[Disclaimer: Newsies belongs to Disney, of course. Characters from the CC belong to their creators; everyone else belongs to me, I guess. Please don't sue; I'm very poor.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

(Chapter Thirty-Nine: Linger)

Later, David would decide that it was a good thing his brain and body both went into shock when he saw Jack. After all, if he'd been able to do anything more than gape, he probably would have caught Jack in the kind of hug which wasn't platonic, and blown whatever cover they allegedly had left. But given that his parents really had no idea he was gay, it was probably a good thing that he just stood there.

Finally, when the silence was probably awkwardly long, he remembered to speak. "Oh, hey, Jack."

Jack laughed. "Hey, yourself."

"I, uh…I didn't expect…I didn't know you were coming."

"Yeah, it was kind of a last minute thing." Jack shrugged. "Your folks gave me a lift."

He turned to stare at his parents, who were looking on with interest. He swallowed, wondering how this had happened, and what they might know that he hadn't told them, and finally said, "Thanks."

"Oh, well, Sarah told us Jack was just dying to get to see the big show, but he was stranded in the city, and since she had that birthday party this weekend and couldn't make it—we hope you don't mind, Davey, but she's had it planned for two weeks now—well, we certainly had room in the car," his mother explained.

He blinked. Sarah? Really? That was definitely something to ask Jack about later. In the mean time, he said, "That's really cool. Yeah. Uh…"

"You know, when Jack told us you were playing Joseph, we were just so pleased, David," she continued. "You could have written to tell us, you know. What kind of boy doesn't write to his parents for eight whole weeks?"

"A busy one!" he objected. "Which is why you sent me here!" They were gathering a crowd of onlookers now, as most of the cast filed out of the theater. Jack shot David a grin but then hurried to go chat with friends, probably trying to make things look less suspicious. Like he hadn't hitched a ride with his boyfriend's parents to come visit.

"He has you there, Esther," Mr. Jacobs said good-naturedly. "Well, come on—we'd best head off to dinner like we promised your brother." He glanced over at Jack, who was laughing at Blink, who was bright red. Which, David surmised, meant that either someone was filling Jack in on the kiss between Blink and Mush—or the one between Blink and Smurf. Either way, Blink looked hilariously uncomfortable. "Jack! Would you like to come with us for dinner, or stay here with friends? Either way's fine by us."

Jack glanced at the group and then at David and hesitated. Race slapped his back. "Go on, you didn't come back here for the food, that's for sure," he said.

Everyone else snickered and David was pretty sure it wasn't because of Race mocking the camp's food. Okay, so maybe he and Jack were kind of obvious, once you were looking for it. Which everyone probably was. But still, Jack shrugged, and said, "Yeah, that's true. I'd love to come with you, Mr. Jacobs, if you don't mind."

"Our pleasure," Mr. Jacobs assured him, and with that they began to start up the path back towards the parking lot. And Les somehow squirmed in between Jack and David, first as they walked, then in the middle seat of their station wagon, and then at the table when they sat down.

David told himself not to be too irritated—Les didn't know, and that was a good thing. He didn't want to think about what would happen if his little brother was the one who told his parents about everything. But still, not even being able to reach for Jack's hand under the table was annoying.

After they ordered, Jack cleared his throat, then excused himself to the bathroom. He shot David a quick glance, then walked off. David wasn't sure if the glance had actually meant anything, but deiced that it couldn't hurt to assume it did. So he excused himself too, and followed.

The bathroom was a single room, which was being used, so Jack was waiting outside. David looked back to see that they were out of sight of his parents' table, and evidently so did Jack, because finally Jack reached out so they could hug, and David let his head rest on Jack's shoulder. "I missed you," he murmured.

"You, too," Jack said, and David looked up so they could kiss.

"Sarah?" David asked.

"I was desperate for human companionship. My father doesn't count," Jack answered. "So I went temporarily insane and called her."

"And…"

"And we hung out a few times—she was making me crazy, Dave, I had to come out to her so she'd leave me alone!" He hesitated, then said, "And, well, she kind of guessed about you and me. I didn't tell her, she just laughed and said, 'Oh, that's why you and David are so close,' and I think she figured she was right when I stared at her in surprise."

"Smooth," David laughed.

"But she said she owed you, so she arranged for this to happen. So I can see your show. And see you…And when Mrs. Higgins said it was okay for me to come visit, as long as I stayed up at the house, believe me, there was no way I wouldn't be here."

With that, they were kissing again. When the bathroom door opened, the guy who stepped out certainly looked surprised. Jack hurried in, and David couldn't stop himself from laughing.

And having finally kissed Jack, he felt much better when he finally sat back down at the table with his parents. Except for one thing: he didn't want to be hiding.

It was amazing to David that he'd gone for so long not realizing what he wanted; not even thinking about why he never had an interest in girls. He had just assumed it would happen when he met the right girl, and since he was already considered a freak by most of his classmates, not being a typical, girl-crazy teenage boy didn't bother him. It was like someone had flipped a switch when he met Jack, and the light had finally come on—oh. So that was why he hadn't been interested in girls. Yes, he'd still had to meet someone special for it to happen, but now his whole life was illuminated. It wasn't just Jack: he was gay. No question about it.

And like he'd told Jack and Racetrack two weeks ago, his parents wouldn't be upset. They loved him. They'd be happy for him.

But as he dug into a gloriously well-cooked burger, he began to get nervous.

Of course they'd be happy for him. They'd never stop loving him. They'd never said anything homophobic, not that he could recall…but then again, he'd never exactly brought the subject up with them. And maybe, even if they were generally cool with gays overall, it might be different if it was their son. And maybe…He thought about everything that had been said about the camp being in danger if they were sued, and about Jack being in danger…

His parents adored Jack. They wouldn't hurt him. Or the camp, David told himself firmly.

But now that he thought about it, the dinner table didn't exactly seem like an ideal place to have this conversation. Even if he did want to be able to be with Jack in public.

He barely tasted his burger and finished his meal quietly.


Jack stopped by the evening snack with David, but as they walked in, a crowd of cheers went up. "Aww, you guys really missed me," he said, and got a napkin thrown at him.

"Did you two get a chance to make out?" Mush called.

"Who do you think we are, you and Blink?" Jack answered.

"Hey!" Blink sounded mildly strangled, which brought another round of giggles.

They sat down at Race's table, where Spot was making one last, desperate attempt to pull off a poker win. They both cast guilty looks at Jack, who shrugged. "Hey, I'm not a counselor anymore, see if I care." He glanced over Spot's shoulder. "You're gonna lose this hand, Race."

Race folded immediately, and Spot elbowed Jack sharply between two ribs. Jack made a noise that was half a cough and half a laugh.

"So." Skittery squeezed in at their table. "Are we ever going to hear about what happened between you two?"

