Prologue: Campfire Stories
I walked towards the bonfire. Fire crackled upwards to the sky as if trying to burn it. It was peaceful. I didn't know why I was here but looking at the fire was weirdly calming. I sat down on one of the benches around it and looked at it. The colors were faded together within the flames- red to orange to yellow. I could see where the shades shifted and the warm air swallowed me up. I could have watched that flame forever. I bought the cup in my hand to my lips and tasted the can of coke I had poured into it. It was sweet on my tongue and cool. I looked around at everyone.
This was one of the times when I had no idea how I got here. Last summer Grace and I had just had a sleepover but this year everything had changed. I was at a party- not just any party- but one of the bonfires stoners had that were legendary. They were all by the lake and they had them as often as they could. I sipped my coke again and looked away from the fire and couldn't see Grace anywhere. I looked down at the dark heavy-looking liquid in my red and white plastic cup. I spun it around as my father always did when he drank glasses of wine. I looked up and saw kids passing a joint around across from me. I tried not to look repulsed by it. Just be cool. Don't make this a big deal. They'll be smoking, just don't smoke and have a beer or something- you look tense.
Even though I couldn't bring myself to give the guy at the keg a five dollar bill for a beer, I hoped people would think I was drinking a coke mixed with all the different bottles in the cooler mixed in. I looked around for anyone I knew. I knew them all but they gave me weird looks. I looked to the ground and pulled the sleeves of my sweatshirt tighter over my hands.
This was going to be a long night.
Grace and I used to have a lot in common. We both never had a boyfriend nor had we ever been kissed. Everything changed last year when she was asked to the Homecoming by a Senior. We were just sophomores then, but it was a huge deal. She almost got a date for me but I stayed home that night. When Grace came back that night she was completely different. Or she had the potential to be different. She got highlights and when spring came she came out of her cucoon. She burst out the pretty, laughing girl that attracted boys like she was collecting them.
When she started wearing short skirts, I started wearing short skirts- longer than hers- but still enough to make my father mad. We wore the same clothes, except my hair was impossible to add blonde highlights to. I changed with her but now this was how much we had changed. I had told my father everything Grace had said to me this afternoon. I was sleeping over her house. Case closed. But we left out the bonfire. The aroma of weed radiating and making my eyes water. Then there was the fact that Grace hadn't been back for an hour.
"I'll be right back." She told me. "I just need to find Kenny. I'll be right back, don't worry."
She told me that one hour and seven minutes ago. I was still sitting here alone on the bench around the fire. I looked back in towards it and exhaled a little. I could get up and go to the bathroom for a few minutes and look less alone. I could text someone to try and look less anti-social, but all of a sudden I just felt like cracking. I wanted to leave, but I couldn't leave Grace. That's the stupidest thing to do in the entire world. So I just kept sitting there staring at the fire and waiting for her be right back to mean she was here and she had found Kenny.
She met Kenny in March. He went to the liberal arts school a few towns over but lived here. I heard of him but never met him. I still haven't really met him because he's all over the place and Grace just hasn't taked the time to try and let me get to know him. I was introduced to him but this is one of the few stoner parties I've been to and the first bonfire.
"Amanda!" I turned hearing her voice. "Where have you been?"
"Here," I said. "I haven't moved."
She comes over to me. "I can't find Kenny, have you seen him?" She says. "This is ridiculous, I know he's here..." Then she spots him. She goes over to him. I can't believe I never noticed him. He had been sitting in the ring of kids passing a joint around. She slid her hands around his neck pressing a kiss into his cheek. He smiled and looked at her. They kissed. In the soft light of the fire they looked like a picture. I could have captured them right then and there. They looked perfect, but I looked away because it wasn't my life to look into like that.
I looked back at her queeze in next to him. "Amanda, come over here." I looked over and got up looking at her as she whispered something into Kenny's ear. He laughed and slid his hand around her looking over at me. I was struck suddenly: what if they were talking about me? I tried to look normal coming here. I wore jeans and then converses Grace had picked out. I didn't wear anything suspecting. Nothing that shouted I don't belong here, but then again I didn't look like a stoner.
I sat down on the edge of the circle. The center of our town is this lake. Everyone goes to the lake to hang out. It's where you go for cook-outs. It's where you learn to swim. I was going to spend my whole summer here. Grace was going away to a sleep-away camp like she always did and I was finally old enough to get a job here working at the camp a half a mile along the shore from here.
Twenty-five hours until Grace left and seventy-two until I was teaching little kids how to swim or play wiffle ball. I leaned onto my knees and listened to the conversation. Sixty days until summer was over. Thirty five of which I'll be working at the came. Forty of which Grace will be gone. I did the math sitting there the whole time. Nobody offered me a joint or looked in my direction. I looked at the fire and counted the days I had this summer. I knew my summer down pat. I knew every day and what I'll be doing. I knew it like it was my favorite movie- line for line.
I didn't want to look to bothered when Grace got the joint passed to her. I watched her take a hit before her and Kenny got up and walked away holding hands. I watched them and took a sip of my coke again. Sometime I figured she'd be back to come over and tell me she'd be right back but for now I was alone again.
I took out my phone and checked it. Two hours until midnight. That's when it was good to ask Grace if we could go home. I could feel an imaginary headache coming on. I got up again and went towards the house to look for the bathroom again.
I was sitting on the porch looking around and pretending to be in a conversation with a girl I used to be friends with in middle school and her friends. I saw Kenny first bursting out of the woods storming. He looked pissed. Then Grace came. She was crying. "Ken!" She said. Everyone around where I was looked over. He kept walking. He walked all the way around the house with her behind him until she stopped. I watched her. She wiped under her eyes. I swallowed and slipped off of the porch railing and walked over to her.
I knew she'd do the same for me. I went over and touched her elbow. "Are you okay?" I asked.
Her mouth was a tight line and she shook her head. I moved my arms around her and hugged her. I knew she liked Kenny. She's always liked Kenny. She said he was everything she ever wanted in a guy. I knew right away they had broken up. I squeezed her and she pulled away. "Can we just go?" Her moth faded into a sad frown.
I nodded. "Yeah, come on," I said.
The walk away was short. We walked to the cars all crowded in someone's driveway. She walked quickly and got in slamming her door. I winced and went over to mine. The metal was cool undr my fingertips. I looked around in case anyone was watching. I figured they might because I knew Kenny was popular in this crowd of people. Then I saw him.
He was walking back and stopped and slowed a little looking at me. I made eye contact with him and we looked at each other for a quick second. He stopped fully and watched me. I didn't know what to do. I lifted a hand to wave and he just watched me. He nodded and then looked at my car. He probably figured Grace was in there. She had here eyes in her hand and was crying. I opened my door and got in. I started it and she cried softer. I touched her shoulder. "I'm sorry," I said. "You're so much better than him."
Grace never broke up with anyone so I figured Kenny wouldn't be the first. She looked over at me. "Thanks," She whispered softly. Her eyes were red from crying. I pulled out and turned at the end of the driveway and driving back saw Kenny still looking at us. I felt the same anger welling inside of me. He just dumped her like that. They were so perfect just a half hour before.
It's how most things go. I figure I'll hear the whole story tonight.