"More soup, siiiiir?"
The girls ahead of Rey in line giggled maniacally as they parroted her accent to the hair-netted women serving them in the mess hall.
"More soup, pleeeeease?" They dragged out the vowels in the third word of each phrase to a ridiculous degree, until they ran out of air and had to take great gulping breaths before laughing to the point of doubling over.
"Seriously, I could kill you for telling them about Oliver Twist," Rey muttered under her breath to Jessika as they pushed their trays along the service line.
"I thought they'd get over it by now!" Her roommate shook her head ruefully.
Sorry , she mouthed to one of the servers with a slight tilt of her head towards the girls. She was silently rewarded with a dripping spoonful of noodles 'n sauce in one compartment of her tray.
Rey sighed and stared at the wiggly array of gelatin desserts sweating on the counter. "What flavor today? Lime? Or orange?"
Jessika gave a fake shudder that hiked her shoulders up to her ears. "I don't know how you can eat that stuff. Neither, please."
Rey shook her head. "You don't know what you're missing. Orange is the best flavor by far."
They ate in relative silence as their charges traded canned pears and sucked fat spaghetti noodles into their mouths, leaving them ringed with a greasy orange-red patina of tomato sauce. It was already Wednesday in the second week of camp for this group, and each table in the mess had gone from sitting politely to a riot of shrieks and laughter, their initial coolness towards one another having evaporated in a haze of mosquito bites, smores, and late-night ghost stories.
Rey ate slowly, staring idly at the ceiling fans high in the peaked, knotty pine roof that did little to dispel the stale, humid heat that lingered in all the buildings. She felt the dampness under her arms in her counselor's polo, on the back of her neck under her braid, and in how the tendrils of hair at her temples stuck to the edge of her cheek ahead of her ear. She was very aware of the horsey smell emanating from her jeans, which clung to her legs wetly. She cut her canned pear with the side of her fork, pausing with it against her lips without taking it into her mouth. It was slightly cooler than the room.
She surveyed the tables: fourteen total, seven groups of boys and seven of girls. They were deliberately seated alternating gender by table to enforce some sort of diversity, but trying to make a hundred-forty ten, eleven and twelve-year olds fraternize was a pipe dream. The girls were noticeably taller and more mature than the boys at this age. Most of them were anywhere from a few inches to an entire head taller than the boys, and a more than a few were beginning to develop breasts. Rey had caught a couple in their cabin sneakily stowing forbidden make-up items in their bathroom cubbies as they'd moved in.
The boys, on the other hand, were still mostly skinny, wiry, and definitely not interested in whatever nascent attentions the girls paid them. The lure of the great outdoors was too great to bother with the opposite sex right now.
Rey gazed at a table of boys to her right, two rows away in the corner of the room. She recognized most of the other counselors by sight after three weeks onsite, and she knew that cabin was Hux's by the skinny, pale, freckled leg she saw protruding amongst the grubby sneakers and sandals beneath the folding table. Hux was wearing one of his many pairs of crisp looking shorts with his staff shirt tucked tightly in at the waist. Rey had to suppress a smile to see the seashells that were embroidered all over the material of his bottoms.
She couldn't see the other counselor for that cabin until he rose from the far end of the table to return his tray, and she realized she hadn't seen him before.
"Jess," she elbowed her friend. "Who is that guy?"
"Who?" Jessika was distracted with helping one of their campers cut her pear.
"That…. guy," Rey flicked her eyes towards him where he ambled towards the tray return window. He wasn't wearing their regulation staff polo, just a loose-fitting black t-shirt that wasn't tucked into his jeans. Even from across the room, Rey could see he was quite tall. He towered over the tables of seated campers despite hunching very slightly. His black, wavy hair was curling in the humidity at the nape of his neck. He bent down to deposit his tray in the opening, stopping to chat with the dishwasher for a moment.
"Oh," Jessika replied when she saw him. "His name is... Kyle, I think? He was here last summer, too. He leads the wilderness camping group, so he's almost never here. They hike out the Monday after the campers arrive, and come back the Wednesday before they leave, in time for Field Day."
"Oh," Rey repeated, nodding. She was still staring at his rear where he bent to the return window when he turned suddenly and straightened, looking right at her.