"Well, I had a burger and Jack had the grilled cheese with bacon." David raised an eyebrow. "My parents were so disappointed. Not kosher at all."

"They don't love their future son-in-law?"

David glanced at Jack. "You didn't start dating Sarah without telling me, did you?"

"Didn't I mention? We're passionately, madly in love. We're going to petition your parents to let us get married underage."

"Gosh. Do you need a best man?"

"Okay, you guys, we get it," Mush laughed. "You aren't talking."

"Talking about what?" Jack asked innocently. "Lovely weather we're having."

David didn't bother to hide his grin. As annoying as all the questions had been when he'd been alone, now they didn't seem to matter at all. Because with Jack there to help him laugh them off, knowing Jack would wait as long as it took for him to be comfortable and want to come out—just like he'd waited for David to be comfortable and tell him he was gay, even after they'd kissed in the barn—well, with Jack there, nothing seemed hard anymore.

Except telling his parents. The feeling he'd had at dinner hadn't gone away, and somehow, the more his parents seemed to like Jack, the more nervous he became. He couldn't think of a single rational reason why, but there it was.

But at the same time…

He took a deep breath, conflicted. He wanted to tell his friends—it was more to make sure that Jack and the camp stayed out of legal trouble than anything else that prevented him from just telling them. Everyone had made it pretty clear they wouldn't care at all. And he did want to tell his family; he couldn't help but feel like this was what he'd gotten out of camp, out of his parents' stupid idea that it would make him more social.

Maybe it had, or maybe the people at camp were just nicer. He wouldn't know that until he was back at school, he supposed. But what he knew for sure now was that he was gay. They wanted him to know himself better, well, now he did.

But actually telling them felt like a whole other matter.

He didn't groan aloud, but somehow Jack seemed to know, and quietly put a hand on his on David's knee. When David glanced at him, Jack gave him a smile.

Okay. It wouldn't be so hard. Tomorrow, he'd just find a quiet moment, take his parents aside, and tell them. Easy as cake, right?


Free time was rather hard to come by on the very last day of camp, David discovered the next morning. Jack came down to breakfast with the Higgins family; campers' families began appearing almost immediately after the meal ended.

David was reintroduced to Skittery's family. Skittery looked pained, especially when his sister asked if she could blow him off to hang out with the curly-haired hunk—Mush—and after Mush ran away, understandably afraid, she began making eyes at Jack. David was irritated, at least until Skittery's mother reminded them that they were from Long Island—as though their accents would let anyone forget—and Skittery pointed out that as David was also living in a New York suburb, it wouldn't be too hard for them to get together and hang out.

Which was kind of a relief. His parents had been right about the fact that he had trouble making friends, and now that he actually had some, he didn't want to lose them. But with camp ending, he had no idea when, or if, he'd be seeing these guys again, and made a mental note to find out who was in his area before the day was over.

The next family to show up was Blink's, which was actually remarkably small—just his dad. They looked a lot alike, with the same blond hair (and even a similar style), the same eyes (minus the eyepatch), and the same noses and jaws. But Blink's dad had a beard. ("Well," David noted, "at least you know what you'll look like in your forties.")

Unlike the first parents' day, Mush's entire family was there: both parents, all three sisters (Faith, Hope, and Charity, David remembered), and his little brother, Sheppard.

"How did you miss out on the theme-name craziness?" David asked him.

"What makes you think he did?" asked Faith, the oldest of the girls.

David blinked, realizing he didn't have the slightest idea what Mush's real name was. Funny how he felt like he knew Mush so well and was missing a seemingly crucial detail…but when the name was revealed—Virtue—he supposed he understood why Mush hadn't been eagerly spreading it around.

Because Swinger's parents had come out for the first parents' day, Snitch's family came to support both of them and Swinger's little sister, and to help them get packed up to head home. His parents were both pretty young and athletic, David judged, and they were utterly nonplussed by Swinger's nigh-incomprehensible dialect.

David spent the morning looking for opportunities to pull his parents aside and talk to them, but was reminded that just because he'd spent the entire summer inside the theater didn't mean that Les had, so he ended up walking along with his parents to every single event. He applied sunscreen, and tried not to give away anything when Jack not-so-innocently offered to rub it in to any hard-to-reach places for him, despite the fact that his parents were watching.

The swimming demonstration was being run by Artemis, who was bring out the swimming groups one at a time to show off all the new strokes and techniques they'd learned. It would have been mind-bogglingly dull, except that most of his friends were also milling around on the beach. It wasn't that everyone wanted to watch the demonstration so much as that there weren't other activities going on, and as it was the last day of camp, it felt almost like there was pressure to stick together, to make jokes, to get in those last few hours of fun before going home.

After swimming was sailing. When David approached the beach, he noticed that Blink and Smurf were holding hands and preparing one of the boats together a demonstration. When Gunwale, Irish, and Dutchy appeared to start the demonstration, Blink looked around self-consciously, kissed Smurf's cheek, and hurried over to help the counselors out. She sat in the sand with her friends, smiling, apparently despite the fact that she still couldn't sail due to her stitches.

David could have sworn he overheard Dutchy mutter, "It's like cats lying down with dogs, I swear to god…" and staring in her direction, but he might have said something different. David couldn't be sure.

The group cheered at the appropriate times, as group of younger kids showed off their canoe and crew skills, then Blink, Itey, Ian, and Spot took out two sailboats and did a few quick turns and tricks. David had to admit it looked pretty cool, and he and Jack both cheered loudly. He glanced over at his parents, and saw them smiling, too, then remembered what he had to tell them. And even though he kept cheering, a little bit of his joy fell away, replaced by nerves.

But that was nothing compared to the nerves as the performance of Joseph drew closer. He tried to stay calm as they trooped back up hill to watch more demonstrations, this time of tennis and archery. David watched Snitch and Mush play tennis with a range of emotions, the shallowest of which was that he abruptly understood why Mush had a flock of girls—how had he missed those abs? Why were all of his male friends abruptly so attractive? It had to be an end-of-camp, clinginess thing—but more importantly, he wondered how, with a pretty big performance that night, Mush could be so calm. He made a mental note to ask Mush at lunch, because he definitely needed to do something. He felt almost nauseous, and knew the feeling wasn't going to go away.

At archery, he failed to mention to his parents that he'd only been once—and Sneakers gave him a wink and didn't mention it either. As David hadn't spent much time around archery, he didn't know quite what to expect. But as he watched Sneakers walk Spot through several demonstrations, he abruptly understood the vague fear that people seemed to have of Spot snapping and going psycho at any moment. It wasn't just that he seemed unnaturally good with a bow and arrow, it was the look of pure, manic glee on his face.

While his parents watched Les, who apparently had spent a good deal more time at the range than David had, he did manage to make his way over to Mush. "Hey, you got a sec?" he asked.

"Yeah, what's up?" Mush smirked. "Where's loverboy?"

"Where's yours?" David shot back.

