Saturday, October 21, 2017

The worst thing to say...

...to someone who is unhappy, is:

You should count your blessings. Try to be more positive.




Sigh.

Am I the only one who sometimes needs to be able to vocalize what's troubling me? Honestly, I cope with life better when I can talk about stuff. Why does that make other people so uncomfortable? Why does that infuriate folks?

When I sound remotely like this guy:



I am immediately reprimanded and told to become this guy:




So. Freaking. Annoying. (Telly really isn't that bad. Ok, he's sort of a negative Nelly at times, but Abbycadabby is fake as heck. Like anybody is ever that happy all the time. Please.)

I swear this is why we have this generation of millennials who need their "safe spaces" with crayons and play dough. Why people lose their mind when they hear things they don't want to hear, or see things they don't want to see... because we live in a society that tries to police what others think, feel, and share. We don't allow folks to feel their anger or sadness--we ask them to shut up, focus on the positive, keep their thoughts to themselves, or better yet, go to a doctor and get on a pill that will numb them, because surely feeling something less than joyful, oblivious, or numb must be stopped. That real-ness, raw-ness, blatancy must  be quashed along with any so-called free thinking that doesn't coincide with the world's most popular narrative.

Do not speak up, unless it's for a pre approved topic. Do not raise your voice, unless it's for a pre approved cause. Do not raise your voice, unless it's against a crappy president. Do not share sadness, unless it's for something society as a whole can relate to. Numb yourself to anything that might bring down the temperament of someone listening. Numb yourself to anything that, that might offend if shared. Deny yourself the time to grieve, miss, or feel disappointment, because those emotions are negative, and negativity is a no no. Duh.

Well........

I know, Telly, I'm confused, too.


This monster says B.S.

Some days I am happy and joyful. In fact, most days I am. Some days I laugh a lot. Some days I have creativity flowing out of me like a flash flood. Some days I want hugs and kisses and to tell everyone I know that I love them more than cheese--which is a lot, in case you didn't know. Some days I want to put on makeup and pretty clothes and walk around in the sunshine. Some days I go to bed content and pleased with how my life is turning out, and how many blessings I've been given.

Other days I am sullen and down. Some days I miss things that other people wouldn't miss, like the smell of rain, or the way the wind hisses on wheat fields in the fall. Some days I have to remind myself to stick with it, and to not be a grump to everyone I meet. Some days I have to pray for God to give me patience, creativity, and fortitude. Some days I like to stay in PJ's and wear a bandana on my head like a homeless biker. Some days I go to bed knowing that tomorrow is another day, and that today was just a crappy go of it, and that's okay.


It happens.


I call B.S. to those who think all negativity should be carefully contained and bottled up inside, or numbed with pills designed for folks with much bigger issues. I say let people feel what they feel and stop trying to avoid real, live feelings. Feelings aren't something to fear. Feelings are real, raw, and organic--whether they're negative or positive--and nobody can ignore them forever. To try is to try to fix a dam with a band aid.

Not so effective.

Eventually we all have to be honest with ourselves, and let those feelings out. We can't all pretend like life is one constant stream of positivity, with our snapshots with fake smiles and hands on hips. Sometimes even the Emotion Police, as I so lovingly call them, have to feel things that aren't so positive. You can't hide from life forever, and you can't expect others to do so.



I prefer to be real. All the time, even when it annoys everyone around me.


xoxo
Brooke

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Ready to check out book 1 in the Summers at Camp Chimalis Series??



Sparks flew the moment fifteen-year-old Molly Kaff and Jamie Burnham locked eyes across the dusty Camp Chimalis parking lot. From that moment, they were undeniably and irrevocably in love.

Until they weren’t.

Months after the demise of their fifteen-and-a-half-year marriage, a mutual friend from those treasured summers at camp dies, rattling their tight circle of friends to the core. Her dying request? Bring everyone back to camp one last time.

Returning proves more emotional than Molly expected. Sweltering heat in un-air-conditioned cabins is just the tip of the iceberg. Memories, both delightful and dispiriting, press down on Molly as she grapples with the momentous grief from the loss of her friend…and her husband.

Trying to honor her wishes with the ex hanging around is one thing, but being stuck in the woods with no cell service and years’ worth of hurt and resentment is another. As Molly tries to navigate her way through the heartache, she starts to wonder if she was wrong about the reasons behind her failed marriage. And if maybe her friend orchestrated their Chimalis homecoming from beyond…

Can a few evenings sitting by the campfire eating s’mores be the salve her battered heart needs to finally move on?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Happy book birthday!


Hooray!! It's my BOOK BIRTHDAY!!



Here's to Campfires and S'mores is live and available in both ebook and paperback form for you, my dear readers! I hope you'll all grab a copy and let me know what you think!

xoxo
Brooke


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Look what I'm doing this weekend!