They made eye contact for a split second before her pear became the most interesting thing Rey had ever seen. When she glanced back up, he was still looking at her while he walked back to his group's table. He looked slightly angry for some reason.
Rey could feel her blush even under her tan, the sheen of sweat and the layer of dirt from the riding arena that coated her cheeks. She laid down her fork, the bite of pear still speared on it, and bit her lips.
"Are you alright?" She could hear Jessika's smile in her question. "You are as red as a beet."
"I, uh…" Rey stammered and shook her head slightly. "I'm going to go for a short walk, okay? I'll meet you at the barn?" She stood abruptly and gathered her utensils and napkin, taking the circuitous, long way through the mess to avoid walking by his table. When she turned from the tray return, she ventured a look in the corner.
He was seated once more at his cabin's table, his fingers laced together over his head, elbows jutting out in a wide V on each side of his head.
He was still looking right at her. She froze in her tracks, once more feeling her cheeks glowing. He stared at her, and then his gaze trailed up and down her frame once, almost lazily. His lips moved in a way that struck Rey as smug.
Rey sucked in a quick breath and darted out the open side door, pounded down the stairs and set off down the dirt path towards the stable.
Rey paced a slow track in the sand behind her charges in the blistering heat. It was nearly the end of this session, and she'd set up a short obstacle course for them to complete one-by-one. She walked behind the ponies, careful to make a wide berth behind the tiny palomino mare with a red ribbon tied to her tail- a kicker- and rounded the line to stand in front of them on her wooden box once more.
"Alright," she said evenly. "That was fine, but I know you can all do better. I want each of you to ride the line once more, and think, really think, about what you're doing this time. Remember, you're in charge, not your pony. Make him go where you want." She looked up and down the line. A few of them looked crestfallen at her assessment, others defiant. She had to suppress her smile at how malleable they were. "Becky, go ahead."
The reedy, redheaded girl at the end of the line urged her mount forwards with a few clucks and the black-and-white paint pony broke into a lazy trot as they circled around the end of the course.
"More leg!" Rey called. "Oreo is half-asleep! Give him a kick!"
The pony meandered towards the poles she'd placed on the ground, barely picking up his hooves enough to clear the wooden obstacles and even striking one as he stumbled his way through the course. The girl set her lips in a determined line and gave the pony the gentlest of bumps with her heels. It perked him up enough that he managed the small jump without striking it and they rounded the barrel she'd placed at the end without falling into a walk.
One by one, they took their turns as Rey shouted pointers. She could tell the ponies were done by the way they cocked their rear ends, resting their weight on one hoof and how their ears lolled to the sides. Some of them were even dozing with their riders on them as they waited to take their turns.
Honestly, she was done. She felt overheated, sticky, and like nothing more than lying on her bunk with the fan blowing over her. Clothing was optional.
"Good!" she shouted, "Keep your hands still, you're hitting him in the mouth!" She pivoted on her heel as the next-to-last rider worked their way through the course. It was then that she saw him, standing silently at the fence of the arena. She scowled for a split-second in his direction before returning her attentions to the last rider.
It was impossible not to feel scrutinized, but this was Rey's turf. She would not let herself be intimidated by his hulking presence.
She straightened up, clasped her hands behind her back the way she remembered her riding masters doing, and watched the final rider maneuver through the course.
"Better, Mila!" She encouraged this last one, a small-for-her-age girl with a shock of curly, dark hair poking out from beneath her helmet. "Look where you're going! Eyes up!"
The girl's pony balked at the rail, and for a sickening split second, Rey thought she might tumble off forwards over the pony's shoulder. But to her surprise, Mila gritted her teeth, gave the pony a sharp kick in the ribs, and he popped over the jump as though he'd been unexpectedly goosed.
"Nice!" she praised her, "Good recovery!"
She made a conscious effort not to glance at the man where he stood at the fence as she gave her final assessment for the day. His booted foot was propped up on the lowest rail and his hands loosely folded over the top. He'd changed from his jeans and was now wearing shorts, exposing a long stretch of pale but well-muscled leg above his hiking socks.
She dismissed the group with a stern warning to make sure their ponies were cooled out properly before releasing them to the field for the night. The last thing she needed was a colicky pony to keep her up all night walking it.
