The sun had set, leaving a golden-reddish hue on the western horizon. The crackling sounds of the campfire beckoned the staff to gather to its warmth and beauty.
Scooter had kept herself busy and warm by building the campfire. Once the task was completed, she found herself sitting near the flames to ward off the cool night air. In her rush from the shelter, Scooter had neglected to grab a sweatshirt or change from shorts to jeans. Her arms were wrapped around her legs as she tried to retain body heat.
You are such an idiot. First you want Shadow to trust you and open up, and next thing you're running away from her. Way to send mixed signals.
Her scar hurt, although she knew that was psychosomatic. The wound had been healed for over three years. No matter where she went or what she did, the scar was a constant reminder. A reminder that her own family believed her attacker and not her. A reminder that she was disowned by her family. A reminder that she was not truly worthy of anyone's love.
She was so deep in her dark thoughts that she never heard the woman approach. Shadow sat down next to her, close enough that their arms brushed.
"I'm sorry. I have no idea what I've done to upset you so badly, but I'm really sorry. I never want to hurt you, Scooter."
Tears rolled down the blonde's cheeks and landed in drops on her arms. She could barely speak; her voice cracked in the attempt. "It's not you, Shadow. I'm sorry I ran, but I didn't know what else to do."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I can't. It's not that I don't want to " Her body was wracked with sobs and she found it impossible to speak as her throat tightened.
Shadow looked around and noticed that some of the staff were watching their exchange She glanced at her watch; it was 8:27 P.M. "Scooter, come with me." Shadow stood and extended her hand to the still sitting figure. Scooter took the firm hand and was pulled up.
"First, let's get you warm." She pulled her Oregon State sweatshirt off over her head. "Put this on."
Another chill ran through her body and Scooter gratefully slid the warm sweatshirt on over her torso.
"We've got about a half an hour till we need to be back for training. Let's go somewhere away from the group." Shadow turned on her flashlight as they walked off towards the docks.
Scooter had managed to get her crying down to a steady trickle of tears, accompanied by an occasional hiccup. They sat on the dock, close together, but not as close as before.
"I didn't mean to make you cry by asking if you wanted to talk. But, I'm willing to listen if you want to share."
Scooter stared out over the water. A crescent moon had risen and the lake gently sparkled in lunar reflections She looked across the bay at the camp. It was dark except for the exterior lights of the lodge. She inhaled deeply and tried to calm her mind and soul.
"It's not something I talk about." Her tears had stopped and she could feel the walls build around her heart as she protected herself from further pain. She's just being polite. She doesn't really want to know about your problems.
"Okay, I understand." Shadow's lie caused her own walls to rebuild brick by brick. She doesn't want to get close to you, Shadow, so just let it go. Women, sheesh!
They remained there in silence
until Shadow stood and turned to the blonde. "Time to go." The lifeguard reached
out her hand to the wrangler, who took it and helped her to her feet. They lingered
in the touch before they both gently pulled away.
The staff members were gathered around the fire. Some sat on logs, while others were on the ground. The flickering flames cast shadows across their faces. All turned their attention to Silver who stood on a tree stump.
"Hello again, thanks for being back on time. Jojo is passing out graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars so that those who would like to can make S'mores. There are five metal sticks to roast your marshmallows on. "
The crinkling of paper wrappers could be heard as each person received her candy bar. Five of the staff members took metal sticks and slide the uncooked marshmallows over the pointed ends. Soon the smell of wood smoke tinged with burnt marshmallows wafted through the air.
"Tonight is going to be fairly mellow. You have all been working very hard, so tonight is a good chance to relax and hang out with each other. There is an 11:00 quiet hour. You can stay up later if you'd like, but you need to keep your voices down so those who want to can go to sleep."
Pony and Shadow sat some distance away from the fire and were hidden in the darkness of the night. Shadow had looked around to see if she could spot Scooter, but without her flashlight her search was in vain.
Scooter was huddled with Pax and Crew. Her chocolate bar didn't last long enough to become part of the S'more. She crumpled up the wrapper and tucked it in her short's pocket. Her mind focused on the oversized sweatshirt that she was wearing. She found a guilty pleasure in inhaling the scents that lingered on the fabric. A combination of musk and raspberry, the scent was uniquely Shadow.
She shifted her body and realized her left foot had fallen dead asleep. Oh, this is going to hurt. She flexed the numb appendage and felt the needlelike pain shoot through her foot. Ow. Okay, not fun. She stood up and gingerly set weight on her left leg. Scooter moved to the back of the group and walked around until her foot felt normal again. Rather than cause another interruption by returning to her spot, she stayed where she was.
