After finishing my first book, I’ve decided to publish the first chapter of my newest book, Jessica.
Jessica walked along the boardwalk, moonlight reflecting off her wet, goosebumped skin. I climbed out of the dark lake to meet her. She smiled at me as I wrung her hand in mine saying, “You’re my girlfriend now.”
It was silly, I knew, but still we walked towards the dock where the others were diving into the water below. As we approached the a girl slipped on the wood. She was hurt. Everyone stared as she struggled to get up. I was forced to decide between this beautiful, bikini-clad woman, or let go.
I let go.
“Blaine, this is Erich. I’m a little lost. I was following US 31, but then it turned into city streets, there were no more signs, and I couldn’t quite follow it.”
“Where are you?”
“Niles. I’m at a donut shop off of 5th St.”
“Go back to Main St. and turn right, then turn right on 31 again. That should put you back on track. You’re only about ten minutes away.”
I hung up the phone, exited the booth, and got back into my white 1984 Chevy Caprice Classic. It had taken me longer to get here than it would have had I not gone to see her one last time before leaving to work for the summer. Jessica was getting ready for work and did not expect me to pull up. She was wearing her uniform, a grey polo shirt. We sat down in the grass. I told her I loved her and that I wanted to marry her.
“I’m not ready for that,” she replied.
“I’m not asking you to marry me.” She sat me down inside my car and I pulled her close, kissing her close. I told her I loved her again, but as we drove out of her gravel driveway we were separate. She had never said she loved me.
When I pulled into the empty parking lot at the camp where I worked it was still daylight and I didn’t know where to go. At the top of the hill, near the road, was a white farm house and around it, two boys were play fighting. They saw me and ran inside. Blaine soon emerged.
I walked up to him and he walked down to me. We shook hands and soon he walked me to the room where I’d be staying for the summer. It was in the Staff Building, on the first floor. I’d be sharing it with my co-worker, but he hadn’t arrived yet, so for now I had the room to myself. Blaine asked if I’d like to go swimming and so I went.
His son’s accompanied me and I took my camera, eager to catalog my summer. We splashed around until it started to get dark, then I remembered that my mother had asked me to call her so I drove back into town to buy a calling card.
Shell was the first gas station I came to. I remembered seeing it when I drove in. “A $20 phone card, please.” I asked the lady behind the counter. The attendant had trouble activating the card. It was late and I was tired. I was about to walk out when she finally got it work. She handed me the card and I gave her the money my mother had given me. It was dark now and I drove until I found a payphone on the side of the road. This one was on the other side of Main Street. It was quieter there than by the gas station. The smaller the town, the more people hang out at gas stations.
It rang once. “Hello?”
“Did you make it okay?”
“Yeah, I did. I had to go buy a phone card to call you. Sorry it’s so late.”
“That’s okay, thanks for calling. Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m okay for now. I should probably be getting back though.”
“Okay, love you. Thanks for calling.”
“Love you too, bye.” 18 minutes remained on the card.
The camp was 66 acres, the same number as there are books of the bible. It was a Christian camp, owned by a group of churches in the region. It had a president and a board which met once a month to make decisions and get a report from the manager, Jeff Dean. He and his family lived in the new home, just down the road from the old white farm house, but still on the same property. Jeff found a way to include his whole family in the workings of the camp. His mother was head cook. His wife worked in the office and his daughter worked in the kitchen. He also had a son named Chris.
The first time I met Chris, the first things I noticed were his cold blue eyes and his stark blond hair, which gleamed white in the sun. Blaine had warned me about Chris, that he was a little too much of a momma’s boy. He said Chris’s mom still wouldn’t let him take prescription medicine on his own, even though he was 21 years old. And he said that he’s seen Chris walking through the woods holding his younger sister’s hand as if they were a couple. The mother encouraged this behavior, he assured me. The whole family was strange, but the father was downright evil.
Blaine and Jeff were arch-rivals. Anything Jeff would ask Blaine to do, Blaine would do only after doing every other thing he could possibly think of to do instead. This was to drive Jeff crazy. In turn, Jeff would torture Blaine. At the end of the week, when all the campers had left and we were to clean up the entire camp, even more than usual, Jeff would come behind us with a white glove. If he found dust, we would have to redo entire floors until they were clean.
“This building was appraised for a million dollars,” he would say, “So it should look like a million dollars.”
The president of the camp was on the contrary, very off-handish and very nice. While not working on his presidential duties, Steve was the pastor at Contemporary Christian Church. Most of the people who volunteered at the camp as counselors went to Steve’s church and were former campers at the Christian camp. One of those volunteers was Ashley.
Ashley was the first visitor I ever had at camp. She wasn’t necessarily there to see me, just to see who was there and who wasn’t. It was late in the evening and no one else was around. She came in the back door of the Staff Building, through the laundry room, and into the doorway of my room.
“Hi, I’m Ashley,” she said smiling. She was very tan and very pretty. Her curly blond hair wrapped around her face accenting her kind blue eyes. “Is anyone else here, yet?”
“No, not yet, it’s just me so far,” I said, adding, “My name’s Erich.”
“Hi Erich,” she said, still smiling. “Where are you from?”
“Franklin, south of Indianapolis.”
“How did you find out about this camp?”
She must have known I’d never been a camper. “At school. Kelly told me about it actually.”
“I love Kelly!” she screamed. Her eyes lit up just at the mention of her name. “So you probably know Sara Beth, too then?”
“Yeah, when there’s only 500 students, you pretty much know everybody.”
“Hey, I’m kind of hungry and was craving some Taco Bell. Would you like to ride with me into town to get some?”
I tried not to get too excited when I answered, “Sure.” She drove a small four-door sedan that had any number of stickers and hanging objects in it. As she drove into town, I asked her where she was from.
“Berrien Springs. It’s north of here. Do you have a church to go to this Sunday?”
I hadn’t thought about it. “No, not yet.”
“You should come to my church. Most of the people who work at camp go there anyway. You’ll like it. What kind of music do you like?”
“Alternative mostly. Rock, I guess.” Music is so hard to define.
“Me too. I like a lot of Christian too. VIP comes every year to sing at camp. Do you like them?” VIP stood for Voices in Praise. It was a musical group at school. I didn’t like them at all. My first roommate was in it and we did not get along very well.
“They’re okay.” We got our food to go. On our way back it was completely dark and we mostly sat quietly eating until we got out of town and onto a stretch of highway that overlooked a field of young corn.
“Look!“ she exclaimed. “The lightning bugs!” The field was covered with flashing lightning bugs highlighting their positions in the sky, if ever so briefly. It was beautiful. It really was. I was glad to have seen it.
When we got back to camp, we both got out of the car. “It was nice meeting you,” I said.
“See you Sunday?”
“You better come!” she replied, ribbing me in the side. I grabbed her arm and gave her a hug. “Good night.”
“Night.” Crap. Night. I was supposed to call Jessica at 9:00.