"Use the hose if you need to," Rey instructed the group. "Make sure you walk them until they're fully cool. I don't want to see anyone's pony out in the field before 4:30 PM, alright?" She glanced at her watch for emphasis. It was only 3:45. There were still hours of daylight left until sun set at 8:15.
The riders began chattering as they ran their stirrups up and Rey helped a few of the smaller kids get their reins back over their pony's head to lead them out of the paddock to the converted dairy barn.
Once the last rider had left the arena, she latched the gate carefully and turned towards the man. He still had his foot propped up, but he'd turned towards her now, holding the top rail on one massive hand.
She approached him slowly, feeling suddenly nervous. It felt late to just be meeting another staff member, and she wondered how he'd avoided the orientation the rest of them had been subjected to the weekend before last. The first ten-day camp session was nearly over already.
"Hi," she said expectantly. "I'm Rey."
"I see that," he said, eyes flicking down to her chest. She raised one eyebrow at his boldness, until she realized he was merely reading what was embroidered on her shirt pocket.
"And you are…?"
He thrust his free hand forwards to shake hers. "Kylo."
"Kylo," she repeated. "I've never heard that name before."
"I'm pretty sure my folks made it up," Kylo smiled at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners and his mouth quirking under his beard. Now that she was up close, she could tell he was considerably older than her. Than… most of the other counselors. "You're new this year?"
"Yep," she confirmed, shoving her hands in the back pocket of her jeans. She was suddenly self-conscious of how filthy her hands were from spending the day in the barn. "Jessika's my roommate at university- she twisted my arm until I applied."
"Well," Kylo nodded, looking at the dusty toes of her boots. "You seem about a hundred times better than the last riding teacher we had. The kids respond well to you."
"Thanks," Rey shaded her eyes with her hand. "Um, I should be supervising them in the barn. They get a little lackadaisical at the end of the day, I've noticed."
"Oh, right!" Kylo straightened up. "I just came down to get Milo- he's one of ours."
They stood awkwardly for a moment, and Rey realized he had no intention of leaving. She turned on her heel and walked towards the barn with him trailing behind her. They were halfway across the green when he said, "You're English?"
She turned back and walked a few steps backwards, looking at him. She felt like she was being trailed by a very large puppy.
"Yes," was all she said, then she turned forwards again.
They walked a few more steps before he remarked, "Mila and Milo are twins."
"I know," Rey called over her shoulder. The children had made a point of telling her so their first day of class. Twice.
Kylo leaned against the door of the barn and surveyed the scene silently as Rey bustled around, keeping after the tired, over-warm children to take care of their mounts before themselves. When she returned from directing their antics with hosing down the ponies outside, she was surprised to find the bridles and saddles hung correctly on their pegs in the tack room. He was seated on a bale of straw, reading a dog-eared paperback with its spine bent backwards.
"Did you put these away?" She pointed into the door of the tack room.
"No, they hung themselves up," Kylo said with a straight face.
She stared at him for a moment before a smile broke out across her face. "How did you know where they go?"
He straightened up from his crouch and stretched. "Maybe I'm a horse whisperer."
Rey snorted. "That's not how horse whispering works," she said with a laugh. "Did one of the kids help you?"
Kylo stood slowly, dusting a few loose wisps of straw from the seat of his shorts before answering her. "No, I've worked here ten summers- I know where their stuff goes."
"Oh," was all Rey could think to say. Ten summers… he must be nearly thirty?
"Are they ready to go out to the pasture?" he asked, stuffing the paperback in one of his pockets.
"Yeah," she confirmed, walking outside with him beside her. He was walking quite close to her, and she felt irritable that he felt it necessary to keep so near when it was so disgustingly humid out.
She was acutely aware that despite the general horse funk that clung to her despite repeated washings, she could smell him very faintly over it. She swallowed dryly and tried not to notice how he smelled. It wasn't strong enough to be cologne, but she thought it might be a lingering trace of aftershave or his deodorant. It had a dark, spicy note that reminded her vaguely of sandalwood.
With the ponies safely in the pasture for the night, they followed the gaggle of chatty campers silently back down the dirt road to the cluster of low, brown buildings that stood amongst the trees.
They were passing under the sign made of twigs lashed together with strips of bark before he finally spoke again.
"Well, Rey," his deep voice startled her. "Welcome to Camp Obikenobi."