I'm flying aaaaaaaaaaallllllllll the way to Seattle, Washington, USA to present another workshop at ECWC 2017!



Yay!! (Literally the best time of year.)

This year's workshop is entitled, Sexy but Sweet: The Art of the PG13 Bedroom Scene Done Just Right.

I'm hoping I've made progress in the nerves department....and I'll be able to actually stand while I present this year. :)

Are you going to ECWC this year??

Maybe I'll see you there!

xoxo
Brooke

Monday, October 9, 2017

Excerpt time!!

Ready for another taste of Jamie and Molly's romance? Meeeeee tooooooo!!!

Check it out here:



Don’t be such a freaking wuss,” I scolded myself, dropping the towel and swiping at the sweat gathered underneath my blunt bangs. “I’m the only camper here.”
            After peering in both directions to see if the coast was clear, I took a deep breath, and darted for the lake. When the water hit my toes, I almost stopped. It was still crisp and cold enough to set a chill deep in my bones. But I forced myself to press on. Casting a quick glance at the lily pads not far away, behind a frayed yellow rope boundary, I dove. Arcing my body over the lake, I sliced through the water with ease.
Though I didn’t swim often anymore, occasionally I would slip into the YMCA after my shift ended to do laps. Though my time wasn’t nearly as good as it’d been in my teens, my form was on point. I could tell by the way the water felt around my body. No drag, I thought before emerging. Still got it. Sort of.
I surfaced twenty feet from the beach, and drew a deep breath. Just like when I was a kid, the water numbed me enough to keep swimming, but not enough to cramp up. Treading myself in a circle, I observed the lily pad patch. The night after Jamie’s foot got caught in the weeds, everything between us changed. We’d become best friends. Not in the same way that Bree, April, and Rachael and I were. I didn’t have the urge to gossip and giggle with him. I had the urge to talk for hours about everything and nothing all at once. When he took a deep breath, it felt like my lungs filled, and when he laughed, I could feel my ribcage jostle.
Simply put, he became my everything. And damn it all to hell it was time to let him go, to wash him away as my arms sliced through the water. Since that was where everything between us started anyway.
I ducked back under the water and started to kick, propelling myself away from the rope divider. Those blasted lily pads hadn’t done anything for me. They bound me to the boy who eventually became the man who dumped me for having a bum uterus. If I thought they’d catch fire, I would’ve ignited the whole patch out of principal. But for now, all I could do was paddle away. With a burst of energy from deep within, I swam toward the dock in the butterfly, my weakest stroke, barely slowing down to draw a breath. My muscles burned in protest, but I kept swimming. Burning muscles and tight lungs felt infinitely better than an aching heart. After approximately twenty-three laps between the ropes and the dock, I finally breast-stroked my way back to shore.
Crawling back onto the beach, I pushed myself onto my feet, breathless and exhausted. I needed a nap and some food. Something fattening and bad for me. Sue’s barbeque ribs sounded better than a Thanksgiving feast. Tilting my head forward, I shook my hands through my hair, sending droplets onto the beach at my feet as I walked back to my towel. Maybe Sue wanted some help in the kitchen. All I needed were dry clothes, and then I’d wander to the mess hall to check in with her. When I reached the overgrown tree line, I bent down to retrieve it, and cracked my head on something solid.
“Ow! Mother f—”
Every hair on my body stood on end, and I stood bolt upright. “Jamie!?”

Kneeling in the brush by my towel, looking sweaty and angry as he hurriedly tied his shoe, was my ex-husband.

Why rewrite history?

As most of you know, my dad died almost a year ago.

In the months since, I've separated myself significantly from my family since. Not because they're bad people. Not because I'm bad. Just because some relationships aren't functional, and can't be saved.

My response to my father's (sudden but not unexpected) death was not what some folks would have preferred it to be. I felt short changed, and hurt, and more agitated than torn up with grief. My relationship with my dad was complex and manipulative and highly dysfunctional. His death left me feeling more angry than sad, not because he was a terrible person, because he wasn't--he was just sick--but because he was incapable of giving me what I felt like I'd needed from him during his lifetime. And I was angry that he'd left before we were able to have one of those come to Jesus moments you see in movies before he was gone.

The long and short of it was: I was angry he left me. And he'd left me long, long before he'd died.

Being part of an alcoholic family is tough. And by tough, I mean downright rotten, indescribably stressful, and at times, thoroughly soul sucking. I speak from the perspective of a child of an addict, and the wife (and eventual ex wife,) and the daughter in law of one. It is a rough, rough life. One I wouldn't wish on anyone. It was not a life I wanted or asked for, and when I tried--repeatedly--to remove myself from it, it seemed to follow me. No matter where I went in life, my dad (and his problems) seemed to follow me. First when I foolishly married a man with addiction problems; then when as an adult, I tried unsuccessfully to navigate my relationship with my alcoholic father; then again with other family members on both my side of the family, and my husband's side.