"Off with his girlfriend, making out somewhere, presumably," Mush said good-naturedly, reminding David that Mush really did seem to be very secure with his sexuality, never mind stereotypes about theater boys.

Which, David mused wryly, I now seem to support.

But aloud he said, "How are you so calm?"

"Hmm?"

"About the show? I'm so nervous it's killing me, Mush. I don't remember a single thing Medda told us yesterday!" He took a deep breath. "I'm going to screw everything up!"

"Nah." Mush grinned.

"What do you mean, 'nah'? You're so calm and I'm a wreck!"

Mush shrugged. "What do you want me to tell you, David?" he asked reasonably. "I think you'll be fine—you've been great in rehearsals all week. You're not as bad at the dance numbers as you think you are. You've got a great voice. Medda trusts you with her show, and she knows that kind of thing." He smiled encouragingly and gave David a hearty pat on the arm. "And anyway, everyone here's your friend. Honestly, what's the worst that can happen?"

"They could hate me."

"Why would they hate you? It's not a big deal."

"It is a big deal! It could change everything!"

Mush raised an eyebrow. "Okay, well…Um, nuh-uh?"

David took a deep breath. "Sorry, I just…I'm kind of freaking out."

"Look, seriously. All I do is—you take a deep breath. Think about a rehearsal."

"But all the people—"

"No, I mean, about the feeling when you finish a rehearsal. You look around and blink, like, 'done already?' It'll all be over before you know it."

David nodded. But he wasn't even really listening anymore…All he could think about was what he'd yelled at Mush. It could change everything.

Screwing up in a play couldn't. Telling his parents he was gay could. And when he really thought about it, yeah, he wanted to do well in the show…But if it didn't happen, he wouldn't be too upset. But if he came out to his parents and that didn't go well…

It could change everything.

On the other hand, obviously all holding off was doing was making him more nervous. Like Mush said…think about it being done. And it would be over soon after that, right?

After archery finished up, the families all trooped down towards the dining hall. Something special was being prepared for lunch, evidently (definitely not usual camp food—David was pretty sure the camp didn't want parents to know just how bad that really was). He maneuvered his way over to Jack and mumbled, "I'm gonna tell them after lunch."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, then." Jack gave him a slightly strained smile.

The Jacobs family regrouped in the dining hall. The meal turned out to be a fake luau, with various veggies and meat cubes all cooked up so everyone could put their own shish-kabobs together. The whole interior had been rearranged, tables pushed together in odd places so extra benches could be moved in, making room for everyone. Despite his haze of nerves, David was vaguely aware that Jack had disappeared, but was too busy trying to figure out what he was going to say.

It wasn't like he could just come out and say it. But it also wasn't like there was a delicate way of implying it. And then he'd have to explain everything that had happened with Jack.

"David, honey, you're barely eating," Esther scolded. "Honey, camp must have given you an appetite."

"Mom," he grumbled. "I'm an adult, I can decide what to eat for myself."

She smiled. "You're still my baby, no matter what."

He was actually almost comforted by that.

The one snag to this brilliant plan of talking after lunch was that he had to get rid of Les. Not that he didn't love his little brother, but he wasn't quite ready to explain to a nine-year-old what was going on. He was pretty sure he'd need his parents' help for that one.

But somehow, as the meal ended and families began to drift away, Jack was there at the rescue. "Hey, kid, I been talking to Paint—she says you've done some pretty great stuff over at arts'n'crafts, but you haven't shown me yet." He grinned down at Les. "So you wanna?"

"Yeah!" Les agreed enthusiastically.

"Let's go," Mr. Jacobs said, nodding, but David cleared his throat.

"Actually, uh…Mom, Dad, I was hoping you and I could…you know, talk a little." He bit his lip while his parents exchanged glances.

"You can show your folks later," Jack told Les, leading him away. "I bet lots happened in the bunk after I left. You wanna tell me about it?"

"Yeah!" Les said again, and they drifted away.

"David?" Mrs. Jacobs asked curiously.

"Um, maybe we could…go out on the porch. Where there's some privacy. And a great view," he said quickly. There were a few other people outside on the dining hall's back porch, which overlooked the lake, but plenty of space between them all. As he led his parents outside, he remembered that this was where Jack had first told him about his family, almost two months ago…and that they'd made out here once, the night he and Jack got caught.

"What's going on, David?" Mr. Jacobs asked, as they sat on the bench that ran along the porch's far side, David between his two parents.

"Well, it's just…um…" He vaguely remembered that weeks ago, he'd talked down Mrs. Higgins, but whatever eloquence she'd ascribed to him was now gone. "Look, okay, uh…so, you guys sent me here for that whole…self-knowledge thing, right? And I thought it was stupid, but maybe…maybe you were right after all. Because, like…" He groped for words, and told himself not to stall. This could change everything.

"Because, like, I dunno. I did a lot of thinking, when I wasn't busy with the theater and the other guys and all. And, um, I guess…I realized some stuff. About me." Deep breath. "Mom, Dad, it's…I'm gay."

He waited for them to say anything, and for what felt like an eternity, the words just hung in the air. He wondered if maybe they hadn't heard, but then abruptly his mother pulled him into a hug, clutching him tightly. And his father put a hand on his shoulder.

"David…" Mrs. Jacobs finally said. "Oh, Davey."

"Is it…I mean, okay?" he asked. The hug indicated it probably was, but…

"Of course, son." Mr. Jacobs nodded. "We…Well, I know it must have taken courage for you to tell us like that. And I'm glad you did."

"We just want you to be happy," Mrs. Jacobs added.

"Oh. Good."

She finally released him and he leaned back against the porch. First hurdle jumped. Now was the potentially dangerous one. "There's just, um, one other thing."

"Hmm?"

"Jack. He's…Well, Jack is my boyfriend." He waited for that to sink in, seeing his parents' faces go from a look of surprised happiness—that was promising—to confusion.

"I thought Jack was a counselor?" Mr. Jacobs finally asked.

"Yeah, he was. It's, well, kind of a long story. Which I really want to tell you, but first I just—I need you guys to know that, that Jack means a lot to me." Oddly, now the words were just pouring out. "I really, really care about him, and he makes me happy…happier than I've ever been, I think. And, and everything between us, it was all my decisions, my choices. Jack never, ever, pressured me, or anything like that. Okay?"

"Dave…" Mr. Jacobs trailed off, but finally nodded.

"Okay," Mrs. Jacobs agreed, her voice sounding a little happier than her husband's.

"Okay," David echoed. "Then, I guess…it started…" His first impulse was to start when he'd been sick, but he realized he needed his parents to know that what happened with the Delanceys accusing them—no matter how true the accusations were, they more mostly just malicious. "Well, it really started with a fist fight after dinner one night."


