I’m so excited for the first day of camp tomorrow that I can’t sleep, so I figured I’d get a head start on this week’s letter. I know you think I’m silly for getting so anxious every year, but there’s just so much to look forward to and worry about that I can’t hold it all in! What will the girls be like? Will my cabin be full of spiders like it was last year? Are the counselors going to push me into the lake again if I complain it’s too hot? Every year is always so different, and no matter how many times I go, something new happens. Something unexpected.
And I feel like there’s something big coming this year. I don’t know what it might be or why I have those extra butterflies in my stomach, but I haven’t been this nervous since I sang the National Anthem in that middle school assembly. You know the one where I forgot half the words partway through and had to start over?
This is worse.
But even though I’m so nervous, I’m still excited. You’ll be proud of me for that, because you know how I get when I’m nervous. I promise I won’t overthink things this time, and I won’t end up bleaching my hair blonde like I did that summer before I started high school so I could fit in with the cool crowd.
OMG, it’s almost midnight! I should really try to get some sleep, and I’ll write again next week, as always.
Love and kisses!
P.S. Don’t you dare say “I told you so” when everything turns out fine like it always does.
P.P.S. I learned today that the mice in the kitchen are no longer afraid of Buckles the Cat because he’s too lazy. That could make things interesting this summer.
P.P.P.S. Is it weird for a counselor to still write letters home?
“We’ve got a good crop of girls this year,” Linda said as she scanned the list of camp attendees during our morning meeting. “A few more than we’re used to, but that was why we hired Annabeth, so that shouldn’t be a problem. She has a lot of energy, and—”
“And we just spent the last month training with her,” Yasmine said loudly. Smart move, seeing as our camp director was about to launch into a monologue if someone didn’t interrupt her. The rest of us head counselors shot her a grateful look. “We know Annabeth will be fine. And you say that about the girls every year.”
Linda looked like she’d just tripped on an exposed tree root mid-stride and had to catch her footing, her mouth working through the words coming out of her head as she searched for her place. Yes, she could ramble, but she was the most organized person I knew and would have to mentally scroll through her list of agenda items and find her place again. “Right,” she finally said, and she gave Yasmine a genuine smile. “The girls are always wonderful.”
Sofie slapped her hand on the list in front of her, drawing all eyes to her end of the pool table around which we held our staff meetings. “You gave me the Connelly twins? Again?”
Linda’s smile didn’t change. “Yes, but I also gave you Lucy Pickery, so it evens out.”
“Last year the Connellys dyed my hair blue.”
Ah, yes, I had almost forgotten about that. She’d woken up in the cabin on Departure Day, when the girls were heading home at the end of the summer, and her scream had carried across the entire camp. Personally, I thought she’d rocked the blue, but clearly she hadn’t appreciated it as much as she could have.
“Their parents agreed to let us search their luggage before they come through the gates,” Linda assured Sofie.
I caught Gabby’s eye across the table from me, and we both ducked our heads before we laughed. My best friend and I had worked at Camp Rockwood long enough to know a simple luggage search wouldn’t stop Gigi and Nina Connelly from pulling their pranks. They were nightmares but geniuses, and not a single one of us had outsmarted them yet.
Neither of us, however, would point this out to Linda, and especially not to Sofie.
“Looks like Bailey Summerland is back in California,” Gabby said, probably to get the subject off the Connellys. “She’ll be fun to have.”
“And we don’t have to deal with Hattie VanDerman this year,” Yasmine added as she ran her finger down the list.
For the first time all morning, Linda’s smile faltered. “Yes, well, Miss VanDerman has, um…”
“She’s in Juvie,” Sofie said with a smirk. “I saw it on the internet a few weeks ago. The little brat finally got caught stealing.”
I could see Linda’s gears whirring, searching for the function in her mind that deflected touchy subjects we probably weren’t supposed to discuss openly anyway, but I was curious and jumped in before our fearless leader could swing conversation back to business.
“What’d she steal this time?” I asked.
Sofie’s grin was triumphant. “Her daddy’s Mercedes.”
“That explains the juvenile detention,” Yasmine said and whistled low.
“Ladies,” Linda said.
“I bet she crashed it too,” Gabby added.
“I think we should—”
“Hopefully she actually learns her lesson this time,” Sofie said.
“If we could—”
“I doubt it,” I laughed.