It seems I simply cannot break free of alcoholism/addiction. And I loathe it.

As a survivor of said scenarios, I've reserved the right to tell my story however I see fit, even though that means it's not always nice to hear or flattering to all parties involved. When it comes to my life and my experiences with this subject, I do not sugar coat. I do not gloss over. I do not look back on my time with certain people in my life with "rose colored glasses." I call it how I see it. And when I look at addiction, I see nothing but hurt, pain, anger, sadness, and straight up, unadulterated unhappiness.

So that's what I say about it.

When my dad died, I posted on FB about it. Within an hour of hearing he was gone, I wrote a post about how he'd died, how his life had been wasted drinking, and how much I wished that the people I knew and loved would stop what they're doing, stop wasting their lived away being drunk or stoned, and do a better job than my own father had.

I did it because 90% of my support system exists online. Because I live 5K miles away from the country and the tribe that has gotten me through every hurtle my life has thrown me thus far, and social media is how we've all managed to stay connected. And in the days, weeks, and months since posting that painfully honest post I had three different friends reconnect with relatives they'd not spoken to in years, and one friend was prompted to seek recovery of his own. That counts for something. To me, at least.

But it offended some. It hurt them. And as much as I don't regret posting that blatantly honest post--because we all know, I'm nothing if not transparent--I regret hurting people I loved. Unfortunately the only way for me to heal was not the way other people wanted me to heal. Which is usually the way it goes in my life. I'm not usually the "right" anything for anybody. When I go right, the rest of the world goes left. When I go down, everyone else goes up. It's the way it's always been. Where my grief came quickly and aggressively, it was like everyone else had to ease into it like stepping into a pool. Only when I jumped in head first, I splashed everyone I cared about and ticked them off. I'm sorry for that. But not sorry for the what I said or when and how I said it. I can't be sorry. I had to do it.

Sometimes people view the deceased as holy beings. They scrap all that went wrong in someone's life, and choose to only remember the good. They sing that person's praises, discuss their successes, and boast their accolades, so as to soothe their own aching hearts. And while I understand that, I simply can't relate.

My dad was brilliant. He was insanely intelligent, and beyond witty. He was creative and sensitive. He was strong and willful. He raised my brothers and myself as best he could. But he was sick, and as such, he was flawed. And my memories--my healing--comes from remembering the bad about him. Not because I don't love him. But because that's the only way I know how to make sense of it all, to organize it in my mind, and to make sure I--and everyone else I love--never make the same wretched mistakes he made. Because the one thing that tears me apart the most about my dad is that his life was wasted. He wasted time and precious relationships, and it kills me to think about other people making the same mistakes. Absolutely shatters me.

I can't rewrite history. I don't want to. I want to call it what it is, and pray people learn from it.

xoxo
Brooke

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Read chapter one now!

Sneak peak time! 

Curious how Jamie and Molly's romance began?

In my latest book, Here's to Campfires and S'mores, we go back to summer camp in 1994. Check out chapter one to read all about the moment Molly and Jamie laid eyes on each other for the first time:


Chapter One
1994

            Dear God, please don’t let me throw up all over my Doc Marten sandals. Mom paid so much for them. If I ruin them now, she’ll never let me forget it…
            I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see the dusty bumper of my mom’s Toyota Tercell being swallowed by the trees and then she was gone. I was stuck in the woods for a week, a thought that thrilled and nauseated me. I looked down at my feet, ignoring the nervousness that churned in my gut like a fair ride.
Why did I always get that way when mom and I separated? It wasn’t like I didn’t want to go to camp. I’d been coming to Camp Chimalis for six summers and worked my way up to the very mature and sophisticated eight-day, seven-night camp. Of course mom freaked out the first time I stayed for a whole week, and every year since.
True to form, she’d been a basket case this year.
“What business does a fifteen-year-old have being away from home for a solid week?” She’d sputtered when I presented the registration form and the money I saved from birthday cards and babysitting. “Sounds like a recipe for trouble, that many teenagers running around in the woods unsupervised. You really want to go to sleep-away camp for eight whole days, Molly Yvette?”
Usually when my mother pulled out my middle name—the one I inherited from my great aunt who, in my opinion, had a stripper name, not that I ever told my mom that—I backed down. Gave her what she wanted, and let her win the argument. That was our relationship. Her pulling and pushing, and me not putting up a fight. It was easier to go along with a force like my mother, rather than holding my ground. It felt like trying to withstand a Category 5 hurricane with only an umbrella.
But I held firm when it came to Camp Chimalis. I’d counted the days since last summer, when Bree, Rachael, April and I pledged our undying friendship, and vowed to return the next summer. At the time, mom had mumbled a half-hearted, “Yeah, sure. Maybe. Okay,” as we drove toward home down the two-lane highway in the thick woods of northern Idaho. I fully intended to hold her to it.
“Mom,” I began diplomatically almost a year later. I sat across the table from her, instead of beside her, where I usually sat. Her eyes widened. That was dad’s chair, and we usually left it untouched, except on holidays when grandpa or uncle Rick came over. “You promised I could go to camp again. You said so yourself, when we left last year. I saved enough money, so you only have to put in thirty-eight dollars and fifty-one cents. That’s much less than you usually pay.”
“I don’t know.” She looked around the kitchen as if a good excuse would throw itself out of the silverware drawer. “Remember how homesick you always get? Seven nights will be an awful lot of time spent crying, you know.”
I refrained from rolling my eyes. I hadn’t cried at camp the last three years, but that didn’t matter. Mom was always quick to point out my childhood anxiety issues if it meant keeping me close. When the school district split while I was in grade school, she spent an hour in the superintendent’s office, telling him how much I cried since dad died in a car accident when I was eight. Before I knew it, I’d been given special permission to attend the school closest to the store where mom worked. She said it was for my own good, but we both knew she was equally anxious when I was out of her sight. And thus our daily lunches on campus began.
“Mom, I survived last year. And the year before that. By the third summer at Chimalis, I stopped throwing up and everything.”
It was humiliating to be the girl at camp who fell apart every night, and I’d nearly gone home many times because of it. The only reason I managed to stay was because Bree’s grandparents owned the place, and she dragged me into their private residence for hot chocolate whenever I started to unravel. I slowly but surely learned to talk myself out of the anxiety attacks, and managed to stay the whole session—despite mom calling to check on me every night. That was years ago, but mom liked to bring it up as if it had happened yesterday.
“But Molly,” she argued, shaking her head defiantly. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“I’ll be fine, Mom.” Leaning forward to show her how confident I was, I tucked my long brown hair behind my ears. “And if I’m not, I’ll come straight home. And you won’t be out any money, since I’m paying for camp.”
After a pause long enough to have gotten up, used the bathroom, and fetched a drink of water, mom finally mumbled, “Fine.”
And I won the argument for the first time.
My stomach pitched as I watched mom drive away, and focused on my feet. I painted my toenails the exact same shade of Wet-and-Wild polish Rachael described in her last letter. Ozone. Mom said it looked like toxic waste, but I adored the iridescent chartreuse color. Besides, who was I to argue with Rachael? Of all my camp friends, she was the most stylish. We knew it, and respected it as fact. She’d gotten a bra long before the rest of us, she’d been on four dates already, and her mom let her do pageants. If Rachael said Ozone was It, then Ozone was It.
“I’m not going to puke on my toenails,” I told myself quietly, so the kids filtering past me wouldn’t hear. The sound of parents calling their goodbyes and kids squealing as they spotted friends across the dusty lot filled my ears. I insisted mom drop me off and say goodbye quickly and unemotionally, so as not to make a scene. But I was ninety percent sure she’d already pulled over on the road to weep.
“This summer is going to rule.”
Before dad died, I never had anxiety. I would go to my cousins’ houses for sleepovers, or spend spring break at my grandparent’s farm with no problems. But the week after my dad’s funeral, when I tried to go back to school, I felt crippled with an overwhelming, all-consuming sense of sadness every time my mom left my sight. The fear eventually evolved into tears, which eventually evolved into nausea, which eventually evolved into barfing every day before school. Over the years it improved, though I never quite got past that niggle of homesickness when I spent nights away from home.