The camp director continued. "Last thing I want to talk about is the fire watch schedule. As staff members, we will each take a half-hour shift at some point throughout the night. Your job is to keep the fire going, but I would encourage you to take this time to think about what you have learned so far and what you want to get out of this summer job experience."
"Obviously, some of you will have shifts in the middle of the night. This fire watch is a service project for each other, so keep that in mind if you pull the 3:30 A.M. watch. Spike has a baseball hat that has papers with the various times listed. Once you are dismissed for the night, come pick a piece of paper out of the hat, then go to Pepper and tell her your assignment. When your watch is about five minutes from being over, quietly go wake the next shift's staff members. Okay, that's all I have. Let's stand and sing Taps, and then you are dismissed. The administrative staff will be around about 10:00 for Hug Patrol. See you then."
Shadow leaned over to Pony. "What's Hug Patrol?"
"Another camp tradition. They'll come around and ask if you want a hug, handshake or E.T."
"And an E.T, is ?"
"You know, from the movie. You touch fingertips like E.T. and Elliot did."
"What's the point in that?"
"Well, with the campers, it allows the staff to check on them and tuck them in at night, but allows the camper to decide the level of physical contact. The counselors go around as a group each night to the kids in their program. Hug Patrol let's them say good night and have some contact with each kid."
"Do most kids want hugs?"
"Depends on the kid. Most of them start out the first night asking for an E.T. or handshake. But, as the week goes on and they spend time with their counselors, most eventually ask for a hug."
"What if they never want a hug?"
Pony cocked her head and looked towards her friend in the darkness. "Then they aren't forced." Are you talking about the kids now, or yourself?
"So, they're not going to make me hug them?"
"Not if you don't want to. It's your choice."
"Let's go get our fire watch assignments." Pony stood and reached her arm down to her friend. Shadow grasped the woman's forearm as she felt herself being to stand.
Spike held the Seattle Mariners baseball hat as staff filed by and pulled their folded squares of paper from the cap.
Pony reached in first. Spike's flashlight illuminated the writing. "11:00-11:30 P.M. Great, that means I can sleep through the night."
Shadow was next to pull. "3:30-4:00. Figures."
They walked to Pepper and gave her their assignments.
"Well, Shadow, I think I am going to stay awake until my shift is done."
"Yeah, and I'd better try to get some shut eye so I can get up in the middle of the friggin' night. See ya in the morning, Pony."
As Shadow neared her shelter, she noticed the glow of a flashlight from beneath the tarp. Who in the universe did I piss off to get the zero dark hour shift?
"Hey, Shadow. Wanna come brush your teeth with Pax and me? We're heading to the biff and then we'll wash up."
"Yeah, hang on." Shadow knelt and quickly foraged through her backpack for her toothbrush.
The sleeping bag next to hers had a lump, and she realized that Scooter must have gone to bed. The gentle breathing from beneath the bag affirmed that the lifeguard was already asleep. Wonder what time she has fire watch.
She grabbed her gear and headed out to join up with the other two lifeguards.
"What time do you have to do
the fire watch, Shadow?"
"Three-thirty to four."
"Oh, same as Pax. That sucks. Not that you'll be on watch together, but that you have it in the middle of the friggin' night. I lucked out; I have the six-thirty to seven shift. "
"Well then Princess Crew will be able to get her beauty rest." Pax teased the tall blond.
"Yeah, but I think I'm on the same shift as Spirit. Now, that really sucks."
"Why?" Shadow had seen the curly haired counselor during the training but knew little about her.
"Hang on." They walked until Crew was sure they were out of earshot from the rest of the staff. "She's a real bitch. I don't think the admin. staff know, but she has some serious issues."
"I overheard her when I passed by her tent one night. She was talking to someone else and saying that she was going to find out who all the lesbians on staff were and cause trouble for them."
"What kind of trouble?" Shadow's eyes narrowed.
"I didn't hear. But the point is she's bad news. And now I get to spend half an hour alone with her."
Pax poured water out of her canteen onto her toothbrush. "Well, watch your back, Crew."
"Nah, I'm not worried. If she's got a problem with me, she can go fuck herself."
Shadow choked on her toothpaste as she sharply inhaled.
"Oh, come on, Shadow. Don't tell me you have a problem with me being gay." Crew challenged as Pax passed the canteen to Shadow.
"No, it's not that." The wrangler took a long drink and caught her breath. "Sorry, I just didn't expect you to say she should 'go screw herself.'
Crew relaxed and allowed her hands to flex open and shut as she tried to loosen the tensed muscles. "Sorry, Shadow, it's just that sometimes I don't know how people will react. I just assumed you'd already figured it out."
"Oh." Shadow was at a loss for words.
"Come on, guys. I need to get back so I can get some sleep." Pax cut the awkward silence.