He steered Milo away from the group with a hand on the boy's shoulder and a mock salute to her before turning away down the path towards their cabin.
The Thursday before the end of each two-week camp session was Field Day. Midway through the afternoon, Rey and Jessika's Scavenger cabin was only one point behind Hux and Kylo's First Order bunch. The chalk scoreboard showed the boys with four events won, and the girls with three.
Despite generally being bigger, many of the girls had already reached the age of being more concerned with looks than winning. Rey found it frustrating to see how easily they gave up running in the muggy heat, complaining melodramatically about their hair or the state of their identical uniforms instead of concentrating on victory.
Jessika rolled her eyes gently when she pointed it out.
"It's just Field Day, honey," she replied. They were standing on the sidelines cheering as a representative from each cabin hopped across the field green in a burlap sack. A slender redheaded boy with glasses was a good dozen foot ahead of the nearest competitor and showed no signs of slowing. The Scavenger girl was shuffling in her sack in the middle-back of the pack, walking rather than jumping. "No one actually cares who wins."
The identities of the cabins at Camp Obikenobi went back decades, or so they were told; each had a distinct symbol painted on the door and each camper received a patch with the same at the end of their session. Families vied fiercely for parents and children and siblings to be in the same cabin across generations.
The skinny boy in the lead broke the ribbon several seconds before anyone else reached the finish line, but the leaderboard stayed the same. He was from the Rebel cabin, who were well behind theirs.
She tried not to stare, but she couldn't help sneaking what she hoped were clandestine glances at Kylo where he stood strategizing with Hux and their campers. He was still wearing the black t-shirt and she wondered who he knew that he was not required to wear the regulation collared counselor shirt like the rest of them. His thick hair was falling over his eye and he kept brushing it back absently with one hand.
Grooming standards for counselors also dictated that the men be clean-shaven, but yet Kylo was sporting what looked like well more than a wilderness trip's worth of beard.
A bubble of irritation was beginning to form in her midsection. What did it matter whether he wore the stupid shirt or not, or if he had a beard? That wasn't her concern.
What did matter, she thought, was that they were close to tying for first place.
The sky was beginning to look threatening with a summer storm by the time they lined up at the tug-of-war pit, Scavengers on one side and First Order on the other.
"Listen up!" Hux barked to the kids. "You know the rules: the first team to pull the first person on the rope over the center line wins the match, and you know what's at stake!"
The non-competing teams and their counselors split up behind the teams to cheer them on, and Rey stood with Jessika at center while Kylo held the rope in the middle. The rope was already taut and shimmying slightly with the weight of twenty little bodies on each side. They were already beginning to pull, and Kylo had to bring them back to center several times. He had his hand firmly over the handkerchief that was tied in the middle.
"We should step back," Jessika pulled her back with a hand to her forearm.
Just as Rey and Jess turned back around, she caught Kylo motioning her campers to move up considerably.
The handkerchief was at least a foot past the marker in their favor. It was impossible to see from the opposing sides, but it was glaringly obvious from their vantage point in the middle.
Just as Rey shouted, "Oi! You're cheating!", Hux blew his whistle to signal the start.
Kylo took a giant step back as the campers dug in from each side, pulling fiercely against one another. The Scavengers yanked the handkerchief back to center almost immediately, and were making steady progress towards their side when the anchor on the First Order team, a chubby, freckled kid, thought to turn around and go down on all fours. He clawed frantically at the slippery grass as the heavens opened and it began to pour. The spectators groaned at the rain, but it didn't deter them from cheering.
"Come on Scavengers!" Jessika shouted over the fray. "You've got this, come on! Pull!"
Rey was still seething and she glared at Kylo across the quivering rope. The rain was going down the back of her neck into her shirt, down her back and into the top of her shorts. He stood with his hands on his hips, yelling gruff encouragement at his campers. He glanced at her and winked.
He winked, that asshole! She wiped her hand angrily across her forehead and began yelling along with Jessika.
"Don't let these cheaters win!" Rey shouted. "Pull harder, you're bigger than they are!"