I credited Camp Chimalis for my ability to overcome it. Mom heard about this place from a lady at church who sent her kids every summer until they graduated to being camp counselors. She said it helped them through the loss of their grandmother, with nightly campfires, nature lessons, and promise to “connect children to nature and each other.” It piqued mom’s interest, as she’d been convinced I was on the verge of a breakdown. Maybe I had, but we both knew she took nervousness and separation anxiety to a new level.
Nestled in the thick trees of the Idaho Panhandle, the camp boasted a series of lodges and cabins right on the edge of lower Priest Lake. It offered water sports, rock climbing, tee pee camping, cabin camping, hiking, and a mess of arts and crafts to remind kids of what life was like before MTV’s The Grind and Nintendo took over.
I resisted the first summer, even though she only signed me up for day camp. Folded my arms across my chest in the backseat and told her she was the meanest mother ever for forcing me to go the entire day. I used the scarred, archaic payphone outside the main lodge to call mom crying, begging her to pick me up. After breaking land-speed records driving back out to the lake to pick me up, my mom talked to the daughter of the camp’s owner and found out she had a granddaughter. She was willing to take me under her wing until the session was over.
After we became friends, Bree admitted she’d been mad when her grandparents cornered her in the mess hall and announced she had to take the camp loser under her wing for the rest of the session.
Neither of us expected the magic that happened when we discovered our mutual appreciation for The Cranberries, and how we secretly dreamed of belting out songs the way Delores O’Riordan could. Bree and her cousin had seen The Cranberries in concert twice, and after learning my mom thought concerts were an excuse for people to get high and have—gasp! —sex, she vowed to take me next time. In return I promised to teach her how to rollerblade, as it was the only sport besides swimming my over-protective mother allowed me to do.
Within a day of our impenetrable bond, she introduced me to her friend, April, whom she met at camp the year before. Bree said April suffered from the same problems I did, which basically meant April cried herself sick at camp, too. April was a chubby, mousy girl with curly red hair that looked carrot orange in the sunshine, and her voice was only loud enough to hear if you stood with your ear pressed up to her face. Unlike Bree, who strutted around the camp barefoot like she owned the place—probably because her family did—April walked a couple of inches behind us, always afraid to speak up, afraid to stand out. Our connection was instant, because April and I could relate to having possessive, single moms who refused to accept that we were practically adults.
“Molly!”
I recognized Bree’s squeal immediately. Grinning, I shoved all thoughts of homesickness to the back of my brain, and bolted through the crowd, leaving my carefully packed duffel behind. “Hi!”
We embraced like it’d been decades since we’d seen each other, when actually our moms dropped us off at a mall at the halfway point between our homes two months before. Rachael had flown to Spokane from Portland, Oregon to stay with Bree for her birthday weekend. We used the time to pretend like we didn’t care if boys talked to us at the food court—which, of course we all did. We also discussed Bryan Adams’ ballad, Everything I Do (I Do It for You)—which we decided we would play at our future weddings. And, of course, we planned what clothes we would bring to camp.
It was of utmost importance to coordinate, but not match—because, duh, matching was so middle school—but we needed everyone at Chimalis to know we were B.F.F.s. This was a concept that required at least three separate conversations and two arguments at Shopko for my mother to understand.
Pushing past a crowd of first-timers looking around the parking lot like they’d been dropped off at prison—Amateurs, I thought to myself, proud I hadn’t cried in the last few years—I found the owner of the voice that rang out like a bell.
In the shadow of the main lodge, with its lodge pole pine logs, and faded yellow trim, stood Bree Spalding. She was already barefoot, which was how she’d remain until Labor Day, if not longer; already licking a popsicle from her grandparent’s freezer; and—phew! —wearing a purple t-shirt. We’d agreed on a daily rotation of purple, pink, red, white, and neon yellow (because according to Rachael, nobody wore regular yellow anymore).
Mom grumbled the whole time we packed, because she was convinced white was an absurd choice for summer camp, where I spent my time surrounded by dirt and grass, but I persisted. She clearly didn’t understand the importance of color coordination.
I fell into a hug with Bree, spotting April hiding just behind her. “April! Oh my gosh, you look so tan!”
Actually, April was as red as the beets my mother insisted I eat because they had iron, but I wasn’t about to tell her that. What Rachael had for confidence, April lacked. “Thanks!” She said, tugging uncomfortably at her purple t-shirt, which looked a size too small. “My mom made me join the soccer team. I ride the bench, mostly.”
April’s mom believed in dressing for the body you wanted, instead of the body you had, and practiced the art of visualization. In the last letter she wrote, April said her mom had a picture of a bride and groom on the beach taped to their bathroom mirror, and she thought if she visualized herself getting remarried often enough, it would actually happen. Unfortunately for April, she’d been through one stepdad already, in addition to her absentee father, so she didn’t have much faith in her mother’s visualization skills.
