The smell of cookies baking wafted into the living room where the staff had all gathered for the morning meeting. Shadow had been one of the first to arrive. Wonder if she really looks for me. She folded a piece of paper and sailed the airplane across the room. Another person picked up the new toy and tossed it. The game had begun.

Five minutes later, the door opened and the three lifeguards came inside. As Scooter's eyes adjusted to the darkness, she scanned the room. There she is. She caught sight of the tall wrangler, and then refocused her thoughts on her conversation with Crew. She, Pax and Crew sat against the side wall near the fireplace.

The administrative staff arrived with their arms full of boxes and paperwork. They settled the load next to the picnic table and grabbed their clipboards and sat down

"Welcome back, everybody. I trust you enjoyed your break." Silver surveyed the staff. They look tired, but at least no one looks hungover.

"We have a couple of things to go over before I turn you loose. Your open house assignments are listed on the sheet Spike is handing out."

Scooter took the paper from Spike and checked assignments. The lifeguards were to guard the people who took their turns in the paddleboats. Gonna be a long day. The kitchen staff was responsible for serving cookies and punch in the dining room and the wrangling staff would be at the barn. Darn, guess that means I won't see Shadow all day. Some of the counselors were going to be tour guides for the campers and their families. Others would help with parking or be down at the waterfront.

"Open House runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You need to be on task the entire time. At 3 politely encourage our visitors to leave. If you have any questions, ask Spike after this meeting."

Silver opened the large cardboard box that was sitting beside her on the picnic table. "And now for the moment you have all been waiting for."

She pulled out navy blue polo shirts. "I hope you appreciate the fact that this year's shirts are not fluorescent." Scooter laughed as she remembered the fiasco from the previous summer. Silver had ordered plum colored shirts; they had received hot pink. We looked like giant bubblegum snow cones.

Pepper and Spike handed out shirts. Everyone pulled them on over the top they were already wearing. On the front upper left of the uniform there was a three-inch multi-colored embroidery of the camp logo: four trees and a sailboat.

Shadow mussed her long black hair as struggled to draw her new shirt over her head. Did they make this shirt for pygmies?

Pony laughed as she nudged Shadow. "Works better if you unbutton the top button first." Shadow took the shirt off and sheepishly undid the button before putting it back on.

The shirt fit well. As Shadow looked down at the logo she felt a sense of belonging. No longer a loner, she was part of a team. A team that accepted Shadow but expected her to be a part of them. Well, all right. I'm okay with that.

Shadow looked around the room: The director and assistant director. They look tired. The nurse. Koko seems nice. And calm as ever. The waterfront staff. A smile graced Shadow's face as she watched her three new friends.

Scooter caught her eye, and returned a bashful smile.

Scooter, Pax and Crew. Who would've known I could make such good friends in such a short amount of time. Has it only been a week?

She watched Spike laugh at something Pepper said to her. Being program director must be fun. The assistant camp director's face relaxed and she didn't seem as tired once Spike put her arm around her in a quick hug.

The kitchen staff was standing in the back of the room. Jo would occasionally leave the room and return in a few minutes. Must be checking the cookies. Shadow thought of the continual flow of food that was delivered from the kitchen to the staff.

Once the campers come, that's got to be a lot of hard work, cooking everyday for a hundred and fifty people. And they usually seem pretty happy. I think I would last about, oh, a day.

Shadow continued her observations. Good thing they hired Doodle for arts & crafts. I'd have glued my fingers together by now.

The majority of the forty women were camp counselors. Being in charge of kids, 24/7 for a week at a time. They must really like children. Most of them seem too young to be in charge of campers. Look at them, the majority are whatÖeighteen? I'm an old woman compared to them. And I'm only twenty-six.

But, overall, we're a good bunch. And I'm part of this motley crew. Shadow nodded her head, smiled and put her arm around Pony's shoulders.

She didn't miss the look of surprise on Pony's face. Who the hell are you? And what have you done with Shadow? Way to go, Shad. I knew you'd come around.

She returned the gesture, and for the first time in the three years they had known each other, the two women embraced.

Scooter straightened her collar and tucked the polo into her tan shorts. Nice. I like the logo's colors this year. Now we look like a staff. And the navy blue won't show the dirt. That's a bonus.