Linda grabbed a billiard ball and slammed it down so hard on the table that all of us jumped in alarm. And then, as if nothing had happened, she put her smile back on and looked at each of us in turn. “You are my head counselors,” she said, and there was only the slightest strain in her voice. Impressive. “I expect you to show a mode of decorum when the girls arrive. As always.”
She didn’t have to say specifically what that meant, and she knew she didn’t have to worry. Not really. Here on our own, away from the girls and the other counselors, we tended to let out our frustrations and be completely ourselves. But once we stepped out of the rec room and onto the grass in front of the flagpole, we would be professionals. We always were.
Besides, summer was my favorite time of the year, and there was no way I would ever jeopardize my chance to spend two months doing something I absolutely loved. None of us would.
Sensing our return to seriousness, Linda let out a little sigh that would only be the first of many as the new year at Camp Rockwood began. “Let’s make this summer a good one, shall we?” she asked.
The cheer from the four of us was so full of energy and enthusiasm, it could have been the voices of hundreds.
“Beck, could I have a quick word?” The Stomp would begin in less than ten minutes, but Linda pulled me aside just outside the mess hall, a bit of a frown on her face.
Frowns from Linda made me nervous. “What’s up?” I asked. When she didn’t immediately answer, I tried to guess. “I’ll keep an eye on the Connelly girls.”
Nope, not that.
“Sorry I jumped into the VanDerman conversation. I know you hate when we gossip.”
Linda’s frown increased.
“I’m out of assumptions,” I said finally. “Is something wrong?”
“Did you look at your cabin list?”
“Uh.” I wasn’t even sure where I’d put it, but I was pretty sure Linda would have remembered that I never looked at my list. The surprise was more fun. “No. I didn’t. Should I have?”
Linda nodded, but it was more of an absent nod. On the other side of the mess hall, a buzz of voices and shouts was growing as busload after busload of girls swarmed to the field. “We have a new girl joining your cabin this year.”
That happened all the time, but I had a feeling this one was different. I was tempted to remind Linda that I had handled everything from wheelchairs to rebels to girls so shy they couldn’t speak, but the look on her face made me pause. Now was not the time to show off.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“Never heard of her.”
“You’ve probably heard of her father. Colin Donovan.”
I searched my rather small database of names that didn’t belong to preteen girls, but the name didn’t strike any bells. Unless the guy was as famous as the likes of Ryan Reynolds, I’d never heard of him. “Who?”
Yasmine blew the whistle, the signal for the counselors to gather up and start catching the attention of the crowd of girls waiting on the field. We only had a couple of minutes before Linda was supposed to give her welcoming speech.
Linda sighed a little. “Honestly, Rebecka, you need to get out more. Colin Donovan only owns one of the most successful new tech businesses in San Francisco. He’s been all over the internet for months!”
“He may have been on the internet,” I replied, “but I haven’t. And while I know we’re not exactly rich kid central, what makes Macy any different from the rest of the girls?”
“Oh,” Linda said, clearly distracted by the upcoming speech, “she shouldn’t cause any problems, though I don’t actually know her personality. I have full faith in your abilities.”
I’d never seen our Head of Camp so distracted, and I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It took a lot to truly ruffle her, and now she was entirely thrown off her programming.
“Thanks?” I said. “So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is—”
Stomp stomp clap.
Linda’s face drained of color. “Oh!” she said squeakily. “We need to go!”
Stomp stomp clap.
I so did not want to leave this conversation hanging like that, but I knew there would be no stopping Linda now that the chant had started.
Stomp stomp clap.
Taking her by the arm—she still looked horribly pale—I dragged Linda with me around the mess hall and tried to ignore the hundred pairs of eyes watching us as we raced to the little stage under the flagpole, where the other counselors were gathered in a line for the stomp.
Stomp stomp clap. “We are, we are, Rockwood!” Stomp stomp clap. “We are, we are, Rockwood!”
Though still a little flustered, Linda took a deep breath and seemed to flip a switch in her brain, turning on her spunky side. “Are you ready?” she shouted.
“Yeah!” the girls shouted back as they continued to stomp and clap along with the counselors.
“I can’t hear you!” Linda cried. “ARE YOU READY!”
“We are Camp Rockwood!” Linda shouted. As cheers rang out among the girls, she grabbed the megaphone from Yasmine and launched straight into her usual start-of-camp speech, though it took a moment for the girls to calm down enough to be able to hear her.