“Rachael isn’t here yet,” April announced, her eyes darting from side to side anxiously. “She said to wait for her here.”
I craned my neck for glimpse of Rachael’s father’s shiny rental car. She was always the last one to arrive, as they came from the farthest away. Bree, April and I were able to get together every few months, but Rachael usually missed out on the mid-year festivities, and kept us informed on her life through letters and phone calls. Since April and I were from Spokane, and Bree lived with her family in Newport, we usually met at Northtown Mall around Christmastime and over spring break.
Rachael missed out, but because her parents—both divorce attorneys—were wealthy, busy, and felt guilty for working all the time, they flew her to Spokane every year for a birthday gift. Every summer, despite their hints for Rachael to find a camp closer to their home, she registered for Chimalis. And in true Merrit family fashion, they flew to Spokane, rented a flashy car to drive Rach into the woods of northern Idaho, and dropped her off in enviable style.
Usually kids stopped hugging their parents and dragging their duffels into the woods by the time a sleek convertible pulled down the dusty drive, and a nearly-six-foot tall glamazon climbed out. Not just because of the car—which was usually a ride my mom called pretentious under her breath—but because Rachael Merrit was poised, endlessly gorgeous, and carried herself like a supermodel.
“No sign of the fancy car yet.” I turned back to my friends and breathed a sigh of relief. We were finally together. Nothing felt as good as when we were together. “I’m so glad to see you. I’ve been counting off days on my calendar for two weeks.”
“Me, too.” Bree scratched at a mosquito bite on her calf, and blew her blonde hair away from her damp face. She’d been living at the camp with her grandparents for three weeks, helping out in the camp store for the younger children’s sessions. “Grandpa let me cross off the days with a marker on their dry erase board, and Gram got ticked. Guess I was using a permanent marker.”
April giggled, then covered her mouth. “Mom said I couldn’t do a countdown. She said it would look tacky on the wall. She said our coordinated outfits were tacky, too.”
Bree rolled her eyes and harrumphed. “What would an old person know?”
“Well, you look awesome,” I told April, pulling her in for a hug while Bree started to bounce up and down next to us. She’d always had energy levels that hit annoying proportions. “When did you get here?”
April smiled shyly, flashing the braces she’d prayed would come off before our session. Unfortunately, her overbite was persistent. “About fifteen minutes ago. I’m all checked in.”
“Me, too,” I said, wiping at the sweat on my brow. “My mom checked me in before she left.”
I wore my hair down, instead of pulling it up, despite the eighty-five-degree heat. I decided that my hair resembled Brenda’s on 90210, and wanted to keep it that way for as long as I could stand the heat. I was fifteen now, and wanted to appear as mature and worldly as possible. Especially standing next to Bree and Rachael. Bree had a curtain of silky blonde hair that was the Kelly to my Brenda, and Rachael was tall, willowy, and had the clearest, most gorgeous cafĂ© au lait skin I’d ever seen. They were infinitely prettier. I had to stand out however I could.
“Oh, yeah, where’s your mom?” April asked, peering over my shoulder cautiously. “Doesn’t she usually stay for a while? And, like, cry and stuff?”
            My face scalded. “Yeah. Well, usually. But this time I convinced her to say goodbye and scoot.”
            April flashed her silver grin. “Cool. My mom wouldn’t leave until she told the camp director about my diet.”
            Wincing, I avoided looking at her midsection. April was extremely sensitive about her weight, and it didn’t help that her mom always put her on Weight Watchers or Nutrislim. Her mom even bought her Sweatin’ To the Oldies VHS tapes. “Well, they’re gone now.” My stomach roiled nervously. “We’re mom-free for a whole week.”
            April clapped her hands excitedly, then quickly stopped as a group of giggling girls passed by. We pretended to be bored and aloof until they were gone. “I’m so excited,” she whispered.
            I could hardly contain myself. The homesickness that had boiled in my gut dissipated. “Me, too. Are you going to do the ropes course this year?”
            “Oh, gosh, no.” She tucked her hair behind her ears. “That thing is awful.”
            “I know, I—”
“Okay, okay!” Bree yipped next to us, wiggling like a puppy. “Cut the small talk. Girls, I pulled some strings.”
We focused on our unofficial leader. Because we were tight with the granddaughter of the owners of Chimalis, we were the recipients of favoritism, and didn’t feel one ounce of guilt. Popsicles whenever we wanted; access to private showers instead of enduring the torturous communal showers in the girls’ bathrooms; access to a washer and dryer when Mother Nature decided to be a cruel and send our periods.
Unfortunately, that favoritism didn’t extend to cabin assignments, as last year Bree and Rachael had been placed in cabin Five-A, and April and I sent to cabin Six-B. We’d been forced to trek a whole thirty yards past the girls’ restrooms to visit each other, and Rachael still complained about a clicking in her knee when she walked because she tripped on a root in the trail. But our physical ailments paled in comparison to the emotional torture our separation had caused. Downright inhumane.
April and I faced Bree, riveted, silently praying for good news. This would be the year; I could feel it. We had coordinated outfits, we practically ran the place, one half of our posse had been on actual dates, and we were going into the tenth grade in the fall. The world—or at least Camp Chimalis—was our oyster.
