A packed school bus parked in the driveway in front of the David Mansion, a large wooden cottage on the outskirts of the Yellow Woods. As soon as the door opened and several teachers and supervisors came out, all of the children rushed out, swarming the open green field in front of the cottage. The chatter and excitement filled the air - everyone was looking forward to their summer camp.
After the last year’s camp was a big success, both the kids and their teachers were keen to repeat the experience, but this time at a new location. The group consisted of around thirty kids, most of whom were thirteen years old. They all attended the same school at the nearby town of Port Alvin - a medium-sized town that used to be a famous international port. Over the course of the last century, as the trading routes got redirected to bigger cities, Port Alvin lost its trading significance. However, it still retained its charm that large metropolises lacked, which made it a desirable tourist destination.
The Yellow Woods was a rather large forest located about ten miles north of the town, named after the abundance of aspen trees and their distinct yellow and golden leaves in the autumn. More importantly, the forest was this year’s location for the school summer camp. Judging by the excitement on the first day, it promised to be another successful one.
Rushing along with his two best friends, Alex got out of the bus and joined the rest of his schoolmates outside. Although the teachers were trying to get everyone’s attention and bring some order into the group, the kids were too busy talking amongst each other and looking around, wondering what kinds of activities they’ll be doing for the next seven days.
“I bet we’re gonna go hiking. Maybe even climb all the way up there,” Richie said, pointing to one of the highest hills in the vicinity. He was always adventurous and full of energy, as if he overdosed on sugar - which wasn’t far from the truth on many days.
“Maybe we’ll see some bears!” Niall exclaimed. “Do you think there’s bears and wolves here?”
“I hope not,” Alex blurted out, wondering if his friend was insane. Why would he want to see bears and risk getting mauled? Seeing them on TV or in a zoo was one thing, but in person - no thanks!
“Why, are you scared?” Niall teased. He loved animals, perhaps a bit too much. Unfortunately, he was naive and failed to realize that most wild animals would not make for a good pet. He’d probably even welcome the opportunity to hug a python. Luckily, he’s never had such a chance so far.
“Um, no. But if there are bears and wolves, teachers probably wouldn’t let us run around and explore,” Alex said, hoping it was a good save.
The last thing I want is for my best friends to think I’m a coward. Ok, scratch that - the last thing I want is for them to find out I’m gay, Alex thought, but that was a secret he managed to keep hidden from everyone so far. After all, he only realized it recently, but he was still too scared to tell others. If anyone asks, I like girls, he thought. Even though I like boys… And there are some really cute boys in our school! Most of the guys on the soccer team, and also some of the nerdy guys I see in the library almost every day, Alex thought, daydreaming about his crushes. Too bad I’m too scared to make a move.
Alex knew there were a few out gay boys in his school, but they were several years older, so they probably felt braver. Who knows, maybe that would be me in a few years - when I grow up a bit, I’ll come out and won’t have to hide anymore. I just have to wait...
One of the camp instructors was telling them to go inside the cottage and leave their stuff, explaining the activities they’d be doing that day and when the lunch and dinner time were. Lost in his thoughts, Alex didn’t hear a word of it, only noticing something was going on when the kids suddenly started leaving.
“Hello, Earth to Alex!” Niall called out, waving a hand in front of Alex’s face. “Are you with us?”
“Huh, what?” Alex snapped out of it, noticing Niall’s fingers almost poking him in the face.
“Come on, we gotta move! Richie already went to pick us a room, we wanna stay together, right?”
“Yeah, sure!” Alex nodded, running along Niall toward the cottage.
Rushing past all the other kids, the two friends were inside in no time, trying to find where their third friend had gone.
The ground floor of the David Mansion had a large lobby, with a lounge to the right and a kitchen and dining area to the left. A hallway in the back led to several bedrooms. There were also two flights of wooden stairs leading to the upper floor, which contained most of the bedrooms and bathrooms.
As Niall and Alex scanned their surroundings, they saw Richie up on the railings, waving at them.
“Come on, guys, we’re here!”