Before addressing the group, Silver had put on her own shirt. "This is your staff shirt. You need to wear it today during Open House and any other time you are in contact with parents. So, first and last days of each weekly session make sure you show up in your clean staff shirt and tan shorts. You only get one, so take care of it. It's yours to keep when camp is finished.

And, just as important as your staff shirt, are your staff ties." Pepper reached into the paper bag and drew out pieces of material that were an inch wide and two feet long. The fabric was red with small silver stars.

Pony looked over to catch Pax's attention. She mouthed, "Let's talk".

Pax nodded her head in understanding.

Pepper took one staff tie and placed it around the back of her neck. "Camp tradition says that you cannot knot your own tie. You must ask someone else to do it for you. This is a little tricky so Spike will demonstrate."

Spike took one end of Pepper's tie and wrapped it twice around her own left hand. She took the other end and weaved it over and under, pulling it through the loop until a four-sided knot was formed.

"This is called the friendship knot. It binds us together as friends, as a staff, as one."

"As I said, you can't do this by yourself. Ask a friend, or a person you admire, or someone you hope to become closer to during the summer."

Most of the staff stood and immediately sought out the one person they had chosen.

Shadow remained seated and pondered her dilemma. Pony, you brought me here and we're closer for it. Pax, Crew, both of you have become good friends. I would be honored if one of you did the knot. ScooterÖ She looked at the blond who was in the process of knotting Pax's tie. If I have to pick only one...

Pony approached her and held the material towards Shadow. "Will you knot my tie, Friend?"

She made a near perfect knot in Pony's staff tie. Pony tugged on it to straighten the knot. Shadow looked at her friend and made a decision. But before she could ask, Pony cut her off.

"Handshake, hug or E.T.?"

"Um, hug?"

Pony smiled, and then wrapped her arms around Shadow, who didn't hesitate in hugging her back.

"Pony, will you knot my staff tie?" She offered the material to her friend.

"No, I won't."

"What? Why not?"

Pony moved aside to let Pax approach. "Because Pony asked me to do it."

Shadow was truly confused. I thought it was my choice, I mean Pax is one of the one's I would have asked butÖ

"Okay, then Pax, will you knot my tie?"

"Of course, I would love to."

Pony went over to Scooter and knotted the lifeguard's tie.

Pax looked up into Shadow's eyes. "Handshake, hug or E.T., Shadow?"

"Ummm, a hug."

And for the third time that day, she was embraced. Again, she returned the hug.

"You give nice hugs." Pax stepped back and straightened Shadow's tie.

"Really? Thanks."

Pony whispered in Scooter's ear, took the lifeguard by the hand, and led her over to Shadow and Pax.

Scooter stood in front of Shadow and removed her staff tie. "Trade me?"

Shadow was perplexed. How could I have totally misunderstood Pepper's directions? It seemed so simple.

"Okay, help me out here. I thought we were supposed to choose one person. Pepper didn't say anything about all of this."

Scooter shyly smiled. "Since we have all become close this past week, I couldn't decide who I wanted. So, Pony tied mine, Pax tied yours and if you and I trade, it will make the circle complete."

"So, it isn't always this complicated?" Shadow asked as she removed her tie.

Pax laughed,"Well, with Scooter, things are always complicated. But, no, the process is usually straightforward."

Shadow leaned down so that Scooter could place the tie around the wrangler's head. The blond tucked the material under Shadow's collar and straightened the knot.

Shadow returned the favor as she took her own tie and pulled it over Scooter's head. "Handshake, hug or E.T.?"

Without responding, the blond wrapped her arms tightly around Shadow's waist.

She gives great hugs.
Shadow gently rested her chin on Scooter's head. So, this is what it's like to let someone in.

The access road gate into Camp Echo was locked. Outside the gate, three women in tan shorts and navy polo shirts walked up and down the road talking with carloads of visitors. The radio crackled with chatter as the people in the camp below prepared for Open House.

The line of cars snaked along the winding road. Many of the guests had been waiting since nine o'clock.

Some of the vehicles held first-time campers. Their parents hoped to ease their own nerves as well as their children's by meeting the staff, seeing the tents, petting the horses, and visiting the camp store.

Often, the parents were more nervous than their daughter about coming to summer camp, and the camp visit did wonders to settle them.