Bree lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I switched out our names on the cabin rosters. I don’t think Grandma noticed. What cabins did you guys get?”
I bit my lip and scrunched my eyes shut. “I’m in Four-A.”
“So am I!” April squealed.
When I opened my eyes, Bree was smirking proudly. “I am, too. I rock.” She patted herself on the back. “Sometimes being a total sneak pays off. Maybe I’ll become a private investigator when I grow up.”
“But what about Rachael?” April bit her lip, concerned. She was the worrier of the group. Last year she’d been bitten by a mosquito on her eyelid and was convinced she had encephalitis. She cried her way through TV coverage of Desert Storm, despite not knowing a single soldier. “If she’s the only one left out, she’ll die. I know it.”
“I’ve got it covered.” Bree nodded knowingly. “Grandma didn’t have time to change the assignments back. She’ll be ticked, but it’s worth it. We’re all good.”
The sound of a purring engine caught my attention, and as soon as I saw all the males in the crowd turn to stare, I knew exactly who it was. “Rach is here!”
With a collective squeal, we took off across the lot thick with campers toward a fire engine red Mustang with its top down. Rachael’s parents were in the front seat, looking as classy and professional as ever—mom called them ostentatious, but I thought they were exciting. Mr. and Mrs. Merrit ran one of the biggest family law firms in the greater Portland area, and always told their daughter crazy stories of clients who fought over ridiculous things like serving spoons and dead pet’s ashes.
Sometimes I felt sort of sorry for Rachael, always being left behind while they vacationed in Mexico, traveled to conferences, and took meetings past dinnertime every day of the week. But the fact that I met one of my very best friends because of her parent’s inability to entertain their only kid worked in my favor.
“Hey, girlfriends!” Rachael cried, jumping up in the backseat before the car stopped. Her dark hair sprang from her head in a million strands of spirally curled hair, and she grinned from ear to ear behind a pair of oversized pink sunglasses.
As soon as her father cut the engine, and emerged from the car with a confident smirk, the staring crowd started to dissipate. “Hello girls. Excited for camp this year?” Mr. Merrit called, waving at us.
April and I waved back shyly, but Bree stepped forward, her bare feet making clouds of dust on the dirt parking lot. I wasn’t sure where she got her boldness. Probably from spending every summer greeting groups of kids at Camp Chimalis. “Sure are. Thanks for bringing Rachael again.”
Rachael hopped over the door, not bothering to open it, then fell into our group hug. Ear splitting shrieks of joy escaped as we jumped up and down, rotating in a circle. A few other campers watched, shaking their heads as we rallied. But we didn’t care.
“Of course. She loves Chimalis.” He popped the trunk and pulled out a suitcase as Rachael’s mom emerged, looking like a page out of a Spiegel catalogue, and not at all like she’d spent the day on a plane and in a rental car.
Sniffing the air, she added, “I can see why. Smells like trees.”
Without being told, we all drew in deep breaths. There was nothing in the world that compared to the aroma of the woods surrounding Priest Lake. Pine, campfire smoke, nectar seeping from the wild tiger lilies, and sunshine—though mom said that sunshine didn’t have a smell. I swore that it did, and it smelled bright and alive.
“What cabins are you guys in?” Rachael demanded, pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head.
            “Four-A!” we all chorused.
Rachael shook her head. “Ohmigosh, I’d better be with you, or I’ll die.”
April paled. “Told you.”
“No worries.” Bree nodded confidently. “It’s in the bag.”
“It better be!” Rachael turned to her mom, pouting. “Will you go check me in? Please, Mom?”
Mrs. Merrit raised an eyebrow. “You can come with me, young lady. I did not pay a hundred and—”
“Ugh. Fine. Fine.” Rachael rolled her eyes at us, then followed as her parents walked to the lodge. “I’ll be back. Don’t go to the cabin without me.”
We nodded obediently as she passed a group of boys wearing ball caps and tank tops. They were laughing at something and punching each other in the arm for some reason I couldn’t explain. I’d never understood boys much. I was an only child, raised by a single mom, and all of my cousins were girls.
Rachael and Bree had had boyfriends, and had make out sessions a time or two. I’d had my first two kisses during my ninth grade year, and one of those happened on a dare at a Halloween dance. My only experience with a relationship was in the seventh grade when a boy asked me out on a Monday, only to ignore me until Friday when he declared me a “boring prude,” and dumped me. The only guys I considered good boyfriend material were my swim instructor’s college-aged son, and a couple of members of the New Kids on the Block. Because I had standards, of course.
When Rachael and her parents passed by, the boys quieted. Still chatting, but with lowered voices. They pretended to be enthralled with a rock they kicked between their shoes, but their eyes followed my tall and beautiful friend with no subtlety.
“Already at it,” Bree said, chuckling to herself. She licked at a sticky spot on her hand, left behind by the popsicle. “Will she leave any of the boys for us this summer?”
April studied the boys from behind the veil of her hair. “I’m not allowed to date.”
My face pinked. Bree and Rachael had been allowed to date for a while, but my mother clung to the notion that dating before the age of sixteen led to teenage pregnancy and herpes. The brief time I’d gone steady with a boy at school had been long gone before my mom sniffed it out, and made both our lives a nightmare, thank goodness. Dating—real dating, as in, going to the movies or a dance together—would have to wait another six months. April’s mother likely would’ve allowed her to date, so long as she was willing to adhere to a diet and promise not to eat any carbs. But April was too shy for a boyfriend, and she said most of the boys at her school didn’t realize she existed.