“Coming!” Niall shouted, grabbing Alex by the hand. By the time they got up and barged into their room, Richie was already sitting at the top bunk bed, with his travel bag next to him.
“Sorry, guys, should’ve been faster,” Richie said happily, pleased that he got dibs on the top bed.
There were two bunk beds in the room, but the other top one was occupied by Charlie - a boy from Switzerland who moved to their school at the start of last year. Alex thought he was nice, although he didn’t speak much. Maybe he was shy, or maybe he was just self-conscious about his slight accent.
While Niall was ready to pout and complain about the beds, Alex didn’t mind it. In fact, he preferred the bottom bed and was the only person he knew who wasn’t obsessed with sleeping up top. He happily placed his bag on the bed below Richie’s, while Niall had to settle for sleeping below Charlie.
It took the boys a few minutes to unpack, and by that time, all the drama about the sleeping arrangements was forgotten and the boys were excited to go out and have fun.
Niall made sure his phone was fully charged so he could snap pictures of whatever animal he would find. Alex saw him tapping away on the screen and started chuckling. He knew what Niall was doing - deleting old pictures and music just to make sure he had enough memory. As Niall looked up to see what was so funny, Alex plopped down on the bed next to him and looked at his phone.
“Think you got enough memory? Will thirty gigs be enough?”
“Yeah, yeah, keep teasing! I’m gonna take horrible pics of you and post them on Facebook.”
“Ok, I’ll be good!” Alex promised, drawing a big grin out of his friend.
“So, guys, are you going down to have lunch?” Charlie asked.
“Is that now?” Richie asked, jumping down from his bed.
“Yeah, the teacher said to be down in… well, we’ve got five minutes,” Charlie replied, looking at the time on his phone.
“Sure, let’s go. I’m starving,” Alex said.
He usually wasn’t big on food, but being out in nature somehow always increased his appetite. He also hated eating alone, so having lunch with a bunch of his friends was an exciting prospect. Let’s just hope the food is better than in school cafeteria, he thought. The tasteless meat loaf and stale mac and cheese they served was something he wouldn’t even feed his dog.
Unsurprisingly, the lunch at the David Mansion easily surpassed the sad excuse for food at Alex’s school and he happily ate a bit of everything that was offered.
About an hour after lunch, all the kids, teachers and camp instructors were gearing up to go hiking. There were several hiking trails nearby, and it was decided they would be taking one of the easier ones, at least on the first day. It wasn’t long before everyone was back outside, ready to start.
Alex was in full hiking mode, with his favorite Spiderman backpack on his back. He wore it to school every day and today was no exception. The blue and red backpack complemented his blue shirt and grey shorts. Although he wasn’t much for fashion, he just loved the color blue. Whatever outfit he wore had to have at least one item in that color. It looked good on him, and it was a great match for his jet black hair.
Niall and Richie stood beside him, checking their phones, when one of the camp instructors came and called for their attention.
“Alright, everyone, we’re ready to start. We’re taking the easiest trail, up to the east hill. It should take us about an hour in each direction. I want everyone to pair up and go in an orderly line, sticking to your pair at all times. Ok?”
Everyone murmured their agreement and quickly found a pair. As Alex hopefully turned to his friends, he saw that Richie and Niall had already decided they would go together. Just great, Alex thought. Betrayed by my own best friends! Who am I gonna find now?
“Sorry, man,” Niall shrugged, with an apologetic look on his face.
“No worries,” Alex smiled. He wasn’t really angry at his friends. After all, it wasn’t their fault they were told to go in twos instead of threes.
Looking through the crowd, he tried to find Charlie and see if he wanted to go with him, but his eyes fell upon someone else. A boy he’d never seen before, skinny and pale, with curly blond hair and light freckles on his face. He stood alone, clutching his water bottle and awkwardly looking around.
He’s not from our school. At least I don’t think he is, Alex thought. Without a moment of hesitation, he approached the new boy and put on his best smile.
“Hey, I’m Alex!”
“Uh, hi… I’m Jeremy,” the boy said, making a crooked smile that Alex found endearing.