Other cars held children eager to see Camp Echo after a year's absence. They hoped that with this visit, their questions would be answered. Was their favorite staff member still there? How many faces would be familiar? Who would be their counselors this summer? Would any of the friends they made last year return too? Would anyone remember them?

More than a few cars held Camp Echo alumni. Some of these women were over sixty years old. Wood smoke, burnt marshmallows, lake breezes, and pine trees would take them back to their childhood and cherished memories. Before they realized it, they would be humming an old forgotten camp tune.

The remainder of Open House visitors were, or had been, affiliated with the camp. Board members and office workers who processed the paperwork off site came to see the fruits of their labor. Former staff, some with their own new generation of campers in tow, rounded out the group.

"We're ready at the waterfront." Pax's voice crackled through the radio.

"Barn here. We're good to go."

Every key position, including the kitchen crew who had been baking cookies all morning, reported that they were ready.

"Silver to main gate, come back.

Jewel pulled out her walkie-talkie. "Main gate here, go ahead."

"Ready when you are. Open the gates."

"10-4. Jewel out."

She walked up to the first vehicle. "Please remember to go slow. The speed limit is 15 mph. You will see staff at the other end by the parking lot. They'll show you where to park."

Javelin unlocked the gate and the mini-van led the caravan down the road. She stood at the entrance and waved to guests as they drove by. Once most of the vehicles had passed, Javelin walked down to camp to act as tour guide. The other two women would remain at the gate until three o'clock, greeting visitors when they arrived, and waving good-bye as they left.

Main camp was a buzz of activity. People wearing lifejackets lined up on the docks for a ride on the paddleboats. Some stood outside the Trading Post (camp store) looking at the stuffed animals, T-shirts, patches, and additional camp-embossed items. Others walked from the parking lot one hundred yards from the entrance gate to the dirt road that led to the stables. No riding was allowed during Open House, but petting was welcomed under the supervision of the wranglers. For the more adventurous children, carrot sticks were available as a treat for the horses.

The horses as well as the humans were under analysis. Many of the horses returned year after year, and every returning camper had a favorite. Would their favorite horse be here? Would the horse remember them? Which horse would they be able to ride this summer?

The winter had been hard on the herd; four horses were too sick to come to camp. One of these, Tia, had been quite popular. The replacement's names were listed on the corrals: Trigger, Xanadu, Argo, and Bella.

Most guests opted for the tour. Ten staff members were assigned as guides. Each took fifteen to twenty people out for thirty minutes before returning for the next group.

The guides took them to key areas in the camp. A lifeguard answered questions about swimming and boating at the waterfront. Koko sat in the nurse's office and discussed medical conditions and medication procedures. The kitchen staff offered warm cookies and cold lemonade. Jojo spoke with concerned parents about picky eaters, food allergies, healthy meals, and accommodations for children with diabetes.

The stop at Sky Meadow was invaluable. Campers and their families could see where the girls would be living. One tent was set up like a model home; four sleeping bags, gear and personal items were placed in the shelter. A stuffed animal, wearing a T-shirt with the camp logo, was placed on the pillow of each bed. Six counselors had been assigned to this area to answer questions.

A few staff members organized games on the front lawn, some helped in the Trading Post, while others were at Arts and Crafts where Doodle had furnished supplies for a simple bracelet that guests could weave.

Copper stood near the equipment room next to a two-person tent with sleeping bags, duffels, and a fully loaded backpack inside. Discreetly locked to the stair handrail were two mountain bikes on display. Children who were scheduled to take trips away from the campsite came by to chat with Copper about what she was planning for their out-trips.

Copper smiled and waved to Spirit as the counselor led her group to the display outside the equipment room. Spirit returned the greeting and then introduced the group to the tripping director before leading them up the hill.

Spirit turned her attention to a young girl who looked to be nine years old "Hi," The blond curly haired counselor stuck out her hand. "My name's Spirit. What's yours?"

"Amanda." The girl quietly answered.

"When are you coming to camp?"

"July 5th. I'm gonna learn to canoe."

"Really? That's great. Maybe I'll be your counselor."

Amanda's family smiled at the exchange between their daughter and the bubbly staff member.

The group walked up to the Arts and Crafts building, where a few girls were weaving bracelets.