The anchor finally got his fingers in the grass and for a moment, Rey thought it was over. The First Order gave a heave-ho that sent the Scavengers stumbling forwards a couple steps and they whooped with triumph, but they got ahead of themselves. The girls leaned back in the most cohesive effort Rey had seen them make all session and they managed to yank the handkerchief well back into their territory. Their anchor turned now too, the rope pulling viciously at her hips as she strained forwards and her teammates yelled with one voice as they hauled back and managed to drag the lead boy on the rope past the center.
Hux's whistle blew, and the rope fell to the muddied grass in what felt like slow-motion. The Scavenger girls leapt into the air, shrieking and hugging. Rey turned to Jess and they high-fived before turning to their campers and huddling up with them for a group cheer.
"If you're done celebrating," Hux sniffed loudly behind them, "Our cabin would like to congratulate yours on your victory?"
They straightened up slowly and fell into line behind their campers to high five their opponents. Rey dutifully said "Good job" to each of their campers, shook Hux's hand but crossed her arms and stopped in front of Kylo.
"Congratulations," he offered his hand with a shit-eating grin. A huge drop of rain clung to the tip of his giant nose, threatening to fall. His hair was already plastered to his forehead. "Come on, don't be a bad sport in front of the kids."
"I'm not in the habit of congratulating cheaters," Rey spat. "They were way over the line, and you know it."
To her dismay, Kylo looked anything but chagrined at her accusation. "You say cheating, I say handicapping," he retorted. "You knew your girls were going to win. Let it go."
Rey shook her head in disbelief. "You're a monster," she accused him.
The other counselors and the kids were well on their way up the hill to the main lodge for the awards ceremony when he leaned down to her and said, "And you're cute when you're angry, kid."
Her mouth fell open and she stared at his back as he turned and jogged away from her to catch up with Hux.
Rey lingered in the staff lounge long after Jessa had gone back to the Scavenger cabin with the girls after dinner to begin packing up their clothes and art projects in anticipation of their parents coming to collect them the following day. It was the only air-conditioned building on the property aside from the infirmary, and she shivered miserably in her wet polo under the chilly breeze from the pathetically small window-unit.
She had retrieved her phone from her locker and was scrolling through the texts she'd missed. The lounge was also one of the only buildings with wi-fi. Camp Obikenobi was so remote in the Catskills that most counselors simply turned their phones off and left them in their lockers for the summer. It might have been mere hours by car to the city, but they may as well have been in another galaxy.
There was a string of messages from Finn waiting, each one sounding a little more distant.
Saturday: hey boo, how r u? Miss yr face.
Tuesday: u got a new boyfrnd? Kewt boyfrnd?
Wednesday: hope ur having a good time
Today: hope ur ok. Lmk!
She sat with her thumbs poised to reply for several seconds, considering what to say. Finally she tapped out:
Settling in. Miss u! Hope ur doing well 2. Cabin tied for 1st in Field Day! Yay!
Send. Then she added for good measure:
Reception sux here. Call u this wknd? Tell Poe hi.
1 session down; 6 more 2 go! XOXO.
She stared at the texts, reluctant to turn her phone back off. They had applied to camp together, but the offer to stay in Denver and work with at-risk youth in a summer program there had come through first. So he'd stayed, and she'd come here.
It was only for a few months, and it wasn't like they were dating, exactly…
Rey stood slowly, tugging her wet shorts from her thighs, and replaced her phone in her locker. She noticed several envelopes in her mail slot, and she flicked through them quickly when a scrap of paper fluttered to her feet from between them.
She bent to pick it up, and unfolded it. It was a note was written on a scrap torn from a yellow, legal-ruled pad in a very even, slanting block print.
Meet me tonight at 10 at the boathouse.
Unless you think that's over the line, too.
She read the lines three times before refolding it, biting her lower lip. Rey felt chilly under her wet shirt, but she could not ignore the immediate warmth she felt elsewhere at the obvious implication of the invitation.
She glanced at it one more time before shoving it in her damp pocket and setting off for their cabin.
The building looked like a tornado had hit it when Rey crossed the threshold into the camper's room. Duffle bags as big as the girls were strewn about on the wood floor, and all manners of t-shirts, shorts, riding breeches, jodhpurs, paddock boots, and training bras were flung here, there, and everywhere.
Rey found Jessika lying back on her bunk calmly, reading a book.
"Are they going to be ready? It looks like a disaster in there," Rey asked.