David spent most of the next twenty minutes trying to explain the entire summer as though it were perfectly normal. He skimmed over the non-Jack related events, like Race's family and the strike, and when he reached the part where they got caught and both did a fair amount of lying, he spent it staring at his shoes. His parents made vague noises of…He didn't know. Interest, acknowledgement that they were listening. Not much else; nothing he could discern as being angry or anything, but nothing that sounded especially supportive.

He wrapped the tale up with, "So…We said goodbye. And I really missed him…and I'm so grateful you let him come with you, I really am." He stared at his hands. "I swear, we didn't do anything wrong. We didn't mean to hurt anything…"

His mother put an arm around him and he leaned against her shoulder. She kissed the top of his head, the way she had when he was much younger, and he took a few deep breaths.

"You've had a very busy summer," she eventually commented, and laughed. It was nervous laughter, but not—David was relieved to notice—angry.

"Well, that was the idea, right?"

"Little did we know," Mr. Jacobs mused. "Still, I—well, Jack is a nice kid, Dave. And even when he screwed up pretty bad…it sounds like you two handled it as best as you could."

David nodded again, still leaning against his mother. He felt a little drained. But his father checked his watch and slowly stood up. "David…" He hesitated, and held out his hand. Never mind that they were a family that hugged; David got it. He stood up and shook his father's hand. It was some kind of respect thing. And then, as his mother stood, his father did hug him very tightly, but only for a few seconds.

They didn't say much else as they walked into the dining hall. David didn't mind, though; he knew his parents weren't mad. They were…well, they were probably a little shell-shocked, but happy for him. And a little bit proud. And they loved him.

And the only thing that had changed was that he felt better.

They walked back out of the front of the dining hall—only to see that Jack was standing in front of it expectantly, with Mr. and Mrs. Higgins next to him. Les was nowhere to be seen, David noted, as he realized that Jack must have told the Higginses what was going on so they could be prepared.

Everyone stood in quiet nervousness for a moment, and finally Jack said, his voice cracking, "Mr. Jacobs, Mrs. Jacobs, I—I'm sorry—"

"For what?" Mr. Jacobs asked easily.

And, being the mother she was, Mrs. Jacobs crossed brusquely to where Jack was standing and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, hugging him fiercely. His eyes widened with surprise and he tentatively hugged her back.

"Now, no apologies," Mrs. Jacobs said, when she finally released him. "We couldn't imagine a nicer boy for David to bring home, honestly."

David snuck a glance at the Higginses, who both looked pretty relieved themselves. But even so, Mrs. Higgins cleared her throat. "If you two have any questions or concerns…" she started.

Mr. Jacobs shrugged. "I don't know if I'd have handled things the same way," he admitted. "But it's very clear that you love Jack. And I suppose we can't hold that against you."

"And we didn't do anything wrong," David added.

Mr. Jacobs and Mrs. Higgins shared an amused look, and finally Mr. Higgins cleared his throat and noted, "We should head over to riding now, if you want to be there in time for your little brother, David."

"Oh, Les is in the riding show? That's excellent!" Mrs. Jacobs declared. "Jack, lead the way. David, did you ever go to r—"

"No, Mother, I did not."

"Don't snap at your mother, David."

"I didn't snap!"

But still, as he followed Jack and his mother uphill, he didn't mind. Nothing had really changed, not at all.


Bumlets met with the dancers he'd chosen for his end-of-the-year dance piece to warm them up fifteen minutes before they were scheduled to go on. The Fiendish song he'd picked was one of their longer tracks, and more about rock than melody, but he felt he'd put together a number that would work. He had also managed to rotate in and out different age groups, and had even had a few boys—well, younger boys—volunteer for it, so he felt like he had a pretty good representation of the camp. He was honestly pretty proud of the number.

The crowd inside the theater wasn't as big as he'd hoped, but all of the performing kids' families were there, and a bunch of others—probably just waiting for the big show, but still. Most of the counselors had shown up; the rest were probably corralling kids and their families around. He was a little disappointed to see Specs and Dutchy were among that group, but supposed it wasn't a huge deal.

Mrs. Higgins had told him to introduce the event before it started, so when everyone was set to go, he made his way out on to the stage and cleared his throat. It didn't stop the chatter of the audience. "Hey, everyone! We're about ready to get started!" he called, and was met with a smattering of applause. "So—uh. This is my first summer as a counselor, so I was pretty excited to get to put together a showcase for everyone. The music for this is from a local band I found over the summer, called Fiendish. As for the dancers, these kids have all worked really hard. So let's hear it for them!"

He stepped off to the side of the stage and hit play on the CD player. And the kids all made their entrances on time, all moved fluidly and gracefully. He couldn't say there wasn't a single misstep or wrong turn, but the campers made it look pretty good. He smiled proudly as they took their bow when the music ended. He stepped back on stage to remind everyone that Joseph would be starting in fifteen minutes and looked out at the smiling crowd—then froze. Standing just inside the doorway was Dutchy—and next to him was Gabby, her shock of bright purple hair making her easier to spot.

"I, uh…"

She waved at him.

"Well, that's it from me—but stick around for Joseph, which is…it's gonna be really good," he finally said, and hurried off stage and out the back of the theater. The cast of Joseph was there, huddled together doing vocal warm ups, but he only hesitated for a moment before dashing away from them, back around to the front of the theater, and inside.

"…I told you he'd bolt," Gabby was saying to Dutchy.

"Well, he won't have gone far," Dutchy answered. "They'll need him backstage in a few minute, I'll go find him."

"I've been found," he said.

They both spun to see him standing behind him. Gabby cleared her throat. "Hi," she said.

"Um, hello."

"That was cool. That dance thing," she said.

"Thanks. Um…" He trailed off nervously.

Dutchy grinned at him. "Don't freeze up now, Alec, come on."

He glared and Dutchy smirked a little.

"Hey," Gabby said. "Rob and Rich came to my show last week, you weren't there."

"I, uh, switched days off last week."

"So they said." She smiled. "Anyway, they said you were using my music for something, which sounded cool to me—so they said I should drop by if I wanted to. So here I am."

"Wow, uh…that's really cool," he said lamely. Dutchy elbowed him. "Um, thanks," he added.

"You're welcome."

"Did you want to stick around for the show?"

"Alec choreographed that, too," Dutchy added.

"Sure. So what are you doing when camp ends?" she asked.

"Off to college." He stuck his hands in his pockets.

"I mean, like…right after," she said.

"We all stick around for a few days," Dutchy said when Bumlets didn't seem to know what to say. "To get everything all cleaned and sealed up for the winter."

"Oh."

"We have more free time, though," he said, and elbowed Bumlets again.

"Oh, really." She raised an eyebrow. Bumlets noted idly that, while her eyebrows weren't purple and didn't match her hair, she did have an eyebrow ring. "So like…you'd be free to leave camp?"