Dating for April and me was a pipe dream. Not that we hadn’t discussed, at length, what our absolute dream dates would be. April wanted a sunset cruise. Rachael wanted a rock concert with backstage passes. Bree wanted to go horseback riding on a beach. And me? I envisioned the ultimate dream date involving a campfire and s’mores.
“I know,” Bree said, bumping her with a bony hip. “But camp is different. No moms, no dads, no supervision. We can, you know, flirt and stuff.”
“Your grandma and grandpa are here.” I stared at the group of boys as they resumed their punching and laughing. One boy, whose baseball cap was pulled tightly over his blond curls, looked right at me.
Me… standing next to two of my gorgeous friends. With girls weaving their way through the crowd all around us. With Rachael sauntering past his group like Kate Moss on the runway. Me.
“And counselors,” April interrupting me. “They watch every move we make.”
            Blinking, I focused on Bree’s face. “April’s right. It’s not like we can actually, go out with guys at camp.”
            “Don’t you two ever read romance novels?” Bree asked with a grin. “I sneak my mom’s all the time. Summer romances are the best. According to Danielle Steele, that is.”
            I nodded, pretending that I knew who that was, but my gaze locked back onto the boy a few yards away. Though his eyes flicked to his friends every few seconds, they continued to land back on me. And whenever they did, the corners of his full mouth turned up almost imperceptibly.
            I could see his eyes were the same color green as a the freshly grown leaves on the thimbleberry plants behind the boathouses, and his skin was the most enchanting olive color I’d ever seen. He wasn’t the tallest out of the group, but his shoulders were broad in his worn Stussy shirt, and every time he almost-smiled, my stomach twisted into a double knot.
            “Hey. Molly.” Bree snapped in front of my face, following my line of sight. “Are you even listening? Or are you too busy making sexy eyes at that pretty boy over there?”
            April covered her mouth and giggled. “He does have sexy eyes.”
            “What? I am not.” Embarrassed, I fiddled with my hair, and turned away from the boys. But I could still feel his eyes on the back of my head. Why was he watching me? There were girls all over the camp, some much prettier than me, but… I stole a glance over my shoulder. Yup. He was still looking. The knots in my stomach tightened.
            “Looks like someone has an admirer,” Bree whispered, nudging me. “Ooh, he’s cute, too. Go for it, Moll.”
            Heat crept up my neck and scorched my face. “Whatever.”
            Go for it? I thought feverishly. What did that even mean?
            “He’s looking again,” April whispered, her eyes bugging out. “Smile at him, Molly. Or wink at him.”
            “Don’t wink!” Bree hissed. “Too obvious. Toss your hair.”
            “Toss my…” I paused, not wanting to screw up my hair. I knew that was the last time my hair would look good for the next week, and I didn’t want to blow it. Especially not with Green Eyes watching me.
            “Do it, Molly.”
            Taking a deep breath and then holding it, I tossed my hair with as much gusto as I could muster. Whirling around, I plastered a massive smile on my face, and all the air in my lungs whooshed out. Another group of girls, had sauntered up, and Green Eyes was talking to—and grinning at—a blonde with the bust of a twenty-five-year-old. He must’ve said something hilarious, because she released a loud giggle that made my head ache.
Flustered, I looked down at my own flat chest. “Ugh. Embarrassing, enough?”
Bree snorted. “Jerk.”
“Oh, it’s okay, Molly.” April put her arm around me just as Rachael emerged from the lodge. “Typical. Boys act so dumb around boobs.”
“Four-A!” she sang triumphantly. Noticing the purple shade of my face, Rachael’s smile dropped. “What’s up?”
Bree’s chin jutted in Green Eye’s direction. “Jerk patrol over there.”
Rachael watched them through narrowed eyes. “That blonde bimbo keeps bouncing around. She’s gonna bounce right out of that shirt.”
“I think that’s what those boys are waiting for,” April conceded. “He was smiling at Molly two seconds ago.”
Rachael watched them for a beat, before sliding her sunglasses back on with a coolness I’d never been able to achieve. She looped her arm through mine. “Come on, ladies. Let’s go to our cabin. These dweebs aren’t worth our time.”
We grabbed our bags, hoisting them onto our shoulders with grunts and groans. Through the corner of my eye, I watched as Green Eyes flirted with the blonde as if he’d gone pro. The knot in my stomach loosened, and I immediately felt nauseated again. Only this time it wasn’t because of homesickness. It was because of cold, cruel rejection.
“Don’t worry, Moll,” Bree announced as we strode along the winding path through the woods to the row of log cabins. “We’ll find you someone else to have your summer romance with. I’ve got a good feeling about this year.”
Just as we were swallowed by the thick fern bushes along the path, Green Eyes noticed we were walking away, and offered me one more of those almost imperceptible smiles. Heat flushed my skin as we fell out of sight. My heart pounded so hard I felt my ribs vibrating.
“No thanks.” I stared down at my feet as I hiked, watching as the bark beneath my shoes shifted. A grin slowly took over my face. “I don’t need help. I already saw the guy I’m going to marry someday.”

This is Camp Spalding (in the old days) which served as the inspiration for Camp Chimalis in
Here's to Campfires and S'mores!