“Nice to meet you, Jeremy,” Alex replied, offering a hand, which Jeremy reluctantly shook. “Do you have a pair?”
“Cool, me neither! We could go together!”
“OK!” the boy said, his face lighting up.
“So, are you new to our school? I don’t remember seeing you around.”
“Uh, no, I don’t go to your school. My dad owns this cottage, so I kinda tagged along,” Jeremy said, shrugging. “I thought I’d stay and help dad, but he said I should go with the other kids.”
“Cool! You must come here often, then?”
“Not really. We live about four hours away and only come occasionally, when dad has tour groups like this. Sometimes he comes alone, though, and sometimes mom and sis come as well.”
“You have a sister? Me too!” Alex replied, excited to hear about all the other things they might have in common, and thrilled that he has made a new friend.
“Hey, come and meet my friends,” he said, dragging Jeremy over to where Richie and Niall stood. “Guys, this is Jeremy. This is Richie and Niall,” Alex said, pointing to each of the boys as he introduced them.
“Nice to meet you,” the two friends said, shaking hands and welcoming the new boy.
“Ok, boys and girls, does everyone have a pair?” one of the teachers asked.
When everyone yelled “Yes!” in unison, the teacher instructed them to form a line so they could start. With Richie and Niall in front of them, Alex and Jeremy stood next to each other, smiling nervously as they tried not to stare at each other.
As soon as everyone started moving, Alex seemed to have forgotten all about being nervous and lightly nudged Jeremy with his elbow, making him chuckle.
“So, how old are you?” Alex asked. He never had problems making friends and was glad the new guy agreed to go together with him.
“Same! So if you went to our school, maybe we’d be together in class.”
“Yeah, I guess. At least you’ve got Richie and Niall,” Jeremy replied, his voice trailing off.
“I’m sure you have a best friend at your school, right?”
“Um, I did…”
“Oh, what happened?” Alex asked out of curiosity as much as concern.
“Uh, can we talk about something else?” Jeremy replied.
Alex could see he made him uncomfortable and he cursed himself for putting a foot in his mouth. He was so pumped to have made a new friend and the last thing he wanted was to scare him off.
“Sorry, no problem! People tell me I talk too much,” Alex chuckled. “My sister doesn’t even want to watch movies with me anymore because I talk all the way through. Or sing, depending on what we’re watching.”
“Really, you can sing?” Jeremy asked with a laugh.
“No,” Alex grinned, shaking his head. “But that doesn’t stop me.”
“My little sis is the same. When we watch something, it has to be complete silence. Even if it’s something like Tangled, which she’s seen a hundred times and knows all the words to.”
“Tell me about it! Now I watch everything on my computer, and I let her have the TV in the living room,” Alex nodded and saw Jeremy making his signature crooked smile again.
That was enough to make Alex start to blush, butterflies going crazy in his belly.
Too bad he doesn’t go to our school, he’d be a great fourth member of our team, he thought, imagining himself hanging out with Jeremy every day after school. We could ride bikes together, play video games on my Xbox and PS, or play soccer with Niall and Richie.
As if he knew what his new friend was thinking, Jeremy asked: “So, do you play any video games?”
“Yes,” Alex grinned. That was one of his favorite topics, something he could talk about for hours without getting bored. “I love Zelda…”
“Me too! Link is awesome,” Jeremy blurted out.
“Yeah, he is! I also love Minecraft and Plants vs Zombies.”
“Cool, I play Minecraft sometimes. Have you tried Subnautica?”
“No, what’s it about?”
“It’s this cool open-world survival game. You go around exploring the ocean, collecting stuff, driving submarines… I love it,” Jeremy said, his face lighting up in excitement.
“Sounds like a lot of fun, I’ll check it out!”
The rest of the hike up the hill, the two boys who didn’t even know each other half an hour ago chatted happily as if they’ve been friends for years.
Once they reached their target and climbed all the way up to the hill, they sat down on the grass to have a snack. Everyone started unzipping their backpacks or bags, pulling out sandwiches, pretzels or whatever other snacks they brought.