I knew I should be paying attention, but I was still a little on edge from the conversation we hadn’t been able to finish. I had dealt with pretty much everything while working at this camp, but clearly this was something Linda thought was outside of my expertise if she was so nervous about it. What was it about this Macy Donovan that had Linda dropping her list as she prepared to read out the cabin assignments?
“You good, Beck?” Gabby asked as the rest of the counselors scattered to the edges of the field so the girls could start gathering.
I hardly knew, but I nodded and put on my best smile. “Always,” I said then broke into a run until I reached my designated spot to wait for my girls.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to play favorites, but I couldn’t help but grin as my cabin assembled around me. Linda had been especially kind this year, and as girls like Julia Chambers and Brielle Beau gathered, I started planning out the rest of the summer. Each and every one of these girls was adventurous and energetic. Most of them were older as well, ranging from ten to thirteen, which meant we wouldn’t have any activity restrictions like Annabeth across the field, who had what looked like three first graders clinging to her legs as their nerves got the better of them. Based on the fact that Willow and Brielle were talking a million miles a minute about how great the summer was going to be, our cabin was going to be amazing.
Then Macy showed up. I knew her immediately because I didn’t recognize her, but there were also hints of a wealthy upbringing surrounding her, like her penny loafers and the way she shrunk away from a fly buzzing past as if it might attack. She was probably eight or nine, so a little younger than the rest of my girls, but I didn’t doubt the rest of the cabin would welcome her with open arms. With this crop of campers, I wasn’t worried about anyone being excluded.
As if brought on the breeze, trepidation filled my stomach with a churning that wasn’t going to go away easily. Linda never divided the girls like this. I had never had such an easy group. I stared at Macy for a second, trying to figure out what about her was going to cause me problems, but she looked like an average rich girl trying not to look scared as she clung to the backpack that weighed down her shoulders.
Glancing out over the chaotic field then counting my girls—eight, as it should be—I took a deep breath and pushed my nerves down before they showed on my face. If something was going to go wrong, there was no point stressing myself out about it until I had all the info.
“Okay, ladies,” I said, putting on my biggest smile. Immediately, I had the attention of seven girls. Macy stared at her feet. “Who’s ready to make Cabin Three the best cabin this camp has ever seen?”
The shrieks that answered my question were loud enough to make a bird fly out of the bushes by the mess hall. I saw Gabby glance my way, and a second later, her own girls had a scream to match, followed by Sofie’s and Chelsea’s, each one louder than the last as our competition began.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not sure I heard you. Who’s the best cabin here?”
“Cabin Two!” came the response.
On and on until the whole camp was alive with energy. Exactly how it should be.
Just before I was about to lead the girls off to our cabin, a wave from the flagpole caught my eye. Linda gestured me over, looking flustered. Man, she was really starting to cramp my style.
“Hey Julia,” I said quickly, “lead the way, will you? I’ll be right behind you.”
Julia stood straight and proud, her grin infectious. “Aye aye, Captain!” she said with a flourished salute. “This way to Cabin Three, you scalawags!” And she marched off, a trail of girls following close behind.
I watched Macy Donovan for just a moment as she took up the rear, but only a few seconds after the march began, Kristy Kane took her by the arm and started chatting with her as they went.
Linda had gone into the rec room, which meant she was probably in her office. As girls around me said their last goodbyes to parents and hurried off after their counselors, I slipped across the field and hurried inside, determined to make this chat last as short a time as possible so I didn’t miss too much of the start of summer bonding between my girls. It was one of my favorite parts of the year!
I started talking before I stepped through Linda’s door, deciding I had best remind her how much I loved the first day of camp. “You really need to stop killing my buzz, Linda, or I swear I will toss you into the lake and—”
Linda coughed her very important cough, killing my threat immediately, and then she nodded her head to the chair in the corner behind me.
I was almost too afraid to look. The last time we’d had someone in that chair, it had been a police officer here to tell us there was a fugitive on the loose in the nearby forest. It was the bad news chair and always complicated things. The fact that someone sat in that chair on the very first day of camp had to be a bad omen.
Turning slowly, I saw the cell phone first, pressed to his ear as if he were in the middle of a conversation and had only stopped because of my interruption. I saw his suit next, well-tailored and the blackest of blacks. It fit over a slim but strong body, the kind I’d expect to see on someone who went to the gym often but didn’t live there. His shoes were the shiniest I’d ever seen, though there was already a patch of dust on the left one. I had a feeling he hadn’t noticed yet. I looked at his face last, not on purpose, but it seemed appropriate when I took in features that most definitely equaled Ryan Reynolds’s. He had a sharp jaw, sharp haircut, sharp gaze. Handsome though he was, everything about him was sharp, as if he thought smooth edges were a weakness.