"When our tour is over, you can come back and see Doodle. She'll show you how to make these cute bracelets and will answer all your questions about arts and crafts."

They turned around and headed towards the waterfront. "As you can see, this is a beautiful facility. It's been around for over fifty years. In that time, thousands of children have spent their summers here."

A male voice came from the middle of the group. "How long have you been here?"

Spirit turned her megawatt smile on him. "This is my first summer on staff, but I was here as a camper twice when I was much younger."

They walked towards the boating docks, where Crew was helping a family put on their lifejackets.

"Hi, Spirit." Crew smiled at the counselor.

"Everybody, this is Crew. She is one of our very competent lifeguards. If you have any questions about the boating programs, feel free to ask her. We'll go down to the swimming docks in just a couple of minutes. Pax, another lifeguard will meet us there to answer your questions about the swimming program."

Two of the girls hugged Crew.

"I'm so glad you guys are coming back this year."

The girls beamed at their favorite staff member. "We were hoping you would be back, too, Crew."

"Your group's leaving. Catch up and then come back and talk to me when you're done."

"Okay, bye Crew."

You could have waited five seconds, Spirit.

As Spirit led them down the trail to the waterfront, the guests asked a variety of questions about the staff, the food, the water temperature, and if there were sharks in the lake. Spirit engaged each family and child with courtesy and enthusiasm.

"This will be Jennifer's first year at camp." Jennifer's mom introduced the young girl to Spirit, who smiled and shook the child's hand.

"That's great! What program are you going to be in?"

"Friendmakers." This was a program for second and third graders.

"Wow, I love making friends, too."

Jennifer's mother pointed to herself and another woman. "We both used to camp here when we were kids."

"Really, are you sisters?" Spirit shook her hand.

"No, we're partners."

The smile quickly left Spirit's face as she slowly pulled her hand away.

"Hmmm. And who does Jennifer belong to?"

"Both of us." The woman cocked her head and watched the counselor's reaction.

"Do you like swimming?" Jennifer asked the counselor as she looked out at the lake.

Spirit didn't respond to the girl. Instead, she walked away, leaving a very angry parent.

You picked the wrong woman to mess with, Spirit.

"Okay, time for the blue paddleboat to come in." Scooter stood on the deck wearing tan shorts, navy bathing suit, and a whistle on a red lanyard. Her shirt lay on the lawn next to a towel. The boat's two passengers were paddling with all their might to get to the log boom that marked the camp's boundary in the lake.

When Scooter blew her whistle every person on the water stopped paddling. The lifeguard pointed to the blue boat and waved it in.

"Sorry," The mom apologized. "We didn't hear you." She stepped out of the boat and onto the wooden dock, then reached and helped her daughter.

"No problem. Hope you had fun." The lifeguard turned to the girl. "Are you coming to camp this summer?"

The girl hid behind her mother and nodded her head.

"Great, then I'll see you this summer." Scooter smiled and the girl tentatively smiled back.

"Go ahead and give your lifejackets to Crew. Okay," She absently waved to the people waiting in the short line. "Next two boaters."

"Hey, Scooter."

Shadow? She turned in time to see a lifejacket clad Shadow walking onto the dock. The wrangler held the hand of a young girl. Mini-Shadow. She's adorable; they look so alike. Scooter's smile widened as the wrangler introduced Kelsey to the lifeguard.

"Who does she belong to? I mean, which sibling?"

"How do you know she's not mine?" The wrangler teased.

"Wha.. No, really."

"Kelsey is part of Michael's clan."

"Is he here?"

"Yeah, his whole family is. I snuck away from my post so I could take Kelsey on a quick boat ride."

"Well," Scooter gestured towards the blue boat. "Your chariot awaits." Shadow voluntarily going in a boat. Wonder of wonders.

Scooter studied the occupants of the boat as it moved away from the dock. Shadow's black hair glistened in the sun as she turned and laughed at something her niece had said. She should laugh more often; she's gorgeous.

Scooter waited as long as she could without making the guests waiting in line suspicious. She had called in all the other boats before making Shadow and Kelsey return. As they neared the docks, both aunt and niece were laughing and their smiles were illuminating their faces. So that's what it's like being a part of her world. Amazing.


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