Alex was sitting next to Jeremy, happy to share his snacks with his new friend. He wasn’t sure why, but the simple pastries with sesame his mom packed for him had never tasted so delicious. Even Jeremy seemed to agree, asking for seconds. Alex smiled and realized he was truly enjoying himself. He knew the trip would be good, but he didn’t know it’d be THIS good.
“So, did you watch the new Spider-Man?” he asked, lying down on his jacket he used as a blanket.
He looked up at the sky and watched the clouds, when Jeremy suddenly dropped down and lay beside him. Alex was glad the boy was feeling more relaxed than when they first met.
“Yeah, I did, it was awesome! I see you’re a big fan,” Jeremy replied, pointing at Alex’s backpack.
“Yeah, he’s my favorite superhero.”
“Cool. Mine is Aquaman, I think he’s really unique.”
“Wow, Aquaman and Subnautica. You have a thing for water, huh?”
“I guess,” Jeremy chuckled. “It’s a cool world down there, so different than here on land.”
“Yeah, it is. It can get scary, though. I don’t like diving,” Alex admitted.
“I haven’t tried it yet, maybe when I’m older.”
“So would you like to be a swimmer or a lifeguard or something when you grow up?”
Jeremy laughed, which surprised Alex. He wondered if he asked a stupid question.
“Sorry, it’s just that it’s so different from what I want to be.”
“If I tell you, promise not to laugh?”
“I promise,” Alex said. “Scout’s honor.”
“Ok. I wanna be a chef, have my own restaurant.”
“Well that’s not funny, why would I laugh? I think that’s awesome!” Alex nodded, happy that his friend decided to confide in him.
“Yeah? I wanna learn how to cook and bake and everything,” Jeremy said.
He loved watching cooking shows on TV and seeing how professional chefs prepare and arrange their meals, making works of art out of them. It seemed so fun and he was sure he wanted to learn how to do it and be the best!
“Well you should!” Alex confirmed, smiling. It was simple from where he stood - if he wanted to do something, why shouldn’t he?
It wasn’t long before the two boys were joined by Richie and Niall, and the four decided to go and explore. After spending some more time walking around the area and taking photos, everyone headed back to the cottage just in time for dinner.
It was their fourth day at the summer camp and as the sun slowly set, making way for the night, most of the kids gathered around in a large clearing behind the cottage. A large campfire was being prepared, and while some kids wanted to help, others were still trying to take advantage of the last rays of sun and play. Richie and Niall were in that second group, throwing a frisbee back and forth. It was bright yellow, so it was clearly visible even under the faint evening light.
Alex and Jeremy were in the third group of kids who just sat around on logs that were placed around the campfire to be used as benches. During these four days, Alex had spent as much time with Jeremy as he did with his two best friends. They didn’t mind it though, which Alex was glad to see. He would’ve hated it if Richie and Niall didn’t get along with Jeremy, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
“So, you never told me what you wanna be when you grow up?” Jeremy asked, suddenly remembering their conversation from their first day at the camp.
The question caught Alex unprepared and got him thinking. He wasn’t even sure. Not that he didn’t think about it, he just didn’t know. Like, how am I supposed to decide so early? I’m only thirteen! I like playing soccer, video games, riding bikes… But do I want to do that for a living? I have absolutely no clue!
“Hmmm, I don’t even know,” he chuckled. “Maybe a soccer player? Or something to do with computers?”
“You’d be a great soccer player!” Jeremy nodded enthusiastically.
“Yeah?” Alex smiled.
“Yeah, I’ve seen you play these days. I mean, I don’t know much about soccer, but you seem really good at it.”
“Thanks,” Alex giggled, feeling he was about to blush. Why am I suddenly blushing all the time lately? Maybe it’s a medical condition, he thought. So weird...
Tired from their frisbee throwing, Richie and Niall came over to join them and Alex scooted over closer to Jeremy in order to make room for his two other friends.
One of the camp instructors had just started the campfire, creating a nice atmosphere for everyone.