"We would. One second." He smacked the back of Bumlets's head and hissed, "She gave you her number and is asking what you're doing in a few days. Say something." Then he turned back to Gabby. "Sorry about that. I think he's gone catatonic."

"Shut up!" Bumlets hissed, blushing. Because he knew what he was supposed to say, it was just that the words got caught in his throat. But finally he said, "Um, so…in a few days, would you like to…like, go out? For dinner?"

She grinned. "I'll pick you up at seven on Tuesday."


The cast sat in a sort of large, lopsided circle behind the theater. David was leaning back on his arms, staring up at the sky. It was blue, with only a few, perfectly white, perfectly fluffy clouds. And oddly, he wasn't nervous.

"Okay," Mush said, sitting next to him while Race sat on his other side, "you have got to tell me what kind of downers you are on, because you look seriously calm now."

David laughed. "I feel better, yeah. Thanks for talking me down earlier."

Race chuckled. "So how'd you find your zen, Dave?"

"Oh, wasn't too hard." He shot them a smirk. "I came out to my parents. Calmed me right down."

"Huh." Race nodded. "How'd they take that?"

"Big hugs all around."

"Glad to hear it."

Mush glanced at him. "I almost wish I was gay just so I could try that." He looked around. "So when are we going to get our Pharaoh?"

David shrugged. He'd been really nervous about that before, but now Mush and Race were right. He felt really calm, kind of ready to handle anything.

"Campers!" Medda clapped her hands together and stepped into the center of the circle. A camp van pulled up on the dirt path that ran to the south of the theater, which further down split off to go down to the waterfront. David glanced over at it curiously. "I would just like to say that you have all worked very hard, and I'm very proud of all of you. Give yourselves a hand." The group applauded themselves obediently. "Good. And now, meet Elvis."

Joseph was a show that was made up of a whole bunch of musical styles, thrown together. Blink's solo—One More Angel In Heaven—was country-western, Ian was singing a calypso, and Skittery something vaguely French. The Pharoah's number sounded like an old-fashioned Elvis song.

But still, that didn't prepare anyone for what stepped out of the van. David gawked: whoever he was, his costume, at least, was perfect. It was the iconic white, spangled suit, with huge black sunglasses and slicked back black hair. He walked primarily by swiveling his hips.

"Did she actually hire an impersonator?" Race asked, staring.

"Looks like…" Mush said, then squinted. "Wait, no, holy crap. That's Specs."

"No way," David said, staring. But Mush was right. Specs's hair had been greased up and dyed black, and he'd traded in his usual glasses for the giant sunglasses, but when he spoke ("Hey, y'all. Thankyewverymuch.") it was pretty clear.

"You're really good at that," noted one of the younger boys.

"Good at whut?" Specs asked in a thick accent and pitched-low voice.

"Specs, come off it," Stage laughed.

"Specs? Yew mean these?" He indicated his glasses. "They just keep the sun out, darlin'. My eyes are perfect. Thankyewverymuch."

"He's going to keep doing that, isn't he?" Race asked.

"Sounds like," David agreed.

"Very good!" Medda declared. "Elvis, thank you for stopping by to help us out together."

"My pleasure, ma'am. Thankyew—"

"Very much, I know," she said. "Well. Now. We've done all our warm-ups, we've practiced very hard…All that's left is to go on and do it. I think we're ready."

David looked around. Ian was sitting next to Spot, who was clearly trying to inch away from him. All of the girls were sitting together, gossiping and giggling—except for Smurf, who was sitting next to Blink. They were holding hands. They'd both looked ridiculously happy all the time for the last few days. But David couldn't even be irritated with them anymore, not knowing that Jack had managed to get all the way here to see him. Worm was sitting in the circle, too, though she was still holding her clipboard. But she was talking to some of the younger actresses, looking less awkward than she had at the beginning of the week.

He smiled. He felt ready, and only a little nervous…At least, until the cast snuck into the wings, moving as quietly as possible. (But, with a cast the size of the show's, that was pretty hard.) The lights came on for the prologue and kids' chorus—which Les was part of—and David watched from the wings. And in the first big number, everyone entered in ones and twos. He was the last…And it gave him just enough time to start feeling nervous again.

"…Joseph, Jacob's favorite son…" Mondie sang onstage and he started to panic and tripped just a little bit as he stepped on to the stage. Even with people cheering at his entrance, his heart leapt about a mile and in that instant he panicked about finding his mark and getting into position—but then Jack's voice broke through everything over the sound of singing. Not words, just a loud, supportive whoop.

David remembered that everyone was just there for fun. And that the people who cared about him wouldn't care if he screwed up…And knowing that made it all seem easy enough that he didn't think he was going to screw up at all.

And he didn't.

Except, maybe, on one or two of the dance moves, where he might have lost track of where he was, or turned the wrong way, or banged into someone else. But only a little. Otherwise, the show went off without a hitch, and when he came out to do his curtain call, he looked out at the audience and saw they were all on their feet, cheering and applauding. And even though everyone was yelling loudly, he could swear Jack was loudest of all. So when Jack was the first person he greeted afterwards, with a hug that confirmed rumors by not even pretending to be platonic (and it was all he could do not to go for a kiss, too), no one was too surprised.

David didn't stop grinning for hours.


Dinner that night was a cookout, again to accommodate all the extra people. Afterwards, parents were ushered out of the camp for the night—the big end-of-summer campfire was a camp-only affair.

Well, Jack mused, camp and me.

He'd only been gone two weeks, but being back felt decidedly odd. Everyone gave him strange looks, just about constantly. His campers had been glad to see him; some of the kids had asked about the "family reasons" he'd officially resigned over, and he'd managed to stutter out an answer. But it seemed like any kid over the age of twelve knew, or knew rumors, and everyone just stared. The fact that he spent most of the day with the Jacobs family didn't really help, either.

But after saying his quick hello to everyone else, he stayed with the family anyway. Not that he didn't want to see his friends, but he was there for David. And so even though he'd almost had a panic attack when David said he wanted to come out to his parents and explain everything, he'd been as helpful as he could, and told himself that David knew his parents best, and how they'd react. And he was pretty sure the Jacobs family liked him.

But he was positive he'd never been as relieved in his whole life as the moment Mrs. Jacobs had hugged him. Startled, but relieved.

Since then, David had seemed much more at ease…and less interested in keeping their private life private. Jack couldn't decide if he minded or not. The only time it had been a problem had been momentarily at the riding show—Morris Delancey was still at the camp, after all, and had come stalking over towards him. Then he'd seen that Jack was standing with David and his parents, and whether he'd figured out that the secret was out, or was just too chicken at heart to carry through with his threats, he'd settled for a scowl, a muttered nasty word, and then had gone about his business.

Otherwise, nothing bad had happened. His friends had all been really understanding, no one even said anything when he spent the day trailing after the Jacobs family. Though he had to worry a little bit, even after Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs had been so kind…What if other campers mentioned it to their families? Could that really lead to trouble, like the Delanceys had claimed?