Shadow walked in the middle of the trio. It's so not a problem, but Crew doesn't believe me. Okay, what to do .
She put her arm around Crew's shoulders. "Thanks for telling me, Buddy. You're right, I'd already figured out that you're family."
"Okay, glad it's out in the open then."
"Let me know if you need any help kicking Spirit's ass."
Crew laughed at the comment.
"Thanks, Friend. You'll be the first to know."
Shadow awoke with a start. She realized that Spike was at the edge of the shelter peering in.
"Scooter. Wake up. It's time for your shift."
A groan from beneath the sleeping bag was the only response.
Shadow yawned as she spoke. "I'm awake. I'll get her up. What time is it?"
"Two fifty-five. She has the three o'clock fire shift."
"Okay, I'll send her out."
Spike walked away into the darkness, her flashlight the only light that Shadow could see. She turned to wake the blond.
"Scooter." There was no response
She tried again, this time a little louder. "Scooter."
When she only received a whimper in reply, she leaned over and reached out to gently shake the lifeguard.
At the slight touch, Scooter jumped. "Huh? What? Who are you?"
"Shhhhh. It's Shadow." She quickly reached over and put her hand on Scooter's mouth, trying to keep her from waking the rest of the shelter group. She realized her mistake when she felt a sharp pain course through her hand.
"You bit me!" She loudly whispered. Shadow brought her hand to her own mouth and sucked on her sore fingers.
Scooter was now wide-awake and coherent. "Oh, God, I am so sorry."
"S'okay." Shadow mumbled. "It's time for your shift."
"But, your hand "
"Will be fine. Wake me in half an hour, my shift is next."
"Alright." Scooter realized that she was still wearing the wrangler's sweatshirt. "Mind if I still borrow your sweatshirt?"
"No, go ahead. See ya in half an hour."
Scooter crawled over Shadow as she exited the shelter.
Well, there's no way I can
The flames crackled and snapped with new life as Scooter added another branch to the fire. She was relieved when she looked up and saw Jojo walking towards her. The groggy cook sat down on a log and stretched her arms over her head as she yawned.
"God, it's early. How ya doing, Scoot?"
"Well, considering I just bit Shadow, I'm not bad."
"You did what?" Jo laughed at her friend.
"Well, she startled me when she woke me up, so I yelled and she covered my mouth and I bit her." The blond admitted with chagrin. She sat next to Jo on the log. "I didn't know it was her. I just reacted." Her foot had managed to dislodge a small rock that had been imbedded in the ground. She gave it a hard kick and sent it flying into the darkness.
"She doesn't know much about you, does she?"
"You should tell her."
"Tell her what?" Scooter's voice became defensive.
Jo placed a hand on Scooter's arm. "Tell her whatever you are comfortable letting her know. She seems like a nice person and someone who could be a great friend for you. I know it isn't easy for you to open up, but I think it would be worth the risk."
"Look, she's not gonna want to be friends with damaged goods."
"What the hell are you talking about? You're not damaged goods." Jo had never heard the lifeguard sound so self-depreciating.
"Jo, I don't want to talk about it, but something happened in my life three years ago and everything's changed now."
"You think I'm an idiot?" Jo quickly became indignant. "You think I don't know what happened just because you never talked about it?"
The lifeguard stood and walked a short distance. Jo wasn't about to let Scooter shut her out, so she walked and stood next to the blond. Scooter turned to hide her tears from the cook, but Jo moved so she could face her. She reached up and wiped the tears that were streaming down Scooter's face.
"Scooter, I've known you long enough and well enough to know that you were badly hurt. I'm sorry that your sister's husband attacked you, but it is not your fault."
Scooter started to shake so Jo wrapped her arm around the lifeguard's shoulder and hugged her. Scooter turned into the hug and allowed Jo to hold her as she cried.
They stood like that until Scooter could speak again. "Jo, he didn't just attack me, he raped me. " Her voice had become distant. "Then he threatened to hurt my sister and her unborn child." She pulled her sweats down far enough to expose an angry scar that ran the length of her stomach. "He left me a nice reminder to keep my mouth shut."
"Oh, Sweetie. I don't know why
he hurt you, but you know you're safe here, right?"
"Underneath your armor, you are still the good, sweet, warm, funny friend that I love. There are so many people who care about you, Honey. Don't keep shutting us out. And don't stop letting people into your life because one bastard hurt you."
"I can't help it, Jo. I don't want to be hurt "
"I know, Scoot. Thanks for finally sharing what really happened. You're right, I didn't know the whole story."
"I haven't told you everything, Jo." They walked back over and sat on the log. "I told my dad what happened. He didn't believe me. As far as my family is concerned, I don't exist." The tears flowed again. "I never even got to see my nephew. Oh, God. This is ridiculous." She wiped her tears with Shadow's sweatshirt. "I've cried more today that I have in a year."