As they ate their roasted marshmallows, the four boys chatted, making plans for tomorrow. Even though Alex was looking forward to all the games and activities they had lined up, he couldn’t help the sadness he felt somewhere deep inside. He knew they only had a few more days left, after which they would go back home, and Jeremy would return to his hometown.
Why couldn’t he come back with us and go to our school? It sucks that he’s so far away. I’m going to miss him a lot, Alex thought. I wonder if he’ll miss me when he goes back home.
“Hey, are you with us?” a friendly voice and a hand on his shoulder interrupted Alex from his thoughts. He turned and saw Jeremy with an amused look in his blue eyes.
“Oh, yeah, I was just thinking about something. What were you guys saying?”
“I asked what your favorite Ninja Turtle was?” Jeremy smiled, taking a bite of his marshmallow.
“Oh.. That would have to be Michelangelo,” Alex nodded. “He is super fun and I love all of his catchphrases!”
“Same here,” Richie nodded and fistbumped Alex.
“But Leo has the best color - blue,” Alex quickly added.
“Mine’s Donatello. He knows how to make all those gadgets,” Niall said. “What about yours?”
“Umm, mine’s Raphael, he’s such a smartass,” Jeremy said. “Always has a comeback for everything.”
“Yeah, that’s true. April is hot, though,” Richie added, making everyone laugh. “Well, she is!”
By the time the night had fully set in, everyone was in their tents, ready to spend the night outside. It was a warm summer night, with just a bit of a breeze to keep it from being too hot. The kids were once again divided into pairs, with each pair having their own tent. Niall and Richie shared one tent, while Alex and Jeremy happily decided to share another.
Each in their sleeping bag, the boys were still too excited from all the happenings during the day to be able to fall asleep so fast.
“How are you liking it here so far?” Jeremy asked, keeping his voice down to a whisper.
“It’s awesome, I love it,” Alex replied. “What about you?”
“Same here. I’m glad I came.”
Everything went quiet as Alex thought about whether to say what was on his mind or not. In the end, he decided to go for it.
“I’m gonna miss you,” he whispered even more quietly.
“I’ll miss you too,” Jeremy replied, making Alex smile. He was so happy to hear that, yet sad at the same time. “We can still chat on Facebook, right?”
“Of course, man,” Alex nodded.
He didn’t want to lose Jeremy as a friend, and if texting was all they could do to keep in touch, then that’s what they would do.
He couldn’t sleep at all. Minutes were passing and all he could hear was the crickets outside and Jeremy’s slow and steady breathing inside. He was already asleep, but Alex still stared at the tent above his head, thinking… Eventually, sleep came to him slowly, and without even realizing it, he was out for the night.
After their lunch on the seventh day, everyone was ready to go back home. Not that they didn’t have a good time, but being in nature for seven straight days was a bit too much for kids accustomed to a more urban environment.
Even Alex was itching to get back to the comfort of his big room, with his computer and consoles. He had said goodbye to Jeremy just before lunch, once again promising to keep in touch. Going up to his room with Richie and Niall, he packed his stuff and waited with his friends in the hall.
Teachers came around to remind everyone to double check their rooms to make sure they didn’t forget anything. Of course, some of the kids promptly ran back, remembering they had left their phones, shirts and other stuff.
Finally, after everyone was ready, the teachers led them outside and into the bus. Taking a window seat, Alex looked outside in the direction of the big cottage, trying to see if there was any sign of Jeremy. He knew Jeremy would be inside, helping his dad get everything in order, but he still hoped to see him again, at least take a glance at him while he was taking out the trash or something.
Moments later, a big grin spread across his face as he saw the curly-haired boy running outside. Their eyes locked and Jeremy waved at him vigorously, with the familiar crooked smile on his freckled face.
Alex immediately waved back, his eyes never leaving the boy.
The engine revved and the bus started moving, but the boys never stopped staring at each other, until the vehicle drove off into the distance, taking the kids back home.
Thank you everyone for reading and starting this new journey with me, I hope it will be fun!
I'm looking forward to hearing your reactions and comments!