“Colin Donovan,” I guessed. “Macy’s dad.” That last part I wasn’t sure about, mostly because he neither looked old enough to have a nine-year-old nor had the countenance of a father who would personally bring his daughter to a summer camp in Northern California. He looked like the sort to stuff her into a car and send her on her way, glad to be rid of her for the summer. Plenty of parents dropped their girls off every June, but none of them looked a thing like this guy.
Realizing he still held his phone, Mr. Donovan glanced at the screen then decided to hang up, though I heard a voice on the other end start asking if he was still there. He kept the phone in his hand, ready to jump right back to it when he’d finished conducting his business.
“Her?” That one word filled the air with his disgust and disapproval.
I’m sorry, what? I knew the question was for Linda, but I stepped in between her and this guy who was starting to get on my every nerve. I had campers to go welcome, his daughter among them, and I did not need some high and mighty bigwig thinking me incompetent. “I’m Beck Alvarez,” I said and held out my hand, though I would have rather hit him with it than let him shake it. “One of the head counselors here at Camp Rockwood. Is there a concern I can help you resolve while I’m here?”
He didn’t even consider reaching for my hand, instead leaning around me to fix Linda with a stare that, honestly, I was glad wasn’t for me. “I thought I made myself clear in my emails, Mrs. Young.”
Behind me, Linda sputtered a little, which was uncharacteristic. Organized as she was, she always had the perfect responses for irate parents, no matter their grievances. “Of course, Mr. Donovan. I assure you, I was incredibly diligent in choosing which cabin your daughter should spend her stay here at—”
“My concern is not for the cabin,” Donovan said, and he fixed that stare on me.
I wasn’t usually intimidated, but jeez, the guy knew how to scowl. I felt myself withering, which was not a feeling I enjoyed experiencing. What right did this jerk have to step into my world and assume he knew everything? How could he possibly think a couple of sentences—spoken in jest, no less—were enough to gauge my entire character?
“Beck,” Linda said, her voice thick with warning. She knew me well. “I called you in here so we could discuss expectations for the next two months. If you could take a seat.” It was not a request.
This is fine, I told myself as I sank into the chair closer to Linda’s desk. We’ll just have a little chat, he’ll leave, and I can get back to my girls. Sitting there with my back to Colin Donovan, though, I was finding it hard to focus on positivity. I could practically feel his disapproval searing the back of my head.
“Like I started telling you this morning,” Linda said to me, “Mr. Donovan’s daughter will be attending our camp this year. Macy. I’ve put her in your cabin because I feel you’re one of our best counselors, and—”
Mr. Donovan cleared his throat. “And I happen to disagree with her choice,” he said.
Linda tensed, but I pretended I didn’t notice and turned instead to face the guy behind me. There were a lot of things I thought about saying to him, but I kept my words civil. For now. He thought he had some kind of power here? He didn’t, and I would make sure he knew that.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I said calmly.
His jaw tightened.
“I truly believe Rebecka here is our best counselor,” Linda added, and I had to turn and give her a warm smile because I knew she wouldn’t say it if she didn’t mean it. There was no room in that organized head of hers for lies. “I understand your concerns, Mr. Donovan, but there really is no way for us to change things now that camp has begun.”
He narrowed his eyes, and his hand seemed to tighten around his phone. “Just switch her with another girl,” he suggested. “How hard can that be?”
I snorted a laugh before I could hold it back, and his surprise made it all too easy for me to ask, “Do you understand girls at all, Mr. Donovan?”
“Beck,” Linda sighed, but she had sat down in her chair, knowing full well it was dangerous to step between me and a challenge.
And Mr. Donovan was certainly a challenge. Whatever he thought of me, he seemed to think he could make whatever changes he wanted without any consequences, and I had to make sure he understood exactly why he couldn’t do that. I had to protect my girls. All of them, whether in my cabin or not.
“Mr. Donovan,” I said and stood to face him, “we’re twenty minutes into the first day of camp.”
“Which should make a change like this easy,” he said. Jeez, did he know any expressions outside of that scowl of his? And he kept his voice so smooth and controlled that I wondered if he even had any emotion behind his thick skin.