"Sometimes, we just need a good cry to get things out of our system." As Jo comforted Scooter, she felt like a hypocrite knowing that she hated to cry and avoided it at all costs.
They watched the fire dance as they added more fuel. The flames consumed the branches and twigs. "We better get the next shift up so we can go back to sleep." Scooter added a large log to the pit and watched as the bark caught fire.
"I know Pax is next, who else is with her?" Jo checked the emergency water bucket to make sure no critters had fallen in when she and Scooter weren't looking. There was a stick in the bucket in case a small animal did fall in. The animal could crawl out using the stick, which was a better alternative than drowning.
"Shadow is up next. She asked me to wake her. I'll get them both up. Goodnight, Jo. Thanks for listening. Would you do me a favor and keep what we talked about between us? I really don't like to be the subject of gossip and this would definitely be grist for the gossip mill."
"You know I'd never betray your confidence, Scooter. Thank you again for talking to me. Hug, Handshake or E.T.?"
"Aw, Jo." She pulled the cook
in for a fierce hug. "Goodnight, my friend."
Once Scooter had woken Pax, she went to the other side of the shelter to wake Shadow. Pax woke and quickly left to use the biff before her shift started.
She dimmed her flashlight so she wouldn't blind Shadow and knelt down to wake her In the muted light she could see that the woman was sound asleep, her injured hand cradled by her other.
"Shadow." She waited. "Shadow." Blue eyes snapped open and focused on the lifeguard. "You're not here to bite me again, are you?"
"No." She blushed, grateful for the darkness. "It's time to wake up for your fire watch."
"Oh, right. Thanks." She opened her canteen and took a long drink of cool water. "That's better. Can I have my sweatshirt back?"
Scooter tried to hide her disappointment. She felt safe when she was wearing it, despite the Oregon State logo that was plastered on the front.
"Sure." As she pulled the sweatshirt off, Scooter inhaled deeply to catch one last whiff of musk and raspberries
"Thanks, it's the only one I
have with me and I want to stay warm." She slid it on, noticing that it had
a pleasant scent that reminded her of Scooter. I should offer her my clothes
"Okay, gotta go. See ya in the morning, Scooter."
Scooter burrowed down into her
sleeping bag, trying to regain some of the body heat that had vanished with
the loss of the sweatshirt. She was asleep within a minute, her fragile soul
exhausted from the chat with Jo.
Shadow padded over to the fire pit where Pax was sitting. She carefully avoided the pinecones and rocks that littered the ground.
Pax glanced up when she heard Shadow approach and patted the log to encourage the wrangler to sit beside her.
"How ya doing, Shadow?"
Shadow rubbed her still sore hand. "Not bad. So, what are we supposed to do for half an hour?"
"We keep the fire going and talk to keep each other awake. What happened to your hand?"
"Oh, nothing. Must have slept on it wrong."
Pax took her hand and examined it by firelight. "You must have bit yourself, too. There are teeth marks. " She remarked wryly. " You should be more careful when you sleep." She smirked at the wrangler.
"What really happened?" Pax was amused and more than a little curious.
"Scooter bit me. Are you satisfied?"
"Ha! What did you do to make her bite you?"
Shadow described the incident to Pax.
"Shadow, I know Scooter is hard to get to know, and there's a lot she hasn't told you about herself and her life. But, if you are patient with her and get her to trust you, I know it will be worth it."
Shadow sat quietly, a thousand questions streaming through her head. Only one came forth from her mouth. "How did she get the scar on her stomach?"
"How do you know about the scar?"
"I saw it. It was an accident She didn't mean for me to see it and when she realized I had, she ran away."
Pax watched the fire dance in the darkness. Do I tell her anything?
She decided to take a small risk. "About three years ago, Scooter was very badly hurt by a family member. The scar is from then."
"Is there anything I can do to help her?" Shadow took a small risk of her own.
"Just be patient. Let her know you want to be her friend and don't be discouraged if she sometimes pushes you away." Pax blew out a breath. "She does that to all of us when she hurts."
"Okay. I'll try. But I'm not real good with people. What if I muck it up?"
Pax put her hand on top of Shadow's. "You're fine with people, Shadow. And if you don't run, she'll come back. Camp is a great place to learn to work with people. It's also a place where you will find lifetime relationships. Hang in there, for both your sakes."
Shadow didn't pull her hand away. This was the first time anyone had told her that she wasn't bad with people. A sense of relief washed over her She realized that she had not screwed things up with the blond lifeguard and that Pax had given her important clues on how to become closer to Scooter. Now the only question is, am I willing to let someone get close to me?
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