He didn't want to worry David about it. So he just followed quietly and cheered loudly. And remembering how David had barely been able to stutter through a sentence the first week of camp, he cheered even louder when he saw his boyfriend being, in perhaps mildly biased opinion, completely awesome on stage.

Then had been dinner and now…

He stared up at the stars. The bonfire was held on the boat beach; it had more room, easier access, and smoother ground than the swimming beach—and they were the only areas where there wasn't a lot of foliage around to catch fire. And the fire had been nice and toasty for half an hour now.

The sun was now just about down, with only a hint of orange left shimmering against the lake. Stars were out and visible; the moon was bright. Fireflies zapped on and off in the woods at the edge of the wide beach; some of the littler kids were catching them in cupped hands to see them glow, then releasing them again. Mrs. Higgins was guarding a carton of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars with her life against attempts from some of the middle-group campers to steal them and start making smores early.

Jack himself was all but lying on the sand, his shoulders propped up against a log which would probably be fire fodder in a couple of hours. David was leaning against him comfortably; the rest of Pentland's occupants were scattered nearby. This was the outer loop of campers; the younger ones—who weren't off enjoying the twilight beach (and being kept away from the water by fierce counselors)—were sitting closer to the fire.

Dutchy and Specs strolled down on to the beach together. Specs's hair was still slicked back into the Elvis-do, though the dye (doubtlessly something from a spray can) was fading. Dutchy was carrying his guitar case. Spots in the inner circle were cleared for them immediately and Dutchy was tuning up within a minute of sitting down.

"I missed the bonfire first session," David commented. "We were sick."

"Yeah, that's right," Jack remembered. And he remembered lying there across from David, dozing off thinking about how the only other person he could possibly have spent so much time locked in a room with and not wanted to kill was Racetrack…who was like a brother to him. And realizing that David was never going to be like a brother to him, and that best friend wasn't good enough, either.

But he'd never had hazy daydreams of losing his job, of being exiled away from camp for two weeks. This was the moment he'd dreamed about, lying on the beach with David so close.

When Dutchy and Specs started singing, though, he decided to just enjoy this moment instead of thinking about everything he'd gone through to get there.

"Hey, I know this song," David commented, as they listened. "My dad listens to this."

It was Simon & Garfunkel, Jack knew, but really only because he'd heard them sing it before. It was a last night of camp tradition.

"Each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories; and every stranger's face I see reminds me that I long to be," Specs sang, and then Dutchy came in with the harmony for the chorus, still strumming on his guitar. "Homeward bound—I wish I was, homeward bound. Home, where my thoughts escaping; home, where my music's playing; home, where my love lies waiting silently for me…"

Jack had no interest in going home, not really. Not to New York, and not to Santa Fe, either. For him, this place was home. The Higginses had been better parents to him than either of his own.

The folk-singing duo moved from Simon and Garfunkel on to Peter, Paul & Mary—Puff the Magic Dragon. "So is this song depressing or about drugs?" Race asked lightly from where he was sitting in the sand.

"This is about drugs? Are you kidding me?" Blink asked.

"I think it's just depressing," Skittery said.

"Drugs, for sure," Snitch said.

"No way," Blink said.

He looked over at Smurf, who rolled her eyes fondly. "How did you not know that?"

"It's not," Skittery said. "That's just a rumor. It's just depressing. Like Peter Pan. Growing up sucks."

"I don't know," David mused. "Growing up isn't so bad."

Jack smiled.

"Hey!" Ian called, as the song wound down. "Play something happy!"

Dutchy shrugged amiably and kicked into Home On the Range, which also had the advantage that all of the kids could sing along. After that it was The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, then he and Specs got everyone into a rousing (but simple) round about flowers that everyone had learned over the summer. It lasted about three minutes before falling apart, which wasn't bad for a round at all.

Jack smiled as they went into another end-of-year tradition. Specs called, "Okay—one more, and then smores, guys. This is a slow one, so don't speed it up. Take your time. We'll do it a couple times, so everyone learns the words."

Dutchy struck a mellow chord, and the campers who recognized it all chimed in:

Mm-mm I want to linger
Mm-mm a little longer
Mm-mm a little longer here with you

Mm-mm it's such a perfect night
Mm-mm it doesn't seem quite right
Mm-mm that it should be my last with you

Mm-mm and come September
Mm-mm I will remember
Mm-mm our camping days and friendships true

Mm-mm and as the years go bye
Mm-mm I'll think of you and sigh
Mm-mm this is goodnight and not goodbye

Mm-mm I want to linger
Mm-mm a little longer
Mm-mm a little longer here with you

The song tapered off and the last strains of it died off into the night, which seemed rather quiet. Jack looked around and was actually a little overwhelmed: this summer, he'd found David; Smurf and Blink had finally worked out what four years of tension with each other actually meant. Spot had actually bested Race in the prank war—despite what Race claimed, the missing mattress really had been a great trick—and Race had learned a little about communicating with his mother.

And now it was all ending. Jack knew he wouldn't be able to come back and work again…visit, yes, but not work. So after a decade, this was really his last night at camp, his last bonfire. He swallowed, a lump forming in his throat.

Counselors handed out the snacks, the little kids first, and when the started munching, the older kids moved in to begin toasting their own marshmallows. Mrs. Higgins stood to talk.

"Well. It certainly has been an eventful summer," she noted. "As always, of course." Polite chuckles. "We've watched so many of you change this summer—for the better, I think. Kids always change for the better when they get away from home."

"What about Race?" Jack called.

"He's already perfect." She shot Jack a smug smile. Jack laughed.

"Awwwwwwwwwww," the majority of campers cooed. Jack glanced over at Race, who was doing his best to look disdainful of his mother's comment. Trying so hard, in fact, that he pretty much had to be inwardly very pleased. Or so Jack inferred.

"What's remarkable is how much some of our counselors grow up, too," she added, then nodded over at Sneakers, who stood up and clamored up to her side. He looked around awkwardly.

"So, uh," he said, peering through the rows of campers until he found Paint sitting with some of the younger girls. He stared at her nervously. "I think—well. A few of you maybe know that Amy and I—I mean, me and Paint—have been together for awhile. And I just keep thinking…Well." He walked through the crowd of people to her, took her hand, and tugged her to her feet. Then he dropped down to one knee, and Jack could have sworn that the amount of oxygen in the area decreased for a moment—everyone gasped.

And sure enough, he produced a ring. It gleamed in the firelight.

"Amy, will you marry me?"

She raised an eyebrow. "What do you think?" But then she laughed. "I mean—yes."

He slid the ring onto her finger, and stood up, and they kissed. Jack instinctively groped for David's hand as the group cheered and applauded—and Dutchy struck up Here Comes the Bride on his guitar. Cheers turned to chuckles and someone took pictures, which Jack noted was probably a really good idea.