"There you are," Jessika sat up and bookmarked her page. "Where did you get off to?"
"Just the lounge," Rey shrugged. "I was answering some texts from Finn."
"Uh huh," Jessika said, looking her up and down. "For two hours?"
Rey hesitated. "I took a walk."
"Long walk," Jessika grinned. "By yourself?"
Rey reached into her pocket and withdrew the note. Even with it folded, she could see the dampness of her shorts had caused the ink to run slightly. She handed it to Jess without comment.
Jessika's eyebrows shot to her hairline as she read the message.
"Is this from…." she dropped her voice to a whisper so their campers couldn't hear her, "Kylo ?"
Rey pressed her lips into a line in response. "They cheated at tug-of-war. He's a twat."
Jessika handed the scrap back to her with an inscrutable expression. "So are you going to go?"
Rey snorted. "I'm going to change out of these wet clothes, is what I'm going to do."
The girls were still whispering actively at lights-out at 8:30, and neither of them said anything since it was their last night. The only rule was that no campers were allowed past the threshold taped on the floor that demarcated the entrance of their room.
Rey cradled her O-Chem textbook on her chest in the light of the clip-on reading light attached to the post of their bunk bed. Jessika had claimed the top when they'd arrived, and Rey didn't care.
She was finally feeling warm again and almost sleepy when she glanced at her watch at 9:15, and the girls had settled for the most part from what she could hear. She laid her book across her chest, open to the page she had been reading. The rustle was enough to cause Jessika to stir slightly above her.
"So are you gonna go?" she asked softly.
"Jesus," Rey rolled her eyes. "No!"
There was brief pause before Jessika continued.
"Is celibacy like, a condition of your visa or something?" Jessika went on. "I mean, I don't have any first-hand experience, but I'm pretty sure American guys and English ladies are compatible. It's not like… metric vs. Imperial down there."
Rey grimaced in the dark at her friend's crudeness. "It's not that."
"Well, what it is it, then?" Jessika's disembodied voice sounded exasperated.
"It's…. he's… old!" Rey exclaimed.
The springs creaked as Jessika shifted and suddenly, her friend's head was hanging upside down above her, her long, dark hair a shaggy curtain framing her face.
"I think what you mean, is experienced," Jessika countered with a grin.
Rey stared at Jessika's shadow for a moment before she closed her eyes in frustration. "But, I told Finn I'd-"
"Oh my God, do not even say it!" Jessika flopped back on her bunk. "Finn's not here, Rey. He's back in Colorado reading to old people, or helping kids cross the street, or whatever it is he's doing for the summer. Now please, go to the boathouse, and take the edge off already!"
Rey fumed silently from below. She didn't want to go, to rise to the bait he had laid for her.
They were silent until 9:45, when Rey closed her book and placed on the floorboards beneath her bed. It was at least a ten-minute walk to the boathouse by the lake.
"I knew you'd go," Jessika whispered as she pulled on a dry pair of shorts once more. "I want a full report."
"Shut up," Rey replied. "Don't wake the girls."
Rey walked with her arms wrapped tightly around her, gripping the edge of her hoodie's kangaroo pockets as she wound the familiar path to the boathouse. The thunderstorm had passed through and the nearly-full moon illuminated the path.
She paused at the junction in the path where it opened up out of the stand of trees to the beach. The single lightbulb in the boathouse cast a long, dim ray of light out onto the dock, and she spied him lying at the end, his elbow crooked behind his head.
Rey crossed the small, rocky beach and stepped up on worn wooden planks. She was just a few strides from him before he stirred.
"I didn't think you'd come," he remarked, looking up at her without moving from his spot.
She regarded him coolly, her arms still crossed. "I don't usually fraternize with cheaters," she said primly.
He smirked in response. "I'm glad you could lower your standards for me."
She sat on the dock beside him without further comment, dipping her bare toes in the scummy water. It was warmer than the night air around her, at least.
"So how'd you learn to ride," Kylo ventured.
"Pony Club," she lied.
"It's like your 4-H," she replied. "But just with horses."
There was a brief pause before he said, "Ponies are assholes."
She glanced over her shoulder at him, and found he was grinning.
"Yes," she agreed with a smile. "They're perfect for children, that way."
