know I just couldn't pass that up."
"Oh damn.  Looks like we're gonna have to miss out on our free year," Alice said through perfect pearly whites.
"Boohoo, what a tragedy."  Nancy's sarcasm almost outdid her sister's.
"Wait, you're seriously not coming back next year either? What happened to the parental ruling? I thought you two would be counselors and all that jazz?" asked Liz.
"Daddy left. Went with some Oncologist to California to live on the beach," Nancy started.
"Mom's devastated and all that. Wants to go spend dad's money seeing the world -- Europe, actually," Alice continued.
"So we'll be joining her in a couple months AKA the time that this lovely hell-hole opens up next year, we're gonna be sipping daiquiris on the beach in France."
"Wait, so she's already gone? She didn't take you with her?" Liz asked, somewhat amused by their parent's neglect.
"She's a whore," Nancy spat out, clearly at annoyed at their mother's decision not to take them immediately.
"She wanted to find a place," Alice tried to reason, "Plus she already paid for the camp."
"Paid for camp or wants to get plowed by half of Western Europe?  You decide."
"Ignore her she's just sour. Always was daddy's little girl," Alice's words stung Nancy who glared daggers at her.
"He's your father too."
"Yeah and it doesn't mean I need to blame either of them. Divorce happens. People fall out of love all the time -- if those two ever happened to fall into that category in the first place. Most everyone we know has divorced parents. Quit being a child."
"God, you're just like mom."  This was the worst thing Nancy could have said to Alice, who erupted in a fit of obscenities. The two argued, with Liz interjecting occasionally, seemingly very amused by the happenings. Maybe they were friends and this was just how their dynamic worked out? Chase wasn't sure but found the situation extremely uncomfortable. Not to mention the fact that his arm was slowly going to sleep. Pulling his left arm back, his shoulders angled more, he was able to get more space, breathing a sigh of relief.
The girls continued to argue at his left so he turned to the people to the right, some of whom were watching the twins with amusement. The boy sitting directly next to Chase was keeping to himself, eating his food in silence. Chase wasn't sure if he wanted to engage in conversation but knew he needed to fight those first instincts. He needed to socialize. Be normal.
"So how's your relationship with your parents? Think we can outdo these girls?" quipped Chase, just loud enough that the twins couldn't hear him.
"Heh. Yeah," the boy said, clearly in his own little world.
"So either I'm really unfunny or you're more the dark and brooding type."
"I agree with the first one," Liz said out of nowhere, apparently paying attention to both conversations. Chase playfully nudged her.
"Sorry, just nervous. Lots of new people," the boy said meekly.
"I hear ya. I'm Chase. That's Liz next to me, who may or may not be spying on our conversation." Right on cue Liz nudged Chase, acknowledging that she was in fact listening.
"I'm James. It's nice to meet you Chase," said the boy now identified as James.
"I take it you're like me and not really knowing what to expect from this place?" asked Chase.
"Actually both my sisters went here so I have a decent idea of what's going on. They tried to prep me," James responded.
"I can only imagine what that consisted of. So wait, your sisters were regulars? Wonder if Liz --"
"What are their names?" Liz interjected.
"Well I wouldn't call them regulars. We go to one secular summer camp before we're 18. Helps open our eyes to non-religious folk," said James.
"Oh so you're religious?" Chase asked, somewhat skeptical. It wasn't that he hated religion. No, Chase always found it intriguing. He just didn't understand how anyone could put such blind faith into anything. He needed proof. He needed science. He needed some kind of logic. Still, Chase was just hoping for less evangelical and more casual.
"I believe in God, yes. My father is a traveling minister and my mom homeschooled all of us," said James, seemingly getting more comfortable.
"How many in the family?" asked Liz, even though Chase could have sworn she had just responded to something Nancy had said. How did she do that?
"Eight total. Five girls. Three boys."
"Oh wow, that's a big family. And all homeschooled," Chase said, just imagining how loony the education had to have been. I wonder if he's ever even heard the word 'evolution.'
"Yes, my mother was quite the saint. Certainly wasn't an easy task. Us kids certainly can get into some trouble but she raised us right so in the end it all worked out."
Liz leaned into Chase and whispered, "Only five more minutes till we get to leave this place.  Power through."