When Sneakers and Paint finally sat back down, it was side-by-side. And Paint kept looking down at her ring, then over at Sneakers, and then grinning.

"Sickeningly adorable," Skittery muttered.

"Aw, it's not sickening," Blink said.

"So are the two of you," Skittery muttered at him and Smurf.

"With that attitude, who's surprised your single?" Mush mused.

Everyone laughed, and Skittery made a noise of disgust. Jack smirked and glanced at David, who rolled his eyes, but smiled.

As more smores were passed out, Dutchy began playing guitar again. Jack settled back against his log, and this time, David leaned right against him. They were still holding hands—anyone who bothered to look could see, but Jack didn't mind so much. It was dark enough that probably no one would think to examine them.

As the night grew darker and the fire died down, the younger campers were, entirely against their will, sent off to bed. The next-youngest group went half an hour later.

"I wish tonight didn't have to end," David murmured into Jack's shoulder.

"All good things, Davey."

"Yeah, yeah, just…I'm really happy, Jack. And I don't want to lose that."

"Then don't." Jack rolled over on to his side to face David. "All that's different is that here you speak up. You've always been awesome." He pressed his forehead to David's, positively itching to kiss him, but a not-so-subtle throat-clearing from Racetrack reminded him that it probably wasn't a great idea to start making out with David right there.

…Or rather, it was a great idea, just not an appropriate one. He pulled away a little bit.

As each group of campers walked away from the fire, they sang the linger song again, as though it really could stretch the night out.

David shivered next to him and Jack put an arm around him. David put his head on Jack's shoulder.

"You know what's hilarious," Skittery mused aloud, "Jack and David are cuddled up exactly like Blink and Smurf."

"Ahem," Mrs. Higgins fake-coughed loudly.

"So you two want to talk about those rumors now?" Skittery asked.

"Nope," Jack and David chorused together.

"Okay, you two speaking in unison isn't adorable. It's annoying," he said in irritation.

"Score," David mumbled, and Jack laughed.

Dutchy was picking out some quieter stuff on his guitar; neither he nor Specs was really bothering to sing much. Jack stared up at the stars and listened: the guitar blended with the waves crashing onto the sand and the bugs humming out in the woods. He felt David's breath against his neck and David's body against his own. And gradually conversation slowed down, and the Junior group was whisked off to bed.

Dutchy set aside his guitar.

"Sleepy?" Jack asked David quietly.

"Mm." David looked at him. "I don't want to go to sleep, though."

"That's the trick of the campfire," Race mumbled. "Mom brings us down here the last night knowing we all get mellow so we won't argue when she sends us to bed like little kids."

"Don't go giving away family secrets, Anthony," his mother chided jokingly.

"It is getting late," Mr. Higgins mused aloud.

"It's like… ten-thirty," one of the girls objected.

"Check your watch again," he said. "It's quarter of twelve."

Jack smiled as David actually did shift enough to check his watch. "What do you know," he mumbled. "When did that happen?"

"Sometime around when Dutchy's mellow catalog ran out," Specs said.

"My fingers are gonna be blistered. I haven't played for three hours in a row since…" He considered. "Last summer's bonfire."

"Not much of a bonfire anymore," Race mused, sitting up. It was true; the fire had died down to embers.

"Fifteen minutes, kids," Mrs. Higgins said.

Jack nudged David and they both sat up. Realizing the end of the evening was imminent, so did most of the other campers. People yawned and stretched.

"So what do we do now, sing?" David asked.

Everyone around the campfire cracked up. "It only took you eight weeks to catch on," Jack teased.

"Well, I'm shot for guitar for the night," Dutchy said, examining the pads of his fingers. "Yuck," he added, regarding the blisters.

"So what do we sing?" David yawned.

Before anyone could really think about it, one of the girls belted out the first line to one of the songs from Joseph. About half the remaining campers chimed in—everyone knew the words from having overheard the whole thing so many times. Jack nudged David, who sang along, first quietly, then louder and more confidently. Jack hummed a little, but hadn't learned the words the way the campers had; instead, he listened. Everyone was a little off, since there was no backup music and no one giving direction. But even through the cacophony, Jack noted one thing: David, when he wanted to, could really sing. And he seemed to know when to quiet down, sing harmony and let someone else take over; he kept the group together by carrying them when they started to fall apart; and in a few moments when he was singing solo, he sounded truly…

Well, he was biased. David probably wasn't perfect.

But still. He was pretty much excellent.

When the singing finally quoted, Mr. and Mrs. Higgins managed to convince everyone that, no matter how long they stayed away, morning was coming eventually, and got them all to head uphill towards bed. Jack held David's hand until the path up to the Higgins' house split off. "See you tomorrow," he murmured.

"Goodnight," David said.

Everyone was staring at them, but on the other hand, there were only friends around. No one who didn't pretty much know.

"Screw it," Jack muttered. He leaned down and kissed David quickly, then hurried after the Higginses up to the house.

"Was that really necessary?" Mrs. Higgins asked, though she didn't sound mad.

"Absolutely," Jack answered, grinning.

She sighed. "Boys," she muttered.


"Specs?"

"Hmm?" Specs asked. They were still sitting around in front of the remains of the campfire; a few of the counselors were. Dutchy had gotten up enough to put his guitar in its case, then sat down next to his boyfriend again.

"Your hair looks ridiculous," Dutchy said fondly. "Though you were a surprisingly hot Elvis."

"I know, right?" Specs laughed.

"Where'd the costume come from?"

"Evidently, Medda is friends with an Elvis impersonator."

Dutchy considered. "I'm not actually surprised to hear that."

Specs chuckled.

"I've been thinking," Dutchy added quietly. "About Sneakers and Paint. Getting married, man."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Dutchy wrapped an arm around Specs's shoulders; Specs shifted to wrap one of his legs over Dutchy's. "Do you think you'd want to do that someday?"

"Marry Sneakers?"

"Get married, dork."

"Hm." Specs was quiet for a minute, then said, "Legality issues aside…I don't know. Do you mean to you, or like…in general?"

"In general. But I'd kind of like to be involved."

Specs chuckled. "I guess…Maybe somewhere down the line, yeah. I don't see myself with anyone else, anyway. Why? You proposing to me?"

"Nah," Dutchy said. "Just curious. We've been together for four years…I don't see myself with anyone else either, is all I'm saying." He glanced over at Specs, who smiled.

"Well, then," Specs said.


Smurf's family arrived to pick her up almost immediately after breakfast (which was a sad return to normal in terms of the kitchen's quality). Which meant it was time to say goodbye.

Well, not to her closest friends—Arrow and Trixie were friends from home, after all. But the rest of the cabin…And to Blink. Who was now standing in front of her awkwardly.

"I can't believe it's our last summer," Blink said.

