Judith used to live in one of those small towns that seemed to encompass the entire world. The sort of place that could give you claustrophobia if you weren't careful.

She worked at Walmart because they hired her. She only made six dollars an hour, but she got forty percent off on all the flannel shirts anyone could possibly want; she hadn't wanted any. Most of the people she worked with were old-old, but there was one boy her age. He was one of those faux antiestablishment types - he always talked about conformists and government conspiracies and corporations raping the world, but she never really understood what he was talking about, and she didn't think he did, either. They took their breaks together and she stood around and breathed in his cigarette smoke while he told her what was wrong with the world. She didn't need him to tell her that, though.

There were too things he said that she absolutely agreed with, however. The first was that everyone in town was drinking stupid via the water source, and the second was that a person grew out, not up.

When he got fired, she took up smoking.

Judith's first crush was on another little girl in first grade. That was back when boys were just nosier girls with smellier bathrooms. Her mother always packed her graham crackers and green apple slices, and she couldn't play on the swing set because her mother always made her wear skirts, and she always got red-ink smiley faces on her papers because her mother made her study. Judith never met her mother, and she never liked her, either. She had the sort of red hair Judith had only seen in the drug store and braces, which she found fascinating. She could just imagine it: a mouthful of metal. It was sort of like a second jaw.

They spent the summer glued to lawn chairs and then she moved away, and in the span of two months Judith forgot everything about her except what she wasn't allowed to do.

Judith hated a lot of things about Crazy Camp, but what she hated the most were the showers. You had to use the stiff lime-green towels that were made to cover twelve-year-olds, ten minutes per cabin, and the water was never above frigid. They showered at night, so you spent the whole day covered in dirt and sweat from hiking and molasses from some stupid pine-cone-craft.

The first time Judith saw Joan, she'd just been told she had to use the camp soap and couldn't have her fake-fruit-scented shampoo. Joan had looked shocked, as if she had never thought there was a place in the whole world that wouldn't let you use whatever sort of shampoo you wanted. Judith had remembered thinking that, yeah, it sucked. And that was funny, because Joan was first person in a very long time that Judith didn't hate on sight, even though she was exactly the sort of person that Judith had always hated.

They were put on the same team the next day. The camp had decided it was too dangerous to give a bunch of troubled kids wooden bats and hard balls, so they had to throw frisbees to each other. Most kids threw the frisbees as hard as they could wherever they could, so the other kid had to go running and fetch it, and sometimes, if they threw it hard enough and far enough, it would get stuck in a tree and then they wouldn't have to play anymore. But Joan threw it right at her, and carefully, and Judith took one look at her bright smile and messy ponytail and just didn't have the heart to make her go running through the muddy grass.

When they broke for water (Styrofoam cups, even though they destroy the planet. The camp leaders thought plastic cups were too dangerous. Judith had no idea how you were supposed to hurt somebody with a plastic cup. She thought they probably had a whole committee that sat around and tried to figure out new and interesting ways to kill yourself.), Joan came up to her and asked, What's your name?

Judith gave her a funny look, because the coach had called them off when he'd paired everyone up. No, I mean, what's your first name? I'm Joan.

Judith gave her another funny look, because people didn't actually care about first names at Crazy Camp. But if telling some strange girl her name made her happy, she couldn't really think of a reason not to.

It's Judith.

Dinner that evening was pork chops and some overcooked vegetable that Judith couldn't identify. That morning they'd had bacon. They always seemed to have some sort of pork-product; Judith heard that Sandler, the wiry Jewish kid that got sent here because he stole a car and ran it into a stop sign, offered the chef a hand job if he'd just cook something else for once. She didn't know what happened to him - she just knew they never got steak.

People always cut in the food line. It was less of a line and more of a clump, really, with everyone determined to get their food before everyone else. Joan didn't seem clued into this, however, and Judith watched her wait patiently while everyone trod in front of her and swiped the last of the apple juice.

When Joan finally emerged, tray-in-hand, she looked around. Maybe it was intuition, maybe she really could feel eyes on her like they say in all those books, but she turned around and saw Judith looking at her.

Most people probably would have been weirded out if they saw somebody staring at them, but Joan's face split into a bright smile and she wove her way through the crowd to join her at the table, asking a quick Can I sit here? before setting her plate down and digging into her pale vegetables. In a moment she had started a detailed explanation of her day, complete with tangents, complaining, and a cheerfulness no one else in camp could muster.

What do you want? Judith asked, and then winced a little, because rude was her default setting even when she didn't really mean it.

Joan said, and looked a little embarrassed. I want to be friends. I'm lonely.

Judith said, All right. Because she was lonely, too, but until she'd met Joan Girardi she hadn't thought anyone in the world would actually admit it.

Judith had always wanted to know something interesting just for the sake of knowing. She wanted to have some quirk, like a love of Scottish folk music, or a first-name knowledge of Greek mathematicians. She wanted to have something completely dorky-cool about herself, but she could never really match the enthusiasm that Joan seemed to have in droves. Judith wanted to be one of those people that understood what Shakespeare was talking about. She wanted to say something profound, about Joan and about herself, but this was the best she could come up with: she liked life a little more when she was around.

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End