"It can't come quick enough," Chase responded, adjusting in his cramped seat. He slowly realized his left arm had casually rested right behind Liz's back. Shit! Chase thought, quickly pulling it back. They had known each other for six hours, what did he want to do, scare her off? Had she even noticed? Was Chase just worrying about something that wasn't even a problem? He had apparently been sitting and thinking for a long time because before he knew it, Liz was standing up, ready to go.
"Let's go, cuddlebug," Liz joked, making Chase cringe a little at the acknowledgement of his prior actions.
Chase and Liz left the twins to their arguing and strolled out of the dining hall, as other waited around, not really knowing what to do. Most just wanted to go back to their cabins and go to sleep but for some reason, they were closed until bed time. Not for Chase and Liz, who strolled out of the dining hall, ready to go on a little adventure. At least that's how Liz put it. Chase had his doubts that anything in this camp could be considered an "adventure."
The camp had a certain charm to it at night. At least Chase thought so. But he was always a fan of the strange and unusual so he wasn't sure how many shared his opinion. The old rotting cabins, ancient rock-climbing wall, and hobbled together archery range. This is what they should be advertising on the website, Chase thought, truly believing it'd drive sales. His favorite part of the tour, that lasted all of ten minutes given the camp's size, was the lake. The way the moonlight bounced off it and illuminated the area around it was mesmerizing.
He liked it so much that he ended up asking Liz if she wanted to sit by it and she quickly accepted. 
"So what do you think?" she asked, half-joking.
"You know, you're going to think I'm crazy for saying this but I actually don't think it's too bad. Though I guess that would mean that maybe you're crazy too since you keep coming back here."
"I guess that's certainly one way to look at it."
"I take it that means you don't?" Chase asked, wondering if he had read her wrong.
"Depends on the day," she responded honestly.
"I think I hate the world on most days so this is a nice change of pace."
"Hating the world is a lot of work."
"So is loving it."
"No it's not.  If you love it, then it shouldn't be considered work.  Work is for something negative."
"Tell that to Carol," Chase said immediately.
"Okay, Carol is not from the planet earth so I don't think that's exactly fair."
"You have to appreciate how much she loves her job though."
"Yeah, it certainly was inspiring when I first saw it.  Now it's just sad."
"Really? I think it's great that she cares that much about anything, let alone the job she's going to have to do no matter what. From someone with two parents in jobs they hate, that means more than you think." It was the truth too. Being around his parents made him decide one thing in life: he'd make his career something he loved, not something he had to do to survive.
"Yeah, I guess that's true. My parents always were a bit more artistic in their endeavors." Liz leaned her head back onto the ground, staring up at the stars that started peeking out.
"Which were?"
"Art. They painted and all that."
"And they actually made a decent living?" Chase had genuinely never known anyone who made money artistically. His life was full of worker bees.
"I didn't say that," Liz said laughing, "They did alright at times. Had to get jobs teaching eventually. At least my dad did. Mom kept on keeping on. 
"Probably a stupid question but . . . were they any good?" He wasn’t sure how she would respond to the question given the position of hostility some people would take from one of that nature.
"Yeah, they were good . . . I think. But what do I know about art?"
"Still, pretty impressive." Chase settled into the grass next to Liz, staring up at what he thought was Persesus, but having done terribly in astrology, he wasn’t sure.
"So Mr. Watson, what is it you want in life?" Liz asked out of nowhere. It was the last question Chase was expecting and one he didn't think he'd ever been asked before. The question bounced around his head for several moments, trying to find the right answer.
"That's kind of a deep question isn't it?" said Chase, deflecting. He wasn't so sure he even wanted to respond to the question.
"Agreed. But that's the point. My grandma used to ask me that all the time. I'd see her once every year -- either Christmas or Thanksgiving depending on the rotation -- and that question would always come up," said Liz, staring forward at the lake, mind clearly back in the past.
"Yeah, really deep question for a little kid. I'm sure the response certainly . . . evolved over the years," he said, wondering what he even would have said at six-years-old. Probably a Power Ranger.
"That was the fun of it all. Every single year she'd ask me and every year it'd be different. It started at toys, then graduated to jewelry and eventually landed at plain ole money. Everything I chose just seemed to be materialistic and stupid in hindsight. But then? Then it was all that mattered to me. And yet every year she'd meet me with the same response: 'That's nice, dear.' She was the sweetest lady in the world but for some reason, those words always stung. Every time. It got to the point where I was pretty much obsessed with finding the right answer.