"Speak for yourself. I bet next year they'll have a junior counselor opening in sailing." She smirked. "Which I will definitely be going after."

"That's a great idea," he said, then, "But they only ever done one junior counselor in each unit. So I guess only one of us can be there for sailing."

"Yeah, it'll be me," she said confidently.

"What makes you think that?"

"I'm better than you are." She stuck out her tongue at him.

"You haven't won a race in years!" he answered.

"Well I would have," she answered. "And I've never concussed anyone. So there."

"Oh, yeah." He laughed, and she was glad they were still bickering. She'd have missed it if they'd stopped entirely.

"So…Um…" She looked at him nervously. "Are you my boyfriend or what?"

He gawked. "I guess," he finally said. "I mean, we've been making out non-stop for three days, so…"

She grinned, blushing. Her parents were waiting in the car, but she couldn't bring herself to hurry. Not even when her dad blared the horn. "Well, we only win a couple hours apart…that's like a ten-dollar bus ticket," she said.

"Yeah, we can visit a lot," he agreed. "And you've got my e-mail and screen name, so—"

"Elsie! Time to hit the road, honey!" Smurf's mom yelled out the window.

She shrugged at Blink. "I'd better go."

"Okay, yeah. Um, hey, I'll be online tonight, okay?"

"Me too," she promised. "Okay. Um. Okay. Bye."

"Bye."

"Elsie!"

"I'm coming!" she yelled back at the car, then looked up at Blink impatiently.

He grinned and gave her a big hug, then kissed her very quickly, not sure what her parents would think of it. She gave him a peck on the cheek, then clamored into her parents' car. As they pulled out, she twisted in her seat to see Blink standing in the parking lot, shading his eye, watching her go. He waved and she waved back.

She'd never had a boyfriend before.


David wasn't sure how he'd have gotten through the hassles of squishing a summer's worth of stuff into a trunk and a suitcase if his parents hadn't shown up with a giant-sized travel mug of coffee for him. But they managed to get everything smushed down into shape to travel, and dragged up to the parking lot. A camp van was also being filled for the kids who were flying home. David spotted Snitch, Swinger, and Swinger's little sister.

The rest of the cabin had walked up with him for a final round of goodbyes. Blink was just waiting for his dad, but was basically ready to go; Mush's family was negotiating who'd be sitting where in their mini-van; Skittery was helping his father move his stuff up to the car, while his sister and mother sat inside with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning cranked. Race, who didn't have to worry about packing so much, was just hanging out.

"So I guess this is it," David said.

"It was fun getting to know you."

Everyone blinked and stared. The speaker was Swinger.

"I didn't know you could speak English," David finally said.

"I've been speaking English all summer," she said, rolling her eyes. "Just…specialized English."

"Why? And why are you talking like a normal person now?"

"Normal's boring," she said, hand on her hip. "And…" She looked at Snitch. "He dared me. He bet I couldn't do it for a whole summer. I won."

Snitch scowled momentarily.

"What did you win?"

"He has to streak at our first marching band practice." She grinned. "I'll take pictures and send them around."

"No thanks," Skittery muttered, joining the group, and everyone laughed.

"Hey, anyway," Snitch said. "I guess…Maybe I'll see you guys some time. I can't believe this is our last summer…"

David couldn't believe it either, even though it was his first.

"You know, guys," Race said. "My mom used to let my brother throw winter parties…invite back their friends for some skiing." He looked at David. "You know how to ski, Mouth?"

"Nope. But I bet I could learn."

"I'll see if I can make it happen."

"Kids?" Sneakers called from the camp van. "It's about time to go."

Everyone shuffled around for a minute, not sure what to say, and finally Jack leaned in. "The chat room will be called Pentland Grads. Be there tonight."

"You'll unchain David from his bedpost for long enough to say hi?" Mush asked.

"I'm not chaining him anywhere…while his parents are home." Jack smirked and David felt himself turn red.

"He's blushing! He likes it," Blink added.

"Okay, I'm leaving now," David declared, but he was laughing.

Unfortunately, he really did need to get going. His parents had the station wagon packed and were coaxing Les inside before he could go running off to say goodbye to more of his friends.

"See you, Dave."

"Have a good year, Dave."

"Bye, Mouth."

"Have a good trip, Mouth."

Racetrack raised an eyebrow. "Thanks again for—everything, Dave," he said. "Take care of Jack."

"I will." David smiled and held out a hand, but the next moment he found himself in the middle of a six-person hug. Slowly, people began to let go—Snitch bounded off to the van, Skittery joined his family in their chilly car, and David and Jack made their way over to the station wagon.

David had already agreed to take the middle seat—it let him sit next to Jack. He sighed as he fiddled with the awkward buckle and Jack strapped in next to him. He felt suddenly tired—saying goodbye was never easy, and these were some of the first friends David knew he'd really miss. And besides, he'd been up late last night.

He watched the camp through the window as his dad pulled the wagon out and onto the long, twisty road that would eventually lead to the highway. He leaned against Jack's shoulder and sighed, but Jack began humming one of the campfire tunes. David smiled, then, thinking along with the lyrics.

Mm-mm and as the years go by, mm-mm I'll think of you and sigh…

He sang quietly, "Mm-mm, this is goodnight and not goodbye."

Fini.


Okay. So. That's done, then, huh? Wow. Over four years and 340 pages, more characters than I care to count, and a lot of hard work. I started this fic with a few ideas: David and Jack's plot, which I knew in detail; Blink and Smurf's plot, which I knew more or less; and a vague notion that I wanted Spot to wear a tutu at some point…and it morphed into this monster. But in all seriousness, I'm very proud of this—you can see my writing (and plotting abilities!) improve pretty drastically through this thing, and I'm very glad I did it. I learned a heck of a lot through the process of writing this story. Thank you for sticking around for the end.

Special thanks to…

Everyone who submitted a character for the CCs—I wish I could have featured more of them.

Everyone who reviewed, but especially the people who really have been sitting around reading this for four years: Gothica, Hotshot, and Rumor; Shortie (who's back, or so I hear!); Mondie and Omni if you're out there, and…man, there are so many I'm totally blanking. Also thanks to those of you who've come in more recently; I'm glad you were brave enough to take on a fic that was already so long! Truly and sincerely, thank you to everyone who's taken the time to let me know what you think of this fic. It means a lot to me, and the reviews helped me get inspired and get through the (many, many) times when I was stuck.

The NJL: y'all have gotten pretty quiet, but I shall always love you. And of course, you were also the inspiration for Mush's plot. :D

The Late Night Lohrists: Shimmerwings (wherever you are), Poison Ivory, TSB, and Harmony—who deserves a hell of a lot of credit for this fic getting done. Without these four, I don't know that I could have done it; Harmony in particular fixed my story when I broke it, more times than I'd care to admit. The best friends (and beta readers) a girl could have. D'aww.

I love you all. I hope you've enjoyed.

-B