"I've hated those fuckers since this happened," Kylo sat up and raised his shirt sleeve. He pointed to a spot on the backside of his upper arm. Even in the moonlight, Rey could see it was a sizeable scar in a semi-circular shape.
"You got bit, eh?" she smiled in recognition. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke."
Kylo had the sense to look mildly chagrined at her put-down. "That's fair."
They sat awkwardly beside one another for a moment before Rey said, "So, you've worked here a long time."
"I'm a teacher," he said, as though it were self-explanatory. When he caught her look, he explicated, "Summers off."
She gazed out over the lake without comment.
"My uncle used to the program director here," he continued without her asking. "My folks sent me up here to get away from the city."
"Hmmm," Rey made a small humming sound. So he was a legacy camper , she thought. Her heart sank a little at her judgement. She could picture his family: pretty, well-groomed. Conservative, maybe borderline religious.
"Is First Order your family cabin?" she asked.
"Nah," he shook his head immediately. "My mom and uncle were Rebels, when they were kids. I just took whatever cabin I could."
"Right," she hung her head, kicking her legs back and forth. The balls of her feet barely skimmed the thick, bright-green layer of algae that clung near the dock.
"Do you want to go swimming?" Kylo asked abruptly.
Rey hesitated. "I didn't bring a suit."
There was a brief pause.
"You've never been skinny-dipping?"
She could hear his smile.
"No," she admitted readily. She hoped he couldn't see her flush in the blue-white moonlight.
"It's…." he broke off. "It's really mucky here by the dock. We should go out in the canoe."
She followed him wordlessly and found she couldn't meet his eyes as they paddled silently beyond the cattails and algae-blooms to a clear spot where the moonlight reflected brightly on the flat, still surface of the lake.
He stood suddenly, rocking the canoe from side-to-side. She glanced up and bit her lip to catch him stripping himself of his t-shirt. His torso was broad and pale in the wan light, but she huffed to see how well put-together he was. A network of dark moles and a mysterious scar on his side were burned into her mind's-eye.
"I won't look if you won't," he offered, turning away from her to unbutton his jeans.
"Fine," she agreed shortly, turning away from him to unzip her hoodie and strip off her t-shirt. She hadn't bothered with her bra, and she waited until she felt the canoe rock beneath her and hear the telltale splash of his body hitting the water to remove her shorts. He swam quickly away from the canoe with a confident stroke.
She dove into the water after him, surfacing with her hands to push her hair back from her eyes. It felt warm in contrast with the air, and she tread water idly as he swam back to her from a short distance away.
"I'm not a very good swimmer," she blurted out.
"I won't let you drown," he promised, treading closer and closer to her until their knees bumped softly under the water.
She swam the backstroke with him following her, until the top of her back bumped the cool, metal hull of the canoe.
Rey righted herself to find him very close to her, close enough to reach over her shoulder and grip the lip of the canoe above her with his massive hand.
He drew close to her, and she instinctively placed one hand on the span of his neck to steady herself even as they tread water. His skin was cool to the touch, but she could feel the heat of his body beneath it.
"I thought…" Rey said as he bent his head to the crook of her neck and gently pressed his lips to her pulse point, "That counselors weren't supposed to associate with one another."
"We're… not," Kylo gently pecked his way up the line of her jaw to her ear. "But it only counts when camp is in session. You have to…" He trailed off as his free hand slipped beneath the water to grasp her slender waist. "Read between the lines."
Rey closed her eyes and tipped her head back until it knocked softly against the boat behind her. It moved as he pulled down enough to float up to catch her lips with his. Their legs knocked irregularly together as she let him him kiss her, his hot tongue sliding eagerly between her open lips. She grasped backwards over her head, clutching at the lip of the canoe alongside his hand.
Under the water, his hand traced up her body, over her rib cage, stopping dangerously close to the cleft of her breasts.
It was almost dead quiet aside from the occasional splash of the water and the ever-present drone of a few early-season locusts in the trees.
He broke their kiss first, staring at her darkly for a long moment before pushing away and swimming the breaststroke to an indeterminate point some distance away.
She watched him go before she hoisted herself over the side of the canoe and stood, shivering in the moonlight, letting the lake water drip off before reaching for her shirt.
She didn't need to look over her shoulder to know he was looking at her as she pulled her clothes back on.