"So I'd come up with exactly what I thought she'd want to hear. 'To grow up and have a nice big family. To get all A's and go to Harvard. To break records in cross country' -- I was a bit of a runner. But nothing I came up with ever received a new response. It was always just 'That's nice, dear.' Every time," said Liz, growing a little teary eyed as she walked down memory lane.
"Did you ever get her to say something else?" Chase asked, entirely entranced by the story.
"You know I wish I did. Marion and I have talked about it out here before. She seems to have an idea what her answer is. But that's just Marion. She may not have everything figured out but she definitely knows what she wants out of life."
"I take it you don't?" said Chase and Liz huffed.
"Not in the slightest. Maybe one day I'll have it figured out. But the more I grow up and see the adults around me the more I think that not everyone figures that."
"So you asked me what I wanted in life but you don't even have your own answer to it? Kind of expecting a lot, aren't you?" he said, further dodging the question.
"Because maybe when I hear yours, I'll have a better idea of what my own is."
"Oh so you just plan on copying me?  I see how it is," joked Chase.
"Inspiration and thievery are two entirely different entities my dear Watson." A grin spread across Liz's face.
". . . you've been dying to say that haven't you?" asked Chase, already knowing the answer.
"Oh you have no idea. Sherlock is my hero," said Liz, swooning a little.
"Yeah, I like the BBC show."
"Wait, there's something other than the TV show?" she said, straight-faced. Chase took a moment, not really knowing how to react. Was she being serious? Did she really not know about the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories? Hell, it even says so in the credits to the show.
Chase's trepidation was met with a huge laugh from Liz.
"Oh my god, I'm obviously kidding. I totally had you going. I've read Adventures of Sherlock like twenty times. That is my shit. Although I won't lie, I do enjoy some Cumberbatch as well," she said, successfully lightening the mood.
"You definitely had me worried for a second," said Chase, relieved. It would have been just his luck to find a cool girl who ended up being culturally ignorant. 
"Gotta keep you on your toes,” Marion said, bringing her knees up to her body and resting her arms around them.
"You've offended me and I now think I'd rather just go back to the dining hall," said Chase sarcastically.
"Oh. Well if cramped is your style then please take a look to your right," she said motioning over to the bathrooms, almost like a tour guide in her tones and hand movements. The building couldn't have been more than fifteen feet by fifteen feet, housing showers and toilets and sinks for one of the camps genders.
"You've got to be kidding me."
"I told you, this place is practically a five star resort . . . in North Korea."
"Hey, what're you two doing?" the authoritative voice struck through the darkness and startled Chase. A flashlight shined on them, making Chase immediately feel guilty. Liz had said this was okay, why would she lie?
"Chill out there, spaz. It's just Marion." And Liz was right. Marion lowered the flashlight and rolled her eyes.
"Of course it's you. Always up to no good," Marion said, obviously joking.
"You know me, always trying to start fights and murder fellow campers," said Liz.
"Well while you're busy stargazing, I'm busy trying to get all the girls round up like cattle so I can lead them to their sleeping quarters. So will you please join me, madam?" said Marion, putting a little English accent on the end and curtseying a little.
"Do I have to?  Can't I just sleep out under the stars?"
"Done it before. Not all it's cracked up to be. Very wet. And not in the good way," Marion said and finally turned towards Chase, "Mr. Watson right? Don't you think you should be heading back to your bunk?"
Chase froze, not really sure what to say. Was he supposed to be back at his bunk? He must be if Marion was coming out to get Liz. But then why would Liz not have said something earlier? He should have waited around for an official announcement, not just gone out because Liz said they had free-time.
"Chase, I told you, you should have --" said Liz, but was quickly cut off by Marion.
"I think that he can speak for himself, Ms. Thompson."
"I . . . umm," Chase mumbled. He was absolutely terrified. Wasn't Marion supposed to be Liz's buddy and confidant? Yet Liz looked like they were in huge trouble, staring at the ground and hardly saying a word now that Marion had changed her tone.
"Mr. Watson, please return to your cabin," Marion said with authority, "And make sure it doesn't happen again."
"Yes, m'am.  Will do," he said, trying to make eye contact with Liz but her eyes refused raise.
       
Chase walked away from the lake, as he did he could have sworn he heard giggling behind him. Then he heard howling laughter and had it confirmed: Yep, they were fucking with me.

END CHAPTER SEVEN

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