“You mistake my meaning,” I replied. “Two minutes, maybe, but by now those girls have picked their bunks, chosen their best friends, decided on their enemies, and elected a leader to follow. You try to upset that, and you’ll have eighty girls out for blood. Yours, specifically.”
Donovan tilted his head to the side a little, a bit of a wrinkle marring that smooth forehead of his. “You make them sound like a savage civilization with no law and order, Miss Alvarez.”
“She’s not wrong,” Linda said, probably not as under her breath as she might have planned.
“My point,” I continued, “is we can’t have you upsetting the whole order of things just because you’re a little worried. Mr. Donovan, I promise I will be looking after your daughter all summer.”
He got to his feet, folding his arms as he towered above me. He was tall, but it was his powerful energy that made him loom over me like he did. “But you’re not looking after her at the moment,” he said.
“Yes, because I’m busy talking to you.”
“Rebecka.” Linda’s voice was as sharp as Donovan’s skinny black tie as she stood and put on her I mean business face. “Could I speak to you in private for a moment? Mr. Donovan, if you don’t mind,” and she gestured toward the door.
I couldn’t decide if his expression meant he wanted to storm out or shout at me until his voice went hoarse, but he thankfully agreed to Linda’s request and slipped out of the office, closing the door behind him.
I didn’t waste a second. “Don’t try to tell me I’m overreacting. That is classic control freak behavior, and honestly I bet his daughter’s relieved to be here at camp where he can’t get to her because a man like that couldn’t possibly be fun to have for a dad when he can’t even step away for a few minutes let alone a few months, and I’m surprised you haven’t sent him packing now that the girls are settling in and—”
“Beck,” Linda said.
I dropped into my chair, staring at her. I’d never heard her sound like that, like the world was on her shoulders and she wasn’t sure she could hold it up any longer.
“We can’t afford to anger Mr. Donovan.”
“He has made a generous donation—extremely generous—to Camp Rockwood, and without it, we wouldn’t…”
I swallowed, though it felt like my throat was stuck shut. “What are you saying, Linda?” Camp Rockwood had been open for fifty years, and never once had there been any money problems. At least, not that I knew of. Linda would have told me if… Wouldn’t she?
Collapsing into her chair, Linda let her breath out in a steady stream and deflated. “The city has decided to sell the land, Beck. Some developer wants to come in and create a high-end resort, and we don’t have enough stored up to… Without Colin Donovan, we’ll lose this place. We’ll lose everything.”
“Sell the land?” The words tasted bitter, like when Chuck put too much cilantro in the salad. “I thought we owned the land.”
Linda shook her head. “We’ve been lucky for so many years,” she said. “The city has allowed us to use this plot, since we take on the girls from Hargrave School every summer and give the foster families a bit of a break. But with this economy, they’re hard-pressed to sell while it still gets a good price.”
“And Colin Donovan’s money can buy it,” I surmised. “But only if he stays happy and doesn’t pull his donation.” My heart ached at the thought, sitting heavy in my chest as my ears rang a bit. Lose Camp Rockwood? I couldn’t even imagine the idea. I’d been coming to this camp since I was six years old, and I’d been a counselor since I turned eighteen. For more than twenty years, this place had been my home every summer, and I barely remembered a time before it. If all that went away…
Linda uttered a word I’d never heard her use here at Rockwood, and I raised my eyebrows. But she waved my reaction away and said, “I’m sorry to spring all this on you, Beck. I should have told you sooner, but I was hoping to find a way around it before I worried anyone. But you of all people… You deserved to know, and I’m sorry.”
It’ll be fine. I didn’t believe that. We can make it work. That sounded better. We’ll find a way. Reasonable. “I can be nice,” I assured Linda, though the idea of facing Mr. Donovan again, especially now that my energy seemed to have been sucked out of my chest with a plunger, was making me a little nauseous. “I promise.”
If Linda believed me, it didn’t show on her face. She had been head of Camp Rockwood for six summers now, so she and I knew each other as well as we knew our own families. She could read me easily, but I could also read her.
“What?” I asked warily.
“I’m not sure you can last that long,” she admitted.
I didn’t realize she had such little faith in me. “It’ll only be a few minutes,” I reasoned. “An hour at most, and then he’ll be gone.”
Linda’s face turned as white as the marshmallows we had prepped for tonight’s campfire. “About that…”